When it comes to an arm’s workout, the biceps and triceps usually steal the show. Big, strong arms are a highly sought after commodity in the business of developing a muscular physique, so maximizing your effort towards building them can seem like a no-brainer.
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However, creating a pair of impressively large arms requires more than just bulging biceps and terrifyingly large triceps. In between these two dominantly popular arm muscles lies another muscle that when developed can add even more detail, size, and crowd-pleasing qualities to your arms. I’m talking about the brachialis muscle, commonly referred to as the “lower biceps”, and it’s circled in red in the picture below.
The brachialis is considered a mobility muscle because of how close the elbow joint is to its insertion. Its role is to help flex the elbow joint, such as is done in any curl exercise. Unfortunately, doing bicep exercises alone won’t maximize this muscle’s development. This is because when doing classic biceps curls, the majority of the tension and stimulus is unsurprisingly placed on the biceps muscles. To increase the tension placed on the brachialis during a curl, we need to decrease the tension applied to the biceps, while still flexing at the elbow. One way to do this, is to put the biceps in a disadvantaged position while performing a curl exercise. Enter the cross body hammer curl, otherwise known as the “pinwheel curl”, a variation of the more popularly used hammer curl.
While the hammer curl is an effective exercise to target the brachioradialis found on the lower arm, tweaking this exercise so that you curl the weight across your body helps shift the tension to the brachialis. The cross body hammer curl is similar to the hammer curl, in that you use a neutral grip to curl the dumbbell. The difference is that in the cross body variation you curl the dumbbell across your body towards your opposite shoulder. Can you guess how it got it’s name?
Biceps curl exercises have a range of motion across the sagital plane, moving from down to up. However, when you curl the weight across the front of your body your now curling to the side, and this changes the anatomical plane the resistance is coming from. This also puts the biceps in a weaker position, allowing you to better recruit the brachialis, and to a lesser extent the brachioradialis.
Because the brachialis can be a difficult muscle to feel working, start off with slower repetitions the first few times you do this exercise. By going a slower tempo and concentrating on a small squeeze at the top of each rep, you’ll be able to really feel your brachialis contract, improving the mind muscle connection with it. Once your comfortable with getting the feel of the exercise down, increase the tempo but don’t go too heavy and start swinging the weights. I’ve seen things get ugly quick when people do that.
Use both the hammer curl, and it’s cross body variation as tools to develop parts of your arm you may otherwise be under stimulating. When the brachialis is trained properly and grows, it helps push the biceps and triceps out which makes your arms seem bigger. And even though cross body variation does a better job at hitting the brachialis, normal hammer curls still stimulate them as well so be sure to switch off between the two curls to get the benefits of both.
One final tip to mention is that we have found the best results from this exercise when targeting one arm at a time for a set of 10 – 15 repetitions. While it’s faster to alternate arms back and forth throughout the set, going one arm at a time allows you to better focus on recruiting the brachialis muscle which can be tough to do, especially at first. Overtime you’ll become better and better at targeting your brachialis and the results will show in the mirror.