How to Get Bigger Biceps: A Guide for Intermediate Lifters
When someone asks you to flex your muscle it’s inevitable that you’re supposed to roll-up your sleeve and pop a biceps flex. Wouldn’t it be nice if you displayed a peaked, mountainous mound of muscle that drops jaws and begs the question: “How did you build that?”
The argument for bigger biceps
Many will look at the title of this article and scoff at the lack of practicality of building bigger biceps. Statements like beach muscles and useless waste of time come to mind from those who train for real-world situations and better function. But a proportionate, well-muscled physique is in need of biceps.
As a key player in pulling your biceps serve many functions and assist in the bigger lifts such as rows and pull-ups. Aesthetically they also round-out your arms nicely to pair against your well-developed triceps. Yes, they are more of a look-at-me muscle group but why not get the most out of whatever you’re training?
The real story behind bigger biceps
If you’re past the beginner phase of training and have a few years of hard training under your belt and still haven’t gotten the best results from your biceps training then you may need a different perspective. Curling, curling and more curling might not be the answer.
Ask yourself this question: Have you ever seen a guy with big biceps without being able to perform pull-ups and rows efficiently? Do they normally perform heavy sets of barbell rows, T-bar rows, pulley rows and numerous sets of chin-ups?
If bigger biceps are on your to-do list and you’re past the beginner stages of training then focus first on the big lifts. Improve your form and performance on the aforementioned multi-joint lifts. Get heavier on rows, pull-ups and even deadlifts. The larger amounts of weight will stress the biceps with heavier loads than can be achieved with single-joint curling exercises.
Once you’ve done your homework with the big lifts the isolation work will be thrown in for finishing off the biceps more or less. This will make for a more efficient and effective biceps training without wasting precious time endlessly curling.
Your arm arsenal
The following is a short list of categories of different types of biceps exercises. Although this isn’t an exhaustive list (that’s enough for a separate article) it does break down the types and their subsequent movement variations.
Barbell curls: Barbell curls are the bread and butter of any biceps program. Straight bar standing curls, seated barbell curls, drag curls, preacher bench curls, spider (Scott) curls, reverse incline bench curls, reverse curls and cheat curls are just a few exercises done with the simple barbell.
The trick is to let the biceps do the work instead of the shoulders or your lower back. Pin your elbows to your sides for most of these and focus on squeezing the biceps up as if you’re trying to knot them up. Slowly lower the weight back down without resting at the bottom.
Dumbbell curls: Dumbbells give you the unique advantage of supinating and pronating (twisting) the weight up to involve more muscle fibers than with a fixed straight bar. Standing and seated dumbbell curls, incline bench curls, concentration curls, preacher bench dumbbell curls, spider (Scott) curls, Zottman curls and reverse incline bench curls are a few that give you that twisting advantage. Be sure to turn the weight from your elbow leading with your pinky finger to get that deep contraction in the biceps.
Cable curls: Although not necessarily known as a mass builder among the other forms of curls cables do allow for constant tension throughout the movement. Great for shifting gears or possibly working around an injury cables also allow for more control and the ability to perform intensity techniques with ease by simply moving the weight pin. Straight bar, single handle, reverse grip and multiple angles to choose from cable curls are worth a look just for their diversity alone.
Bodyweight curls: As some of the most effective yet challenging exercises bodyweight curls in all forms deliver big results without the need for traditional weights. Most notably suspension trainer (for example, TRX Trainer) curls and chin-up curls place enormous amounts of unique stress on the biceps.
The main point here is to direct all stress to the biceps. So, that means round your back during chins to take the lats out of the equation as much as possible and for suspension trainer curls keep the elbows high and curl toward the sides of your forehead for a peak contraction.
Angles of attack
As an intermediate trainer looking for more than just more of the same curl options angles should be considered as well. No, this isn’t just some haphazard, unorganized method of throwing a bunch of angles in and seeing what happens. It’s a strategic way of grouping your biceps training to get not only the most effective results but also performing it efficiently. In other words how to get the most out of each and every training session.
Traditional mass builders: These are the big mass builders that give you the most bang for your buck. They neither induce an extreme stretch or contraction. Barbell and dumbbell curls, seated curls and drag curls fit this bill the best.
Stretch angles: These exercises place a great deal of deliberate stretch to the biceps. Any form of incline bench dumbbell curls, lying curls and any other cable curl that paces the arm behind the plane of your body to stretch will qualify.
Contraction angles: These exercises put the biceps in the optimal position for the most intense contraction possible. These are normally achieved by bringing the arm in front of the body so the contraction is easier to perform without much stress from stretching. Concentration, preacher bench, spider (Scott) and reverse lying incline bench curls fit this angle well.
The Bicep Workouts
Below are three uniquely different biceps routines built for any training situation. One for the traditional gym-goer, one for the home trainer and the last is for bodyweight only enthusiasts. Use one, two or all three for each biceps session and get ready for new growth for your guns.
Perform three to four sets of eight to twelve reps of each exercise. Rest one minute between sets.
Gym biceps workout
- Standing barbell curl
- Behind-the-back cable curl
- Spider (Scott) curl
Home gym arm workout
- Seated dumbbell curl
- Incline bench or lying dumbbell curl
- Standing concentration curl
Bodyweight arm workout
- Reverse-grip biceps chin-up
- Suspension trainer curl (actively stretch each biceps for 30 seconds between each set)