Do you want to enthusiastically ask strangers whether they’ve purchased tickets, then triumphantly shout, “to the gun show!” as you flex your impressive arms?
You, sir, have come to the right place.
Pythons, pipes, broceps, anti-triceps — whatever you call them, biceps are a central focus for many people’s physique goals. Biceps are often talked about like they are a tricky muscle to grow. Some believe high resistance is the best way to force biceps growth. Others say that high volume is the way to go for beefed up bis. Both are actually correct — that is, when the sets and reps amount to meaningful training stimulus delivered to the biceps.
Like other muscle groups, biceps get bigger and stronger when their capacity to produce force is overloaded by training. This happens when a muscle’s fibres are fatigued (i.e. reaching failure in a set). In essence, a muscle receives quality training stimulus when it has done strenuous work by repeatedly producing high amounts of force. It is this training stimulus that prompts muscle growth, rather than any particular amount of weight or number of repetitions performed.
Check Your Curl Form First
As a movement, bicep curls are simpler than the squat or deadlift, but technique still makes all the difference. They are called biceps curls, so the biceps should be the prime mover in the exercise, regardless of the variation.
Moving a weight through a biceps curl-like trajectory in space does not equal meaningful training stimulus in the biceps. This sounds simple enough, but is often overlooked as is evidenced by the widespread popularity of doing curls with too much weight and/or little attention to technique. Perfect your curl form first, and add weight as you gain strength.
Choose The Right Weight
Friendly competition can be fun, which is good for motivation and helps build a sense of community, but nobody should be basing loading parameters on comparisons to others. Always select weights that let you keep good form through your sets. Increasing resistance is crucial to continued progress, but it should never happen at the expense of safe form and sound programming.
Also Read: Dos And Don’ts For The Perfect Bicep Curl
Aside from being a hazard to your connective tissue and fellow gym-goers, vigorous curls with too much weight just aren’t effective biceps exercise. Curls won’t stimulate biceps growth if other muscles (like deltoids, pectorals, and trapezius) plus momentum are moving the weight rather than the biceps. If a muscle is not doing the work in an exercise, it cannot be overloaded. If a muscle is not overloaded, it will not grow. So don’t be a hero, and pick a weight you can curl with targeted control and perfect form.
Sometimes getting back on the biceps-gains train means admitting that you have a problem with using leg drive and momentum in your curls. Cheat curls have their place at the end of sets (mainly for getting in a few more negatives), but they should not characterize the majority of your curls.
Doing seated dumbbell curls can help curb these bad habits and foster better curl form. Sit with upright posture, feet flat on the floor, and do not lean into any backrest on the bench. Initiate the curl by contracting your biceps to flex your forearm, keeping elbows at your sides. Curl until your forearms are vertical, at which point your elbows will come forward slightly. Maintain tension in the biceps at the top of the curl and transition to a controlled negative.
If you choose to do alternating curls, pay particular attention not to bend or twist at the midsection to assist your reps. By removing the involvement of the body, there is increased demand on the biceps. This translates into better exercise stimulus.
Chin-Up Change Up
Like pull-ups, chin-ups are fantastic for back development, but chin-ups provide particularly excellent stimulus to the biceps when performed with a full range of motion. If you can’t yet do an unassisted chin-up, use machine or elastic assistance to benefit from this awesome upper body exercise. If chin-ups are already a mainstay in your upper body workouts, but your biceps are still lagging, you might need to change your technique a bit to get better bicep stimulus.
Take note of how fully you extend your arms at the bottom of the movement. If you are going down to just 90 or 120 degrees of elbow flexion, you are missing out on bi engagement along with that lost range of motion.
To correct this, try the following. At the bottom of each repetition, after the negative, let your arms straighten just shy of locked elbows, without letting your shoulder blades rotate up and out. Feel free to do those partial reps after you’ve tuckered yourself out with full chin-ups.
Another tip for maximizing the stimulus you get from chin-ups is to not “throw away” the movement and fall into the negative phase at the top of the movement, after you’ve “chinned up.” This might be desirable for doing as many chin-ups as possible in a competition setting, but abandoning muscle tension at the top means missing out on isometric and eccentric contractions. Feel for the biceps engagement at the beginning of the elbow bend and maintain it throughout the chin-up. Keep the tension in your arms and back through the top of the movement as you transition to the negative.
The timeline for increased muscle size is on the order of years, not weeks or even months. Accept that. Do not try to force faster progress with excessive training, because at a certain point the returns diminish to nil, and you are simply increasing the likelihood of an overuse injury.
Instead of fixating on a particular body part, put that energy into a balanced training program that lets you feel better about your entire body. Consistently practice good curl and chin-up technique, and trust that bigger biceps will follow.