The Best Bodybuilding Exercises: Brachialis Curls

The brachialis muscle
Photo courtesy: Gray's Anatomy (public domain)

The brachialis is a muscle located at the front of your upper arms. It originates at the lower half of the front of the humerus or upper arm bone, and inserts at the front of the ulna, or outer forearm bone. If you look directly at the front of your upper arms, you can't see the brachialis. This is because it actually lies underneath the two-headed biceps muscle group. To see the brachialis, you need to flex your arms by bending your elbows and then look at the outer side of your upper arms. The brachialis will appear as a circular muscle right in between your biceps and triceps. Its sole function is actually to do this elbow-bending motion, so anytime you do an exercise for your biceps, such as the popular biceps curl, you will be working your brachialis. However, to maximize the muscle's development, you must do exercises that take the biceps as much out of the equation as possible, thus forcing the brachialis to lift most of the workload.

One way you can achieve this is by raising your arms overhead when you do elbow-bending exercises. You see, the biceps attach to your shoulder blades, specifically the coracoid process and supraglenoid tubercles, and they shorten when you raise your arms overhead. If you bend your elbows while your arms are in this overhead position, then your biceps will further shorten until they cannot do so anymore. This is a biomechanical principle known as active insufficiency and it happens almost immediately as you begin to bend your elbows, thus forcing your brachialis to take over the movement.

You can do a bodybuilding exercise that mimics this exact situation called the brachialis curl. It's imperative you include this, or another brachialis exercise, in your arm workouts if you want to build the largest and most detailed-looking arms possible. Doing only traditional biceps curl exercises will only build the mass of your brachialis to a certain extent, so you must do brachialis-specific exercises to fully develop the muscle.


Set a cable pulley to the highest position and attach a cable handle to the pulley. Grasp the handle with your right hand in an underhanded grip and kneel down on the ground, facing towards the cable pulley system. Start with your right arm overhead and in a straightened position. Bend your right elbow as much as you can to lower the right handle towards your right shoulder. Hold the contraction for a second and then extend your right elbow to return the handle up to the starting position. Perform 10 to 12 repetitions and then repeat with your left arm. Do a total of three sets of the brachialis curl with each arm.


You can do a variation of this exercise while seated and using both of your arms at the same time. You need access to a lat pulldown machine to do this variation of the brachialis curl. Grip the lat bar using an underhanded grip and sit on the lat pulldown machine, with your thighs under the machine pads and with your feet on the ground. Begin with your arms straight and in an overhead position. Keep your torso upright, or slightly leaning forward, and keep your head and neck in a neutral position. Lower the lat bar behind your head by bending your elbows as much as you can. Hold the brachialis contraction for a second then extend your elbow to raise the lat bar back up. Do this exercise as a substitute for the kneeling brachialis curl exercise and perform three sets of 10 to 12 reps.