The biceps are the must-have muscle for guys. The possession of a peaked, full pair of upper arms instantly garners respect. Which is probably the reason that the barbell curl is the most frequently seen exercise in the gym. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most abused resistance moves that you are likely to come across.
In this article, we’re going to identify the best moves that you can do to fully develop your biceps, both in and out of the gym. In the process, we’ll give you a heads up on how to avoid a common error that is stopping many guys from reaching their biceps potential.
The biceps brachii is a two-headed muscle with the point of origin under the deltoid and point of insertion below the elbow.
The basic function of the biceps is to lift and curl the arm and to pronate (twist downward) the wrist. The long head of the bicep bends the elbow and raises the arm forward at the shoulder. The short head supinates or rotates, the hand.
The brachialis is a thick band of muscle that is hidden behind the biceps in the mid-upper arm. It assists to provide upper arm thickness.
Hard work and consistency will bring out the full potential of the biceps, but not everybody has the same degree of potential. Some people have longer biceps, some shorter, some with a high or low peak. Some develop impressive thickness and others do not.
The underlying bone structure and physical proportions will have a lot to do with how the arm will ultimately look. People with short arms will naturally have thicker biceps and a better peak to their biceps. Others will find that their deltoids are a lot stronger than their biceps and will struggle to keep them out of their arm work.
Because the biceps involve two functions, curling and supination, complete develop necessitates doing exercises that involve simulations of both of those movements. The long head of the biceps, particularly, is developed by exercises that involve supination.
To develop the brachialis, you need to have your palm pronated or facing away from your body.
Why Many Guys Can’t Build Biceps
In their eagerness to max out their biceps, a lot of guys train them two or more times per week. Each of those biceps workouts can take up to an hour. The problem is that their arms don’t grow– they don’t even budge.
The reality is that most guys who can’t build their biceps are simply overtraining. The key to developing any body part is to get in, work the muscle to the limit, and then get out and provide time for the muscle to recover, rest and rebuild. The biceps are a comparatively small muscle group so they don’t need a whole lot of work. In addition, they come into play when you work other body parts, especially the back.
All of this means that it is very easy to over-train the biceps. If you’re hitting them more than once a week and not getting results, try cutting back and sticking to the following key exercises.
To get complete biceps development, you don’t have to get all fancy. If you stick to 3-4 sets of barbell curls and follow it up with hammer curls, you will get the results you want.
#1 Biceps Builder: Barbell Curl
The regular barbell curl is the most widely done bicep exercise in the gym for a reason – it works! It’ the simplest of actions, but it moves both the long and short head of the biceps through a full range of motion that will allow complete development to take place.
To get the most out of the barbell curl, of course, you need to be doing it correctly. Here’s how . . .
Step 1: Leave your ego at home
The reason that most guys screw up the curl is that they load too much weight on the bar. As a result, they bring momentum into the exercise, essentially turning the exercise into a lat swing, with the biceps going along for a free ride. In effect, they are completely wasting their time.
Forget about lifting heavy weight. Your focus needs to be on maximally stimulating the target muscle. That means that the only movement should be flexion at the elbow, until you get to the last couple of reps where you can bring in a little bit of controlled momentum.
Step 2: The Positive Curl
Take a shoulder width grip on a straight bar. Grip the bar tightly. Ensure that your elbows do not flare out but are at your sides. Now, without bucking your hips, curl the bar up toward the shoulders. At the top of the rep (when you have gone through a full range of motion), squeeze your biceps at tightly as you can.
Step 3: The Negative Curl
Reverse the motion, fighting against gravity all the way down, It should take twice as long on the negative as it did on the positive (about 2 seconds up and 4 seconds down).
Move directly into the next rep without any pause, being sure not to let momentum carry you through.
If you are doing a set of 10 reps, the first six should be able to be performed with perfect form. Seven and eight should be extremely difficult, but still able to be performed with no momentum. The last two reps are the money reps – the ones that really count. You can use a slight swing to move the weight from a position where it is resting on your thighs to just get the movement started. From there keep it completely strict so that your biceps are doing all the work.
Biceps Builder #2: Hammer Curls
The hammer curl is a fantastic exercise for hitting the long head of the biceps, as well as the brachialis that helps to develop width and mass. It also hits your forearms.
Hammer curl are best performed with dumbbells. Hold them at your sides in a neutral position so that your palms are facing your legs. Now, keeping the elbows in at the sides, curl one of the dumbbells up until it is at shoulder level. Slowly reverse the motion, simultaneously, curling up the other dumbbell.
Once again, do not allow momentum to carry you through the exercise – and be sure to squeeze the biceps tightly at the top of each rep.
Perform 4 sets of barbell curls as follows . . .
Set One -12 reps
Set Two – 10 reps
Set Three – 8 reps
Set Four – 8 reps
Your rest between sets should be exactly sixty seconds – that means that you are actually curling your first rep of the next set at 60 seconds!
Follow up your barbell curls with 3 sets of 8 reps on the hammer curl. On your last set perform a descending set, where you perform your 8 reps in front of the dumbbell rack. Then immediately pick up the next pair of dumbbells down in weight and pump out 6 reps. Continue this pattern for four total drops. You will finish with about half the weight you started with, but your arms will be on fire!
Hammer curls involve using a special bar that allows your palms to face one another during the movement. This is a great exercise for working the long head of the biceps. This will enable you to build mass in the mid-bicep area. Do two sets of hammer curls after you’ve completed 3-4 sets of regular barbell curls. Keep your rep range for both exercises between 12 – 8, dropping 2 reps per set as you add weight.
Bodyweight Bicep Blasters
So, what if you’re a guy who likes to train at home with just his bodyweight? Most guys know what to do to work their chest, legs, and even their triceps without weights, but are pretty clueless when it comes to the biceps. Yet, there are some very effective ways to hit the biceps without weights.
Bodyweight exercises are, in fact, the most efficient, functional and convenient way to develop and define muscular yet athletic biceps, triceps and forearms.
- Bodyweight training is far more time efficient
- Bodyweight training can be done anywhere, anytime
- Bodyweight training doesn’t cost money
- Bodyweight training doesn’t stress your joints like weight training does
- Bodyweight exercises improve your balance and flexibility
- Bodyweight exercises are safer
Of course, there is a connotation that bodyweight exercises are not as hard-core as pumping the weights; that they are good as an introduction to exercise only; that real men pump iron. As you experience the workouts presented here, you will learn just how ridiculous that notion is. Correctly performed, bodyweight movements can be incredibly intense, providing you with all of the resistance you need to build a truly impressive pair of arms.
Reverse Push Ups
Primary Target Muscle: Biceps Brachialis
Secondary Focus: Grip Strength
This is a fantastic movement to build up the mass in your mid bicep. It will take a little getting used to this push-up variation, but persevere. You will be able to build up your reps quickly.
(1) Assume a standard push up position, but have your hands very wide, twice shoulder-width apart. Turn your fingers so that they are pointing towards your feet.
(2) Now perform your push-ups, going as low as you can and feeling the isolation in the biceps.
Leg Barbell Curls
Primary Target Muscle: Biceps Brachii
Secondary Focus: Forearm extensor
This is a real mass building bicep movement that requires only a wall and your body’s own built-in resistance. In this case you will be using your leg as the resistance.
(1) Stand against a wall, leaning forward slightly and cross one foot across to the opposite knee.
(2) Grab the ankle of the crossed foot with the opposite hand. This leg will now act as your resistance.
(3) Now lean forward with your upper body, while keeping your butt up against the wall. Curl your leg up towards your shoulder until you feel a peak contraction in the bicep.
(4) To increase resistance, simply push your leg down. You can also do eccentric training*** for your biceps by resisting strongly on the way down. This allows for adaptable resistance, which no bar can possibly provide you.
Inverted Bicep Curls
Primary Target Muscle: Biceps Brachii
Secondary Focus: Developing biceps split
For this exercise, you’ll need to use a broomstick and two chairs.
(1) Position the chairs 24 inches apart and rest the broom-stick between and on top of them.
(2) Lie between the chairs and reach up to grab the bar with an underhand grip at shoulder width.
(3) Now pull yourself up so that the forehead comes up to the broom-stick. This will involve coming up on a slight angle, eliminating lats and shoulders and put all of the emphasis on the biceps.
Single Handed Dead Hangs
Primary Target Muscle: Forearm Flexors
Secondary Focus: Biceps Brachii
(1) Grip the chin up bar with both hands and hang loosely.
(2) Release one hand so that you are supporting your entire body weight with just one arm.
(3) Hang for as long as possible.
(4) Repeat with the other arm.
Putting It All Together
Perform the four exercises described above as a giant set. That means that you do one set of the first exercise, then move directly to the next exercise with no rest. Continue without rest until you completed one set of each exercise. Now, rest for a full two minutes before doing your second giant set. Complete one more giant set to complete the workout. Perform between 12 and 15 repetitions per exercise.
This workout will completely blast your upper arms. You will feel a huge pump as the blood engorges the muscle, sending protein and nutrients directly to your biceps. Perform this bodyweight workout twice per week, with a minimum of 48 hours rest between them and your guns will soon be locked and loaded, without your ever stepping foot in a gym!