Tank tops, open car windows, pools—yeah, summer was built to showcase a pair of impressive biceps. Are yours ready?
While the calendar might seem to say it's already too late, the reality is that when it comes to a relatively responsive muscle like the biceps, you can make solid gains faster than you think. All it takes is a commitment to a more focused training and nutritional approach, while shedding past bad habits that held back your development, according to MuscleTech athlete Jase Stevens.
Here's his three-month plan to build showcase arms before season's end.
Not The Same Old Curls
Look around any gym, and there's no shortage of dudes doing curls, but very few of them have impressive biceps. Why is a great peak so elusive? "That's easy: ego lifting," Stevens says. "Everyone's trying to train the biceps with too much weight, using too much momentum, and not creating maximal tension on the muscle itself."
Fortunately, the fix is easy once you discard the need to show off. "Lighten the load, and focus on getting a range of motion and a peak contraction during every single rep," Stevens instructs. "The heaviest weight you can achieve 12 clean, controlled reps with before failing is optimal."
With the ego-lifting error rectified, you can turn your attention to another mistake that, while not nearly as destructive, can make a big difference once you correct it: "Start supinating your wrist at the top of a dumbbell biceps curl," suggests Stevens, whose own biceps speak for this tip.
"The function of the biceps is flexion of the elbow joint and supination, which is external rotation of the forearm," he adds. "If you never supinate the wrist when you curl a dumbbell, you are never fully contracting the biceps, and you're missing an opportunity for growth."
Your Peak-Building Plan
Now that you know how to curl, perform the following workout twice a week on nonconsecutive days as part of your overall training split. Stick with it, and it will help maximize both your biceps peak and overall mass over the course of the next three months.
"By training twice per week, you're focusing on increasing volume with biceps training," Stevens says. "Make sure you train arms after rest days, on high-carb days, or when your energy is otherwise high. Having two dedicated arm days per week will help create some new stimulus."
This workout begins with a wide-grip curl both as a warm-up and to target the inner head of the biceps, which doesn't get much attention. Following with the hammer curl focuses more on the brachialis muscle—situated beneath the biceps brachii, it works as a synergist with it when you flex your elbow.
When you do the single-arm preacher curl, supinate your wrist as you bring the dumbbell up to full elbow flexion. Next up, performing reverse-grip EZ curls on the inner grip engages the outer biceps head and forearm muscles and helps strengthen and build the tie-in area around your elbow joint.
Finishing with high-rep single-arm high-pulley curls done strictly pumps more blood into the muscle and takes direct aim at your peaks.
Add A Partner Challenge
Intermediate and advanced bodybuilders with a partner can take this workout even further with an advanced technique tagged on to the dumbbell preacher curl: loaded negatives.
"After you've reached muscle failure on the concentric (lifting) portion of the movement and can't complete another full rep, have your partner grasp the ends of the weight and lift it through the concentric portion of the rep to the top, then have him push down on the dumbbell as you resist and slowly lower it back down," Stevens says. Your partner shouldn't push hard—just enough to give a little extra resistance. Perform these loaded negatives until you can no longer control the eccentric portion of the movement yourself."
Another technique worth considering—but on a separate day from forced negatives, if you do them—is a challenge set. Stand facing your partner, perform reps until failure, then immediately hand off the bar to your partner so they can perform a set. Continue passing the bar back and forth until you've reached complete exhaustion.
With a partner there, you can add a couple of forced reps on the last set. This should be the final exercise of your workout—when done correctly, it'll leave you unable to do much else.
Food For Taut
Following a well-designed biceps workout consistently is a critical piece of the growth puzzle, of course. However, you won't make appreciable progress without the right nutritional approach to back it up.
"If you're not consuming an adequate amount of protein, you'll never have enough amino acids in your system to facilitate protein synthesis and support new muscle growth," Stevens points out. "If you really want your biceps to grow, ensure you're taking in 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight every day, spread out over 5-6 meals."
Overall calories are important too, because you can't add significant size on a weight-loss diet. "You need a caloric surplus, consuming more calories than you're burning off," Stevens says. "If you're not in a surplus, you'll have a hard time accumulating any new muscle mass."
Of course, it may not be ideal to be in mass-gain mode over the summer, but you can strike a balance; eating 200-300 calories per day over your maintenance point is probably sufficient. This number is best discovered for your own body through trial and error, but a calorie calculator can provide a helpful starting point.
A final tip: "Definitely train your biceps on days you have a cheat meal, and eat that meal at least a few hours beforehand," Stevens says. "The added calories, carbs, and salt will result in a high-energy, biceps-swelling workout."
A cheat meal for the main course, followed by arms for dessert. What could be better? Hello, summer gains!