There’s no doubt the biceps muscles are amongst the favorite muscle group for young men to train.
Achieving a skin-splitting pump gives you a glimpse into the future… A future with bigger arms that stretch your t-shirt sleeves to the limits of their elastic capabilities…
And, boy…does it feel good.
This article will present some simple ‘old-school’ methods you can apply to your training immediately to help continue driving biceps growth and turn your arms into a pair of sleeve-fillers.
These are very small and subtle changes you can make to your curl technique that will force the biceps to contract harder and generate more muscle-growing tension.
1. Contract the Triceps at the End of the Curl
At the end of the curl, contract the triceps to fully extend the elbow and maximize the stretch on the biceps.
By doing this, not only will you elicit more muscle damage via increased eccentric stress, but you’ll train the biceps through a bigger range of motion (ROM).
It has been suggested that a greater ROM is capable of stimulating more growth, even compared to a heavier weight and a smaller range of motion.
While this method is effective with any form of a curl, it may be especially effective on incline curls where the biceps will be maximally stretched across both the elbow and shoulder joint.
You may find yourself having to use lighter weights than you typically use, but it’s a small price to pay for bigger biceps.
2. Flex Your Shoulder at the End of the Curl
As well as flexing the elbow, another role of the biceps is to flex the shoulder i.e. raise it forward relative to the torso.
Once your elbow is at 90 degrees in the curl, complete the movement by bringing the elbows forward whilst maintaining tension on the biceps.
You should feel the biceps contract much harder than if you simply moved at the elbow and attempted to keep the shoulder still.
3. Elbows in and Supinate the Wrist at the End of the Curl
Another function of the biceps is to supinate the forearm i.e. turn it outwards.
If you bend your elbow to 90 degrees and rotate your wrist so that your palm is facing the ground, you’ll see your biceps stretch the entire length of your upper arm.
When you turn your forearm so your palm faces upwards, you’ll see your biceps shorten as it contracts.
So, another tweak to your barbell biceps curls is to try and supinate your forearms at the top of the curl.
Legendary trainer, Vince Gironda, used to have his bodybuilders perform preacher curls with the elbows pointing together, which allowed them to really emphasize supination at the top of the curl.
4. Use an ‘Off-Center’ Grip
Another way to maximally stimulate the biceps via supination is to hold the dumbbells with your thumb and forefinger resting along the inside of the plate.
Holding the dumbbells in this position means the load is now unevenly distributed in the hands, and with more of the dumbbells’s mass being on the inside of the hands, the forearm will be pulled into pronation (palm facing down).
This will force the biceps to work as supinators in order to stabilize the weight and counter the unwanted pronation.
5. Stand With Your Back up Against a Wall
You may see some of the more ‘ego-driven’ lifters using ‘Body English’ in order to curl weights way beyond their current strength levels.
This is where they swing the body violently and use momentum to lift the weight, rather than their biceps.
A very simple solution to countering body English so you can place more tension on the biceps is to simply perform your curls with your back up against a wall.
This prevents you from doing any kind of swinging action, meaning you will have to rely solely on your elbow flexors to lift the weight,
This is a great method to introduce if you’re guilty of using excessive swinging to curl the weight.
6. Use ‘Body English’ Properly
Despite the fact Body English it is generally frowned upon in the weight room (as per the previous point), it can have a well-deserved place in your training arsenal.
From time to time, you may wish to use a bit of Body English in order to help lift the weight up, on the basis you lower the weight under strict control.
Doing this will maximize the stress placed on the biceps during the eccentric phase, which can be a great way to stimulate more growth in stubborn biceps muscles.
If you’ve got your curl technique locked down, then you may wish to consider adding more to your programme in order to continue stimulating biceps growth.
1. Train The Brachialis
The brachialis is a small muscle that lies underneath the biceps, and its sole function is to perform elbow flexion.
Due to the fact it’s a smaller and weaker muscle than the biceps, it can often be understimulated during elbow flexion movement when the forearm is supinated.
Therefore, pronating the forearm, in order to reduce the input from the biceps brachii, will place more emphasis on the brachialis.
As a muscle that is often neglected, it has plenty of growth potential and can rapidly jack up arm girth with several weeks of targeted training.
Therefore, including exercises that place a greater emphasis on the brachialis can be a surefire way to grow your arms.
Exercises include: –
Train the brachialis with higher repetitions and slower tempos so you can focus on establishing a strong mind-muscle connection.
When trained properly, you should feel a very satisfying pump on the outside of your upper arms.
2. Overloading Different Points of the Strength Curve
The old-timers knew the importance of including a variety of exercises within their biceps training.
However, even though you may include a variety of exercises, it’s important they all differ in how they stimulate the muscle.
Have your biceps ever felt different depending on which exercise you perform?
This may be because each exercise has its own unique ‘strength curve’, which dictates the point at where the biceps will be maximally stimulated.
For example –
Preacher curls will produce maximum tension at the beginning of the curl.
Standing barbell/dumbbell curls will produce maximum tension at the mid-point of the curl.
Bodyweight ring curls will produce maximum tension at the end range of the curl.
Be sure that your exercise variations target all 3 points of the strength curve so you can be sure to maximally train your biceps and elicit maximum growth.
3. 2-Minute Barbell Curl Finisher
This is a greater finisher to fully thrash your biceps at the end of a workout.
Grab an empty barbell and start curling with a steady speed and without letting the biceps relax at any point.
When you start to fatigue and can’t perform full range of motion, then start to perform half reps.
When you are incapable of performing half reps, hold the top position of the curl and focus on generating an isometric contraction.
When you can no longer hold this position due to intense fatigue, lower the bar as slowly as possible, whilst keeping full tension on the biceps.
Set a timer and record how long you can maintain full tension on the biceps.
Aim to beat this time every session, and add weight when you can maintain full tension for 2 minutes.
This will burn a lot, but the rewards will be worth it.
4. ‘Down The Rack’ Finisher
Another straightforward and brutally effective ‘old school’ finisher: –
Grab a pair of dumbbells you can perform at least 10 reps with and start curling.
As soon as you hit failure, return them, grab the next lightest pair, and start curling again.
Repeat this progress until you’ve made it all the way to the lightest dumbbells on the rack.
The fatigue should be so great that you will be struggling with the lightest weights.
5. Extended Sets
Extended sets are a great way to trigger more hypertrophy by increasing the length of the set.
The 3 most commonly-performed extended set methods are: –
A recent study by Moro et al. (2020) (1) confirms the use of the rest-pause method as being effective for enhancing muscle mass gains when time in the gym is limited.
Following your final rep, rest 10-20 seconds, and perform another set to failure with the same weight. Rest another 10-20 seconds and perform one more set to failure still using the same weight.
Following your final rep, lower the weight by 10-15%, and perform another set to failure. Once you hit failure, lower the weight by a further 10-15% and perform one more set to failure.
With mechanical drop sets, you’ll keep the weight the same, but change the exercise slightly to one that gives you more of a mechanical advantage.
For example, you could alter your grip, starting with the weakest position and moving to the strongest –
- Wide grip x reps to failure
- Medium grip x reps to failure
- Narrow grip x reps to failure
6. Death Sets
Sometimes, it may be a case of ‘going big, or going home’ in order to force more gains from your biceps, and death sets are the perfect solution..
Simply pick 4-6 different exercises, and perform them in a circuit fashion, with minimal rest between exercises and 2-3 minutes rest in between rounds.
For example, you could perform 2-4 rounds of:-
A1) Chin Up x 4-6 reps
A2) BB Curl x 8-8 reps
A3) Incline Curl x 8-10 reps
A4) Preacher Curl x 8-10 reps
A5) Rope Curl x 12-15 reps
A6) Reverse Curl x 15-20 reps
Enjoy the pump afterwards.
The longer you’ve been training, the more you will need to do in order to stress the biceps further and trigger new growth. However, don’t feel you need to rush and try all these methods all at once.
Instead, pick one or two and rotate them in and out with other methods over the course of several months.
As you provide your biceps with brand new stimuli, you will soon start to see noticeable improvements in arm size.
- Moro, Tatiana, et al. “Effects of 6 Weeks of Traditional Resistance Training or High Intensity Interval Resistance Training on Body Composition, Aerobic Power and Strength in Healthy Young Subjects: A Randomized Parallel Trial.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 17.11 (2020): 4093.