Featured Workout

No matter how many times you look in the mirror, your biceps aren’t getting any better without a lot of work. It sucks, we know, but you have to look at why your current program isn’t netting you the results you need. That requires assessment. This list helps you assess where you are succeeding and, perhaps, where you’re falling short. Are you doing less than you should, more than you should or just going at it incorrectly?

Figure out why your biceps suck, then go to work.

Focus on compound movements – Narrow grip weighted pull-ups and Olympic barbell biceps curls are where you should focus efforts if you want to pack on biceps mass. Other compound moves that hit the biceps: deadlifts, bent-over rows, cable rows.

Do less direct arm work – As above, many exercises for the back (also pulling movements) indirectly work the biceps. Focusing all workouts on isolative movements means you are overtraining arms.

Do more direct arm work – Just as you should do less direct arm work, you can and should do MORE direct arm work at certain times. Pre-contest or in non-mass cycles, isolative work is precisely what you need. If dieting, you aren’t doing the big lifts, such as deadlifts and can focus on super-isolative moves like concentration cable curls.

Lift with the biceps and lose the swing –
One effective way to train oneself not to swing weight up and down is to back up to a wall for barbell curls. Other harness-apparatus helps with that. Sitting on a bench with a 90 degree seat-to-back ratio (very upright) and do alternate curls or hammer curls.

Decrease weight if necessary –
Compound movements require weight behind them, but only if you can manage good form. Try decreasing weights to get more quality reps.

Increase weight if necessary – Just as you should decrease weights if you are not handling weights well and with good form, you should also push yourself to increase the weight by 5 or 10 pounds every other workout or so, just to see if you can manage form while maintaining the same number of reps. Sometimes pushing yourself is the key to building bigger arms.

Change tempo – Tempo is the way to manage weight increases and progress. Tempo rules say you should always be slightly faster on the positive (up) motion and slower on the negative (down) motion to control weight and develop tendons and supportive tissue in the arms and around the joints. Try a 1-up or 2-up with a 3-down pace. Some go 2/4, but four can be excruciating on the negative, if weights are heavy. You don’t want to injure or strain tendons either.

Maximize muscle fiber recruitment –
Standing barbell biceps curls, and preacher curls are great fiber recruiters. The maximum number of muscle fibers are recruited when there is maximum contraction, and that means a full range of motion (ROM) – one that is even stretched beyond. Don’t let resistance “fall off” at the midpoint. Preachers stretch the range and isolate at the same time, providing a movement that is no-cheat, has a large range of motion, and is isolative. But even better than barbell or dumbbell preachers are preachers using low cables.

Keep it simple –
The more complicated you make workouts (thinking to yourself that you’re outsmarting all of the denizens of iron that went before you) the worse it is for your biceps. Remember, they are a small muscle group and don’t take a lot of complex thought, just a lot of common sense. Simple is usually better.

Do more pulling exercises –
With big back workouts, you get a lot of biceps strain. Try alternating weeks of heavy back work with heavy biceps work and don’t overlap too much. Overtraining is the bane of biceps progress.

Rep range – Play with rep ranges and don’t always default to 8 reps each workout. Try going super heavy for 5 reps, then go to failure at other times. Varying set types (which we’ll get to) also employ failure ranges, but without altering set types, you can and should always alter rep ranges to mix things up and keep the biceps guessing.

Recovery – Take enough time between workouts to amply recover. Some would say that one workout each week is enough for the biceps. We say one workout is only okay every other week, or following a particularly grueling back or biceps workout. Either way, make sure you put at least 4 to 5 days between workouts.

Avoid fatigue by keeping workouts to a reasonable time –
Overtaining can mean lifting weights too often and not allowing recovery. But fatigue can also be caused by working out too long in one session. Don’t be guilty of overkill. Keep the number of sets and pace in line with the relative size of the muscle group. You should never work the biceps as long as you work the back, chest or legs.

Change up set types (drop set, superset, 21s) –
It’s good to fool muscles into growth, by changing up the way in which you actually do a workout. If all you do is static lifts (4 sets of barbell curls; 4 sets of hammer curls; 3 sets of preacher curls) your muscles become accustomed to that routine. Next time do barbell curls as one big drop set to failure, or do all three sets in one with 21s.

Don’t miss workouts – Consistency is the key to all success in the gym, or in life in general. Don’t be inconsistent by skipping workouts. To see progress, you must engage in repetitive good habits.

Isolation and concentration –
Isolative and concentric movements aren’t typically associated with growth, but they are indirectly, since part of the size of a biceps is achieved by moving the weight through a full range of motion 95 percent of the time. When hitting a double biceps shot, the biceps bracchii must curl up on itself, and that means making that long muscle as thick as possible before it curls. Isolative work with cables and extended ROM exercises actually facilitate that.

Change up apparatus and attachments (EZ curl, rope hammers) – Changing apparatus can mean using dumbbells instead of barbells and out-of-the-ordinary attachments on occasion, like ropes, EZ-curl bars and close-grip straight bars. Try to use different attachments to make the muscles work harder and differently than normal.

Work lower and upper biceps (using cables and pads) –
Move a preacher curl machine to a lower cable pulley to work low biceps, or lie down on a flat bench that sidles up to a cable station and with a narrow grip short bar, pull from a high cable pulley to work the upper range from the top of the biceps to shoulder height to work the high part of the muscle.

Variety builds the best biceps – Hit biceps from all angles – hammer curls, straight bar regular grip, narrow grip curls, high cable curls, concentration curls, preacher curls and curls with wrists and biceps turned out – mean hitting the two biceps heads from all angles to optimize mass. Use machines, and free weights for the most variety.

Form first, check it! – Learn the form of all biceps exercises. Taking a refresher course, despite thinking you know all, means you ensure you are attacking workouts with all the right moves.

Stop cheating –
Keep the body still to ensure that you are only lifting with the biceps. Cheating is okay in some cases, but for the most part, it’s not going to net big gains. Stop swinging, leaning and moving around – it all takes the focus off the biceps.

Get your ego out of it – Yeah, dudes love to build big arms; it’s the pinnacle of success in the gym. But get your ego out of your biceps workouts and make necessary adjustments, whether it’s less or less frequent work, lighter weights. Your motto should be: Whatever it takes, leave your ego at the door. You might be surprised what works. If your arms aren’t growing, what you’re doing isn’t working, so try it a different way without feeling deflated.

Eat more food to gain more muscle – The cornerstone of all mass-building is a diet that backs up all the work you do. If you don’t eat, you won’t gain mass, no matter how perfectly and how scientific you approach workouts. Eat more protein and carbs, and more calories in general, to gain size.

Deadlift more often –
This is the ultimate mass monster exercise. It works the whole body and works the biceps in ways that you can’t with movements you put into a biceps workout – including the surrounding muscles and tendons. It also helps train the back and core so you are more stable and don’t have to cheat as you move up in curl weight. That means you cheat less. Deadlifts are an all-around winning proposition.

Progression, progression, progression! – Remember that as long as you are progressing – adding a few reps each week or adding weight to workouts progressively – you will grow. Adding mass requires increased weight, consistency, and pushing oneself beyond with each and every workout. Progression = progress.-