Regardless of where you stand in your quest for your definition of an “ideal” physique, you can’t ever go wrong with adding a little mass to the arms, right? Of any fitness-related questions that I get asked on a regular basis, inquiries on how to get bigger biceps certainly trumps all. I feel like a wide misconception is that the heavier the weight you are curling, the faster you see big results. Throughout my training I have found quite the opposite— it was actually the “lighter” weights that I could properly manage with excellent form that allowed me to start piling more muscle to this area of my body. That’s right, choosing smaller loads of weight produced better results. Why is this the case, you ask? Well, here are a few tips on why:
- Reduce the load and increase your focus on the biceps. I know “bad form” is a pretty loosely used term these days, but I am not saying there is only one proper way to perform an exercise. I am saying that proper form of a biceps exercise should focus on engaging the biceps as best as possible. If you are hunching forward and using a rocking motion, yes you will likely be able to “lift” more weight. The problem with this is that your biceps are most likely not doing the bulk of the lifting; your anterior deltoids and forearms are. Pick a weight that you can control during the entire movement without compromising form for best biceps activation.
- Slow down your reps for better engagement. All too often, I see people in the gym rolling through a set of biceps curls like they are pumping their arms in a footrace. When moving too fast with biceps exercises, the eccentric movement usually gets overlooked. The eccentric movement is the motion in which the muscle elongates (gets longer). Most people simply let gravity do its work and let the weight “free fall” without any concentration on the muscle. Effectively controlling the weight during this eccentric movement of the exercise can greatly increase the recruitment of new muscle fibers, ultimately helping add size. Do yourself a favor and place just as much emphasis on this eccentric movement as you do during the concentric (squeeze) movement.
- More isn’t always better. We already mentioned that more isn’t necessarily better when it comes to the weight used, but the same applies for the number of exercises we choose to complete for individual muscle groups. Going to the gym and executing every exercise you can possibly think of for the biceps is exactly what I am talking about. Reduce the amount of exercises and spend more time focusing on performing those with excellent form and tempo. Personally, I usually stick to two to three exercises for biceps in a workout. I prefer splitting my choice of exercises up by the areas of the arm they focus on. For example, I will use exercises such as incline dumbbell. For the biceps brachii (short head) I tend to use exercises such as spider curls, preacher curls and cable curls.
- Don’t fall into the “3 sets of 10” complacent routine. 3 sets of 10 reps might be the most widely used rep/set protocol in the fitness community. Utilizing the same exercises with the same rep/set schemes will eventually result in your body to stop responding as effectively. Although I may only focus on completing two to three different exercises for biceps, which seems like very little, I take these to complete failure. For example, if complete failure for my first exercise of preacher curls takes seven sets, then so be it! You can be FAR more effective by focusing on taking two to three exercises to failure with more than your usual amount of sets rather than completing the industry norm of three sets of 10 for far too many different exercises.
Exercise Sets Reps
Warm up – Light sets with dumbbells to promote blood flow to the biceps 2 10-15
EZ-Curl Preacher Curls 5 12, 10, 10, 8, 8
Dumbbell Hammer Curls 4 12, 12, 10, 8
Single-Arm Standing Cable Curls
Superset with Reverse-Grip Cable Curls 3 15, 12, 10
Please take into consideration that the above workout is simply a suggested set count and you should utilize as many sets as you need to reach failure for that particular exercise. I hope you can find some use in the tips covered above and implement them into your biceps training. Remember that all training, including biceps training, heavily relies on mind to muscle connection so remember to FOCUS every rep of every set of every exercise for BEST results.
Photos of Quinn LeBlanc by Brandon Willis Photography