The key to a good bicep routine is to incorporate both compound movements with moderate to heavy weights, as well as isolation movements with a lighter weight. By performing four different exercises (2-3 compound, 1-2 isolation), for three sets each, you will ensure that you maintain a proper balance of both adding size and shape to your muscles. By keeping your overall sets limited to no more than 12, you ensure that you work your muscles thoroughly without risking over training.
Compound lifts are primarily for adding mass. They should be performed with a moderate to heavy weight that allows you to correctly perform 8 to 10 repetitions per set.
Alternating Dumbbell Curls - (seated or standing)
Stand with your feet approximately shoulder width apart, with your palms facing your sides, or sit on a bench (I recommend one with good back support) feet out in front, palms at your sides. With each arm, curl the weight up, keeping your upper arm and shoulder relatively stable. As you pass the halfway point of your range of motion, turn your wrist so that your palm is relatively facing up.
On the way down, reverse the motion, turning your palm back towards your side on the way down.
Standing Straight Bar / EZ Bar Curls
Standing with your feet shoulder width apart, grasp the bar where it is comfortable and allows for full range-of-motion, palms up. Keeping your upper arms relatively stable, and your elbows at your sides, curl the bar up until it is just below your chin. Slowly lower the bar back down until your arms are fully extended, but do not lock your elbows.
This will allow you to stretch the muscles and fully contract them with each repetition. The difference between straight bar and EZ bar curls is the angle at which they hit your biceps. The EZ bar allows for use of a closer grip, and has recently become a gym favorite. However it cannot be said that one is dominantly better than the other. A good rule-of-thumb is to alternate which bar you use each cycle.
Standing Cable Curls
Select a bar with a comfortable grip, preferably either the short straight bar or the short cambered EZ bar. With a cable pulley at its lowest setting, grasp the bar, palms up. Lean back SLIGHTLY. This will help with balance and ensure that you still stay in control while lowering the weight. Curl the weight just as you would with the straight bar or EZ bar. Remember that even though you are leaning back slightly, that does not give you the go ahead to cheat. Maintain strict form.
Chin-Ups - (short range-of-motion)
Though many think of the chin-up as a back exercise, shortening the range-of-motion can make for a very effective bicep workout. There are two different grips you can use. One is to use a close, but comfortable grip on the pull-up bar, with your palms facing towards you. The other option is to use the parallel pull-up bars, that allow for your palms to face each other. Perform chin-ups like normal, only instead of lowering your body all the way, only lower you body until your arms are at a 90-degree angle. This will keep all the tension on your bicep, while minimizing back involvement.
If your own bodyweight is too much to allow you to perform a full set of chin-ups, most gyms have weight-assisted machines that will allow you to still do this exercise.
Arnold Curls can be classified as both a compound and isolation move. They are a well-rounded exercise that allows you to add both shape and mass to your biceps. The two variations of the Arnold Curl depend on what kind of bench you choose to use. You can perform them while lying at either at a 45-degree angle, or completely flat, based on your personal preference. These are performed exactly like Alternating Dumbbell Curls; the only difference is that you curl both arms at the same time. You also want to hold and squeeze for a half-second at the top of each rep. The advantage of the Arnold Curl is that it stretches the muscle, and allows for greater range-of-motion, while keeping you body stable.
21's should only be done by intermediate to advanced weight lifters. They should also only be used as a final exercise, for a "burn-out." 21's work the same as Straight Bar and EZ Bar Curls. The difference is that you start at the top of the range-of-motion. For your first seven reps, lower the bar to where your elbows are at 90-degrees.
Do not lower the bar all the way. Immediately following your seventh rep, lower the bar all the way and perform seven more reps, this time raising the bar up till your elbows are at 90-degrees. On these reps, do not raise the bar all the way. For your last seven reps, perform curls as you normally would, with full range-of-motion. These are done as one set. Increase the speed of each repetition, however do not sling the weight or lose control.
| What Are 21's?
One of Arnold's favorites. Using the curl as an example, you would do 7 full reps followed by 7 half reps from the starting position to half way up followed by 7 half reps from half way up to the top of the movement. All of this counts as one set.
First 7 Reps
MPEG (297 KB)
Windows Media (88 KB)
Isolation lifts focus on isolating the bicep and is primarily for adding shape and sculpting the muscle. They should be performed with a lighter weight that allows you to correctly perform 12 to 15 repetitions per set.
Select a light dumbbell and a bench. Place your feet at a comfortable width apart, with the elbow of your working arm resting just to the inside of your knee. This will allow for a better range of motion than placing the elbow against the thigh. Your non-working hand can be placed either on the leg on the same side, or it can be used to hold the working arm's elbow in place. Whichever your preference, both are correct. Keeping your head and eyes straight ahead, curl the weight up until it is just under your chin. The palm of your hand should be facing up at all times. Lower the weight back down until you feel a light stretch in the bicep.
There are various forms of preacher curls, all of which are effective at isolating the bicep. The preacher bench keeps the body stable, and forces the bicep to work without "cheating." When performing preacher curls with the straight bar or EZ bar, rest your upper arms on the bench, with the top of the bench near the armpit. Place your feet to where your body is stable and comfortable. Curl the weight like normal. On each repetition lower the weight until you feel a light stretch in the bicep.
When performing preacher curls with a dumbbell, turn your body slightly to the side and rest your upper arm on the bench, with the top of the bench near the armpit. Place your feet and other hand to where your body is stable and comfortable. Curl the weight like normal, keeping your palm up through the entire lift.
Hanging Preacher Curls
These are a unique way to isolate the bicep. On the preacher bench, turn the pad around so that you body rests against the angled part of the pad, and allow your arm to hang freely. When performing the exercise, keep your palm facing towards you, and your upper arm in line with the pad.
There are various machines at most gyms for performing bicep curls. Regardless of which one you use, the concept is still the same. Use machines if you are new to working out, or as an isolation lift. Machines keep your body stable and prevent cheating. If you have questions on machine usage, consult a trainer at your gym.
Sample Bicep Workout
|Standing Alternating Dumbbell Curls||3||8 to 10||35|
|Standing EZ Bar Curls||3||8 to 10||70|
|Arnold Curls||3||12 to 15||25|
|Preacher Hanging Curls||3||12 to 15||20|