Today we’re gonna talk about how to build bigger biceps.
Because, who wants to walk around with their shirt sleeves flapping in the wind? It’s a fate no man should ever have to suffer.
Of course, an easy way around that is to buy smaller shirts. Which, as a New Jersey native/ lifelong meathead, I’m all for. But a size small t-shirt with a pair of 11 inch pipe cleaners hanging out of them still isn’t quite the best look.
So lets beef those arms up a bit, shall we? Surely.
The first mistake most people make when trying to build bigger arms is they start doing an assload of curls. Every day.
But curls are an isolation movement that don’t allow for a lot of loading. That’s fine and dandy if you’ve been training properly for at least 3-5 years. And if you have gained at least twenty pounds of muscle already.
If you’re a newbie or even someone who has trained for many years but doesn’t look like it, you really have no business doing tons of curls. It will get you nowhere. The only thing you’ll probably end up with is wrist and elbow problems. Maybe some shoulder issues as well. Not great.
So what exercises should you be doing to build bigger biceps? We’ll get to that in a minute. But first a quick anatomy lesson.
Anatomy of the Guns
The biceps consist of two heads (hence the “bi”)- the long head and the short head. These muscles are trained with your palms facing up when you do chin ups or any type of curl.
The biceps is slightly fast twitch dominant when it comes to fiber type. This would normally mean that you should keep your reps in the medium range of 8-10. The problem, however, is that when you get strong, heavy curls can place a ton of stress on your wrist, elbows and biceps tendon. Therefore, the more advanced you are the more you’ll want to bump your reps up.
Along with the short and long heads of the biceps you have the brachialis. This is a smaller muscle underneath the biceps. When this muscle is well developed it makes your arms look bigger from the front. A lot of guys have arms that look big from the side but tiny when you look at them head on. That’s because the brachialis is underdeveloped.
This is muscle is trained by using a neutral grip when you do chin ups or any type of curl (hammer curls) for medium to high reps.
The First Step: More Supinated Rows & Chins
When you’re ready to start an all out assault on the biceps the first thing I would do is switch at a least a couple of the rows and chin up variations in your program to an underhanded (supinated) curl grip.
Even though the goal with these exercises is to train the muscles of the back you’re still going to be working your biceps. If you supinate your palms and turn your hands up you’ll work the biceps even harder.
So, if you’re doing bent over rows do them with an EZ bar and a supinated grip. Or do the same thing on a seated cable row. If you’re doing chin ups use rings and supinate at the top.
Another row variation that leads to huge biceps growth is the hand over hand rope row with a thick rope like they do in strongman contests.
Just making those small changes will help kick in some biceps growth.
Top 5 Biceps Building Compound Exercises
1) Rope Climbs
This is a highly functional exercise that incorporates nearly every muscle group you think of. However, the biceps do a large majority of the work and get massive amounts of stimulation.
2) Curl Grip/Supinated Chin Ups
Think about the most weight you can do a barbell curl with. For most people it’s probably no heavier than 95 pounds. Now compare that to a chin up. It’s the same type of curling movement at the elbow joint but it’s being done with all of your bodyweight. That’s way more than 95 pounds. The more weight you can do on any exercise for a given muscle group, the more effective it usually is.
Tip: Do these on rings or a Jungle Gym XT to decrease the stress on the wrists and elbows.
3) Neutral Grip/ Semi-Supinated Chin Ups
This is similar to the curl grip chin up except that your palms are facing each other. This is even easier on the joints and a more natural position. This variation stresses the brachialis muscles a bit more and will help your arms look thicker from the front.
4) Curl Grip/Supinated Inverted Rows
Again, compare the weight you could do on any curl variation to curling/rowing your bodyweight in this variation of an inverted row. The load is substantially heavier. And anytime you move your body through space, as opposed to simply moving your limbs, there is a much higher level of muscular activation.
5) Hand Over Hand Rope Row
This has a similar effect as the rope climbs. For this variation you need a long rope, preferably two inches in diameter. Attach it to a sled or heavy implement you can drag then row the weight toward you. This will absolutely smoke your biceps and forearms.
Going From Beginner To Advanced
A lot of people may get all the biceps growth they desire from the exercises above. Or they may hate isolation exercises and never feel like doing a curl. That’s totally cool.
As I’ve said a million times, beginners don’t need direct arm work and will get great results from chins and rows.
Increase the amount of reps you can do on chin ups and the weight you can row for sets of 8-15 reps and your biceps will grow. Make some big gains first, pack on at least your first twenty pounds or so and then worry about curling.
If you have been training properly for more than a few years and are ready to train the arms directly the section below is for you.
Advanced lifters will probably not maximize their biceps growth without some direct isolation work.
Big compound exercises like chins and rows will only take you so far. And the more advanced you get the better you should be at those exercises. So you’re not even recruiting your biceps as much as you did as a beginner doing chin ups. When you’re more advanced you’ll be using your lats to do more of the work. That means that if you want to build bigger biceps you’re gonna have to start curling.
Time to Start Curling
I’d start with three sets of curls performed twice a week at the end of your upper body days. No need to go overboard from the get go and do the Mr. Olympia arm blowout. For now, keep it simple and you’ll grow just fine.
If you’re starting from zero, just one set should be enough, in theory. Three will definitely get the job done. After a few months of that you can bump it up to four.
Pick one compound biceps exercise per workout and do three sets of 8-15 reps. Mix it up between exercises that hit the biceps (supinated/ palms up grip) and others that place more stress on the brachialis and forearms (neutral grip).
Top 5 Biceps Building Isolation Exercises
1) Standing Dumbbell Curl
This is an old standby and as basic as it gets. But it gets the job done. Be sure to turn your palm up fully at the top of the movement and try to have your pinkies higher than your thumbs.
2) Standing Hammer Curl
This one really hammers the brachialis and forearms.
3) Incline Dumbbell Curl
Great for training the biceps in a stretched position. The mistake that’s often made is setting the incline too low. This places too much unnecessary stress on the shoulders. Stick with around 60-75 degrees. Stretch the biceps fully at the bottom, but be sure to maintain constant tension and reverse the movement right back up.
4) Bodyweight Curl on Rings or JGXT
Set the handles at about neck height then grab them and lean back while extending your arms all the way. Curl your hands to your shoulders, allowing only your forearms to move. Keep your abs tight and glutes squeezed throughout the movement so that you don’t sag or buck your hips.
5) Reverse Curl
It’s a good idea to curl with all three hand positions – supinated/palms up, semi supinated/palms facing each other, and pronated/palms down. The reverse curl utilizes the last position and helps to ensure complete biceps development.
Don’t Go Too Heavy on Curls
You don’t want to go super heavy on curls. This is a huge mistake. When you walk into most gyms you’ll actually see the guys with the smallest arms going heaviest on curls. The guys with the biggest arms, who know better, are often curling the 25’s while some 140-pound guy throws up the 50’s with atrocious form resembling some sort of clean.
To get the biceps to grow you want to maximize the tension and stress that they are under with lighter weights. Going too heavy brings in other muscle groups and takes the stress off of the biceps. This is NOT what you want.
My advice is to keep your reps a bit higher on curls than on most other exercises. The stronger you are the higher you should go.
This will be much safer and less stressful to your wrists, shoulders and elbows.
Do three sets like this with perfect technique and get a good pump. Done properly, this will stimulate plenty of growth. Save the fancy stuff like drop sets and rest-pause for when you need it a few years later on down the road.
Be sure to squeeze and contract your biceps as hard as you can throughout the entire range of motion and never release the tension.
This is not an Olympic lift or an explosive movement where you’re just trying to “get the weight up.” When it comes to building bigger biceps you need to concentrate on the muscle you are working and focus on directing all the tension directly to the biceps and nowhere else.
That means you deliberately curl the weight up by initiating with an intense contraction of the biceps. You then maintain that intense contraction throughout the set.
Another trick you can employ that seems to work well when training the guns is to use a 3-4 second eccentric. Lower the weight slowly and under control.
You don’t have to do it on every curl variation or every set but it can be a very powerful technique to help stretch the shirtsleeves.
Contract the Triceps
This is a cool trick I learned a long time ago from a very smart strength coach. I wish I could remember who it was so I could give credit here.
As you lower the weight on curls try to actively contract your triceps. Imagine you are doing a reverse grip push down. Do that all the way to full elbow extension at the bottom. This makes the biceps contract harder when you start lifting the weight again on the next rep and also protects the elbows at the bottom.
As soon as you reach full extension of the elbows reverse the movement immediately without pausing, and start the next rep. There should always be constant tension and continuous movement.
Your Key Takeaways
- Do three sets of curls, twice per week, on upper body days.
- Stick with sets of 8-15 reps, control the negative, maintain constant tension/continuous movement and squeeze as hard as you can.
- Slowly increase the weight every few weeks.
- Also be sure to change exercises frequently so that you don’t develop any overuse injuries.
- Get a good biceps stretch at the end of every workout, then go home, eat and grow. Good luck!
Now you know how to build bigger biceps.
If you found it useful, share this article with someone who needs to do a better job of filling out those shirt sleeves.
Thanks for reading.