Arm Exercises

Big, Burly, Badass Biceps

Fire up your guns with these arm-blasting bi-laws.

Barbell Preacher Curl
MRBIG_PHOTOGRAPHY/Getty Images

If your biceps are not quite where you want them to be despite your most ferocious efforts in the gym, read on and maybe you will run across a bi-law that will help get the job done for you.

Bend ’em back

Trainees often tell me that when they work their biceps, their forearms get the more intense pump. That’s not a good thing if you’re looking for bigger guns. If that sounds like you, then what you should actually be doing during most curling movements is bending your wrists back and holding that position throughout the set. That effectively takes the forearm flexors out of the movement, forcing the biceps to do almost all of the work.

Yes, it will feel a little odd at first—and chances are your curling poundage will drop somewhat—but trust me when I tell you that you will actually hit your biceps harder than ever before. Try using this method on at least one exercise in each biceps workout (I suggest a barbell movement), and I bet you’ll see improvements.

Keep your chin-up

When I talk about your “chin,” I’m not referring to the one on your face, but the kind you should be doing in the gym if you want to pummel those biceps into growth. Close-grip, underhand chins are one of the most effective biceps exercises you can do; yet few trainees ever use them. To get the most out of your close-grip chins, make sure you use perfect form. I recommend spacing your hands no wider than 6" apart.

Begin the movement at a dead hang, with your arms completely straight. At the peak of the concentric portion of the rep your chin should rise just above the bar (no half-reps please) as you squeeze your bi’s hard. Try to lower yourself very slowly, taking up to four to six seconds to get to the bottom position. When you can get 10 to 12 reps with your bodyweight, add some extra resistance with a belt designed to hold plates and/or a dumbbell around your waist. Once you’re doing clean reps with 50 extra pounds attached to you, your biceps will have all the mass you could ever want.

Twice is nice

It’s very much en vogue these days to train each body part only once per week, and with good reason: It works. When you’re looking for some extra growth in a particular muscle, however, it can be very effective to hit that muscle twice per week for a time. The keys to an effective two-days-per-week biceps-prioritization program are: 1) Make sure there are at least three days between workouts, and 2) do two different types of workouts each week. Here’s a split that you can use while doing two biceps workouts per week:

Monday: Chest and biceps
Tuesday: Quads and hams
Thursday: Lats and traps
Friday: Shoulders, biceps, and triceps

With a program like this, I suggest you make Monday your main biceps day, using about a third more volume—that is, sets—than you use on Friday. It can also be very effective to use heavier weights and lower reps in one workout and lighter weights and higher reps in the next. Another way I like to vary the two biceps workouts is to use all barbell movements the first day and all dumbbell movements the next. That’s something you can experiment with, as long as there are some meaningful variations between the two workouts.

Go angling

Change your lines of pull, body position, and/or planes of motion in order to stimulate your biceps in ways they aren’t used to. That will change motor recruitment patterns, wake up the central nervous system, and even enable you to preferably recruit the inner or outer biceps head to a greater degree. Here are some ways to use this concept:

  • Instead of curling off of the angled side of a preacher bench, curl off of the vertical side.
  • Instead of doing seated DB curls, try incline DB curls. If you already do those, try going for a steeper angle.
  • When doing DB curls of any kind, try grabbing the ’bells by either the inside or outside plates rather than in the middle. That alone will change how the movement affects the biceps.
  • When using a barbell, vary your grip from wide to narrow.
  • When using DB’s, try either curling across your body or turning your palms out and curling away from your body.
  • Try sitting at an upper-pulley cable station and curling a straight bar back behind your head.
  • Try lying down at a seated cable row station and doing curls while flat on your back.

Grow with slow-mo

It has been my observation that most guys do their curls with a tempo of 1/0/1/0. If you’re not familiar with that method of expressing lifting speed, it simply means that the eccentric, or negative, portion of the lift is completed in one second; there’s no pause at the bottom; the concentric, or positive, portion of the lift is completed in one second; and there is no pause at the top. At that tempo each rep takes approximately two seconds to complete, and since most sets are anywhere from six to 10 reps, the time under tension will only be 12 to 20 seconds.

That’s not enough for those looking to stimulate hypertrophy in a muscle. Studies have shown that the optimal TUT for gains in muscle size is 40 to 70 seconds per set. My suggestion to anyone seeking more size on their bi’s is a repetition tempo of 3/1/2/1, which will bring the length of each rep to seven seconds. That translates to a TUT of 42 to 70 seconds for sets of six to 12 reps. Perfect!

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