Biceps tears are common in powerlifting. Using an alternate grip when deadlifting? That underhand arm is at risk.
Tears are even more common in strongman. Tire flips and stone lifting are the usual culprits. Happens in bodybuilding too. And if you're a fan of ring dips or muscle-ups, then you too are at risk.
Tears happen when the biceps are loaded and then suddenly lengthened. In a deadlift, they generally happen if the arm isn't 100-percent straight at the start but then straightens during the pull. In strongman, tears occur when a stone or tire slips. As the object drops, the athlete tries to stop it, rapidly loading the biceps as they lengthen.
To some extent, it's a problem you can't always prevent, but you can definitely lower your risk.
Lessons From the Biceps Femoris
Soccer players have hamstring tear problems. A huge amount of money and time has gone into trying to prevent them. What people have found is that the risk factor involves the way the hamstring is loaded (and overloaded) as it lengthens – the same mechanism of injury as biceps tears in strength sports!
Research has also found that strengthening the hamstrings as they lengthen helps reduce the injury risk. The most famously researched exercise has been the Nordic curl.
How can we use this for our biceps? We use a Nordic curl for biceps, otherwise known as the biceps glide. This exercise loads the biceps as they lengthen.
The Biceps Glide
Loading and conditioning the biceps this way will, over time, reduce the risk of tearing when mixed-grip deadlifting, stone or tire lifting, and in life in general.
- When you first do this exercise, you're fatiguing the biceps through the risky range of movement and loading pattern. Initially, you might slightly increase risk. So go gently at first, progress carefully, and for 72 hours stay away from other movements that may also put your biceps at risk.
- As you improve at this exercise, you could use them as a warm-up to activate the biceps before a high-risk movement. This needs to be done lightly and for low volume without fatiguing the biceps.
- Once you're proficient with glides, you can load them up heavier to condition the biceps, but in sessions 72 hours away from full-body, high-risk movements like deadlifts and strongman events.
- The movement itself will always have a risk. It has to in order to have a positive conditioning effect. It's very low and controlled risk relative to the movements where biceps tend to pop, but you should still treat it with respect. Ease into it and be progressive.