More muscular biceps – we all want them. That’s why every bodybuilder and most recreational exercisers do plenty of sets of curls. After all, dumbbell, barbell, and cable curls are among the best moves for increasing biceps strength and size.
And, when doing those curls, most lifters begin with their arms fully extended and then raise the weights up to their shoulders before returning smoothly to the starting position. This full range of motion is generally accepted as the best way to work any muscle, including the biceps.
But, there is an exercise (and an entire training method) that involves contracting your muscles and not moving at all. This is called an isometric (iso) or static contraction.
In this article, we’re looking at isometric training in general and how you can use it to train your biceps with static biceps holds.
- What is Isometric Training?
- The Benefits of Isometric Training
- How to Do Dumbbell Isometric Biceps Holds
- How to Do Biceps Holds Without Weights
- Biceps Holds for Bigger Arms – Wrapping Up
What is Isometric Training?
Muscles generate force or contract in three ways. The three types of contraction are:
- Concentric – when a muscle shortens under tension, e.g., pushing a bar off your chest during bench presses.
- Eccentric – when a muscle lengthens under tension, e.g., descending into a squat.
- Isometric – when a muscle generates force but doesn’t change in length, e.g., during a plank.
A concentric contraction followed by an eccentric contraction (or vice versa) is called an isotonic contraction.
Most exercises involve all three types of muscle action. You lift the load, pause at the mid-point of the rep, lower the weight, pause again, and so on. Some exercises start with an eccentric phase, such as bench presses and squats, while others begin with a concentric phase, such as pull-ups and leg curls.
With isometric exercises, you use your muscles to hold your body or limbs in a certain position. This could be against gravity, such as planks and wall squats, or against a weight, such as biceps holds.
You can hold an isometric contraction from a few seconds to several minutes, depending on how much force you generate. However, to build muscle, 20-30 seconds or so works best. That way, your isometric hold will last about the same time as a typical set. However, if you specifically want to build strength, shorter, harder contractions may best, e.g., 7-10 seconds.
Related: Eccentric Vs. Concentric Training
The Benefits of Isometric Training
If regular isotonic exercises are so effective, why even bother with isometric training?
Isometrics offers several worthwhile benefits, including:
Generate more muscular force
You are stronger isometrically than you are concentrically. That means you can statically hold more weight than you can lift or lower. Isometric training exposes your muscles to more tension, leading to faster increases in strength and muscle size.
Safer for your joints
Providing you pick a good angle to work at, isometrics are very easy on your joints. There is no movement, so no wear and tear. As such, isometrics are ideal for anyone with lower back, knee, hip, elbow, or shoulder pain. In fact, isometric exercises are often included in post-injury rehab routines.
Develop a stronger mind-muscle connection
It’s very hard to develop a muscle if you can’t feel it working. Isometrics force you to really focus on the muscle you’re training, which can have a positive carryover to isotonic exercises.
For example, if you can’t feel your pecs working during bench presses, some isometric chest training would help strengthen the connection between your mind and muscles.
Improved strength at sticking points
Most exercises have a sticking point. This is where the exercise is hardest, and you are most likely to fail. For example, in biceps curls, the sticking point is usually around 90 degrees of elbow flexion, where the weight is furthest from your body.
Using isometrics, you can focus on this area of weakness and turn it into a strength. The result? You’ll blast through the sticking point, and be able to do more reps for better training results.
A lot of isometric exercises involve no equipment. Instead, you simply push or pull against an immovable object, such as a wall or post. You can do other exercises with a non-stretch yoga strap, a chain, or an iso trainer. You can also do isometric exercises against weights, such as the biceps hold discussed later in this article.
Fitness trainers have an expression; if you always do what you have always done, you’ll always get what you always got. While this might just seem like a silly tongue twister, it actually sums up what happens if you stick to the same program and exercises for too long.
In simple terms, your body adapts and plateaus, and your progress will grind to a halt. You can use isometrics to add a new twist to your workouts and keep on gaining muscle mass and strength.
Like barbells, dumbbells, machines, rep ranges, rest periods, and different splits, isometric training is something else you can add to your workouts to maintain workout productivity.
Increased muscle recruitment
Isometric training really fires up your nervous system so that, when you perform an isotonic exercise involving the same muscles, you’ll probably be able to do more reps or lift more weight. For example, try doing 1-2 sets of isometric wall squats before regular squats. You should be able to feel a significant difference in muscle strength and power.
How to Do Dumbbell Isometric Biceps Holds
So, now you know WHY to do static biceps holds, let’s look at HOW to perform this excellent exercise. It’s very simple, so you should get the hang of it pretty quickly.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Hold a dumbbell in each hand. Brace your abs and pull your shoulders down and back. Look straight ahead.
- Bend your elbows and curl the weights up until your forearms are parallel to the floor. Pull your upper arms into your sides and contract your biceps as hard as possible.
- Your palms shoulder be facing upward in a supinated grip, but you can also do this exercise with a neutral grip to work your forearms more, i.e., hammer biceps holds.
- Maintain this position for as long as you can. Either the burn will stop you, or you’ll be unable to keep the weights up.
- Rest a moment, and then repeat.
You can also do this exercise seated, with a barbell or EZ bar, on a cable machine, or with preacher or concentration curls. Isometrics is a very versatile training method!
Note: Do NOT hold your breath during this or any other isometric exercise, as doing so can cause a significant rise in blood pressure, and you may feel faint when you relax your muscles.
How to Do Biceps Holds Without Weights
Gym closed? Too busy to train? Want to get your pump on during vacation? No problem! You can do biceps holds without dumbbells.
1. Resistance band biceps hold
You can do biceps holds with a resistance band. Simply stand on the middle of the band, grab the ends/handles, and bend your elbows, so your forearms are parallel to the floor.
Contract your biceps as hard as possible and then remain in position for the desired duration. The harder you tense your arms, the more effective this exercise becomes.
2. Towel/strap biceps hold
For this variation, all you need is a long towel or something like a yoga strap. Simply stand on the middle of your towel/strap and adjust your grip so that your elbows are bent to around 90 degrees.
Once you’re in position, flex your biceps as hard as possible. Depending on the length of your towel/strap, you may need to work one arm at a time or sit down to get your arm to the correct angle.
3. Self-resisted biceps hold
With this exercise, you are going to work you’re your biceps on one arm and your triceps on the other. As such, this provides a twofer workout, training all your major arm muscles in just a couple of minutes.
How to do it:
- Sit or stand as preferred.
- Bend one arm to 90 degrees. Turn your palm upward.
- Place your other hand on top, palm facing down.
- Press up with one hand and down with the other. Contract your muscles as hard as you can.
- Relax, change sides, and repeat.
4. Chin-up hold
This final variation pits your strength against your entire body weight. Simply grab an overhead bar with a narrow, underhand grip and pull (or climb) yourself up, so your arms are fully flexed.
Use your arms to maintain this position, squeezing your back and biceps as hard as possible.
Biceps Holds for Bigger Arms – Wrapping Up
Isometrics used to be a very popular type of training. Golden-era strongmen and bodybuilders used isometrics to build phenomenal static strength and impressive levels of muscle size. Ultimately, providing that you contract your muscles hard enough and do isometrics often enough, it can help you build strength and muscle size.
Why is isometrics less popular nowadays?
It’s probably because most static hold exercises don’t look all that impressive, especially when compared to videos of guys curling 220lbs! Plus, with no equipment required, it’s also hard to monetize.
None of that means that isometric training isn’t valuable. Even if you only do biceps holds, you’ll quickly learn how effective this type of static training can be.