Ok guys, let’s face facts here, how many times have you seen someone approached by a bunch of envious guys at the gym and heard the phrase “Wow – love your calves”. It just doesn’t happen. The bottom line is that the layman or woman tends to be more focused on the size and shape of your guns, and big biceps are more often than not used as a barometer for strength and success in your training program.
One of the basic errors made by newcomers to the world of muscle building, especially when attempting to build big biceps, is that they lack a basic understanding of the muscle group they are trying to develop. So let’s remedy that right now.
Becoming familiar with the muscles that make up your body has more benefits than simply allowing you to talk shop with your training partners. The more familiar you are with the muscles you’re working, the better you’ll be able to judge what’s needed to make improvements. Let’s get to know the muscles that make up the shoulders as well as the arms, as they will play a vital role in helping you to build your biceps effectively and safely.
Shoulders and arms work together but they require significantly different exercises to make them bigger and stronger. The main muscles found in these areas are as follows:
1. Deltoid – this is comprised of three separate segments that cover the shoulder and run a few inches down the arm. The anterior deltoid raises the arm to the front. The middle deltoid raises the arm to the side. The posterior deltoid draws the arm backwards.
2. Rotators – these are small muscles of the rotator cuff that control small movements of the upper arm. Consisting of an internal rotator, external rotator and supraspinatus they are used in lifting and throwing actions.
3. Biceps brachii – the biceps covers the front part of the upper arm and consists of a long head and a short head. The long head crosses the shoulder joint and works with the front deltoid to raise the arm to the front.
4. Triceps brachii – the triceps covers the the back of the upper arm and consists of three sections – the long, lateral and medial heads. The role of the triceps is to straighten the arm at the elbow.
6. Forearm muscles – the forearms consist of many little muscles called flexors and extensors. The largest forearm muscle is the brachioradialis that lies close to the elbow.
Now you have an understanding of the surrounding muscle groups, let’s focus on the biceps. Quite simply the biceps are made up of a long head and a short head and they account for around 30% of the total muscle mass of the upper arm. Both heads are activated during bicep exercises. The biceps are responsible for flexing the elbow, turning your arm in and out. This is technically known as forearm supination. The biceps are also involved, to a lesser degree in flexing the shoulders.
It should be pointed out that the biceps are not just there for decoration or to look great in a tank top. By the way my own personal opinion is that unless your arms are 15 inches plus, then you really need to steer clear of a sleeveless shirt. Wait until your arms are well above that otherwise you run the risk of making yourself look a bit daft. Your biceps are involved in pretty much every daily upper body activity. Also all of your weight or resistance training will work your biceps to some degree.
The biceps are a relatively small muscle group and the weight you use should reflect that. When performing isolation exercises such as the barbell or hammer curl you should never ever compromise form and technique for extra weight.
The key point to remember about the biceps is that if you are performing any kind of “pulling” exercise or motion, then you are working your biceps. I would recommend that you only work your biceps in isolation a maximum of twice a week. We have always advocated a safety first approach to training and your recovery time is absolutely crucial to the success of your quest to build big biceps.
The biceps seem to have an almost mythical quality and seem to represent just how strong you are as a man. For example, when was the last time you asked someone to flex their muscles for you and they showed you a wonderful set of calves? Just remember though, the biceps are just another muscle group and need to be worked, and more importantly rested, in exactly the same way as any other.
Bicep Training Fundamentals:
Of course, serious lifters and competitive bodybuilders will know that just as much hard work and dedication goes into developing each single body part, and clearly your peers will be hugely impressed when they spot your huge lats or traps. However, for a huge number of basic and intermediate lifters the focus will be on the growth and development of their biceps. Adding inches to your arms will be the primary motivator in your training regimen. So, just for you guys here are some fundamentals to stick to in order to help you reach that goal and show you how to get big biceps.
Bicep Fundamental 1: Concentrate On Working The Bicep.
This may seem like an obvious statement but it is incredible just how much it is ignored. You will doubtless have spent time in the gym and seen guys throwing huge weights around, grunting wildly and slapping each other on the back congratulating themselves on a massive set of barbell curls. The problem is however, that the vast majority of the work they have just done will be for nothing because they have been swinging from the shoulder or hips and the bicep has been largely under-used.
Irrespective of which bicep exercise you are performing, be it a huge compound exercise, barbell curl etc, or an isolation exercise on the machines it is absolutely imperative that you focus on working the bicep. All the weight has to be moved by the bicep contraction and the bicep only! At the beginning of the movement take a second and concentrate all your effort onto ensuring good form and technique. Feel the bicep contracting and curl slowly allowing the bicep to bulge and peak. It is incredible how much more you will get from the exercise if you just take the time to concentrate on it.
Bicep Fundamental 2: Add Weight
This is a key element in your bicep development and also one of the toughest things to get right. The problem occurs when the addition of weight means that form and technique are compromised. It is a common feature among newbie lifters that they tend to stay training at a certain weight and simply increase the reps in the mistaken belief that this will lead to huge gains. In fairness, at the start of a training program this may hold some truth but the dreaded plateau will not be far away.
The fact of the matter is that it is always advisable to increase the weight once you have reached your desired rep range. There is a fairly simple maxim to observe here and that is that your bicep will grow in line with the amount of weight you are lifting and will be aided by the correctness of your technique. Again we go back to the word “concentration”. Too many guys at the gym simply forget to concentrate on what they are doing and as a result they lose out on a lot of their potential gains. Concentration is key when it comes to performing at a higher weight for the first time. Feel the blood really gush into your bicep and enjoy the pump.
Bicep Fundamental 3: Concentrate On Range Of Motion
A rep only counts as a full rep if you have fully completed the exercise. If you are performing a set of 12 barbell curls then you have to ensure that you fully extend and contract all the way through the movement. You have to make every rep count and this is the only sure fire way to get the blood flowing through the muscle and the only way to build a great pump.
I personally have a bit of an issue with the concept of training to failure as I am never completely sure what it actually means. I prefer to have a specific number of reps to work to as that gives me the focus I need to concentrate fully on the workout. Try to live and train by the maxim that “Failure is not an option”, get all your reps out and perform them to the maximum of your ability. There is absolutely no such thing a half a rep! If you are struggling to get the last couple of reps out with the correct form then consider dropping the weight temporarily. Alternatively, if you are getting the reps out and only feeling the burn at the top of the muscle and not really getting that deep pump that you need to really build the bicep, then up the weight.
The bottom line here is that developing big biceps is not going to happen overnight and it is certainly never going to happen without putting the right work in first. You can get huge biceps and you will find yourself being the recipient of those admiring glances as long as you get the basics right. Good luck.
Biceps Fundamentals 4: Eat More & Eat Often
This is perhaps the most basic requirement and yet seems to the main area where most people fail miserably on their mission to get ripped. You simply have to focus on proper nutrition. Training with weights is only half of the equation! You break down your muscle fibres in the gym, but if you don’t provide your body with the proper nutrients at the proper times, the muscle growth process will be next to impossible.
You should be eating anywhere from 5-7 meals per day, spaced every 2-3 hours in order to keep your body in an anabolic, muscle-building state at all times. Each meal should consist of high quality protein and complex carbohydrates. Also eating properly is imperative when it comes to the fat loss required to actually see the muscular development you have been working so hard on.
Bicep Fundamental 5: Take Less Time.
This is a great little tip when it comes to developing your lean muscle mass, or indeed whatever your training goal happens to be. It certainly has proven to be effective when it comes to building the biceps. If you can perform more work in less time you will be upping the intensity level and improving your cardiovascular conditioning. This leads to an increase in your metabolic rate and an increase in lean muscle mass.
Do more reps with more weight in less time and just watch your lean muscle mass and your muscular development go through the roof. Try to take much shorter rest periods and, if you feel totally shattered to begin with, that’s exactly how you are supposed to feel!
If your workout is currently taking over an hour then take a step back and examine just how much of that time is spent in recovery. If you can halve your recovery time you will massively increase the intensity of your workout and supercharge your metabolism. This is such a simple tip, but one that has proven to be massively effective. Try it today.
Bicep Fundamental 6: Work On Your Mindset.
It is vital that you keep a positive mindset in place. You have to be disciplined, focused and goal orientated. Have you noticed that the most successful people in any field tend to be positive, and will always have a specific plan to work to. They very rarely blame others for their shortcomings and regularly step out of their comfort zone in order to develop themselves.
Building a ripped and muscular physique with ripped abs, huge biceps and massive triceps, or indeed any form of muscular development plan is no different, and if you truly want to develop your perfect physique then you will have to do the same. If your training plan isn’t working then don’t blame your trainer, change your training plan. If you are not losing enough fat then don’t blame your diet, change your diet. You, and only you, are responsible for you! Quit finding excuses for your own shortcomings and take responsibility right now.
The bottom line here is that developing big biceps is not going to happen overnight and it is certainly never going to happen without putting the right work in first. You can get huge biceps and you will find yourself being the recipient of those admiring glances as long as you get the basics right.
Here are a few decent exercises that will blast your biceps, and really help to build biceps fast. In fairness if you have been training for a while then you would have done some or all of these exercises. However, you have to be sure that they are performed with the correct form and technique because if they are not, you will be wasting your time and your biceps will never reach their full potential. Perform each exercise for 3-5 sets once or twice a week at 8-12 reps. Work to fatigue, still making sure you maintain good from. This is the best way to build biceps fast.
For starters you could do a lot worse than check out the video below. Hugo is a legend in the fitness world and has some great tips on working your biceps.
a) Standing Barbell Curl/ EZY Bar
You can perform this exercise with either a straight bar or an ezy bar. This is a great exercise for building muscle mass on your biceps.
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and grasp the bar with an underhand grip, hands should also be about shoulder width apart. Curl the bar up slowly focusing intensely on the biceps contraction. Do not swing or use momentum to curl, especially at the later stages when your biceps start to fatigue. Make sure that just your arms are moving, and keep your elbows locked to the side of your body.
Then lower the weight, taking 3-4 seconds resisting the weight on the way down to emphasize the negative part of the exercise. Never let gravity pull the weights down.
Never bend your wrist and try to keep them in a straight neutral position.
b) Incline Dumbbell Curls
Sit back on an incline bench holding a dumbbell in each hand, keep your elbows well forward throughout the movement, curl the weight upward and toward the shoulder level. Then contract your biceps hard at the top position. Lower the weights again, making sure you remain under full control with good form and technique.
c) Hammer Curl
The method is very similar to incline dumbbell curl except you will be using the hammer grip on the dumbbell. This is just as if you are holding a hammer and knocking nails in. You perform this exercise in the standing position as opposed to sitting.
d) Concentration Curls
Concentration curls can be performed to focus on just the biceps brachii, or indeed to work all of your bicep muscles. To perform them you will need to sit on the edge of a bench with your knees spread apart and your left hand supporting your body weight against your left thigh. Obviously you would reverse this starting position when working the other arm. That should really go without saying but you never know!
Place your right elbow on the inner surface of your right thigh. Hold a dumbbell in your right palm and face your palm toward your leg. Rotate your palm upward as you curl the dumbbell toward your shoulder, then, rotate it back down to the starting position, making sure at all times that you are engaging the entire bicep muscle. If you want to focus on the big biceps brachii, then you have to keep your palm facing upward throughout the entire curling motion.
e) Biceps Cable Curls
Cable exercises can be incredibly effective bicep builders, mainly because you can keep the bicep under tension throughout the entire exercise. This can be difficult to achieve with a dumbbell or barbell movement because the temptation to cheat by utilizing other body parts can be too great, especially if you are using too much weight! Best advice would be to check your ego at the door and concentrate on getting the right form and technique first.
When you perform any free weight exercise, there comes a point where the weight is poised directly over the fulcrum which means that the tension on your muscles is minimal. Exercising with cables means that, because of the angle of resistance, there is no such “dead spot.” Biceps cable exercises can be performed one arm at a time or both arms together depending on the handle attachments you have available and your personal preference.
f) Preacher Curls
Preacher curls require access to a preacher bench, sometimes called a Scott bench. This exercise was popularized by bodybuilding legend Larry Scott in the 1960s. Using a preacher bench fixes your upper arms in place so that you cannot use any additional muscle groups to help you lift the weight. This is a great way to avoid the potential “cheat” as it ensures all the load is placed on your biceps. Preacher curls can also be performed using a barbell, dumbbells or an EZ curl bar and there are even some machines that replicate the preacher curl movement, although their effectiveness is likely to be slightly less than a proper preacher bench.
g) Narrow Grip Chin ups
Now these are an absolutely fantastic bicep exercise, and a really good indicator of actual, real world strength. Unlike most forms of biceps exercise, narrow grip chin-ups involve lifting your body instead of lifting an external weight. The action at the elbow is the same — it’s only the direction of movement that is different. The main advantage of narrow grip chin-ups over barbell and dumbbell exercises is that you do not need to stabilize your spine and work your entire core.
Often when performing curls it is your inability to keep your body upright that limits the amount of weight that you are lifting. There is no such concern with narrow grip chin-ups. Chin-ups are performed with an underhand grip, whereas pull-ups are performed with an overhand grip. The underhand position emphasizes the biceps, and the overhand position places greater emphasis on your lats or back muscles.
h) Heavy Compound Exercises:
Don’t forget that the huge compound movements – heavy bent over rows, seated rows etc will also give your biceps a good hammering. It would be foolish to overlook them.
Focus on the movement of your biceps all throughout the motion. Don’t lift weights that are too heavy and never compromise your form and techniques just to show off.
By slightly turning and squeezing, making sure you contract your biceps at the top of the movement you’ll build more of a peak on your biceps. Like all exercises, pose and stretch the biceps between sets. This is to flush out lactic acid and help your biceps recover better for the next set.
Eat organically, you are what you eat (if you give yourself a 59 cent hamburger you are going to develop 59 cent abs, and your chances of developing a lean muscular physique are precisely zero!)
Lift mainly in the 8-12 rep range, any more and you are just not using enough weight.
Your tempos should range from 3-1-3 to 4-1-4 and no more, nice and controlled, concentrating on good form and technique.
You total time under tension for each lift should only last 60 sec or less (this is because you want to produce as much Testosterone and Growth Hormone, absolutely vital for building lean muscle mass.
Don’t lift longer than 45 min per workout, less at a higher intensity equals more.
You need to have a decent cardio workout in place that aids in fat burning and means you will actually get to see those huge biceps you have been working so hard on.
Lift according to your genetic makeup and your muscle fibre type if you tend to be more of an endurance athlete you will do better lifting a little higher reps, if you are more of a speed athlete you will do better lifting a little lower reps heavier weight.
Supplements can help in achieving mass, but be very careful. We here at Ripped and Muscular are real advocates of Natural Bodybuilding so try to familiarise yourself with the better natural supplements and muscular definition will naturally follow. Follow science, it can do way more for you than just taking some pill.
Compound V Isolation:
Obviously in this instance we are concentrating on the bicep, however, it doesn’t matter which muscle someone is asking about, they always seem to be asking how to ‘isolate’ it. My first response to this question is always – Why in the world would you want to isolate it?
The first thing to bear in mind is that the body does not work well in muscle isolation. Rather, it works much more effectively when it moves along a kinetic chain; that is, large portions of the body assist other portions of the body in completing a complex movement. In fact, there really is no such thing as true muscle isolation. There is almost always a nearby muscle group that will assist in some way with whatever movement you are doing. However, here we will compare attempting to ‘isolate’ body parts via single-joint exercises to the much more effective strategy of performing multi-joint complex movements.
When you attempt to ‘isolate’ muscles by performing single-joint exercises, you are actually creating a body that is non-functional and will be more prone to injury. Essentially, you are creating a body that is a compilation of body parts, instead of a powerful, functional unit that works together.
Now if you really want to end up hobbling around in a body bandaged up with joint problems, tendonitis, and excess body fat, then, by all means carry on trying to ‘isolate’ body parts. On the other hand, if you would rather have a lean, muscular, injury-free, functional body that works as a complete powerful unit to perform complex movements (in athletics or even everyday tasks), then you need to shift your focus away from muscle isolation. Believe me, focusing on how well your body functions will give you the side effect of a body that looks even better than it would have if you focused on muscle isolation. For example, take a look at the physiques of any NFL running backs, wide receivers, or even world class sprinters. Trust me when I say that these guys pretty much NEVER train for muscle isolation (their strength coaches wouldn’t be crazy enough to let them), yet they are absolutely ripped to shreds! Just look at guys like Maurice Green or Terrell Owens and tell me who wouldn’t want a physique like those guys.
Another benefit to moving away from the ‘muscle isolation’ mindset to a more ‘complex movement’ mindset is that you will find it much easier to lose body fat. The reason is that by focusing more on multi-joint complex movements as opposed to single-joint muscle isolation, you not only burn a lot more calories during each workout, but you also increase your metabolic rate, and stimulate production of more fat burning and muscle building hormones like growth hormone and testosterone.
Let’s look at an example. The machine leg extension is a single joint exercise that works mainly the quadriceps, can potentially cause knee joint instability in the long run, and doesn’t even burn that many calories. On the other hand, exercises like squats, lunges, step-ups, and deadlifts are all multi-joint complex movements that work hundreds of muscles in the body (including the quadriceps) as a functional unit, create more stable and strong joints in the long run (when done properly), and also burn massive quantities of calories compared to the single-joint exercises.
Now when it comes to training the biceps let’s look at the classic dumbbell bicep curl. If you aren’t familiar with the exercise, and let’s face it if you are not then you certainly should be! It’s performed by standing straight, with your palms facing forward, and a pair of dumbbells held down by your sides. You’ll contract your biceps to bring the dumbbells up to your shoulder height, repeating the exercise as many times as you wish.
Now using that same movement for an exercise on a bicep curl machine, you should sit down, brace your upper arms on a pad, grasp the 2 handles that are in front of you and perform the same movement as above to move the handles in an upward motion.
Now, looking at the muscle contractions in this exercise, you are contracting essentially just your biceps if you are using the curl machine, and that is pretty much all you are doing. When you use the machine you are sitting down, which will limit just how much your shoulders give. The machine limits all the work entirely to the biceps, as well as the muscles in your forearms and fingers. Now this is fantastic for isolation exercises but as we have discussed many times in the past the need for a good range of compound exercises is vital to help build biceps fast.
My own opinion, for what it’s worth, is that you just have to look at the most successful bodybuilders and ask them what they think of machine weights. The vast majority of them would probably laugh at you and tell you that you need to quit joking around.
In a nutshell, free weights will use more of your muscles than the machines do, which makes them more effective overall. This doesn’t mean that the machines are a complete waste of time, as they can offer some great advantages, for example when you are just starting out or recovering from injury.
The decision on which to use for you should be based on what you hope to achieve with lifting weights and where you plan to use the equipment, such as home or at a gym. Both systems are potentially great for your body, although the free weights are best to use if you want the best possible workout. Whatever route you choose to take you will have to commit fully and train hard. That’s really the only way to build biceps fast.
I have found over the years that a really heavy compound movement, such as the classic bent over row will absolutely trash your biceps. In fact I personally have never done a single bicep curl in my life and yet my arms currently stand at 19 inches with 15% body fat. Ultimately the choice is yours, isolation movements certainly have their place in a well constructed bodybuilding plan, but, and this is the important part, only if they are performed absolutely 100% correctly.