What’s your single best tip for building bigger biceps?
1. Do 100 reps of empty barbell curls.
Most guys that struggle with biceps growth use really heavy weights and a lot of momentum to curl. Then they do reps in the low ranges and, ultimately, the biceps really don’t end up doing a lot of work or getting a lot of tension. The upper back helps with the initial cheat to start the concentric and then the eccentric or negative portion of the rep is basically just the barbell dropping back down.
But even if you get sloppy with 100 empty-bar reps, just making it to the 100 rep mark will have your biceps screaming. If you can’t do the 100 reps nonstop then work towards that goal.
Doing this twice a week, with no other biceps work, caused my biceps to grow a lot in only two months. But like any training stimulus, it’s going to have its effective time limit. Once I could do 200 reps nonstop I didn’t see the same type of growth that I did over the first 8 weeks. But if your biceps growth has been stuck, try it.
2. Time your curls
There are many ways to build biceps. And sometimes the “best” method of triggering fresh muscle gains is to simply do something new… something you haven’t done before or haven’t done in a long time.
For biceps, here’s something to try. The next time you do a set of curls of any type, keep an eye on the clock or have a buddy time your set. How long did that set of curls take?
If you typically go heavy so you don’t have to go home your set probably fell below 60 seconds. Let’s say you did a fairly heavy 8-rep set, and it took roughly 1 second to lift the weight and you lowered it under control for 2 seconds each rep. Do the math. That’s 24 seconds per set. Add a 1 second squeeze at the top of each rep and you get 32 seconds.
That’s fine, heavy weights, lower reps, and therefore a shorter time under tension (TUT) builds muscle too. But you could be “missing” some muscle fibers and missing out on hypertrophy if you always use short sets.
Now do another set and make it last at least 60 seconds, maybe even up to 90 seconds. Yep, you’ll have to reduce the weight, and yes, this will hurt in a whole new way. In fact, it’s tougher in many ways than doing fewer reps with a heavier weight, which is why many people avoid it. But you’ll also be tapping into different muscle fibers and triggering a host of fresh biological responses that tell your body to “put some new muscle here.”
Keep the timer handy or watch a nearby clock the next time you hit biceps. You may be surprised that you never even approach the 1 minute mark. Add some 60-90 second sets to your heavy work, or spend a whole training block in that longer TUT range. Your biceps will grow like the national debt.
3. Chase the pump
I compete in the IFBB and we don’t care all that much about strength. “How much does the competitor curl?” This is a question you won’t find on the judges scorecard. Interesting enough, 20-plus years of training also taught me that lifting big numbers, particularly in regards to arm training, does very little for gains in size.
Sure, it might impress other dudes in the gym while inflaming your elbows and wrists, but sleeve stretching results won’t ensue. Therefore the single best tip for building bigger biceps is to train for the pump. This is best accomplished with lighter weight and intensity techniques. My preferred intensity techniques include: eccentric-focused reps, drop sets, rest-pause sets, banded tension, and iso-holds.
Turn up the volume, pair the exercise with an intensity technique, pound some Plazma™ and leave the heavy weight for leg day. Your skin-splitting pump will do more for size increases than the over-inflamed joints which follow on the heels of training with excessive weight
4. Use moderate loads, higher reps, and more cumulative metabolic stress
Some lifters get carried away trying to train the arms with pure strength. But the arms really don’t respond that well to heavy loading.
Yeah, that’s right, the days of swinging around the 60s with ugly compensation patterns that look more like a back extension than a curl are over. What’s in (among smart lifters) is chasing a painful skin-tearing pump to achieve not only strength and muscle, but also resilience through the upper arms, which protects the joints.
Once you nail the programming, it’s all about the execution. Contract the biceps as slow and hard as humanly possible on every rep in order to maximize tension and increase total time under tension. But even more importantly, this strategy will turn up your mind-muscle connection.
Working at a slow and deliberate tempo with a peak squeeze at the top of each rep while moving through extended ranges of motion in and out of a stretch is the recipe for massive biceps. Put your ego down, move light weights slowly for more reps, and challenge your form to maximize every rep. This is how you get gains that you can show off in a tank.
5. Focus on total-body strength first, then use iso-dynamic contrast.
Without first building a foundation, you’ll never have the base to specialize and maximize isolation work. But if you’re already a strong lifting junky you’ll need isolation work to build bigger and stronger biceps.
One of the biggest obstacles lifters have when trying to build lagging areas is a poor mind-muscle connection. Once you’re past newbie gains, you’ll have one hell of a time building your biceps until you “feel” the muscle working. This is where the iso-dynamic contrast method comes in.
Pick a weight you could curl for 15 reps.
Curl the weight to the common sticking point, right around 90 degrees of flexion. Squeeze the dumbbells as hard as possible to create an irradiation stimulus and improve muscle fiber recruitment. Hold that squeeze for 15-20 seconds.
After the hold, perform curls for 8-12 reps, or to technical failure.
This creates tons of metabolic stress, mechanical tension, and improves the mind-muscle connection to build bigger, stronger biceps. Do three to four sets twice a week.