Beginner’s Guide to Killer Biceps
When you think of working out and getting stronger or more toned, what is one of the first areas you think of? I know for me and a lot of other people, it is the arms. This is simply because the arms are visible so much of the time that we tend to focus on them very heavily. If I look in the mirror, whether I have clothes on or not, I can see my arms. The only time I cannot see them is when I am wearing long sleeves or a jacket. Even without a mirror, our arms are one of the easiest parts of our body to inspect, simply due to their proximity to our eyes.
Because of these reasons, it is no wonder that so many people think of nice biceps when they think of someone being in great shape. There is no reason you cannot have amazing biceps either! That is not only why we started this website, but also why we wanted to put together this comprehensive guide to helping you sculpt the biceps of your dreams, whether that is rock-hard pythons that everyone notices when you walk into a room, or nice, toned, and sleek arms that look tight and fit. There are biceps workouts that will target every goal; you just need to know what to do to get there.
The first three rules are about form and technique. Although I hate to do this to you, if this area suffers, so will the results you are working so hard to achieve.
Rule 1: Proper Posture – There are all kinds of biceps workouts, from chin-ups to spider curls. The one thing they all have in common? There is a technique to each one that should be followed in order to prevent injury and build muscle at the same time. For biceps workouts, keep the following in mind when it comes to posture:
-Shoulders pulled back
-No rolling your shoulders
-No jerking motions
-No leaning in and then pulling back
When you do things like roll your shoulders or jerk your back, not only will you run into injuries, but you are robbing your biceps of getting the workout they deserve. Do I cheat from time to time when doing a biceps exercise? You bet I do, but it is calculated. I try to approach all of my workouts with the same mentality – Get it done, do each rep to the best of my ability, and make note of any weakness during that set, so that I can adjust for my next set. What that means is that when I start my set, I have already gauged how much weight I should really be doing; which I base on knowledge of my strength, how fatigued I am, and what my focus
level is. If I can tell I am having a bad day, maybe because my sleep was interrupted, then I will adjust my weight accordingly to make sure I am not cheating my way through the whole set. I should start to struggle towards the end of my set though, which is normal and a sign that I am doing an appropriate amount of weight. When I start to struggle, it is possible that my body will compensate slightly (cheat) to complete the set. This is normal and completely different from someone who has an ego much bigger than their muscles
and jerks their body through the whole set to get it done.
Always ask yourself after your set – “Did I use good form or could I have gone down in weight a little bit to do a better job of controlling the weight and the movement?” Be honest with yourself. It also goes the other way. Maybe the set was too easy and you didn’t struggle. If you are trying to build muscle, then you should consider going up in weight next time. Because working out is a competition with yourself, there is no sense in lying to yourself. Trust me, nobody else in the gym gives a crap how much you are lifting, unless you are doing it completely wrong and they can tell you are doing too much weight for your capability.
When I see guys in the gym doing lighter weight, I actually have a lot of respect for them because I know they are there to improve and not just to try to impress other people. Like I said, it is possible you will have to cheat a little bit from time to time, but it should not be something that gets built into your routine as how you should do the workout.
Rule 2: Arm Movement – When doing a bicep exercise, think about what you are trying to accomplish. You want to build your biceps up stronger or tone them up. Either way, you are trying to target the bicep, right? Of course. So here is something that you are going to want to make sure you never do. You will see people in the gym who will hold the weight and rock their arms up and then backwards. Their arm always maintains about a 90 degree bend at the elbow. This is horrible because the only real thing you are doing is destroying your shoulders. For your biceps to work, your arm needs to be extended and contracted.
When doing a curl for instance, keep the following things in mind:
-Arms should be extended out with a slight bend in the elbow (I’m talking a couple degrees)
-During the curl, your upper arm should stay relatively in place, while your lower arm brings
the weight up toward your upper arm
-There is no reason for your upper arm to move during biceps workouts
When you keep your upper arm in place and use only your lower arm, like a lever, pivoting on the elbow, your bicep will contract properly and get the best workout. Whenever you start moving your upper arm to assist in the curl, you are in essence, removing your bicep from the equation and using a different part of your body to complete the task at hand. If this is not making a whole lot of sense, you will visually be able to see what I am talking about in our videos.
If you want a piece of equipment that will keep you in great form, check out the Ader Fitness Arm Blaster.
Rule 3: Keep the Pump – This is something that is easy to let slip through the cracks, but when you are doing your set, you should always keep your bicep engaged. What do I mean by that? What I mean is that once you start your set, you should be properly squeezing the bar you are holding and not allowing your arm to go slack. If your arm goes slack, then that means that your bicep is not engaged anymore. A lot of people will lower their arms completely and let them just hang in between repetitions. This is bad because it means their bicep is getting a break in-between every single rep. Instead, you want to try to keep the
tension in your arms throughout the set, so that your bicep gets the most out of the workout. Sometimes you might find it necessary to pause before cranking out your last couple of reps, but try not to make this a habit throughout the set. Keep the following in mind when doing curls to keep the tension in your arms and get a good biceps workout:
-Keep tension in your arms throughout set
-Keep wrist straight
-Squeezing the bar really helps engage the bicep
-Do not let arms hang
-Do not bend your wrist, as this also disengages the bicep
Rule 4: Proper Weight – Going back to proper form, doing the proper amount of weight has a large impact on your ability to use the proper technique and form. I usually do a warm-up set with much less weight than I plan to do for my regular sets and then I will do 3-5 sets with regular weight. For example, if I am going to curl 100 lbs., I will warm-up with 60 lbs. This allows my muscles to get ready for what is coming. Then I
will do my first set with 100 lbs. and adjust from there for my next set. After each set, I re-evaluate if I should decrease, increase, or maintain the same weight I did for the set I just completed.
When you are first getting into a routine, you are going to have to experiment a little bit with the weights to see what feels right for you in the beginning. Obviously, if you are looking to build muscle, you will go up in weight as your arms get stronger, but you want to make sure you start at a good weight in the beginning as well. Here is what I keep in mind when I am selecting the weight I want to use:
For bulking up: Aim for 5-8 repetitions.
For toning up: Aim for 15-20 repetitions.
Mix of both: Aim for 8-15 repetitions.
Based on the goal I am trying to achieve, I can figure out approximately how much weight I should be doing. If you are unsure, always assume lighter to avoid injury. If it is too light, you can always go up. You cannot so easily recover from an injury if you did too much though.
Rule 5: Two-Headed Python – Although a lot of people think of the bicep as a single muscle and usually talk about it as such, there are actually two parts to this muscle that you need to work out – they are the short head and the long head. The short head is the part of the bicep that runs along the inside of your upper
arm and the long head is the part that runs along the outside of the upper arm. The long head is more visible from the side, while the short head accounts for the bulk of the muscle when viewed from the front. Because of this, if you have a weak short head, your bicep will not look full and strong from the front, while if you have a weak long head, your bicep will not look full and strong from the side and you will lack a nice peak. To prevent either of these scenarios from happening, we want to make sure we include exercises that will target both. The general rule I use when determining which one I am hitting is written below, but if you would like to see the two common theories I have often seen debated, read our article on bicep heads.
Short Head – Any grip outside your shoulder width when using a bar or where your hands are completely supinated (palms-up). The pinky side of the hand should be as high as or higher than the rest of the hand to target this portion of the bicep. Examples include outer grip preacher curls, half mast dumbbell curl, and short head twist.
Long Head – Any grip inside your shoulder width when using a bar or where your hands are somewhat angled or semi-supinated (palms face each other). They do not need to be fully semi-supinated, you just don’t want them to be completely flat and supinated; otherwise, you will be hitting the short head. To hit the long head, make sure the thumb side of the hand is as high as or higher than the rest of the hand. Examples include EZ bar inner grip curls, hammer curls, and rope curls.
Many exercises will hit both heads, but target mainly one. There are some good exercises that will hit both pretty well though, such as alternating preacher curls and rope curl extension out. Twenty-Ones are also a good one, as long as you keep a neutral grip.
All of these exercises can be found in our video library.
Rule 6: Diet, Diet, Diet! Nutrition, Nutrition, Nutrition! – I am not going to focus too much attention on this right now, but there is a lot to be said for what you put into your body. “Garbage in, garbage out” is a VERY real idea of how the body operates. If you are fueling your body with junk, you cannot expect peak physical performance and great results. You will still see results, but not nearly on the same caliber as what you will see if you eat right. This does not mean you have to cut out all junk food or things you enjoy. I still eat cookies and things like that every single day, but I also make sure I am eating a lot of foods that
promote good health and strong lifting as well. This is the one area I am still working on improving, but I have come a long way from my college days of eating nothing but fast food. I can honestly tell you that immediately after I stopped eating fast food every day, I could feel a huge difference in the level
of energy that my body had. I started feeling more alive and less drowsy all of the time. With diet and nutrition, I tend to look at it with the approach that as long as I use moderation with everything I am eating, I will be fine. Make sure you are eating at least the recommended amount of protein to ensure your muscles have what they need to develop, which is 0.8 grams/lb. per day for someone with an active lifestyle. If you are trying to bulk up, maybe take in 0.9 grams/lb. per day. So if you weigh 150 lbs. and want to bulk up, maybe try to take in 135 grams of protein per day (0.9 x 150). For more info on protein, check out our eBook.
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For more awesome biceps workouts, please check out our free video library and also, if there are any other bicep videos you would like to see us make, please let us know as well.