home / Forums / Bodybuilding / Training / IS PULLING AS EFFECTIVE AS CURLING?
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Using the right multi-joint exercises can be as effective at stimulating the biceps as direct work. For an exercise to stimulate growth, you must recruit a large proportion of the muscle fibers and you must, at one point during the lift, lengthen or stretch those recruited fibers while they’re under load. This is the eccentric/negative phase of the lift. For example, a muscle could be heavily recruited in an exercise, but if it works isometrically it won’t be optimal for growth. You’ll still get growth and the muscle will still get stronger (mostly isometrically) but you won’t get maximal gains.
A finding in one study said that many pulling exercises have similar, or even superior, bicep activation as direct bicep exercises. For example, a loaded chin-up (supinated) and neutral-grip pull-up had greater bicep activation than all the curling exercises measured. The mean muscle activation for the chin-up and neutral-grip pull-up was higher than the barbell curl, preacher curl, hammer curl, etc. However, the horizontal rowing exercises didn’t have the same effect on the biceps: the bicep activation there was less than half of what it was for the other exercises.
Take-home message: If you do chin-up or pull-up variations you’ll get plenty of bicep stimulation. But if your pulling work only includes horizontal pulling (barbell row, etc.) you’ll likely need to add some bicep work for maximum growth.
If your goal is to build an athletic muscular physique, you likely don’t need direct arm work. Skipping it can allow you to either recover faster from your workouts or invest in a bit more volume on multi-joint movements without exceeding your systemic capacity to handle stress.
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