How To Build Big Biceps

By

Vince Del Monte, WBFF Pro Fitness Model, Certified Fitness Trainer
and Nutritionist and author of No Nonsense Muscle
Building.

The “Guns.” The “Pythons.” “Thunder” and “Lighting.” The “Rockweillers.” There is no other muscle group that has earned more nicknames than when describing a bulging and huge set of bicep!

Bulging biceps – every guy wants them. Count me in this group.best-arms-250

Pick Up Nick Nillson’s New Book Today!

The days are far from gone when you walk into the gym and see 9 out of  10 guys doing bicep curls all at the same time with theboyer_coe same determination to add even ¼ inch to their biceps.

Training biceps has become almost an ‘obsessive addiction’ in the gym. I have seen guys do bicep curls in between sets just so they can ‘see’ a little bit of a pump in their arms.

I have seen guys spend an entire hour bent over doing concentration curls while starring in the mirror. I have seen guys take weights on vacation so that they can do some bicep curls at their hotel before they go into the club!

I have seen guys spend longer amounts of times shopping for t-shirts than girls shopping for a blouse with the hope that one of these shirts will make his arms look ‘good.’

Someone disagree with me that bicep training has become an unhealthy ‘obsessive addiction’ for many. In the “Skinny Arms” defense, the allure of peaked, mountainous biceps will never go away.

Why should it? The ‘guns’ are of a man’s most prized possession and one of many women’s most desired body parts on a man (of course)!

My question is if 9 out 10 guys are obsessed with seeing their biceps grow and dedicate so much of their workout volume to isolating their biceps and using every technique from forced reps, drop sets, and 21’s which are ‘promised’ to be the most effective methods confirmed by pro bodybuilders, why do they still have little to show for their efforts?

Let’s examine five of the most common problems with bicep training.

Problem #1 with bicep training:  More is not always better

If doing 4 sets is better than 3 sets, why don’t you just do 10 sets? Even better, why don’t you just train them all day? It has been said before, but it obviously needs to be said again: “Less is often more.” Especially if you are not gifted with “muscle-friendly” genes.

Your goal of each weight training workout should be to simply ‘out do’ your last workout. Once you achieve this with an extra pound or a few extra reps, then it is time to move to the next exercise. Not to Nazi-torture the muscle for another hour.

I have found this a hard concept for many skinny guys to grasp because they are fixated on the instant gratification of making their biceps ‘look’ big during the workout and not what they look like when they leave the gym, which leads us to our next problem.

Problem #2 with bicep training:  Being more obsessed with how they look while you train rather than when you are not training!

Problem #2 ties in with problem #1. The truth is that the longer you train your biceps, even if the weights are not extremely heavy, you can achieve a fairly decent pump that can turn a few heads while in the gym. This attention and perception that you are doing something beneficial is deceiving.

Yes, there is something to say about keeping blood in the muscle as long as possible, but if the workout is done with weights that do not overload your muscles and emphasize an increase in strength, your biceps will quickly deflate back to normal with no true muscle building.

Problem #3 with bicep training:  Not focusing on increasing your overall strength

Some of the biggest guys I know rarely even train their arms. What they do though is put a strong emphasis around increasing their chest, back and shoulder strength. If you simply focus on increasing the weights on your rows, pull ups and chin-ups, rest assured that your biceps will come along for the ride and grow proportionally.

However, if you are always blasting and ‘smoking’ your biceps, they will always be fatigued when you train your back muscles and, as you should know, you are only as strong as your weakest link. This is another reason to take a lower volume approach to arm training.

Problem #4 with bicep training:  Using the same bicep exercises every time

Every pro bodybuilder will put their money on two of the simplest exercises for building huge biceps – barbell curls and dumbbell curls. According to the pros, these two exercises have built more huge guns than any other exercise in the world.

I definitely agree that these ‘simple’ exercises are a safe foundation to build a program around, but let’s also remember that pro bodybuilders using steroids are going to have a strong response to practically any exercise they do.

I have no problem using these two exercises under one condition – you are getting stronger from week to week. As long as you are increasing the weights and reps relative to perfect form, then your arms should continue growing.

Aim to build your barbell curls up to 110 pounds for a few “slow speed” sets and your dumbbell curls up to 50 pounds for a few “slow-speed” sets that involve zero rocking and swaying.

Once you build your barbell curls up to 110 pounds, you will be ready to try these two different angles on the bar. You will have to drop your weights a bit, but stick with these two variations until you build back up to 110 pounds:

Bicep Exercise 1: “Stress” the outer portion of the bi’s by placing your elbows outwards and using a super-close grip.

Bicep Exercise 2: “Stress” the inner portion of the bi’s by taking a super-wide grip on the bar and digging your elbows into your side (and don’t let them move.)

Bicep Exercise 3: To “stress” the brachialis and brachioradialis stick to good old fashioned hammer curls and reverse curls. Don’t underestimate these two exercises in the slightest.

Problem #5 with bicep training:  Not enough tension on the muscle

I think many weight trainees do not fully grasp the concept of isolating and actually training a muscle. They do not know how to make the muscle work and fatigue. Instead, you see a lot of swinging, momentum and sloppy lifting used to move the weight from every part of the body except the one they are actually trying to train.

The biceps have a very strong response to “constant tension,” which means you should never give them a chance to breathe. Keep the bar constantly moving without pausing at the top or bottom.

Focus on squeezing the heck out of the bar and never let your biceps relax until the set is over. Your entire goal is to not allow any oxygen into the muscle which creates a spike with your anabolic hormones to promote muscle growth. Resort to a slower 3-0-3 or 4-0-4 tempo to get the job done.

Nick

The “Mad Scientist of Exercises” Nick Nillson

Check out his site to learn more about his new book, The Best Arm Exercises You’ve Never Heard Of, to take your arm development to a whole NEW level.

Vince Del Monte

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Comments

22 thoughts on “How To Build Big Biceps

  1. best e collar for dogs November 12, 2017 at 11:07 am - Reply

    Many thanks for the information we were trying to find this while we were scanning the internet as well as your site came up– Many thanks

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  2. agree with the slower tempos and time under tension! I have always focused less on ego/weight and more on negatives and limited sets. Make some good points in this article!

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  3. Great post Vince,

    I have long been amused by the obsession over biceps by many gym goers. I mean we all want biceps but the focus on them without any thought of the rest of their body or even if they are doing the right thing is dissapointing.

    I think if people understood point #2 more they might think beyond the instant gratification of the "pump" and focus on real results.

    I agree with Sean also about the antagonist approach, I dont think a lot of people know that either.

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  4. The constant tension tip is great. Overall strength + isolating with constant tension and focusing on increasing overload is a winning strategy.

    Best,

    Yavor

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  5. That’s some very helpful advice. To the point. Any advice on Triceps or is it a case of just reversing everything said here?

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  6. Hey Vince. You have good a knowledge of anatomy and I think what your saying is right about the bicep tempo, but what all the other muscle groups in the body. I think 303 and 404 tempo will be adequate for all, biologically speaking. Please, if you disagree tell me, I must learn.

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  7. You can also use the antogonist approach working both the Bi’s and Tri’s at the same time going from one Bi’s exercise to a Tri’s exercise. That way each is somewhat fresh and you waste less time. I agree, less is better and I like using the preacher pad and EZ-Curl Bar–one set on the inside grip and one on the outside. Then finish with one set of alternates. This is just for 12 weeks, then I switch to different exercises, but this is a “meat and potatoes” bicep workout. Yep, just 3 sets! Do them heavy and slow as described above and you will be sore as hell!

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  8. Hi Vince, first of all I want to apologize if my english is not so good, thats because Im from Mexico. Second thing, I want to tell you that Im really grateful with you, I was the type of dude that were always changing its exercices, doing a lot of sets, spending more than 2 hours at gym, etc. But then I found your page and started to use your tips, and suddenly everybody started to notice the results. Actually two days ago one guy (a skinny one that spends hours in gym, lift the lighter weights that its so depressive) asked me if I started to use some kind of steroids, XD, he said “it is impossible you only spend 1 hour max at gym, you only do 2 exercises for biceps (most of my exercises are compound) and only come 4 days a week and look at your arms”
    I started to explain all that I have learned from you but when I saw he was doing his same exercises so I think he didnt believed me.

    I want to tell you that I want to buy your book, so I started saving money altough its a little hard for me (you know the economics in my country are not so good) and it will take me a little while but Im sure that its a well invested money.

    One last thing can you make a video for leg exercises cause in my gym there are no machines, so im lacking in exercises for harmstrings(I think thats the name,its the muscle behind the leg, oppopsite to the cuadriceps) , I only do dead lift. I think thats all again sorry for my english, and muchos saludos y gracias de tu alumno mexicano!!!!

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  9. Hey Vince,

    Spot on man, and I love point number 3. There are a couple of personal trainers at the studio I work at in Adelaide, Australia, and they hardly EVER do “traditional” bicep work. But, they would easily out do 90% of the gym going population simply by sticking the bigger compound exercises you mentioned, especially and rowing/chins type exercises.

    The biceps and forearms simply become secondary movers, just like the tricps do on most chest pressing movements.

    This is a pretty standard philosophy with my own personal training clients who would rarely ever do isolation exercises like bicep curls, etc. when a far better choice(s) are the ones outlined in your post.

    Great work man, and go Jay Cutler in the Mr O. coming up this weekend!

    Regards, Clayton
    Personal Trainer | Adelaide, Australia.

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  10. @TW. Good point. I remember reading that story in The New Intensity Training book… really good and really valid point to bring up.

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  11. Author Jones had an outstanding bet that he could put on at least a half inch (cold measurement) from just ONE workout. He never lost his bet, yet had many takers.
    His first step was to have the trainee do nothing for 3 days. Almost all his subjects had an increase, just from not doing anything and allowing proper rest and growth. (Problem 1).
    Then for the workout he pushed them to the max with a full body workout with arm emphasis. Give them a day and measure again cold and every one had at least a half inch improvement.

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  12. Hey Vince, great article on biceps. I agree with your last two points. In personal experience I have found that on concentrating on your bicep when doing the reps yield the most results.

    I started “visualising” (concentrating) on seeing my forearms as a rigid, almost relaxed link between my biceps and the weights. By only focussing my mind on moving the weights with only my biceps I was (i) stiff as hell the next 4 days (ii) started back to some lighter weights, because no more momentum and help from other muscles meant I was actually not at 45lbs dumbells per arm and (iii) saw 1/2 inch increase in bicep diameter after about a month.

    I have to point out as well that biceps are sometimes really difficult to exercise properly, because it is so “natural” to cheat with momentum and other muscles. Keep well!

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  13. nice excersises.I always make 3 excersises for biceps.Three chin ups,three Larry Scott and three barbell curls = 9 sets for the biceps.Aren’t they good?

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  14. Jen – get a grip

    Vince – thanks for the info

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  15. Vince – thanks for admitting your t-shirt buying habits. I’m the same way (within reason). [Allan – the idea is not to have a restrictive shirt, just one that doesn’t have swimming-pool sized holes for arms!]

    At the same time, I find the “arms training” focus of most people to be ridiculous. Chin-ups and rows are so much better than curls. And don’t forget that developing triceps affects your arms too – but even those should be trained with compound movements. I wrote something about this here:
    http://worldfitnessnetwork.com/2009/07/how-to-build-big-guns-biceps-without-curls-in-8-5-simple-steps/

    I do curls maybe 4 workouts a year – just enough to remind myself why I don’t do them! Yet I’m very happy with my arms development using compound movements with heavy stuff.

    Thanks again Vince!

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    • @Darrin. Thanks for that. I think it’s the inner quench for instant gratification that moves guys towards over training their arms.

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  16. I find it funny when guys had to pick the tightest shirt, just to show off their arms. I mean, what’s the point? Don’t they feel uncomfortable with that? I’m happy with a shirt that is “breathable”.

    There’s this guy in the gym, everytime I see him, he always do either chest or arms. And never see him work his abs, legs, back. LOL.

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  17. You missed the BIGGEST reason I don’t have huge biceps:

    I’m a woman.

    Women don’t develop huge muscle mass through normal, healthy means. Good training, such as you detail on your site, is good training for men and women, but you really need to stop overlooking half your audience. There may be some lesbians in here, but I for one am tired of your suggestions that I want women “to drool” over my body.

    p.s. if you don’t want women clients, then take women out of your “success stories”

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    • @Jen. I understand your concern and fully aware of having a male and female audience. Last time i checked it was 60% men and 40% females for my six pack stuff and 80% males and 20% females for my muscle stuff.

      When I write an email, I write to the majority of the audience. It becomes hard to send a newsletter writing to teens, older folks, males, females, college students, beginners, advanced people, all in one email. My message is probably lost a certain degree with the language I use but I trust the main message is in tact which Im trying to convey. I trust people understand my dilemma so don’t allow that from missing the main message.

      Good point on being a female with big arms… I m personally glad females can’t build BiG arms!

      And I definitely love working with female clients and seeing them use my stuff for amazing results.

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  18. Hi Vince,

    Good points. Nothing is going to do more for your physique than big compound movements.

    Biceps get plenty of work from a back session, with all that pulling. And triceps (lets not forget they make up two-thirds of the arm) get plenty of work from pushing movements.

    Specific arm exercises I’ve always tagged onto the end of a workout. As a natural trainer I’m happy with 18inch guns and can biceps curl an 80kg barbel and dumbell curl 35kg.

    I hate seeing these young guys come in the gym doing countless sets on tricep kick backs and concentration curls.

    The formula is simple big heavy weights + intense train = strength + growth.

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  19. People do the same routine all over again, just like in bodybuilding (you know what I mean). When they are not getting results they think is the # of reps and the sets. When have you seen a guy in the gym say “Hey, why don’t you try to train harder on one or two exercises instead of doing 5 or 6 exercises in a crappy way? Why don’t you try to train harder and smarter instead of longer and dummier?”

    Usually they say “You have to do 12reps and 4 sets instead of 15reps and 3 sets, because 12 reps is to build muscle.”

    Like you said “Less is often more”

    The arm exercises in Nillson’s program are insane. They are a real challenge and people in the gym will think you are crazy when you do them. I think that’s a good thing sometimes.

    Thanks for this post, will share it to my friends

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  20. Hey Vince,
    Great tips on the arm exercises. In my weight training class I always see kids picking up a random weight and just swinging them around like a mad man. I always have trouble getting my shoulders and arms bigger what exercises would you say have worked best for you to get your shoulders and arms the way they are?
    Thanks,
    Alex

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