Did you get your tickets yet? To what you may ask? To the gun show…Duh.
Everybody wants to know what’s the secret for bigger arm and many times the answer is simple: time, consistency, and hard work. However, people don’t always like to hear that and as such, there will always be new articles popping up which claim to put 2 inches on your arms in 6 weeks.
If you perform a quick google search on “best bicep exercises”, you’ll get well over 900,000 results, many of them detailing the exact same exercises. Frankly, this topic has been beaten to death and if you don’t know the basics on arm training yet, get reading.
Listen slick, those bean poles aren’t going to grow with a few extra sets of concentration curls after bench. You need to prioritize the basics and acquire some mass before you worry about your incline curl numbers.
Class is in session lets get started…
1. Triple Paused Chinups
You can never be too strong at chinups. That being said, once a lifter has reached a solid base level of strength, it’s time to switch things up. As a coach, I’ll manipulate volume, frequency, range of motion, or in this case, tempo.
How to Execute: Perform a normal chinup but pause at the ¼ mark, ½ mark, ¾ mark, and also at the top.
PRO TIP: Try to think about driving your elbows down and back behind you rather than just pulling your chest to the bar.
2. TRX Bicep Curls
If you’re not aware, the TRX was actually developed by a Navy Seal who was looking for a way to stay fit while deployed. Needless to say, if you have access to one of these bodyweight trainers, it’d be in your best interest to take advantage of it.
How to Execute: Setup holding the handles with a neutral grip (palms facing each other) and lean away while simultaneous digging your heels in and pulling your toes up. From here, initiate the movement by curling your hands towards your head. Let your palms naturally rotate as your hands come closer to your face.
PRO TIP: If you don’t have much tread left on your shoes, consider putting a couple 45 plates on the ground to wedge your heels against.
3. Banded Hammer Curls
Bands are one of the easiest ways to manipulate the strength curve and improve maximal peak contraction at lockout. If you’ve never used them for curls, you’ve been missing out.
How to Execute: Stand on a medium width band with your hands in a neutral grip (palms facing). Curl your hands towards your shoulders as you keep your palms facing one another and then slowly return to the starting position.
PRO TIP: Incorporating a thumbless (false) grip may improve forearm discomfort experienced by some trainees.
4. Elevator Chinups (1.5 reps)
Chinups are easy, eh? Well, have you ever tried doubling the time under tension? You better get your mind right before you try these…
How to Execute: Perform a normal chinup (neutral or supinated grip) but once you’ve reached the halfway mark, return to the start, and then perform a full repetition.
Good work, that’s one rep; now keep going.
PRO TIP: Utilizing a false grip may help to decrease bicep recruitment and enhance lat engagement.
5. Descending Isometric Yields (aka “24s”)
Everyone is familiar with 21s, partials, drop sets, and isometric curl work but have you considered what it might be like to combine multiple methods? For this method, you’ll pause at specific angles within the motion and then slightly decrease the range of motion once you hit a certain rep goal.
How to Execute: Execute 6 repetitions utilizing a full range of motion and pause at the top. Complete 6 more repetitions but pause ¾ of the way up before returning to your starting position. Complete 6 more repetitions but pause ½ of the way up before returning to your starting position. Complete 6 final repetitions but pause ¼ of the way up before returning to your starting position.
PRO TIP: Choose seated rather than standing options to eliminate the potential for momentum and maximize contraction.
6. Mechanical Drop Sets for the Upper Back
Many in this industry don’t discuss mechanical drop sets but they’re an easy way to increase volume for specific muscle groups after you accumulated a high amount of fatigue.
For example, after your reached complete failure on supine tricep extensions, you can still complete a few more repetitions if you utilize a pullover to press method. It still incorporates the triceps but they aren’t completely isolated so other muscle groups can assist in the completion of the movement.
We can utilize this same concept for the upper back and you’ll quickly see just how taxing it can be for the biceps as well.
How to Execute: Perform normal chinups until you reach muscular failure - no kipping either (you shouldn’t be kipping in the first place but that’s another article for another time…)
From here, proceed to inverted rows with your body parallel to the floor until you reach failure again. As fatigue sets in, walk your feet back and get your body closer to perpendicular with the floor. Continue until you reach volitional fatigue.
PRO TIP: If you allow the hands to freely rotate on the rings or straps during inverted rows, it can help to enhance bicep recruitment due to the natural supination movement that occurs.
7. E-Z Curl Squat Set
Have you ever had the unfortunate pleasure of performing an isometric wall squat? If you’re like me, I’m sure you’ve had that uncomfortable “I don’t know what to do with my hands” feeling throughout the duration of the set. Well needless to say, this next unconventional exercise is going to solve that problem.
How to Execute: Start with your back against a wall and your feet about 6-10 inches away from the base. Perform full range of motion curls with an E-Z bar to failure. Now, perform a quarter squat and continue to curl until failure once more.
If your squat depth resembles that of most middle-aged gym goers, then you’re just about perfect. Your knees should get slightly higher as you squat lower and they will begin to restrict your curling range of motion.
Perform repetitions to failure and then squat slightly lower before continuing. I would recommend anywhere from 2-4 “drops” as you lower yourself down the wall and restrict your range of motion even further.
If you’re still not tracking with me, the entire purpose of this exercise is to use your biomechanical position on the wall (i.e. the height of your knees) to dictate partial ranges of motion once you’ve reached muscular failure.
PRO TIP: Make sure to try and keep your low back pressed flat against the wall to ensure you’re not arching into overextension.
8. Isometric Chinup Pyramid
When it comes to chinups, I like to utilize creative methods to spice them up. Simply adding more repetitions gets boring after a while so what else can you manipulate? Well, here’s a simple progression scheme for time under tension, which will quickly challenge even the most experienced lifters.
How to Execute:
5 reps/1 sec pause @ 90°
4 reps/2 sec pause @ 90°
3 reps/3 sec pause @ 90°
2 reps/4 sec pause @ 90°
1 rep/5 sec pause @ 90°
PRO TIP: Finish tall at the top, don’t allow your chest to cave in and pull strictly with your biceps. Instead, imagine you’re trying to put your shoulder blades into your back pockets and direct laser pointers on your elbows straight down.
9. Overcoming Isometrics
We’ve utilized some isometric components within other exercises included in this list but overcoming isometrics are a slightly different beast. Essentially, your intent is to try and push or pull an immovable object that provides insurmountable resistance.
How to Execute: In this case, we’ll use your standard barbell curl performed within a power rack (yes bro, go curl in the squat rack, just don’t hold anyone else up). Set the safety pins slightly above the bottom portion of your range of motion. Initiate the curl into the pins and hold for a specific duration of time.
I’d suggest anywhere from 25-30 seconds for starters and then incrementally progress towards 50-60 seconds as you become more experienced with this technique.
Repeat the entire process at the 90° and 120° mark to ensure that you’re emphasizing mid and end range contraction. Again, this is only one set for each angle, don’t get crazy and think you can crush an entire workout of just isometrics, it doesn’t work that way broseidon.
PRO TIP: Squeeze your glutes and brace your abs as if someone is about to punch you in the stomach during the movement - doing both will help to ensure you keep a neutral spine while simultaneously putting force into the bar.
10. Banded Preacher Machine Curls
So, you just walked into the gym without a program and you have absolutely no idea what you’re going to train today, where do you start? The preacher curl machine, of course.
Every male in history has at one point or another hit an entire “biceps only” workout. So, if you’re looking for a little variety, try out this variation to add a little diversity to your arsenal.
How to Execute: First, ensure that you’re using a plate loaded version rather than a machine with a weight stack. Next, fasten a band to the lowest pin used to store spare plates and then attach the other end to the camshaft, which rotates about the machine’s axis. Once you’ve got your setup complete, let the pump being…
PRO TIP: If you want a skin splitting pump, emphasize the end range of the concentric portion. Unlike a weight stack, which delivers constant resistance, bands offer unique characteristics such as variable resistance, which allow the user to manipulate the strength curve. In other words, they provide the largest amount of resistance at peak contraction unlike dumbbells or cables.
All Pumped Up!
Summer is here fellas, so it’s obviously time to step up your t-shirt game and start bustin’ some sleeves.
It’s not going to happen overnight, but if you stick with a solid program for a year or two, I think you might be surprised what you can accomplish with some dedication and a bit of passion under that bar.
Get in there and get curling, the gains are waiting.