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Photos by Per Bernal
Known as one of the strongest bodybuilders in the IFBB, with all-time personal records of more than 800 pounds on both squat and deadlift and more than 500 on bench press, Akim Williams might be expected to throw around barbells and dumbbells in every workout. With muscle groups like back and legs, he certainly does. But his arm training is a different story— nothing but machine exercises.
Imagine that: a 305-pound professional bodybuilder (265 onstage) who’s afraid to curl a heavy barbell or even a pair of dumbbells. Rest assured, it’s not a fear of hard work; it’s a mind- muscle connection issue.
“I’ve always done exclusively machine curls for biceps,” says Williams, a Brooklyn, NY, native who now lives in New Jersey. “I don’t believe in free weights for this muscle group. I think free- weight curls mess up your joints more than anything, and you don’t isolate the biceps muscle as well as with machines. With free weights, you’re able to cheat and swing the weight up, whereas machines make it a little easier to keep strict form.”
Many would argue that an arm routine devoid of free-weight moves would limit one’s ability to pack on size. This may be true, but biceps size isn’t an issue for Williams, who has a “problem” most of us would love to have: 23-inch arms, much of that coming from enormous biceps that would throw off his symmetry if they grew any bigger.
For the average guy, there’s no such thing as having arms that are too big. But for a competitive bodybuilder, biceps development that throws off balance and symmetry is an issue that calls for some restraint on arm day.
“I really need to keep my training volume for biceps in check to make sure I don’t overdo them,” Williams says. “I train triceps twice a week, but I hit biceps only once. With a strong body part like this, you have to strike that balance between not overdoing it and not totally ignoring it so it becomes a weakness. I still like to keep the intensity high on biceps, so I just make sure I keep the volume relatively low.”
In this workout, Williams focuses on two major biceps movements: machine preacher curls and cable curls, with one-arm and two-arm versions of each. As mentioned earlier, it’s not about size; rather, it’s about etching in every bit of detail by way of high rep counts, controlled negatives, and holding peak contractions at the top.
“I don’t want my biceps to get any bigger right now,” Williams says, “but you can never have too much detail.”
ONE-ARM CABLE CURL
Stand facing the cable stack with a D-handle attached to the lowest pulley setting. Grab the handle with one hand, and start with your arm at your side and your palm facing forward. Curl the handle up while turning your pinkie or palm outward to supinate the wrist for full biceps contraction. Squeeze at the top in the fully flexed position, then slowly lower back down. Complete all reps with that arm, then switch arms.
WILLIAMS SAYS: “I like starting my biceps workout with one-arm curls instead of two-arm versions. Reason being, one arm is almost always going to be stronger than the other, so you want to balance it out as best as you can with one-arm exercises, and I think doing that when the arms are still fresh is the best way. With one-arm cable curls specifically, I make sure to supinate at the top of the rep by turning the pinkie up and out to really get a strong mind-muscle connection—you can’t do this with the two-arm version using the bar. Supination helps you maximize the peak of the biceps, too.”
ONE-ARM MACHINE PREACHER CURL
Sit on the seat of a preacher curl machine, and grab the bar with only one hand, using the nonworking hand for a support on the top of the pad. From the down position, curl the weight up as far as possible, keeping your upper arm in contact with the pad the entire time. Squeeze the contraction at the top, then lower the weight under control to the start position. Repeat all reps with that arm, then switch sides.
WILLIAMS SAYS: “On the one-arm version of preachers, I always make sure to squeeze hard at the top for one or two counts for a full contraction; you’re going a little lighter here, so you can really squeeze it hard. I also make sure to lower the weight slowly on every rep—at least two seconds on the negative.”
Stand facing a cable stack, holding a bar attached to a low pulley with an underhand grip, arms extended. Contract your biceps to curl the bar toward your chest, keeping your elbows at your sides. Hold and squeeze at the top, then slowly return the bar to the down position.
WILLIAMS SAYS: “Because I’m using both arms and a bar attachment, I like to go as heavy as possible on this exercise to make it a mass builder. And I also don’t go quite as slow on the negative here as with the one-arm version—I’m chasing the pump a little bit more at this point. The form is still pretty strict, and I’m not swinging the weight, but it’s a slightly quicker up-and-down motion.”
MACHINE PREACHER CURL
Adjust the seat of a preacher curl machine so that the backs of your upper arms are in contact with the pad (not just your elbows). Starting with your arms extended, grab the handles and curl the weight up as far as possible. Hold the contraction for a count, then lower back to the start position. At the bottom, stop just shy of full elbow extension to keep tension on the biceps while also reducing injury risk.
WILLIAMS SAYS: “I’ve always been a rm believer that your elbows need to stay on the pad when doing preachers. You always see people doing the exercise and lifting their elbows up o the machine. Keeping your upper arm at against the pad will ensure that you isolate the biceps fully.”
WILLIAMS’ TRAINING SPLIT
WILLIAMS’ ARM WORKOUT
*Perform two to three dropsets on last set.
Williams maintains a fast pace during this workout, resting only 30 to 45 seconds between sets.