#1: Concentrating on Concentration Curls
It’s amazing how often I’ll go into a gym and find guys spending entire workouts concentrating on, well, concentration curls and other “low reward” exercises in hopes of building mountainous biceps. Well, I have to call it as it is…doing this is a waste of your precious gym time.
Look, I know that most guys out there actually have many other obligations like work, family, and much needed hobby or relaxation time that they need to attend to and simply cannot be a slave to the iron in an effort to build bigger arms. I get this, because I’m one of those guys. However, that said, it doesn’t mean that you can’t beef up your bi’s with short, but intense 20-30 minute workouts. In fact it’s a necessity if you really want results.
The key however is intense, and in this case…exercises that give you the most bang for your buck. Namely for biceps I’m talking about the good old-fashioned straight barbell curl. If your wrists are a bit achy, opt for the EZ Bar instead, but the essence is the same. Don’t think that barbell curls can “shape” the biceps and give you the peaks you’ve been looking for?
Well, consider that for the first 8 years of my training career (beginning back when I was a teenager) my biceps workouts consisted of JUST THIS EXERCISE alone! The shape you see today was developed a long long time ago…and has just grown bigger since! Don’t get distracted by the curl machines, concentration curls, and cable curls those OTHER guys are doing. Instead, “concentrate” on the exercises that will actually build the upper arm mass that others are hoping to get by doing the wrong (and easier) alternatives.
#2: NOT Seeing The Positive In The Negative
In the quest for bigger biceps it’s crucial to understand that there really is TWO parts to every rep, and that by ignoring one…you are cutting your potential size by MORE than 50%! Let me explain. As you may have heard, there is both a positive and a negative portion to each repetition on every exercise (not just biceps exercises).
Now don’t get confused by the names, because both of them are good and in fact equally important for growth. The positive or “concentric” portion of the biceps curl we just talked about is when you are lifting the weight up from in front of your thighs towards your shoulders. The negative or “eccentric” portion is the slow and controlled lowering of the bar back to it’s starting position. Notice I said SLOW and CONTROLLED? That’s the part that seems to get overlooked.
You see…it’s during this eccentric part of the rep that you actually combine both tension AND stretch. What this does is cause mini micro tears in the muscle (don’t be horrified…it’s a good thing!). These mini fiber tears are actually what your body repairs while you rest and recover to allow you to come back bigger and stronger.
By simply letting the weight drop back to the starting position of the exercise without fighting this momentum and keeping the tension on your biceps throughout, you’re literally allowing your chances to fall that you’ll ever have arms that fill your t-shirts! Make the shift towards slowing this part of the repetition down (I’ll tell you exactly how much in the next SIN) and you’ll notice your results speed up in your quest for legalized guns!
#3: Working Only Part-Time (Time Under Tension That Is)
Now that we’ve got the whole discussion of positive versus negative out of the way, and you now realize how a negative can very much be a positive (oh man…I’m starting to even confuse myself…well, you get the point right?), it’s time to start figuring out HOW long you actually should be holding this negative for in order to maximize the size of your biceps!
As a general rule, I want you to start taking 4 seconds per rep. 1 second for the explosive “up” or concentric lifting portion and 3 whole seconds for the controlled lowering back to the start. Now I know, if this is new to you (and it will be to most of you…the average set is completed in 23 seconds for 12 reps!) then these 3 seconds are going to feel like a lifetime!
If you perform the 10-12 reps per set that you should be to best build new muscle and definition, then your “new” sets should be taking you about 40-48 seconds…literally double the time it used to take you. What does this mean? Well, to begin with, double the “time under tension” that your biceps will “feel” during the set.
Take this out over the course of one workout, or a month’s full of bicep workouts, or even a year’s worth of workouts and it’s easy to see how the increased workload will translate to more focused effort and more productive growth. All it takes is a clock on the wall and your eyes on the clock to unlock all new size potential you may never have thought was possible!
#4: Thinking That Metal = Mass and Tubing = Tiny…WRONG!
Don’t make the mistake of dismissing tubing as a way of building your biceps. Yes, I said building your biceps. You see…the majority of seasoned lifters will assume that tubing is easy and that lifting weights is hard. If you use nothing but tubing that’s about as tough as a rubber band you’d find wrapped around your mail, then yes…you’re not going to be adding inches to your arms training with the thing.
However, if you use tubing that is of sufficient resistance to make you reach fatigue in the same 10-12 rep range that you would if you were using an iron equivalent, then you will not only notice continued good gains, but actually better gains than if you had trained with just free weights alone. Let me explain. It all comes down to the physics of strength curves. In order for a muscle to get it’s full benefit of training it must be stressed at all points along its range of motion.
This means that you need to have an exercise that is hardest to perform (and therefore places maximum tension) on the biceps in the beginning of the rep, one in the middle of the rep, and one at the end of the rep. In the case of the curl, if you’re using free weights alone, you’ll quickly notice that the hardest part of the movement is in the middle. As you approach the top of the curl, the tension decreases…so much so in fact that you probably could stand and hold the bar up at shoulder height for minutes!
Try doing this at the midpoint of the curl and minutes turn to milliseconds! That said, how can you stress the biceps so that maximum tension is present at the top or end of the curl? You knew the answer would be tubing right? I kind of gave it away. But think about it. As you pull tubing up, the tension steadily builds (as the band is stretched further and further) reaching a maximum when the handles are furthest away from the anchor point below your feet.
Trying to hold this end position will be much more difficult than in the first instance. The key then is to perform BOTH in a given workout in order to maximize the impact on the muscle and ultimately lead to more growth. So next time someone laughs at you when you break out the tubing in the gym…”snap” right back at them and have the last laugh knowing you’re doing what he’s not…”stretching” your limits to all new bicep brawn!
#5: NOT Cheating…Yes, in This One Instance It’s Allowed.
While cheating is hardly ever a good thing (infidelity, midterm, or tax return!)…there is one instance where CONTROLLED cheating can yield positive results! Now I know I’m going to get some flak out there from those of you that might have skipped over that big bolded word “CONTROLLED”, since as a given rule, cheating in the form of improper technique can not only be unproductive but downright dangerous. Believe me, as a physical therapist, I advocate safety above all else when lifting.
You see, I get paid to keep my pro athletes healthy and on the field…not rehab them once they’ve already gotten hurt! That said, there is a way that you can gently bend the rules to bump up your poundages on your curls, and ultimately on the scale as you add slabs of new muscle to your frame, and your upper arms in particular. The secret is the “slightly” overloaded straight bar curl. I said slightly here.
What I mean is, if you are used to normally curling say 75 pounds with picture perfect form, then I am saying bump it up to 95 pounds and literally “bump” up the bar to the top for all new growth. To do this, stand with the bar at your thighs (as in the beginning of a rep) and lean forward ever so slightly from your trunk. You can see a video of this that I did by clicking here.
From there, you simultaneously begin your curl and bump your hips forward to assist with the heavier load. You must stop however as soon as your back reaches the vertical or straight up position. You’re not allowed to continue to assist the bar up by leaning back past vertical. Those are the rules! Stick to this form for a few overload sets per workout and before you know it, you’ll be breaking all new barriers on your way to the triple digit curl!
#6: Overtraining These Small Muscles is a BIG MISTAKE!
We’ve all been there at some point or another. In an effort to accelerate arm growth, or any other muscle for that matter, we’ve found ourselves hammering away at it two, three or god forbid even four times in a given week. If some is good…more is better right? That’s the way our twisted minds work at least. Well…for money, health, and knowledge that may be true, but when it comes to muscle building and sun exposure…not so much!
You see, you don’t actually grow DURING your workouts. Quite the opposite as we’ve already shown. During the workouts you are actually providing the stimulus for growth by breaking the muscle down. It’s only when you rest and recover that the regeneration and size building occurs. That said, training the same group of muscles every day or every other day never allows for the crucial recuperation that is needed to make growth possible.
To compound the matter, the fact is that the biceps are an extremely small muscle. They do not have the resilience that the larger more durable legs, back and chest might (not that I’m advocating training them any more than twice a week either). If you want to start seeing more results in the gym…the first thing you should most likely do is less in the gym. I know this is going to be a tough pill to swallow for some of you. Heck, even the popular P90X system will have you believe that more is better with it’s marathon 90 minute workouts and 6-7 day a week schedule.
Don’t fall for the trap. Instead, listen to someone who knows and who has made the mistakes already for you…so you don’t have to. Train less and enjoy not only your better results…but also the other things in life that make you happy as you’ve freed up hours of leisure time and steered clear of the overtraining roadblock lurking in front of you.
Just when you thought the rep was over and it was safe to relax…you’re chances of developing killer biceps peaks went down the drain. You see, what almost 95% of people will do when their performing any curling movement (could be straight bar or EZ bar curls, incline dumbbell curls, preacher curls, etc) is allow the wrists to curl towards them as they reach the top.
What this effectively does is both remove the tension from the biceps and actually put the wrist in a mechanical disadvantage. Biomechanics will prove that the strongest position of the wrist is in slight extension (bent backwards about 15 or 20 degrees). At this angle you will find that your grip strength and forearm stability is greatest. With this the case, you’ll be able to lift even that much more, to allow for even greater results.
As an added bonus, by maintaining this position all the way to the tip top of the curl, you’ve managed to keep the tension right where it needs to be…on the biceps…instead of in the flexor muscles of your forearms (and there are plenty of better exercises for accomplishing this). This heightened tension at peak contraction of the biceps will help to develop those hard to get “peaks” that so many have written to me asking how to get.
There’s the secret. I’ve been using this tip to my advantage for years now and I believe it is largely responsible for the shape you see in the pictures throughout this report. Yep…that is me in the pictures, Jeff Cavaliere…the creator of the AthLEAN-X Training System and someone who practices what I preach and would never recommend something to you that I don’t do myself. Remember I’ve always got the back of my TEAM ATHLEAN members…and in this case…the biceps!
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Jeff Cavaliere MSPT, CSCS
Former Head Physical Therapist / Strength Coach NY Mets
Creator of the AthLEAN-X Training System
Men’s Fitness Magazine Featured Writer
PFP Fitness Professional of the Year 2010 Finalist
Author of the upcoming “Teen Sports Nutrition Blueprint”
Author of “Major League INsider Training”
Author of “10 Minutes To Power Golf”