Throughout the course of bodybuilding history, biceps have always played an essential role in posing across all of the various categories of competition. Whether your ambition is to compete in Bodybuilding, Men’s or Women’s Physique, Classic Physique, Figure, Fitness Model, Bikini or Glamour, there is a universal truth you’ll encounter: biceps are so revered by judges and audiences that they can make or break you. Truly, even if your body as a whole has impressive mass and shape, your competitive success will be limited if your biceps are lacking. This goes for female as well as male competitors and applies even in those categories of competition that do not require a double biceps flex pose like in Bodybuilding. On a man, big biceps are masculine and convey strength; on a woman, biceps with mass and shape are incredibly sexy and empowering. Whatever your gender, whatever your class, you need athletic, sculpted biceps to succeed in competition.
UFE’s mandate includes not only providing a platform for competition (along with a multitude of resources and a dynamic community); however, we also seek to inform and educate aspiring Novice competitors, all the way up to Elite and even Pro level athletes. Last month we discussed three principles of training that included always having a plan; beginning each workout with the heaviest resistance; and avoiding overtraining. In this installment, we’re going to share three more principles of training with you, specifically pertaining to biceps training.
PRINCIPLES OF TRAINING BICEPS
Structure your order of exercises. For the purpose of this installment, we’re going to presume that you’ve dedicated a full workout exclusively to your biceps, or possibly in conjunction with your triceps. However, you are not training your biceps as a secondary muscle group after training your back, for example. Here, you’re really going to want to focus on your guns alone, especially in order to bring them up if they’re lagging.
Your biceps workout should almost always begin with the standing barbell curl (unless you happen to be intentionally performing a pre-exhaust), for it is this move that allows you to employ the greatest weight. It also hits both the long and short heads of the biceps which is an important consideration. Use a relatively lower number of repetitions here, since you’re essentially “breaking in” the muscle tissue (and also using a heavier weight). Once you’ve completed the standing barbell curl, you can move on to any number of moves that serve to develop both mass and refinement, like the incline dumbbell curl or the spider curl. Finally, you should choose two last biceps exercises for pure refinement like the hammer curl or reverse curl. You’ll need to set the weight quite low, but you’ll be able to perform a higher quantity of reps.
Use control and be patient. Perhaps more than any other exercise, training your biceps lends itself to a substantial amount of poor technique which reduces the effectiveness of the exercise and limits your gains. From the second you pick up a dumbbell in each hand, you’ll likely feel a surge of testosterone and machismo, particularly if there are many people in the gym. Some athletes here make an egocentric commitment to grinding out as many reps as they can until they’re blue in the face; sound technique becomes neglected. Well, we’ve got news for you: forget all about the others. Your end-goal here is to display biceps on stage that possess solid mass and definition. Who cares what Joe Gym Rat thinks. Don’t pay them any attention and get about your own business.
From the perspective of what sound technique is, your first thought should be to always keep your elbows in a fixed position. Don’t let them flare out to the side, and don’t allow them to gradually rise near the completion of a set when you’re starting to fatigue. In fact, when you’re doing the standing barbell curl, your entire upper arms shouldn’t move at all; only your lower arms should be in action. It’s not difficult to prevent your elbows from flaring out if you identify their position at the start (usually tucked into your sides) and simply don’t veer from there. If you hit failure after only six reps, when your target was eight, simply stop the set and adjust the weight so that you can complete eight reps the next set.
Make the equipment work for you. Here’s where biceps training gets fun. All you need is a little creativity and imagination, for muscles love variety of stimuli in order to grow. Whereas in any average gym, you may see only about five traditional biceps movements being performed, there are actually limitless permutations of exercises you can perform. You need to set your thinking well beyond that of simply using a dumbbell or barbell. Think cables. Think EZ-Bars. Think machines like the preacher curl. Think grips. Think angles. All of these considerations will assist you with developing biceps mass and definition as efficiently as possible.
One example of leveraging an apparatus commonly used for non-biceps exercises is where you use the cable crossover equipment, most commonly used for your chest. By setting the cable pulleys on each side to a low position, you can stand in the middle and perform curls against the resistance of the cables. Sick of barbells (and do they hurt your wrists when doing curls?) Use an EZ-Bar instead. Want an innovative biceps move that’s so rarely used it’s virtually a secret among pros? Try the gravity curl, where you enter into forbidden territory: you perform them in the power rack with a barbell facing outward.
The bottom line is just don’t limit yourself with ordinary, overdone exercises which will take your gains only so far.
FOCUS ON: BICEPS
Consider for a moment that the biceps are a very small muscle group relative to your body; they’re even smaller than the three heads of the triceps muscles which partner up to comprise the upper arm. And yet, when it comes time for the posedown (and in Bodybuilding, that all-important double biceps flex pose), your biceps will invariably draw the most attention of all your arm muscles. Fitness competition throughout the course of history has required athletes to emphasize impressive arms because of their direct involvement to the athletic events of ancient times (e.g. the discus throw, javelin, shot put and boxing). Substantial-size arms implied fitness and strength back then, and they still do today.
As an all-natural platform for competition, UFE does not reward competitors who possess ridiculously large or disproportionate biceps (or any other muscle groups, for that matter). Size is essential, to be sure, to convey athleticism and strength – but not to the point where an athlete appears freakishly unnatural. Throughout all classes of competition in UFE, the elements of symmetry, proportion, tone – in addition to mass – are what can make you a winner. It’s important to pay close scrutiny to your biceps, because the judges will be observing keenly. It’s also important to recognize that the classes of Bodybuilding, Physique and Figure have a slightly distinct regard for biceps, relative to the classes of Fitness Model, Bikini and Glamour. It’s not difficult to appreciate that a bodybuilder would want an observable increase in mass within their arms, compared to a bikini competitor. To that end, we’re pleased to introduce you to not just one, but two biceps workouts that’ll help you make excellent gains for both mass and definition.
BICEPS WORKOUTS FOR ASPIRING UFE COMPETITORS
Based on the category of competition you’ll be entering, perform either of the following biceps workouts. The first is designed for bodybuilders, physique and figure athletes, and the second is designed for fitness models, bikini and glamour athletes. Use either workout twice a week for six weeks, then switch it up to another biceps workout to maintain a consistent stimulus and continue your biceps development.
Bodybuilders, Physique and Figure Athletes:
Exercise Sets Reps Rest
STANDING BARBELL CURL 4 8, 7, 6, 6 1:30 mins.
INCLINE DUMBBELL CURL 3 10, 8, 8 1:15 mins.
EZ-BAR SPIDER CURL 3 10, 8, 8 1:15 mins.
HAMMER CURL 3 10, 8, 8 1:15 mins.
CONCENTRATION CURL 2 10, AMRAP* 1:00 min.
*AMRAP means “As Many Reps As Possible”. Continue the set until you can no longer complete a rep using good form (e. g. you complete eight reps with good form but cannot complete a ninth rep with good form; stop the set here).
Fitness Model, Bikini and Glamour Athletes:
Exercise Sets Reps Rest
STANDING EZ-BAR CURL 3 12, 10, 8 1:30 mins.
MACHINE PREACHER CURL 3 12, 10, 10 1:15 mins.
INVERTED ROW 3 12, 12, 12 1:15 mins.
HAMMER CURL 3 15, 12, 12 1:15 mins.
CONCENTRATION CURL 3 15, 12, 10# 1:00 min.
#On the last rep of the last set, hold the weight at the top position and squeeze for four seconds; feel the contraction in the biceps peak. Then lower using control.
STANDING BARBELL / EZ-BAR CURL
- Load either bar with your desired resistance.
- Grasp the bar with a supinated (underhand) grip at shoulder width.
- Stand tall with back straight, head level and knees bent slightly for stability.
- Separate your feet to about your shoulder width.
- Let the bar hang freely, immediately adjacent to the front of you.
- Using force from your biceps, curl the bar in an upward, outward arc.
- In the top position, pause for a half-second before lowering with control.
- Make sure your elbow positions remain fixed; don’t flare them outward.
INCLINE DUMBBELL CURL
- Set an adjustable bench to an incline of 45 to 60 degrees.
- Grasp a dumbbell in each hand and sit on the bench face up.
- Let the weights hang vertically in your extended arms using supinated grips.
- Draw your legs in such that they’re narrower than shoulder-width and plant your feet securely on the floor.
- With your body anchored in position, curl the weights upward as far as you can comfortably.
- Hold in this top position for a half-second, then lower using control to the bottom.
MACHINE PREACHER CURL
- Set the apparatus pin at your desired resistance.
- Sit in the chair, keeping your back straight and head in line with your spine.
- Position your arms over the pad, such that the top of the pad fits snugly under your arms.
- Grasp the handle of the apparatus with both hands using a supinated grip.
- With your lower arms as your only body parts in motion, curl the handle in an upward arc toward you.
- Hold in the top position for a full second, then lower using control to the start.
EZ-BAR SPIDER CURL
- Set an adjustable bench to an incline of 45 degrees.
- Load an EZ-Bar to your desired resistance.
- Position yourself over top of the bench facing down, such that the top of the bench is aligned to the level of your upper pecs.
- Pick up the bar from its mount if so equipped, or have your partner hand you the bar; grasp it with both hands at shoulder-width using a supinated grip.
- With your feet securely on the floor and your body fixed, curl the bar upward.
- Hold at the top position for a half-second, then lower using control to the start.
- Rack a bar within a squat rack at a height sufficient for you to manoeuvre underneath it.
- Position yourself underneath the bar and grasp it with both hands using a supinated grip no wider than your shoulders.
- Elongate your body with legs together and feet securely on the floor. If you find this difficult, you may bend your knees 90 degrees to reduce the resistance.
- Using force from your biceps (and the middle of your back), row yourself vertically until your upper pecs come gently into contact with the bar.
- Hold in this top position for a full second, then using control lower along the same path back to the start.
- Stop lowering just short of a locked-out position to preserve tension in your arms.
- Pick up a dumbbell in each hand using a neutral grip (both palms facing inward).
- Stand upright with chin up, back straight, feet shoulder width and knees bent slightly for stability.
- Allow the weights to hang freely at your sides in your extended arms.
- With the rest of your body motionless, curl the weights in an outward, upward arc as far as you can comfortably.
- In this top position, hold for a half-second, then lower using control along the same path back to the start.
- Keep in mind that although this move is similar to the standing dumbbell curl, you’ll have to use a slightly lesser weight because of the neutral grip position.
- Grasp a dumbbell in one hand using a supinated grip and sit on the edge of a bench.
- Spread your legs apart quite wide and hinge forward from your hips.
- Position your working elbow adjacent to the interior of your same-side thigh.
- With your body anchored securely (especially your working elbow), curl the weight in a crossing path over toward your chest on the opposite side.
- Once you’ve reached as high as you can go, hold the weight for a split-second, then lower along the same path back to the start.
- Throughout the set, make sure your supporting leg remains fixed and your elbow does not raise up as you fatigue.
Timothy Rigby, M.A., NCSA-CPT is a freelance writer and one of Canada’s most published fitness writers.