Making your biceps bulge—not just grow, but bulge—can require some out-of-the-box thinking. Following the same conventional exercises forever doesn't just get monotonous; it can also cause your growth to stagnate. Like every muscle, the biceps need new stimulus to evolve, which means getting creative in the gym. It's easy to waste months, if not years, failing to progress because you're doing the wrong things.
Over the years I've learned many "hacks" which have helped my biceps grow, avoiding plateaus along the way. In this article I've shared my top three biceps-building hacks, which I highly recommend for anybody in need of a boost!
Smith Machine Drag Curl
Drag curls in their own right are a fantastic biceps builder, but I've learned that by doing them on a Smith machine they become even more impactful! Due to the mechanics of a Smith machine, the weight travels straight up rather than on an angle, as you'd experience using free weights or even a cable. That may not sound like much of a difference, but I personally find there's more tension in my biceps at the peak contraction when doing drag curls on the Smith machine, which is why I've previously recommended dropsets of these as the perfect way to finish your biceps workout.
There's not a lot of technique to this movement, but here are the essentials: Make sure your shoulders are pushed back, as well as your elbows, so that the bar remains intact with your abdomen for the entire exercise. You'll find the range of motion is shorter on this exercise compared to a conventional curl, but don't sweat it, because it works the peak contraction with precision! The fixed position also forces more isolation onto the biceps, so it's harder to cheat.
Above-the-Head Cable Preacher Curl
This exercise almost resembles a preacher curl, except that I'm curling from above my head, which means the tension in my biceps is distributed in a completely different way. You could do this on any cable stack, but I'll usually head over to the lat pull-down and use a straight bar.
The trick is to keep your arms flat and fully extended in front of you while curling, so your elbows don't drop. If you allow this to happen then the tension will immediately become reduced. As you curl the bar in toward your forehead, pause momentarily before releasing the weight back to the starting position. This moment of intense contraction makes the biceps "pop" more.
As this is such a specific exercise, it's really important not to go heavy. Otherwise, you won't be able to resist the temptation to use momentum, which removes focus from the biceps in this case. That's exactly what you don't want, so pick a weight you can control and chase the reps!
Neutral-Grip Pull-Up with Push-Out
Pull-ups are regarded as a back exercise, but they can also be a great biceps builder! My favorite variation (which I've begun to do often during my Man of Iron hybrid-athlete training) takes the classic pull-up form and adds a subtle but intense tweak at the top of the rep.
For this variation, I recommend using a neutral grip, replicating a hammer-curl position with the hands. Once you pull to the top position, push your torso away from the pull-up bar before lowering yourself back down.
Be warned: This is a tough move! But it's also a compound biceps-builder that I've had a lot of success with. To make it work, you'll need to maintain steady control of your form at all times, with no excessive swinging of the torso.
Think Outside the Box, Build Inside the Sleeve
Given how much attention they get, it's easy to forget that the biceps are a small muscle group, which means when you're training them bigger muscles can easily take over. Often this is the root cause of slow progress with biceps development. The other problem is having a poor mind-muscle connection with the biceps, and failing to immerse this specific area with enough blood and trauma to force growth.
My personal recommendation to enhance both blood flow and the mental sensation of training is to take a pre-workout like Pre-Kaged before training biceps. This is exactly the sort of training that pre-workouts were created to enhance, leaving you feeling fuller and more engaged both during and after the workout.
Don't just take my word for it, though. Try all of the hacks I've just given you in the gym to see how far you can take your biceps!