An impressive pair of biceps has always been a sight to behold. In terms of demonstrating one’s strength, is there a more iconic image than a bicep flex? We don’t think so.
Developing (and maintaining) a thick set of guns should be a common enough goal for anyone, whether they’re deep into the fitness game or just starting out. But there is a certain myth when it comes to the pure calisthenics approach in the matter, and it goes something like this:
“You won’t get far without traditional bicep curls.”
And you know what? The myth does start from a solid base. Given that most bodyweight exercises are compound moves, isolating the bicep in your TRX workouts can get increasingly more difficult as one keeps getting better and stronger.
But the approach has advanced since then, and training aids have been developed to help us overcome this complication. Yes, it can be difficult to reach a certain point without resorting to weights, but it is absolutely doable, and can lead to results that are just as amazing.
Today we will talk about two of the more popular alternatives to the bicep curl. First we will go into detail with the very challenging pelican curls (also known as the pelican push-ups), then we will do the same with the variants utilising TRX gear.
Pelican Curls on the TRX
Possibly the most effective bodyweight bicep exercise out there, pelican curls (or pelican push-ups if you like) are obviously not something you can get into right away. Luckily, there is a series of progressions to ease you into the whole, proper move (and even beyond). These include:
- Half Pelican Curl on Chairs. Get a pair of identical (or at the very least similarly tall) chairs or stools, and put them a bit farther than your shoulder’s width between each other. So what you want to do is place your hands on the chairs (your palms should be turned outside, or away from your torso to be more precise), and slowly step back into an inclined push-up position. From there, simply do a push-up. Don’t go deeper than the chairs’ height for this progression.
- Full Pelican Curl on Chairs. Identical setup, with the difference that now you actually will go deeper. Do it in a slow, controlled fashion, allowing your biceps to extend as needed and your hands to rotate somewhat, so you neither lose your grip not twist your wrists. Once you’ve lowered yourself all the way down, lift yourself up fully, and repeat the motion. Make certain that your body remains as straight as possible throughout.
- Half Pelican Curl on Rings. Now we’re getting serious. Gymnastic rings increase the difficulty for pretty much any exercise they are added to, due to their floaty nature. You will not only need to worry about the motion, but also preventing the rings from escaping your grasp. This will of course drastically increase the intensity of the exercise, and help you go farther. Otherwise, the move is similar to the half pelican curl on chairs.
- Full Pelican Curl on Rings. As above, except that now you will go deeper down, as much as you can while being able to pull yourself back up afterward. This will in turn prepare you for the final step, which is…
- Legs Elevated Full Pelican Curl on Rings. For this final progression, you will need to find an elevation for your legs. Ideally your body should be about parallel to the ground to start with, but feel free to play around with this elevation until you find the right difficulty for you. Then just do what you’ve done up until this point. The better your form, the greater the benefits you will eventually reap from the exercise.
Aim for 6 to 12 reps, 2 to 4 sets. Once you hit 12 reps, 4 sets with a progression, it’s definitely time to move on to a more difficult one.
TRX Bicep Curl Variations
Due to how easy it is to adjust the difficulty, all of these are great for muscular hypertrophy, i.e. going all the way with easier and easier reps until you can’t push yourself any further. You will of course start with a lot of resistance by standing close to the TRX anchoring point, then incrementally keep making things easier by stepping away. Doing this three times is the norm, but feel free to tinker and experiment.
So how do you start? Well, after attaching your TRX Suspension Trainer to something that can hold it (anything from a door frame to a tree—if you’re exercising outside), set it to its shortest length. Now stand with your feet under the anchor point, grab the handles with your thumbs pointing up, and lean back.
Bend your arms to bring your palms to the sides of your head (close to the ears is good). Hold for a second. Return to the starting position by slowly extending your arms. Ideally you should do this slower than the first part. This is an eccentric movement that also helps build muscle, and is arguably just as important as the contraction itself. Repeat. To reduce the difficulty, take a step back.
This move is known as your regular TRX Bicep Curl, and of course there are variants. These include:
- The Reverse TRX Bicep Curl, which is similar to the one described above, but uses a different grip. Namely, instead of keeping your thumbs pointed up (the supinated grip), here you grab the handles like you’d do with a pull-up (the pronated grip). This changes the exercise so it becomes less bicep-focused, but works your forearms as a trade-off.
- The Single Arm TRX Bicep Curl. If you can pull it off, this one will obviously make you burn with twice the intensity. Use the supinated grip and stand sideways relative to the anchor point as you grip the handle. If you need it, stagger your feet for stability (while keeping the rest of your body as straight as possible), and keep your other hand rested on your hip.
- The TRX Bicep Clutch Curl. Here you go back to gripping the handles as you would for the regular bicep curl, but instead of bending your elbows up, you bring them down toward your chest. This is one of the less focused moves on this list, as it also hits your forearms and your postural muscles.
- The TRX Crossing Clutch Curl. A difficult one, but rather interesting to perform. It hits your biceps and shoulders. Act it out as if you’re giving yourself a hug, and feel free to alternate between which hand ends up on top. In fact it’ll be better if you do, just for the sake of symmetry.
Like with the pelican curl, you’ll want to do between 6 and 12 reps. As for the number of sets, that depends on whether or not you intend to use the TRX variants for hypertrophy or not. If not, aim for 2 to 4 sets. If the answer is yes however, feel free to push yourself as far as you can go. Just don’t forget to give yourself enough time to rest and recover afterward (2 days is the absolute minimum). Given time, the results will surprise you.