You can’t put on a “gun show” until you completely understand what muscles make up your “guns” and how these muscles function. So, keep those biceps under wrap until you read the following info.
The upper arm is made up of two muscle groups: the triceps and the biceps brachii – called the biceps for short. The biceps takes up one-third of the arm between the elbow and the shoulder. The biceps is used for pulling moves like biceps curls, and aids in compound movements like chin-ups and rows. Most people want to build their biceps because this is the part of the arm most noticed by other people.
Think about it: when you want to show off your strength, most of the time you will flex your biceps. To build the size of your biceps brachii, you have to focus on volume and workload as well as the function of this muscle.
Location and Function of the Biceps Muscles
The biceps brachii is a two-headed muscle on the upper arm between the elbow and the shoulder. Both heads start on the scapula and then merge to form the belly of the muscle, which attaches to the upper forearm.
The long head of the biceps also called the outer head, originates at the supraglenoid tuberosity of the scapula, while the short head, also called the inner head, originates at the coracoid process of the scapula. The belly of the muscle inserts at the tubercle of the radius and the bicipital aponeurosis of the fascia of the forearm.
Muscles that are closely associated with the biceps are the brachioradialis and brachialis, located on the side of the arm between the triceps and biceps. Training these muscles for size helps to increase the appearance of the size of the upper arm and helps to make the biceps look larger.
The biceps is responsible for the flexion of the elbow (bringing the forearm up towards the shoulder) as well as the supination of the forearm (twisting the wrist to turn the thumb away from your body). The inner head is also responsible for aiding in the flexion and transverse flexion of the shoulder. Moves that work the back muscles often work the biceps.
How to Work the Biceps
When you want to build your biceps, you must directly train the biceps and the associated muscles. Some exercises are better than others, and you should perform moves that work both the long head and the short head of the muscle for the best results.
The best exercises to do to build mass in the biceps are the hammer curl, the one-arm preacher curl, the standing barbell curl, and the incline dumbbell curl. Other exercises you can do include cable curls and alternate dumbbell curls.
Volume, Workload, and Tension for SizeTo build muscle, volume training can be one of the best options. Use a lighter weight that allows you to do more sets and repetitions rather than just a couple of sets with low reps. To build size, perform high numbers of sets and reps.
With high-volume training, you should figure out your one-rep max and then use 60% of that to work out. This keeps your workout safe and is challenging while not being so heavy that you can’t do high sets and reps.
If you do “21s” you will keep the tension on your biceps for much longer than a standard set. This type of curl is a favorite of Arnold’s and requires you to do seven full reps followed by seven half reps and then another seven half reps (switch between upper and lower half). These 21 reps count as one set.
Regarding tension, it’s best if you don’t take the tension off muscle at the top of the movement. Instead of pausing and squeezing at the top, don’t go all the way up; reverse direction when you’re just about to the top. This will keep the tension on throughout the whole set and is much more effective at building mass.
Use Proper Form
If you fail to use the proper form, you’ll fail to enjoy the maximum benefits of biceps workouts (i.e. you may never have those guns you’re after). If the weight you curl is so heavy that you have to use momentum or some other method than using your biceps to curl it up, you will do yourself no benefit. You need to be able to control the weight both on the way up and on the way down; you need to feel it in the muscle(s) that you’re working on, and you need to get an adequate contraction during each repetition.
Conversely, you need to use a weight that is heavy enough that it provides such a challenge that you cannot do more than the prescribed number of reps per set. If you find the weight is light enough that you can keep going after your reps should be complete, then use a heavier weight. Keep your elbows close to the sides of your body while you curl.
Like any other part of your body you want to change, increasing the size of your biceps requires time and effort. Now that you know the anatomy of your upper arms as well as the location and function of the biceps muscle, you can start to work on performing the best exercises to make some serious size gains.
Best Biceps Exercises
Above I covered how the biceps flex the elbow and turn the forearm so that your thumb turns away from your body. So any training movements under load that force your arms to make these movements, like standing barbell curls, hammer curls, incline dumbbell curls, and one-arm preacher curls will help you work both heads of the biceps and give your biceps increased size.
Because more of the muscle is used during these exercises, you’ll develop a more appealing shape as well. You can do curls using a cable machine too, but most people will find that using free weights for this type of work is more effective.
Biceps Building Routine
There are probably hundreds of different biceps-building workout routines, but this one will be effective for a lot of people. It works to help prevent plateaus in strength and results. For the beginner routine, you can either flip between the two every one or two weeks or do one routine for a month to a month and a half, and then switch to the other. Don’t do the same routine for longer than one and a half months.
Add weight consistently for the best growth development. Also use a weight that is heavy enough to pose a challenge for you to complete each set, but not so heavy that you must sacrifice form to get through. Perform the movement throughout its full range of motion, as this will help ensure that both the heads of the biceps are involved.
Beginner to Intermediate
Work on your biceps either alone or during a separate session on the day you work your back. This will optimally train your biceps and allow you to focus on the biceps rather than another body part. In any case, do three sets of eight to twelve repetitions for each exercise unless otherwise noted. Do one training session per week to allow for full recovery of your muscles.
- Standing straight bar or EZ curls
- One-arm preacher curls
- Hammer curls (either both arms at the same time or alternating)
- Incline dumbbell curls
- Hammer curls
- Standing bar curls
The program for advanced bodybuilders is made up of two different days; doing both each week. You can continue with this until you achieve the size you want. Modify the weight or intensity in order to really hit the biceps.
Workout Day 1:
- Standing straight bar or EZ bar curls
- Incline dumbbell curls
- One-arm preacher curls (do three sets of eight to 12 reps with the last set being a drop set)
- Hammer curls
On the third set of each exercise (except for the one-arm preacher curls), do the set to failure, rest for about 15 seconds and then do another rep. Pause again and do another rep, and then do one more after another pause.
On the one-arm preacher curls, do one set to failure, then switch to a lighter weight and do 15 more reps. Switch to a heavier weight and do 10 reps for the final set.
Workout Day 2:
This day will help you increase your biceps size without overtraining. Remember that your biceps are worked to some degree while working your back and even to some extent your chest. Don’t overdo it – this is a lower-intensity exercise session.
- Standing straight bar or EZ bar curls (do three sets of 12 to 15 reps)
- Hammer curls (do two sets of 12 to 15 reps)
The problem will come when you try to do too much too soon. You have to realize that it takes time to build bicep mass, so be patient. Overworking your biceps will eventually lead to injuries. Leave at least two days between two biceps workouts per week and at least 24 hours between a biceps workout and a back workout to allow your biceps to recover. You can, of course, train your biceps on the same day as a back session (some people like to leave a few hours in between sessions and some do them in the same session).
Keep your form strict. When you do standing straight or EZ bar curls, do them with your back against the wall so that you don’t use your back or legs to do the work. Don’t use momentum to get the weight up. Proper form will ensure that the muscle is fully isolated during the movement. You should also always have your elbows pinned at your sides during each rep.
It is possible to get huge, nicely-shaped biceps if you put in the time and dedication. Follow the suggested routines using four different movements according to your experience level and always use proper form. Let’s get after it and let the gun shows begin!