It’s Time to Get Bigger Biceps!
No man doesn’t want to get bigger biceps. This seems to be a basic fact of nature, like the big bang theory, or that Al Gore invented the Internet. Sadly, arm development often stalls in trainees because they keep doing the same ol’ three sets of the same ol’ dumbbell biceps curls for the same ol’ 10 reps, day in, day out.
Sometimes, a good shock to the system is all you need to kickstart growth. One of my favourite ways of getting bigger arms is the pre-exhaustion system: perform an exercise that targets a smaller muscle, like a bicep, then follow it with a more complex exercise, like a chinup. This system has been around since before Arnold’s days as a body-builder, and is a time-tested way to add inches to lagging body-parts.
My second way of adding mass is slow, controlled tempo work as popularized by crazy Australian strength guru Ian King. Here’s a way to organize these two biceps workouts into a system that will turn your pea shooters into field howitzers:
- A good warmup consisting of shoulder rotations, rotator cuff exercises, rowing or pulldowns with a medium amount of weight, and a few easy chinups.
- A set to failure of 8 heavy dumbbell curls with the palms facing out, followed by a set of maximal chinups. If you can do more than 5 chinups, you didn’t push the curls hard enough.
- A set to failure of 8 heavy hammer curls, followed by a set of max parallel grip pullups. Again, aiming for max 5 pullups.
- Repeat steps 2 and 3 two more times. At this point your arms will feel like they are about to fall off and you need to ask reception to put ’em in your gym bag and carry them to your car for you.
Realistically, more than 3 sets of each of regular and hammer curls would be total overkill, and if you do biceps as part of a whole upper body or back/biceps setup, you really don’t need more than 6 total sets of bicep work if you really kill it. You likely did at least 6 sets of separate back exercises, which is plenty of pre-fatigue for the biceps. Next, wait at least 3 days for your next bicep workout. Go do some legs in-between, will ya?
Controlled Tempo Work
- A good warmup, as above.
- Straight bar curls, for 2 sets of 12 reps. Use no more than 75% of the weight you would normally use for bar curls. Perform to a tempo of 3 seconds up, 3 seconds down, no rest either at the top or bottom.
- Incline dumbbell hammer curls, same sets, reps and tempo as above. Again, considerably less weight than you’d normally use.
- Reverse EZ bar or dumbbell curls. At this point your biceps will be quite fried. Don’t overdo the weight. Control is critical. 2 sets of 10 reps will do it.
The most important thing with controlled tempo work is not going too heavy. You want to be able to get through the whole set without stopping.
Recent research has shown that one of the most powerful triggers for muscle growth is the tight squeezing of the capillaries one gets when lifting weights. When blood is shut off from entering a muscle, your brain interprets it as stress, and makes the muscle bigger. If you don’t pause in your lifting, the tension never dissipates, meaning lots of capillary squeezing. Ergo bigger muscles. In theory. Everyone responds differently to exercise.
To maximize your gains, eat plenty of protein and get lots of sleep. That’s pretty much it. Your body will take care of the rest. It’s not rocket science. Once you have created a stimulus on the muscle to get bigger, your body will do what it can. Just give it the tools (food), and the time (sleep). Now go get bigger biceps!