I don’t think I need to tell you why having well-developed, muscular biceps is something you should want. Since we were little boys, the command to “make a muscle” always resulted in some form of half-assed biceps pose in response. When we all started lifting weights, biceps were at the forefront of what we were hoping to improve on. We all want our bi’s to bulge out of tight shirtsleeves as a symbol of our manhood and power. I have known guys whose physique goals ranged all the way from wanting to look like a Calvin Klein underwear model to a 275-pound professional bodybuilder, and each and every one of them wanted better biceps. Let’s now delve into the exercises that will help you get ‘em!
This is the king of all biceps exercises, as basic as it possibly gets. Key pointers here for correct technique include keeping your torso stationary and your elbows firmly at your sides as you curl. Hands should be spaced shoulder-width apart. The reps should be fairly slow as opposed to throwing the weight up and letting it drop as is often seen. With all curls, take a second at the top of the rep to flex your biceps hard against resistance. This one simple “extra” can increase the intensity and effectiveness of the exercise by at least 50 percent. You may use either a straight bar or a cambered “EZ-curl” bar, which many have found doesn’t strain the wrists as much.
Alternate Dumbbell Curls
Another time-proven basic that has delivered the goods for decades is the alternate dumbbell curl. It is unique in that it allows you to supinate your hand, which is rotating the palm away from the body. This is the secondary function of the biceps after arm flexion, or the motion of bringing your hand toward your shoulder. These can be done standing or seated. Be very careful not to either “lean into” the working arm or start letting the elbows come up in front of your body when the reps get tough. You can also do these lying back on an incline bench, which makes the reps harder in the bottom range.
The brachialis isn’t technically part of the biceps. It’s a small knot-like muscle that lies between the biceps and triceps on the outside of your upper arm. Making an effort to develop it will add considerable volume to your arms, and will make your biceps look much larger – not too shabby! Hammer curls are the most popular way to train this muscle. The action is nearly identical to alternate curls, except that your thumbs face forward at all times, as if you were holding a hammer.
Another very good way to work the brachialis, as well as give the forearm extensors a little more size while you’re at it, is reverse curls. These are basically barbell curls using an overhand grip on the bar. You will probably only be able to use about half as much weight on these as barbell curls, but don’t sweat it.
A myth exists in gyms everywhere that only free weights are good tools for building your muscles. Nothing could be more inaccurate. As long as you challenge yourself and work the muscle hard, machines can be just as good. In fact, in some ways they are better because they evenly distribute the weight along the full range of motion with no sticking points like you experience with barbells and dumbbells. There are many excellent models to choose from, including Cybex, Hammer Strength, Life Fitness, Nautilus, Icarian, and Strive.
Cables can also be a great way to train your biceps. With all types of grip attachments to clip on, the possibilities are virtually endless and can be a perfect cure for staleness and boredom in your biceps workouts. Cables are especially suited as a nice finishing movement done for high reps so you end the workout with a skin-tight pump.
Another popular exercise to finish off a biceps workout is the seated concentration curl. Bracing your working arm up against your inner thigh, you focus on slowly squeezing your biceps up into a knotted ball and then letting it stretch back to its full length. You may use the non-working arm to help administer a forced rep or two at the end of the set for added intensity.
Doing your curls on a preacher bench with either a bar or a single dumbbell lets you stabilize the upper body and isolate the biceps more effectively. You can use either the sloped side of the pad, or turn it around for a greater range of motion using the straight vertical side.
Building a Peak?
There is a widespread misconception that certain exercises like preacher curls or concentration curls can give you that high “peaked” shape to your biceps. The fact of the matter is that the genetic shape of your biceps was determined in the womb by your DNA, just as the color of your eyes and hair were. Don’t bother fretting over this, because as long as you develop your biceps to the utmost, regardless of the shape, they will look awesome.
Top 5 Tips for Super-Effective Biceps Training
1. Form Is Everything!
The number one reason most lifters experience little or no results from their biceps training is poor form. And the reason they use bad form is almost always because they are trying to use way too much weight to impress God knows who or to inflate their ego. Wouldn’t you rather inflate your biceps? I know this is going to sound nuts, but I absolutely guarantee you that you will get better growth curling a 50-pound barbell in perfect form than you will heaving and jerking a 100-pound bar. The bottom line is applying continuous tension on the muscle, and to do this you have to perform the reps slowly and under control. You should never, ever throw a weight up or simply let it drop. Instead, make it your goal to force the biceps to work over every centimeter of the rep. Squeeze it at the top and consciously feel it stretch on the way down. Don’t worry for a minute about not using as much weight as the dude next to you.
Forget Low Reps and very heavy weights
Related to tip number one is the fact that biceps do not seem to respond very well to reps lower than eight. Smaller muscle groups like the biceps, triceps, and calves appear to require higher reps in the range of 8-12 to start tapping deep into the muscle fibers and causing the micro-trauma that leads to growth. Don’t waste your time with a weight you can only curl for three or four reps. It might make for an amusing show, but it’s highly doubtful anything productive for your biceps will be done.
Do Not Train the Biceps After Back
Many guys have a schedule that has them training biceps after back, and this can be a huge mistake. The reasoning behind that pairing is that the biceps are heavily involved in back training anyway, yet this is why it’s such a bad idea. Chin-ups, barbell and dumbbell rows, and deadlifts all take a heavy toll on the biceps as well as your lats. After this they are simply not capable of performing at peak efficiency on isolation exercises for them such as curls. You are far better off training biceps either with chest or shoulders, or perhaps on a separate arm day that shouldn’t be the day before or after back. This will ensure that the biceps are capable of giving their all when called upon to do so. This one simple change has often been the key to unlock biceps growth in men who hadn’t seen results in months or years.
Allow for Recovery
In a case of well-meant but misguided enthusiasm, a lot of men get into the habit of training their arms two or even three times a week in hope of accelerating the growth process. Instead, they usually retard the growth process by overtraining these muscles. This is largely because the arms are involved in so many other upper-body exercises indirectly. Be cognizant of this overlap when you design your routines, and pay attention to both volume and frequency. Biceps don’t require much more than 9-12 work sets at most, once a week, for optimum progress. You can specialize for brief periods by training them twice a week, but doing so for more than about three weeks would backfire in most cases and lead to burnout and even regressions in size and strength.
Finally, one of your primary goals along with proper lifting technique should be to feel a pump in your biceps every time you train them. A critical pre-workout ritual should be a meal with carbs like rice, oatmeal, or potatoes, so that your muscles have enough glycogen as fuel to sustain a pump. While a pump is really nothing more than the temporary entrapment of blood inside the muscle (not unlike an erection), it is a good marker that you have successfully worked the muscle sufficiently to cause the engorgement. And as Arnold said in the musclehead classic Pumping Iron, “a pump is like cumming.” I don’t know if I would go that far, but the feeling of having your biceps tight and swollen is pretty damn good.
Basic Biceps Routines
3 x 8-10
Hammer Dumbbell Curls
3 x 8-10
Dumbbell Concentration Curls
3 x 8-10
Alternate Dumbbell Curls
3 x 8-10
3 x 8-10
3 x 8-10
Incline Dumbbell Curls
3 x 8-10
3 x 8-10
One-arm Cable Curls
3 x 8-10