Building bigger guns is a goal for almost every single bodybuilder out there except for the very few genetic freaks out there that were born with 20 inch arms. Yet, even if you have the genetic predisposition for big arms, that does not mean you can slack off in this area of your training. To actually produce results in the arms department, everyone must hit them hard and allow for plenty of rest, which will really make your arms bulge out of your shirt sleeves, even among other competitors.
For the majority of bodybuilders who are not genetically gifted with cannons attached to our shoulders, they can still achieve great arm development and produce their arms greatest potential with hard work and discipline.
Biceps: Form & Function
The accompanying chart pinpoints the anatomical details of bodybuilding's showpiece muscle.
Back To Basics
Probably the most basic and most important biceps movement for every bodybuilder ranging from novice to professional is the standing barbell curl. Personally, I have produced great results placing this exercise in the front of my bicep routine. Place this exercise first in your workout when your arms are most fresh and go as heavy as you can allowing yourself to use proper form for at least six repetitions.
I have seen many guys in the gym using lights weights and pumping out 25 or more reps where they would concentrate on the burn, but heavy weight and overloading the bicep is where the stimulation of maximum muscle growth will occur. The target areas for the standing barbell curl are the biceps complex (biceps brachii and brachialis) plus forearm muscles, particularly brachioradialis and wrist flexors.
Variations & Tips On The Standing Barbell Curl
Use variations in your stance and hand placement on the bar.
Even though you want to take a shoulder width grip on the bar, which keeps your wrists, elbows, and hands aligned, moving your hands in or out can provide a slightly different feel for more complete development. For example begin your first set with your hands placed a touch farther than shoulder width, which will force the inside of your biceps to perform the majority of the work. With each proceeding set, move your hands closer together till they are about a touch within shoulder width, which will force the outside of your biceps to perform the majority of the work.
By changing your hand placement you allow yourself to workout your entire bicep and not concentrate on just one part. Do no go for extreme grips though. By overextending your grip, this could prove not only to be uncomfortable but put unnecessary stress on your joints and is a risk of injury.
Curl the bar up in a wide arc, bringing it as high as you can.
Do no allow your elbows to pull forward at the top; make your biceps do the work. By curling the bar in a wide arc, you can prevent other muscle groups, such as the deltoids, from performing the majority of the work.
At the peak, flex your biceps hard.
The top of the movement is not the resting point of the exercise. This is point where you should really squeeze the muscle hard and release for another rep. If you pull your elbows forward and your forearms are straight up and down in the top position, the biceps will be allowed to rest.
I know many people who complain that using a straight bar places great strain on their wrists and forearms. For those of you that are similar, try using an EZ-bar for greater comfort but keep the same principles used for training with a straight barbell.
Do Not Cheat.
I have seen many lifters who simply just do not know what they are doing and turn the barbell curl into an Olympic gymnastic event. It is a basic movement but it can be easy to find a number of creative ways to cheat doing curls, all of which make the movement easier. Some try to never fully extend their arms at the bottom, instead keeping their elbows back, which prevents the muscle from fully extending and shortens the range of motion. Arnold Schwarzenegger states that, "When you do a curl, you must bring your hand directly up to your shoulder. If you change that line an inch to the inside or the outside, you are taking stress off the biceps and you won't get the same results ."
Another common cheating method is starting the lift slightly bent over, which brings the lower back in to produce extra momentum. A small degree of movement is acceptable to get those final few reps because this is an exercise where you want to build mass, but try not to do it often.
Not all bicep development can be performed with a barbell because the biceps complex is also involved in turning or rotating the wrist. So be sure to include dumbbell movements that allow you to supinate (turn up) your hands at the top of the curling motion. Some beneficial dumbbell biceps movements are alternate dumbbell curls and incline seated dumbbell curls.
Besides a supinating dumbbell curl, include other types of movements that hit the biceps somewhat differently each workout. Examples include preacher curls, two-arm high-cable curls, cable curls, and unilateral movements like the concentration curl.
Since your biceps also contribute during most back exercises, it is easy to overtrain them. Consider doing your back workout before your bicep workout, or take a day off between training these two bodyparts.
Remember to go for greater intensity on each set to truly overload the muscle instead of adding more sets of lower intensity. The biceps are a relatively small muscle group, so keeping your working sets in the 8-10 range is a good idea.
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- Schwarzenegger, Arnold. The Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. Simon and Schuster. 1985, 1998.