As a trainer, I’m often asked: “Patrick, you’ve got plenty of experience, give us your top bicep exercises!” Or another common question is: “What do I have to do to get strong arms?”. It’s often not down to what exercises you do, but how you do them. In this article, I’ll show you how to achieve good results in training – all you have to do is remember one important point. Don’t worry, this isn’t going be a boring theory lecture. Before I show you my favorite bicep exercises, I want to introduce you to an important factor:
intensity and muscle stimulation!
Admittedly, we can’t avoid the nerd talk completely, but if it’s too boring for you, then just jump straight to the exercises. Everyone else, come this way!
These days, many people have gone from the couch to regular sports or gym sessions. The problem is when you spend weeks training without seeing any results, or when the results that do materialize aren’t as good as you anticipated. That eats away at your motivation.
If you want to avoid this loss of motivation when it comes to strength training in particular, you always need to keep one thing in mind: your body will always take the easiest route. As long as it can do what you want it to with the muscles it already has, that’s what it will do. To start with, it will always try to make maximum use of existing muscles in order to conserve energy. That’s simply being efficient. But it also means that when you do an exercise – like a bicep curl – your body won’t build new muscle if it can handle the weight without much effort. If you don’t push your training enough, you won’t see any signs of adaptation; in other words, your muscles won’t grow.
What does this mean for your training? It’s actually quite simple and yet sometimes very difficult. If you want to tone or build muscle, it’s important that you find the right load intensity and expose muscles to that load on a regular basis. Simply doing a hard session once and then expecting to see the effects on your muscles won’t do you much good. You have to consistently stimulate the muscle at a high enough level over a longer period of time so that it has to adapt.
On the other hand, you don’t have to overcomplicate things. One of THE simplest indicators of muscular adaptation is very easy: if you get near the end of your final reps and you feel your muscles are properly stimulated, and if you’re also struggling to complete the final few reps, then you’re on the right track. To paraphrase Muhammed Ali, "When I feel pain, that’s when I start counting, because that’s when it really counts."
How many reps for maximum results?
As a rough rule of thumb, fewer reps with more weight are more likely to lead to hypertrophy and muscle growth, while more reps with less weight tend to create muscles that last. Both types of training will produce muscle growth after a certain period of time, but classic hypertrophy training will build more muscle volume faster. In the end, it always depends on what your training goal is.
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My Top 3 Bicep Exercises
So, that’s enough theory. Let’s get down to what you’re here for: my favorite exercises for strong biceps!
#1: Segmented Curls
Segments:Extended Arms to 90° Curls — 90° to Full Curls — Full Range Curls
4 sets, 6-8 reps per segment
Perform the segments consecutively, without putting down the dumbbells in between.
Extended Arms to 90° Curls
Start either sitting or standing, with a dumbbell in each hand. Bring the dumbbells up from the extended arm position (arms hanging down by your sides, palms facing forward) to the 90 degree position and back again.
90° to Full Curls
Moving straight on: from the 90° position, bring the dumbbells all the way up to the curl’s final position, with your arms flexed. At the top, your hands should twist in so your palms are facing each other.
Full Range Curls
Almost there! The last step is the full bicep curl. Your hands should twist inward in the final position again.
Remember: Start a little lighter and then find a weight that’s heavy enough. Your arms should burn!
#2: Eccentric Curls
Muscles can usually move in one of three ways: (1) isometric, static movements, (2) concentric movements (bicep curl: from extended arm to flexed position), and (3) eccentric movements (effort required while elongating the muscle).
This is where Eccentric Curls come in.
3-4 sets, 2-3 reps per arm
Remember: The weight you use may be slightly heavier than the weight you normally curl. Bring your arm to the flexed end position and then bring the weight down in a slow motion until your arm is completely extended. This phase should last 5-10 seconds. Then lift the weight back up (using your other arm as well if necessary) to start the second rep.
#3: Blood Flow Restriction Training aka. Occlusion Training
Have you heard of blood flow restriction training? Explaining this in detail would go beyond the scope of this article, but I want to give you a quick overview.
During occlusion training, the muscles are constricted with a band. This briefly disrupts the blood supply and the oxygen supply to the muscles. To start with, the muscles will use up the existing oxygen in the blood with the slow-twitch fibers (these are muscle fiber types that contract slowly).
Read more: Your muscles are made up of muscle fibers of different types. Muscle fiber type 1 has staying power and contracts slowly, while muscle fiber type 2 is powerful and contracts quickly. Find out more about this here.
This is because fiber type 1 is largely aerobic, i.e. it’s only fully functional when it’s supplied with oxygen. A reduced amount of oxygen in the muscles results in what are known as fast-twitch fibers (fiber type 2, which contracts quickly) activating much earlier than under normal blood flow conditions. This usually only happens with much more intensive weight training, so it simulates heavy training conditions. Increased lactate (the ionic form of lactic acid) is also produced, and additional hormones are released, stimulating major muscle growth.
(1) 20-30 reps; (2) 15-20 reps; (3) 10-15 reps
Equipment: Barbell or dumbbells; cuff/elastic band
Important: Do not tie the rubber band/cuff too tightly
Wrap your cuff or a band around where the bicep starts, below the shoulder, with a light to medium pressure. This should stop the blood flow sufficiently. Then pick up an empty barbell or two light dumbbells. Start with 20-30 reps, then rest for 30 seconds. Then do 15-20 reps and rest for 30 seconds. Finally, do another 10-15 reps: only THEN can you remove the band, not before! Enjoy the burn!
Note: Experienced athletes can do an additional set with 30 seconds rest and 5-10 reps. If you are doing occlusion training for the first time, consult a trainer beforehand.
My recommendation for your training program:
Blood flow restriction training can be off-putting for some people at first, as they will feel an increased burning sensation in their muscles. So, if you want to put this type of exercise on the back burner for now, I recommend the following training program:
Day 1 with exercise 1 for 4 sets and exercise 2 for 3 sets
Day 2 with exercise 1 for 3 sets, and exercise 2, this time for 4 sets
Day 3 will be the hardest with both exercises for 4-5 sets
If you’re all in, feel free to combine all of my top 3 bicep exercises into one workout if you really have a lot of experience. Otherwise, however, I recommend alternating the exercises to start with, to accustom your muscles to the new training. For example:
Day 1 with exercises 1 and 2
Day 2 with exercise 3 only, making sure that you use the proper technique
Day 3 with exercises 2 and 3
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