“I visualized my biceps as mountains. This allowed me to develop my biceps much more than if I had pictured them only as muscles.” Arnold Schwarzeneggar
In bodybuilding, developing every muscle in a symmetrical way is paramount. However, there are a few muscles that are and have always been favored by most. These are considered the show muscles. They are the muscles that the eyes are first drawn to. Think about it. When you first see a muscular person, where is the first place you look. Nine times out of ten it is at the chest and of course, the biceps. Namely, the bicep peak. When someone asks us to flex, we automatically know that they are talking about flexing our biceps. A well developed bicep peak takes any physique from great to extraordinary, but many people believe having a great peak is genetic. This would mean that for those who are not born with a great peak, there is no hope. This is a misconception, and with the right mindset and work ethic, almost anyone can develop a great peak. I’ve witnessed it first hand on myself, and also on others. You see I didn’t always have a great bicep peak, even once my arms got to 18 and a half inches, my peak still lacked.It wasn’t until I learned a few key principles that my peaks really began to develop. These principles worked like a charm for me, and they can for you too, but keep in mind that everyone is different and has to find their own ways of training. Use this only as a guide. My hope is that it will lead you down a path of discovery. Discovering that there is much more to training the biceps than you had previously imagined. Let us get into it.
What Exactly is a Bicep?
Let’s briefly discuss the anatomy of the bicep. The bicep is composed of the bicep brachii, which consists of two heads, the long or outer head, and the short or inner head, and the brachialis, which is an underlying muscle that gives the bicep height and thickness when developed. The primary function of the biceps is elbow flexion and also supination of the wrist. This is why even though the biceps are trained during virtually all back movements, the optimal movement for training them is and always will be the curl. However, there are dozens of variations of the curl.
Variations of Bicep Curls
The biceps are a relatively small muscle group, and therefore should not be trained with excessive volume. Three sets of three exercises twice a week for a total of eighteen sets a week is plenty.Very advanced lifters can do more at times as long as they are able to recover from it. A good way to know if your bicep routine is effective is to measure the biceps every six to eight weeks. If they are growing, you’re on the right track, if not, it’s time to reassess your routine and diet.
For every muscle group, a basic compound movement is generally performed first in your routine. In the case of biceps, this movement is the barbell curl. Although it’s not technically a compound (multi-joint) movement, it allows you to go the heaviest, and train the entire biceps effectively. In general, this is a good movement to start with, but in some cases there are other movements that are ideal for beginning your routine. One example of this is if you have been training for at least two years and beginning each workout with barbell curls, and your biceps are still a weakness. In this case, for whatever reason, be it technical or structural, your biceps are not being fully stimulated during the barbell curl. It would be wise then, to start off with a more strict movement to isolate and pre-exhaust the biceps. Some good movements for this are, preacher curls, incline curls, lying cable curls, or even concentration curls. These movements make it hard to incorporate any muscle besides the biceps. They will give you a great pump, strong contraction, and get your mind in your biceps. This will make it easier to feel barbell curls later. Keep your reps higher, between 8 and 15 and never going below 6. This is because when you go to heavy when curling other muscles, namely the lower back and front delts tend to take over. Focus on feeling the biceps, not on lifting the weight. Follow this up with a more basic movement, like barbell or alternating dumbbell curls. You could also do cable curls with a low pulley. Follow this up with an exercise for peak such as guillotine curls, high pulley cable curls, or dumbbell preacher curls, and you will have a solid routine for growth, so long as you progress over time and eat adequately. If you start with barbell curls you could do dumbbell hammer curls next, or cable curls with the rope attachment. From there you would finish with a peaking exercise.
Technique is paramount for maximizing results, and it varies for everyone depending on their unique structure. Figuring out and perfecting the best technique for you takes time, but there are some basic guidelines I’ve found helpful for most. Here they are. Don’t go too slow. Use a good speed, especially on the positive portion of the reps. Going too slowlywill result in more type 1 muscle fiber recruitment. Type 1 muscle fibers are responsible for a more slim muscular look. This will result in toned arms but not much of an increase in size in my experience. Utilizing a faster tempo will generally result in more type 2 muscle fibers being stimulated. This will result in a big increase in size over time.
Now that you have an idea what exercises to perform, and how to set up your routine, let’s discuss a few tips to really maximize your time in the gym.
Tip 1: Keep constant tension on the biceps. Do not rest at the bottom unless you’re doing rest-pause reps at the end of a set. This applies the time under tension principle, which is crucial for bicep growth.
Tip 2: Don’t go too heavy. The biceps are only so strong, and if you pick up more weight than your biceps can handle your lower back and front delts will help.
Tip 3: Relax the wrists and forearms. The forearms assist during all bicep movements, since we are grabbing something. Especially if the biceps are a weak point,aim to fully relax the wrists and forearms and put as much tension as possible on the biceps.
Tip 4: Biceps not responding to regular training? Add techniques to increase your intensity such as, rest-pause, drop-sets, supersets, holding peak contractions, etc. to really wake those guns up.
Tip 5: Train the biceps frequently. Twice a week minimum to keep protein synthesis elevated and growth consistently occurring.
Tip 6: Monitor rest periods. Resting too little or too much will negatively affect gains. Aim for around 60 to 90 seconds depending on how quickly your biceps recover from a given movement.
Tip 7: Squeeze! Every rep squeeze the biceps at the top.
Tip 8: Visualize how you want the biceps to look while you are training them. This may seem esoteric, but I can tell you it works!
Tip 9: Flex your biceps in the mirror often, to build a strong mind muscle connection.
Tip 10: Don’t overtrain the biceps. They don’t need a ton of volume, just to be properly stimulated. If any bicep workout takes longer than 30 minutes then you are resting too long and or not training hard enough. My biceps are over 18 inches, and my bicep workouts typically only last around 20 minutes. However, this is a hard and focused 20 minutes, and at the end, my biceps are toasted.
There you have it. The biceps are a very simple muscle to train, but to sculpt them to perfection takes a tremendous amount of effort and will. Our minds are truly our strongest muscles and in order to develop the biceps to their full potential we must utilize not only weights, but our mental faculties as well. There you have it, if you will incorporate just a few of these tips into your biceps training, you are sure to build peaks that would belong on Mount Olympus. Now train hard and eat properly, I’ll be watching you and counting your reps.