Biceps Training Tips
I'll admit it, when I first made the decision I was going to transform my physique for the better I went to my local sports store and bought a 25lb dumbbell set.
What followed was a month of biceps curls, every variation I could find as well as some that'd probably never been seen before.
Once a week I snapped a photo of my arms and measured my biceps peak... no change.
I became discouraged and never touched those dumbbells again.
Several months later when I started following a proper workout regime and discovered the training principles that actually work I realized that I'd make literally every single mistake possible on the quest for big biceps.
Back then my arms, at 16% body fat measured 12", today in the single digit body fat range they are just shy of 17".
Here's what you need to know in order to build those biceps you're envisioning.
Want Big Biceps? Here Are My Top Tips
Lower Your Rep Range
Just because the biceps are a far smaller muscle group than your back or legs it doesn't mean they require any different treatment in terms of workout structure.
Performing 20, 30 or 40 rep sets will burn and give you an absurdly large pump, however the burn is merely the build-up of lactic acid and the pump is the temporary rushing of blood to the targeted muscle.
Since I started training biceps utilizing the principles I focus on for other body parts I've managed to overcome plateaus and build immense strength.
- Keep your biceps workout simple and start with the big mass movers before you delve further into isolation.
- Form is paramount, but lift heavy enough to ensure you're only able to get around the 6 rep mark
- Don't overdo the volume, 3 - 4 exercises is more than enough, no need to do 10 variations of the same exercise
Use An Arm Blaster To Lock In Perfect Form
You can focus on the right exercises and lift heavy for the recommended rep range, but if your form isn't on point you're not going to be getting the size and strength gains you want.
Swinging and flaring your elbows as you attempt to curl the weight are two textbook signs you're lifting too heavy.
An arm blaster is a fantastic way to lock in good form.
So what is an Arm Blaster?
An arm blaster is a harness with a metal plate. The harness slides over your neck, allowing you to lock your arms into the grooved sections of each side of the arm blaster’s metal plate.
How does an Arm Blaster work?
The arm blasters primary purpose is to ensure greater isolation on the biceps when performing different variations of bicep curls e.g. EZ curls and dumbbell curls. This isolation is achieved due to the grooved sections of the arm blaster holding your elbows in place. When performing a traditional bicep curl without an arm blaster when your form begins to deteriorate the natural thing to do is to begin to use momentum and swing backwards with your elbows to muscle the weight up. The arm blaster holds your elbows firmly in place, forcing your biceps to work harder to curl the weight up as they no longer have any assistance.
This is a simple yet fantastic concept as greater isolation means greater tension and stress on the muscle,greater stress and tension on the muscle will promote potential growth in your biceps.
Every guy in the gym wants to swing around heavy weight on biceps, I get that.
As I said earlier – if you want to build big arms you’re going to have to lift heavy, HOWEVER form always have and always will take priority over the weight being lifted.
The bottom portion of a bicep curl is without a doubt the hardest portion of the movement, and when lifting too heavy many gym-goers attempt to swing backwards or hip thrust to attempt to move the weight.
Using momentum to move the weight takes tension off the bicep, doing you no good.
If you’re swinging and swaying your back on every repetition you’re also placing your lower back at a high risk of injury – not good.
Pick a weight that’s heavy for you to perform with good form, save the cheat curls for Arnold.
Hit The Hammers
The dumbbell hammer curl (palms facing inwards) are a fantastic mass builder for the biceps, I have quite a long biceps insertion (meaning my biceps peak isn't as prominent as someone with a short biceps insertion).
At first I accepted that I'd never be able to build a solid bicep peak as I had been robbed by my genetics...
I was wrong.
After spending months hitting heavy seated dumbbell hammer curls my biceps peaks started to grow! To this day the dumbbell hammer curl is a staple exercise in my arm workouts.
Hammer curl can be performed with a bicep blaster to ensure your form remains strict while lifting heavy too.
Apply Progressive Overload
The term progressive overload simply means to constantly ensure your muscles fibers are being subject to a larger load or an increase in tension on the muscle, essentially placing more stress on the muscle resulting in an increase in both muscular size and strength.
You should be applying progressive overload in every single workout you’re performing.
Increase the weight
The most basic method of applying progressive overload to your muscles for size and strength gains is to increase the weight you’re lifting. As an example, if you’re aiming for the 4- 6 rep range for 3 sets and you’ve been consistently hitting 6, 6, 5 for your last 3 sets increasing the weight, even though you’re reps will more than likely drop down to 5, 5, 4 is a sufficient form of progressive overload to keep your strength and size on the rise.
Alter your rep range
The thing I repeat the most on Ignore Limits is without a doubt the importance of training in the lower rep ranges. If you’ve been spending day after day performing 10 repetitions by default on each and all of your sets then you’re going to be doing your muscles a massive favour by decreasing your rep range down to 4 – 6. Lifting a suitable weight for 4 – 6 repetitions (which should be 80 – 85%) of your 1 rep maximum will blast your strength and size to new levels.
Alter your number of sets
Several years ago when I hit a plateau on my shoulder press I tried everything I could think of to get past it, it seemed as if I’d never get past the 55lb mark on those dumbbells.
The solution? Because I didn’t have a spotter I couldn’t lift any heavier so I opted to increase my volume my reducing the rep range slightly while increasing the number of sets (resulting in an increased number of heavy reps per workout).
3 sets of 8 reps was adjusted to 5 sets of 6 reps.
Stop Chasing The Pump
First of all, what is the “pump?” The pump is the tight feeling caused by blood rushing to the targeted muscle in the body part you are training after performing multiple sets. The pump alone does not indicate that you are making progress or that your muscles are growing – a high repetition set of push-ups can be used to obtain a pump, meanwhile dumbbell bench pressing 130lb dumbbells for 5 reps may not give you a pump even though this lift and weight is far more beneficial towards growth.
As discussed earlier, applying progressive overload with heavy compound movements in the 6~ rep range will build mass and strength, if you're constantly chasing the pump with lighter weights your big arms will only last for the duration of your workout.
When you're curling a 135lb barbell for 6 strict reps you won't need to worry about the pump or the size of your arms, they'll take care of themselves.
Focus On The Mind Muscle Connection
The primary reason for improving your mind muscle connection is to increase the number of muscle fibers recruited while lifting and increasing the contraction of the muscle on each repetition.
Increased recruitment and contraction will result in increased muscle mass and strength, this involves being able to control, fire and relax the muscle in question on demand. Can you bounce your pecs up and down? This takes a degree of established mind muscle connection to perform properly (without twitching your shoulders!).
Tense the muscle prior to each set
Before each set flex and hold for a count of two seconds before picking up the dumbbells/barbell and lifting. I find this techniques helps me maintain a strong mind muscle connection when performing pull-ups – by taking a moment to bring my shoulder blades together and contract my lats I’m able to hone in on the muscle better and ensure I’m pulling through my lats as opposed to my biceps as fatigue sets in.
Perform several lighter weight perfect form war-up sets
A huge mistake guys make when they get to the gym is warming up incorrectly. Not only will you not feel an optimal mind muscle connection but you’re also at a much higher risk of injury if you neglect your warm-up or don’t perform one at all.
Instead of performing a few basic static stretches (which have actually been proven to decrease your performance when it comes to explosive strength based exercises) I recommend you follow a slightly more dynamic warm-up.
Before you lay on that bench and get under the barbell take a moment to mentally ‘check in’ and envision the set you’re about to perform. Imagine lowering the barbell in a controlled manner to your chest while feeling the stretch across your pectorals before exploding upwards and squeezing your chest together to get that contraction at the top of your repetition.
I’ve found when I don’t take a moment to envision honing in on the muscle I’m training I often end up unconsciously recruiting secondary muscle groups (such as the shoulders since we’re discussing the flat barbell bench press).
Now that you’ve already mentally played out your set you’ll feel a far greater level of control and contraction throughout your set.