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John Robert Cardillo
John travelled the world to learn the best training and nutrition principles and trained alongside top pro bodybuilders at Gold's Gym California. He was a student of Arthur Jones, inventor of Nautilus and Medx Fitness machines, and the pioneer of hi-intensity training. John developed the HIT3 Training System, which transformed his physique to win countless bodybuilding competitions at just 18 years of age! He was also the first bodybuilder to utilize Faradic Electric Muscle Stimulation in his training and intermittent fasting during his competition prep. John’s SHREDDED Nutrition Diet helped him build one of the most shredded physiques of all time. His diet program incorporates fasting and nutrient timing to help athletes build lean muscle while losing body fat.
Top 5 Biceps Machines By John Robert Cardillo
Biceps are the single most prominent body part on a bodybuilder or a regular workout warrior. For a man, nothing exemplifies masculinity like well-developed, muscular biceps. For a woman, biceps with tone and shape are perhaps one of the sexiest features you can have.
In bodybuilding competitions, Arnold-like “peaked” biceps can make or break you at the elite level. If your biceps don’t jump out of your ripped body, your competitive ceiling will be low. Thus, well-developed biceps are perhaps the most important body part to anyone involved in serious weight-training.
Let’s take a brief look at the anatomy of the biceps to understand how the muscle works. The biceps muscle is made up of two muscles: the short head and the long head, which work in unison. Both muscles are attached to the arm bone through a series of tough-as-nails tissues called tendons. In this case, tendons attach to our bones in two areas. The first is the proximal biceps tendon in the shoulder. The second is the distal biceps tendon, which connects the biceps muscle to the ulna and radius bones in the forearm. When contraction occurs, the forearm is pulled upwards and rotated outwards.
Flaw of Barbells and Dumbbells
In the early days of bodybuilding, barbells and dumbbells were revered as being the best tools to build biceps—until Arthur Jones came along, that is. Jones revolutionized resistance training with his invention of Nautilus and MedX exercise machines. From the start, Jones’ goal was to replace barbells and dumbbells by developing perfect exercise machines. He realized that barbells and dumbbells had a major flaw because they only provided vertical resistance against gravity in every exercise.
An example of this is the barbell curl or dumbbell curl. It’s a circular motion that feels different at every segment of the exercise. If you’re performing a curl using 100 pounds, the starting third of the movement is relatively easy to perform because the movement of the weight is both horizontal and vertical. The weight will actually feel less than 100 pounds.
The middle third of the exercise becomes very hard to perform because the movement of the weight is totally vertical and against gravity. The weight actually feels much heavier than it felt in the first third of the exercise. In fact, this is the segment in the curl that most trainees call the “sticking point” where they fail in completing a repetition.
The final third of the curl becomes easier to perform because the barbell is now traveling more horizontally and less vertically, falling into the chest area. It’s at this “last third out” of the repetition that the greatest number of biceps fibres have been recruited and engaged in this exercise movement, where the biceps muscle are at their strongest position and able to fully contract in order to be stimulated for growth. Yet, instead of the resistance fulfilling this muscle growth repetition, the barbell resistance becomes significantly lower against the biceps because of the natural horizontal travel of the barbell movement.
At this completion point, the weight is held up by the elbows and zero resistance remains on the biceps. This is the biggest flaw of barbell curls (and also dumbbell curls). At the completion point of a biceps curl, the greatest amount of resistance should be applied against the biceps to cause maximum contraction and growth. This is key to the biceps increasing their strength and muscular size.
The Scientific Basis of Exercise Machines
Physiologically, all exercises follow a circular pathway, therefore requiring rotary resistance. Jones realized this and designed his machines to mimic barbell and dumbbell exercises without the limitations of vertical resistance imposed by gravity. To accomplish this, Jones invented the Nautilus “cam,” a seashell-shaped pulley that provides incremental rotary resistance for each exercise machine. The “cam” in essence is the brain of each machine that regulates the resistance being provided to each muscle at all points of full-range exercise movements. Jones referred to his machines as “thinking barbells.”
The physiological basis for this was to cause the greatest amount of muscle fibre recruitment throughout the entire range of movement of each exercise. The cam’s shape is such that it provides incremental resistance to a muscle as it recruits more muscle cells to reach full contraction (the exact opposite of barbells or dumbbells). Therefore, more muscle cells and fibres become engaged in the performance of each repetition, resulting in more growth stimulation.
Jones’ Nautilus and MedX machines served as a master plan for every other fitness equipment manufacturer that has come along over the last three decades. In my view, very few have done a good job copying Jones’ ideas. In fact, most have done a poor job. Building equipment that has very little scientific basis behind its design is essentially pointless. Instead of designing machines to work muscles more thoroughly (specifically, in the contracted position, where they have the resistance decreasing instead of increasing), they have actually changed the resistance curve to make the exercises easier and less effective. That’s clearly a step in the wrong direction.
Rating the Top 5 Biceps Machines
Having personally used most of the biceps machines available in the marketplace, I have ranked the top five biceps machines that can help you get the most out of your biceps workout.
I used the following criteria for my ranking:
For an exercise machine to be effective in recruiting the greatest degree of muscle cells, it must provide maximum resistance at the start of the movement by forcing the biceps to be activated in their stretched position. During this phase, the weight is actually moved off or lifted from its resting spot by the biceps in the stretched position.
In order for the biceps muscles to get the most benefit from an exercise, the weight being lifted must meet a one-to-one ratio in travel distance. For every inch that your hand grip travels, the weight should also travel the same distance. That is accomplished by the size of the machine’s “cam” providing the exact weight travel for the exercise movement. A small cam will provide a smaller travel distance for the weight being lifted. This means that you can use heavier weight in the movement because of the mechanical advantage afforded by the small cam; this is misleading and creates a false illusion of your actual strength. Conversely, a cam that is too large will move the weight a greater distance, which will force you to use less weight and make the exercise feel unnatural to the biceps. Therefore, the cam size of a biceps machine is the brain of the machine that must regulate the exact resistance based on travel distance.
Full Range of Motion
For an exercise to be effective, it must work the muscle throughout its full range of motion. Exercises that don’t provide this are ineffective and a waste of time whether performed with machines, barbells, dumbbells or bands.
The purpose of a cam on an exercise machine is to match the strength curve of a muscle by providing incremental resistance throughout the movement regardless of gravity. Most important is that it provides this resistance especially as the muscle reaches the contracted position of an exercise.
1. MedX Bicep Curl Machine
My number one pick is the MedX Bicep Curl machine. MedX has developed the best biceps machine on the planet. It’s what I refer to as a state-of-the-art biceps machine. Simplicity is at the root of this outstanding piece of fitness equipment and its effectiveness as a biceps builder. The movement arm has a built-in forearm pad aligned against the forearm, forcing the user to supinate the wrist. This targets the outer head of the biceps better than any other movement. It forces the arm to mimic a biceps contraction curl, a key feature that no other biceps machine has. The machine’s natural arm positioning comes from its ergonomic design causing minimal stress on the elbow joint and also alleviating tension on the chest. The exercise starts with the arms resting on a pad in a full pre-stretched position. The completed contraction point is achieved when the hands reach the back of the user’s head, touching the trapezius. This is a full-range movement unlike any other biceps exercise. The machine comes with an adjustable seat and with a 300-pound weight stack that has a smaller weight stack for two-pound increments. One set of curls on this MedX biceps machine performed to muscular failure is all that is required to build extraordinary biceps. It’s that good!
2. X-Force Biceps Curl Machine
The X-Force Biceps Curl machine is made in Sweden by the equipment manufacturer X-Force. It incorporates the company’s patent “tilting weight stack” technology, which provides 40 percent heavier resistance on the negative (lowering) part of each repetition.
This is significant because we’re much stronger in the negative (lowering) phase of an exercise than in the positive (lifting) phase. However, very few people weight training today take advantage of this “negative accentuated training” methodology and therefore don’t achieve their maximum potential. This X-Force biceps machine solves this problem.
For example, when you perform a biceps curl on the X-Force biceps machine using 140 pounds (on its weight stack), the weight in the positive segment of the exercise (lifting) will only be 100 pounds because of the X-Force weight stack tilting to 45 degrees and not traveling at 90 degrees against gravity. Then, when performing the negative part of the repetition (lowering the weight), the X-Force weight stack automatically tilts back to 90 degrees, making the resistance 40 percent heavier, to 140 pounds. The heavier resistance during the lowering (negative phase) of each repetition increases the intensity of effort on the biceps, putting greater demand on the biceps’ muscle fibres. This unique technology takes biceps workouts to a whole new level of intensity. Vast amounts of research have proven that negative (eccentric) training significantly increases exercise intensity, causing increases in muscular size and strength.
This “tilting weight stack” technology has been one of the biggest advances in the last 30 years. X-Force produces not only this terrific biceps machine but also a full line of “tilting weight stack” machines for each body part. However, they’re not easily found in commercial gyms because of their costs. Nonetheless, they are definitely a step in the right direction.
3. Panatta Sport Alternate Curling Machine
The Italian fitness equipment company Panatta Sport makes one of the best single-arm alternating biceps machines in the world. If you enjoy incorporating dumbbell curls in your workout, this machine is for you! The machine has a seat adjustment to accommodate any size of person. The back rest is slightly angled backwards, which allows maximum pre-stretch in the starting position of the exercise. The exercise can be performed one arm at a time or with both arms simultaneously. The cam technology provides optimal resistance in the fully contracted position. This unit is definitely the best single-arm biceps machine among all that are in the marketplace today.
4. Atlantis Biceps Curl Machine
The Atlantis Biceps Curl machine is built by the Canadian company Atlantis Strength. It comes either with a weight stack or plate loaded. Its adjustable seat allows you to position your chest below the arm pads in order to allow for maximum biceps isolation. Of significance is the sternum pad that is entirely adjustable for correct axis of rotation alignment of your elbows. It has a lever arm that is counterbalanced to provide a zero-weight starting resistance. The elbow pads are contoured for maximum comfort as you increase the workload. You can get several different grip positions through the self-aligning handle. The machine was designed with a variable resistance cam that follows the strength curve of the biceps muscle, accentuating the contracted position. This machine is the closest in movement and arm positioning to the MedX biceps machine with the exception of not having the forearm pad to accentuate the biceps.
5. Nautilus Nitro Unilateral Curl Machine
One of the best in its class, the Nautilus Nitro Unilateral Curl Machine has many things going for it as one of the ultimate piece of workout equipment for biceps. Great for muscle isolation, the independent arms provide excellent body balance. The high position of your elbow gives you a full biceps contraction with your hands in a supinated position, allowing greater range of motion. It’s this “high” position and the unique angle of attack that causes extreme muscle contractions to the biceps unlike any other exercise.
The seat and back pad are both adjustable to allow the correct alignment of the joints within the axis of the rotation movement arm. This machine comes as a weight stack unit or a plate-loading unit. The strength curve technology provided by each of the machines’ cams combines smooth and correct resistance through the complete range of movement.
To build your biceps to their maximum potential, the most important consideration must be the exercise tools you use. Multiple sets of barbell and dumbbell exercises coupled with less than maximum intensity will lead to poor results. Using the latest biceps equipment technology provided by the machines reviewed in this article and performing each exercise in a high-intensity manner will produce extraordinary results.
In my experience, barbells or dumbbells should only be used in one biceps workout per month, and only for the purpose of changing the neuromuscular resistance pathway for the biceps (angles of attack on the biceps). This will ensure that the biceps receive different stimulation and don’t become accustomed only to the isolation pathway that machines provide. The most effective biceps training involves using machines 75 percent of the time and conventional barbells, dumbbells and pulleys 25 percent.