How to Get More From Two Classic Exercises

It seems that at the heart of many exercise programs is exercise for the biceps and triceps. That would be the front (bicep) and back (tricep) of the upper arm.

This is good. For one thing, it is always best to make sure you exercise opposing muscles. In this case, the front and back of the upper arm. The same would be true for most of our bodies. We need to hit all areas equally, to create balance in the system.

Basically, the bicep bends your elbow so that you can bring a weight toward your shoulder. In real life, that translates to lifting grocery bags, suitcases, a jug of milk, or a glass of water (or wine). The classic bicep exercise is to stand, holding a weight down by your side, lift it toward your shoulder and back down again with the palm facing up.

Your tricep UNBENDS your elbow to straighten your arm. A classic tricep exercise is to stand up with a weight in one or both hands, elbows bent so that the weight(s) are behind the shoulder and the elbow is pointed toward the ceiling. You work the tricep by then straightening out the arm(s) as much as possible. It is harder to come up with real life examples of that, but it is working when you push to open a door, push groceries to the back of your trunk, or reach to place something overhead.  What that boils down to is that we all probably need to do more exercise for triceps than biceps in order to keep a balanced system.

Here are three other points that can help you get more from exercising your biceps and triceps.

  • Bicep and tricep muscles are attached to your shoulder blade. If the muscles around your shoulder blade (includes the rotator cuff) are chronically tight, you are at risk for tendonitis in the shoulder joint, which is no picnic. This translates to another reason why keeping good posture is so important. So, you can think of your bicep and tricep exercises as an opportunity to make sure your shoulders are down and back, your core engaged, and your posture is at its best.
  • It can be easy to lose track of your back as you do these exercises. You may end up deepening the curve in your lower back, which may create disc issues or general strain down the road. Particularly with a bicep curl, there is a tendency to lean back in order to bring the weight up, especially if it is a bit too heavy for you. Guard against this by again keeping your best posture, and engaging your core to support the lift.
  • Instead of just working the bicep or tricep in isolation as in the two classic exercises, you can throw in a few wrinkles to reinforce keeping your shoulders down while firing up your core. With a little bit of thought, you can work on your balance at the same time.

So, here we go. Three exercises for biceps and triceps that will do all of the above. Try these, and have fun!

1. One-legged bicep curl. Just what it says. Stand on one leg, weight in the hand opposite the leg you are standing on, and do your curls, 10-12 times. Switch the whole thing and do the other side. Notice that this goes better if you stand tall and draw your naval to your spine to engage your abs.

2. Bent-over one-legged tricep extension. Find a chair (or use an exercise bench if you have access to one). Bend over with flat back, and place your left hand on the bench, weight in your right hand. Lift your right leg off the floor. Staying in this position, place your elbow close to your waist, bent, so that your forearm is parallel to the floor. Extend (straighten) your arm until it is straight and your whole arm is parallel to the floor behind you. Keep the elbow where it is throughout the exercise. Go back to the bent position and repeat 10-12 times. Do the other side. Notice that by setting up with a flat back, you do not put any strain on your low back.

Bent-over One-Legged Tricep Extension 4
Bent-over One-Legged Tricep Extension 5

3. Shoulder height curls. Stand up, and put a weight in each hand that is lighter than you would use for the other two exercises by quite a bit. Be careful, and experiment with this first. Bring both elbows up to shoulder height, elbows bent, and weights at your shoulders, palms facing down in this position. Open out both arms so that they are straight and out to the side, still at shoulder height. Bring the weights back in to your shoulders and repeat 10-12 times. Let the weight remind you to keep your shoulders from shrugging up, and stay in your best posture. If you want to add more of a core component to this, you can bring one arm out while the other one stays at the shoulder, then reverse it.

Shoulder Height Curl 1
Shoulder Height Curl 2

These are just a few examples of how you can bring more benefits to your body by checking out how you do each exercise, and by adding in a few extra challenges while you do them. Please leave a comment below and tell us how you are getting more from these classic exercises.

Best, Kristen

© 2016-2020 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.

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