By: Robert Maalouf BS, CSCS, FMSC, CPT, CF-L1
What guy wouldn’t want bigger biceps? I think we can all agree most of us would be happier if our biceps got bigger and we started bursting through a sleeves. I personally don’t think focusing on biceps is of utmost importance, so I train arms maybe once every 2 weeks and sometimes even less. Regardless, I seem to have pretty good arm development and most my clients ask me how they can grow their biceps too. First, let me tell you what I used to do many years ago when I first started training to put on muscle. I hate to admit that I would spend 2 hours training arms and I would do it 2-3 times per week. That did help me grow my arms, but eventually I ended up getting tendinitis in both my elbows and partially tore a tendon in my left wrist. Over my years coaching, I have come to learn how to train smarter and not necessarily harder. We should still train hard, but to avoid overuse injuries we need to understand how to program our workouts more effectively. Two of the main factors that influence muscle growth are overload and time under tension. If you can learn how to manipulate those 2 factors properly you will make your biceps grow injury free.
I know what you’re thinking, next time you’re at the gym you’re going to grab those 50 lbs dumbbells and start swinging them like crazy and call it a bicep curl. Well that’s not what I mean. Yes, I want you to stimulate your biceps with massive weights, but doing any type of bicep exercise is going to limit you to the amount of weight you can use. What I am getting at, is that you need to start implementing a lot of pulling movements with heavy weight. Think of how much you can row vs. how much you can barbell curl, or how much you can do a pull up with vs. how much you can cable curl. Vertical pulling movements such as pull ups and horizontal pulling movements such as rows allow you to train with great loads while still stimulating the bicep. That’s how I have kept my arms big and actually gotten them bigger recently without overdoing arm days, I simply train pulling movements about 2 times per week and my arms seem to be getting stronger and leaner. Not only will training pulling movements make your arms bigger, but if done correctly they will develop the rest of your body significantly more that doing some bicep curls. Don’t get me wrong, you can still do your beloved bicep curls, just don’t make them the bulk of your workout. When your focusing on isolation movements such as any kind of bicep curl, it’s more important to focus on proper form and work on that mind muscle connection, remember, we are not meant to move massive weights with isolation movements. My personal favorite arm builder is the weighted pull up. Any grip variation will do, yes supine grip will activate the bicep the most, but if you are not used to doing them, all different variations will yield some good arm development. I can now do pull ups for reps with my wife (132 lbs) hanging on to me, and I credit most of my arm development to my pulling strength getting better.
Time Under Tension
Stop swinging your DB curls!!! Working at many gyms over the last few years, I have witnessed all kinds of craziness when it comes to biceps curls. I have seen the guy with the smallest arms in the gym trying to curl the heaviest weights possible. It’s obviously not working! We know that we need time under tension to cause our muscles to grow, so we need to put our egos aside when we are performing bicep curls, forget about how much weight we are moving and focus on creating the proper environment for building muscle. I too used to grab weights I couldn’t even chest press and try to do bicep curls. Nowadays, I stick to medium weights when doing any type of curl exercise and really focus on the movement. For me, curling movements are just icing on the cake, like I said before, I get most of my bicep stimulus from my pulling movements. When I train my pulling movements I incorporate both, one day when I train with heavier weights in a slightly explosive fashion, and one day where I use medium weights and I take my time with the negative portion of the exercises to increase time under tension.
Remember, next time you are at the gym and the first you want to do is hit those bicep curls, think twice. Focus on pulling movements and prioritize getting stronger with all pulling movements rather than constantly thinking about the size of your arms. Finally, when you do come around to training arms, don’t forget that a crazy set of swinging dumbbell curls that lasts 15 seconds probably won’t do you much good. Start training with pulling movements 2 times per week and you will notice significant bicep development in a short period of time. As always, make sure to keep following us for all the latest tips on exercise and nutrition. Feel free to comment and ask questions!!!