Much of the potential for your arm size has been dictated by the genetics that your parents have passed on to you. Great biceps are more than just a few slabs of beef placed above the elbows. Of course, large mounds of biceps muscle are great, because size should be part of the framework in every weight-trainer’s upper-body arsenal. However, great arms are multidimensional. They are thick, high, wide and symmetrical when viewed from all angles. They have shredded valleys and peaks rising and falling into massive waves of forearm mass.
It is difficult to achieve incredible detail in the biceps by using only conventional barbell exercises. In contrast, cables or rope types of curls provide a less stable base and permit much more movement, especially around the hands. Constant activation like that achieved by using cables forces the muscle fibers to fire without time to rest, and this type of activation creates dense muscles. This encourages the muscle fibers in the arm to be activated in different and more irregular patterns, and this is not normally achieved with barbell curls.
To maximize the peak in the biceps, it is also important to activate both of its functions – elbow flexion and supination of the hand. Supination of the hand involves taking the hand from a palms-down or neutral position to one where the palms of the hands are facing the ceiling. Rope curls will achieve the goal of maximizing constant tension and they will strongly activate the supination functions of the biceps to induce super contractions as the biceps shorten. Unlike barbell curls, where force is lost at the top of the lift, tension is maintained throughout the full range of motion for each contraction with rope curls. This is the perfect recipe for tight, dense and carved biceps.
Muscles Activated By Rope Cable Curls
Although the brachialis muscle is covered by the biceps and not visible except for the lower and outer parts, it is a very important flexor of the elbow joint. This muscle begins on the humerus bone of the upper arm about two-thirds of the way from the elbow to the shoulder and it crosses the front (anterior) of the elbow joint, where it becomes anchored to the ulna bone near the elbow joint. The ulna bone lies closest to the “little finger” side of the forearm. This attachment to the ulna prevents the brachialis from having any role in supination, but it is a very strong elbow (forearm) flexor. In fact, 60 percent to 70 percent of forearm flexion strength is due to the ability of the brachialis muscle to flex the forearm at the elbow joint. In the rope curls, the hands start in a semipronated (neutral) position, which ensures that the brachialis is fully activated.
The biceps brachii muscle has two parts. The short head of the biceps attaches to the coracoid process, a little beak-like projection from the side of the scapula (shoulder blade). The long head of the biceps brachii attaches to the supraglenoid tubercle, a little bump over the shoulder joint on the scapula. Both heads of the biceps come together and attach to the radius bone of the forearm via the biciptal tendon. The radius bone (the most lateral forearm bone) forms a combination rotational-pivot joint and hinge joint at the elbow. The biceps becomes an effective forearm flexor when the hands are supinated (the palms turned toward the ceiling). This is because supination rotates the radius bone, which tightens the biceps. In contrast, the biceps brachii is a very poor elbow flexor when the hands are pronated, because this rotates the radius so that it sits on top of the ulna and this position slackens the biceps muscles. In rope cable curls, the hands start semipronated, which “unloads” the biceps to activate the brachailis at the beginning of the exercise. However, as the hands are supinated, the biceps comes on to contract even more strongly, because both of its primary functions are incorporated in this exercise (elbow flexion and supination of the hand).
Rope Cable Curls
1. Attach a Y rope handle to the cable from the bottom of the cable pulley station. Make sure the end of the rope has a large knot or a solid plastic knob to keep your hands from slipping off.
2. Grab each part of the Y rope. Turn the hands so the palms are facing each other.
3. Back away from the cable machine so that your feet are about 2 to 3 feet from the base of the pulley machine. Your back should be straight and tight, but your knees should not be locked straight. Your feet should be placed at hip-width apart.
4. Start with your elbows straight and the hands in front of the thighs.
5. Keep your elbows close to the sides of your torso. Take a breath and exhale as you flex the elbow and pull the hands up toward your shoulders.
6. After you are about 25 percent of the way up and your hands have cleared your thighs, begin supinating your hands as you continue to pull your hands toward your shoulders.
7. Continue to curl until your hands are as close to your shoulders as possible. Keep your elbows back and tight to the side of your ribs as you are completing the repetition. Your forearms should be moving, but your upper arms should not be moving at the shoulder.
8. Lower the rope back to the starting position by controlling the weight downward as you inhale. Return the hands from the fully supinated to the semipronated starting position at the bottom.
9. Stop just before the elbows are completely straight, then start the next repetition upward.
Good form is important if you are going to get the most out of it for your biceps and brachialis muscles. Lifting massive weights is not the goal for this exercise, and is better left for standing barbell curls. Nevertheless, the load on the cable machine should be sufficient to make you struggle to get the set done. However, don’t lift a heavier weight by using your body momentum to get the weight up. It is acceptable to allow the arms to move slightly forward when the elbow is fully flexed, but the upper arms must remain as close to perpendicular to the floor as possible to ensure a full aching contraction during the curl. If you pull the arms too far forward, this will reduce the stretch on the long head of the biceps and reduce the “peaking” effect of the exercise.
To turn the heat up, you can incorporate an isometric contraction into the exercise. When you get to the top of the contraction, you should squeeze your biceps hard and hold this position for a count of two. Repeat this isometric contraction each time you come to the top position. Incorporating the isometric contraction at the top of the contraction will also help you to get the “feel” for almost any biceps pose in a much easier fashion. Thus, the isometric contractions in rope cable curls are not only great for increasing the hardness and shape of the upper arms, but this is also helpful if you just impress a few friends at the gym. However, because this is such a severe form of the exercise, it should become your last biceps exercise for the day, and you should limit the isometric contractions to the last two sets of the exercise. You will be amazed at how much more painful the exercise will become with this additional muscle contraction, but this is rewarding pain.
Not everyone has the genetics to possess 23-inch arms with a super peak and no one can legitimately promise you mountainous biceps peaks from a single exercise. However, everyone who has the desire to work hard, rest appropriately and have a nutritionally superior diet will increase his muscle mass and shape. Although rope cable curls is not a great mass builder, you will find that this exercise will be a very satisfying (and a bit painful) finishing exercise for your arm workout and one that can definitely increase your muscle hardness, shape and peak. If you have the hunger for great arms, then you cannot risk not trying rope cable curls for a few months.
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