When it comes to getting into excellent shape, there are few things that people tend to want to develop more than the biceps. Our biceps, or guns, are the muscles that make a guy look powerful and that can be seen through short sleeves, and they are the muscles that impress ladies and other guys and make us look more like alpha males.
Of course it’s not just about looks though, and the reason that biceps are so sought after and respected in the first place is that they are also incredibly useful for a wide range of tasks. Biceps come into play whenever we bend our arms and this makes them crucial for moves like the pull up and for general lifting particularly when we do it with just one arm (unilaterally to be technical).
The question is then, how do you train the biceps? And what are the best bicep exercises to get your arms looking swollen and powerful? Here we will look at some of the best ways to develop your arms using bicep moves.
Bicep Curls and Variations
Bicep curls are any exercise where you take a weight in one or both hands and then curl it by bending your arm at the elbow. There are many ways you can do this right away – whether you go bilateral or unilateral (there’s that term again, have you worked out what it means yet?) and whether you choose to use dumbbells or barbells. Doing curls with a barbell is called a ‘barbell curl’ and it will work the biceps in a slightly different and more isolated range of motion which will in turn help to increase your biceps specifically rather than letting the other muscle groups butt in and help. Right away it’s a good idea to vary between these two exercises from time to time and even in the same workout or same set to get your muscles really aching.
Likewise there are many other variations on the bicep curl such as the ‘hammer curl’ which means holding the dumbbells sideways so that they come up end first and so that your palms are facing in towards your body. Likewise you can also use an ‘overhand grip’ – especially on the barbell curls – which will work a slightly different part of the arm and isolate them even more. If you are an indecisive kind of person then you can also use bicep curls with a twist where you go from a hammer curl to a normal grip while you go through the movement, or where you do the opposite thing.
Another option meanwhile is to use isolation curls or preacher curls. Isolation curls are any curls where you take away any option to swing your back into it – so sitting down with your back against a support (using a bench that goes all the way upright for instance) or doing the exercise unilaterally and resting your upper arm on your leg so that only the lower arm is free to move when you perform the reps. The preacher curl is a specific type of isolation curl where your arm rests on a padded section of a specially designed seat.
Then there are bicep curls you can do using all kinds of other objects – bicep curls on a resistance machine for example, or bicep curls using the cables which is called a ‘cable curl’ rather uninventively. If you want to involve more supportive muscles groups in the repetition on the other hand (the opposite of isolation but it’s very good for the production of growth hormones) then you can always use kettle bells and curl those rather than dumbbells (they’re harder to hold) or you can try doing curls while on one leg or with uneven dumbbells.
So that’s quite a few right there to keep you going, but this is far from all there is and bicep curls are really on the start of it. For one there are many other exercises that aren’t designed specifically for your biceps but that will involve them in the movement, and these include for instance bench presses using an underhand grip, as well as chin ups (and the hundreds of chin up variations like one handed chin ups and rocking from side to side, or pull ups) or many other lat exercises: rows, dumbbell rows, upward rows, lat pull downs and more.
You can also train your biceps using your own other hand as a way to provide resistance so that you are pushing down on your wrist with your left hand for example while trying to curl against it with your right arm.
Meanwhile there are also certain sports and activities that will engage the biceps and rock climbing here is particularly good as it involves the biceps in pulling your bodyweight up the wall (as well as your lats and shoulders).
How to Use Them
It’s not really about the bicep exercises you know, rather it’s about how you use them and whether or not you know how to make the most of them. The secret to huge biceps then is to find ways to really punish your arms by not letting up on the repetitions, by finding ways to keep going and by really varying it.
So rule number one is to make sure that no two bicep exercises are the same – make sure that you are always using different exercises and that you really challenge yourself by trying different things. Rule number two is that you don’t stop when it starts to hurt… you start when it starts to hurt. So in other words you say goodbye to the days where you did a couple of sets to failure and then rested – because the whole idea now is that you are minimizing the amount of time you spend resting and that you find ways to go past failure.
How is it possible to go past failure you ask? Well you just make it easier – but only a bit so that you can carry on going. For instance then you might do as many repetitions as you can possibly do and then rather than stop get your spotter to help you push past failure and do a few more. Likewise you might using a technique called a ‘drop set’ where you do as many curls of let’s say 25kg as you possibly can and then immediately put them down and start curling 20kg. This way you are again not giving up when most people would but finding ways to squeeze more out of yourself. You can even use something called a ‘cheat’ which means that you swing your body into the move which someone might normally call cheating – but only when you’ve done as many with good technique as you can.
Another strategy is to just change to an easier exercise while still holding the weight – so you might do eight overhand isolation curls, followed four isolation curls, then six normal grip curls, followed by six hammer curls while standing up and swinging into the movement. This is what’s known as a ‘giant set’ and it’s really the most effective way to get your biceps aching. If you’re really psychotic then you will follow this up with a ‘flush set’ (a huge set of fifty or so very light reps) or ‘burns’ which mean doing just the last part of the movement that you can still do – barely moving your arms but really feeling the pain. Then you rest for no more than a minute and you go again.
That’s how you build big biceps!
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