How to Build Bigger Biceps


I need to start this post about how to build bigger biceps by reiterating that beginners don’t need direct arm work and will get great results from chins, rows and all forms of presses and dips.

There is absolutely no need for direct arm work for the first year or so of proper of training.

Make some big gains first, pack on twenty or thirty pounds and then worry about curling.

While this is a cool message to stick with forever the reality is that advice becomes null and void after a few years of training if you really want to build the biggest guns possible.

Intermediate to advanced lifters will not maximize their biceps growth without some direct isolation work. So if you want to build bigger biceps you’re gonna have to start curling.

The First Step: Supinate

Before you even start adding curls to your routine 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.

How to Get Started with Curls

I’d start with  2-3 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 Flex Wheelers Mr. Olympia arm blowout. When you get really strong and your arms are at least 16 inches you can start experimenting with more volume and other fancy stuff if you want. For now, keep it simple and you’ll grow just fine.

Like with squats, deadlifts and other compound movements, progressive overload is important, although not as crucial as it is on the main lifts. But you do have to get stronger if you want to build bigger biceps.

Pick one compound biceps exercise per workout and do 2-3 sets of 8-15 reps. Try to add weight and reps over time. 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 or palms down/ pronated grip).

Below are some good choices:

  • EZ bar curl (the straight bar is good but too stressful on many lifters elbows)
  • Body drag curl
  • Standing DB curl
  • Chain curl
  • Incline DB curl
  • Hammer curl
  • Pinwheel curl
  • Neutral grip bar curl

My advice to all intermediate to advanced lifters is to keep your reps a bit higher on curls than on most other exercises. The stronger you are the higher you should go. Not only do the biceps seem to respond better to higher reps but it will also be safer and less stressful to your wrists, shoulders and elbows.

Start with a weight you can do 8-10 reps with and stick with it until you can get 12-15 reps. Then bump up the weight and start over again. Save the fancy stuff for when you need it later on down the road.

Eventually, when you are curling some big weights I wouldn’t go below ten reps. That will keep you healthy and in the gym training longer. If you have preexisting elbow issues you may want to start with 12 reps right from the start. Elbow sleeves would also be a useful addition to your arsenal.

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.

Another trick you can employ that seems to work well when training the guns is to use a three second eccentric. You don’t have to do it on every curl variation or every set but used occasionally it can be a very powerful technique to help stretch the shirt sleeves.

After your biceps are fully pumped stretch the hell out of them for 60-90 seconds.

Now you know how to build bigger biceps.

Remember what they say, suns out guns out.

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32 Responses to How to Build Bigger Biceps

  1. Raymond- ZenMyFitness March 18, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    Hey Jason,
    Biceps are my worse body that doesn’t seem to respond to anything!
    - you use the word ‘compound’ bicep exercise was that just a name you used or are there different type of compound and isolation bicep exercises?
    - my form towards the middle end of a curls I start to cheat a bit and use a bit of body to assist getting the weight up … am I fooling myself and stop when this happens, keep going to I get finish the reps, dropset, rest pause or something?
    Thanks
    Raymond

    • Jason Ferruggia June 26, 2012 at 9:59 am #

      @Raymond- Trying lightening up the weight a bit and concentrating on using better form. The stretching will help as well.

  2. Ryan Schaefer March 18, 2011 at 1:02 pm #

    @ E.J.

    You’re right on! Matthews is an animal!!

  3. Marcos Torres March 18, 2011 at 2:21 pm #

    Urlacher does have a big effin neck though.

  4. Spencer Lovelace March 18, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    Jason’

    I have also recently started MGS, and want to know if it would be a good idea to maybe throw in some extra bicep work. Unfortunately I too have some pipe cleaners.

    Thanks,
    Spencer

    • Jason Ferruggia June 26, 2012 at 9:59 am #

      @Specer- You could throw in two sets, twice per week.

  5. Josh Rutherford March 18, 2011 at 6:13 pm #

    The higher reps goes against what I have been taught about weights, and against how it’s done for other exercises. Then again, you know what you’re talking about and the 4-6 rep range has never given me biceps to match my triceps. Making a change the next time I do one of Craig’s 3-minute arm routines.

    When are you and Ballantyne going to team up on a work out?

  6. Grant March 18, 2011 at 6:35 pm #

    Very true Jason, another point is if you don’t include arm work in your programs most of your athletes are just going to go do it behind your back anyways. More than likely they will also perform a Flex Wheelers Mr. Olympia arm blowout as well. So it would obvisouly be much better to throw some arm work in there to satisfy them but also to keep them under control.

  7. Phil March 19, 2011 at 10:03 am #

    Business as usual my friend… Amazing article. Off to the gym to apply it after the regular training session. Have a good one!

  8. Gianni March 19, 2011 at 11:43 am #

    Hey Jay, I know it’s not ideal to build muscle and burn fat simultaneously, but I’m going on beach holiday soon. Can I continue arm growth whilst trying to lean out?
    Thanks!

  9. Mark March 19, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    When Urlacher was at New Mexico he had a 390 power clean. Met him and he is all neck, traps, back and thighs. Freak athlete.

  10. Julio G. March 20, 2011 at 5:44 am #

    Although I’m following intermediate phase in MGS I don’t feel myself as one: only squatting 235 lbs (I started with 125.. yeah, depressing :(), and the same with deadlifts… I’m more in “between” beginner and intermediate.
    So I just mixed some of your programs to be able to train full body 3 days a week (deadlifting only once a week) but with a lower volume (doing 10 sets at most, as the higher frequency of training full body requires it)… My problem is that in order to also be able to train arms twice while bringing up the big lifts (and don’t overtrain) I had to put horizontal pushing exercises alternated with vertical pulling (not horizontal pulling) and viceversa… does that have any inconvenience towards balancing body musculature or being injury prone?

  11. storm walton March 20, 2011 at 5:02 pm #

    Hey,Jason

    I do 3 sets of Fat Gripz Barbell curls,Here is my routine:

    110 pounds for 15

    120 pounds for 12

    135 pounds for 10

    Is that ok or is that pussy stuff,My arms are only 15″s right know because i have not done alot of arm work in the past.

    Peace Out,
    Storm

    • Jason Ferruggia June 26, 2012 at 10:01 am #

      @Storm- That looks fine. I’d use the EZ bar though.

  12. Stavros March 20, 2011 at 6:13 pm #

    Superb article Jason !

    I’d like to know what do you think about “one arm power hammer curls” . i do them heavy once a week and i feel like my bi’s getting stronger on curls each week .

    thanks.

  13. Alex March 21, 2011 at 3:45 am #

    Well, my oppinion is that you should allways perform direct arm work, it assists all your other lifts, but keep it low volume so that you can recover properly for your big compounds.. ia lso like dumbell work for arms and allways standing up.
    Nice advice on not using the straight bar, it really can injure you, i say this by experience unfortunatelly..
    Also when you get to big weights you should use a bit of momentum on the beggining of the concentric phase orelse you will get injured too, just give it a litlle swing when the bar is on the bottom and youre good to go, orelse the fully stretched muscle pulling all that weight from the bottom will suffer, and also your forearm..
    I’m not much of a stretching after weights believer, i stretch 2 times per week but on off days, i take real static stretching classes and they work wonders for mobility and even for recovery.
    usually after my weights i just do a slight stretch when im having a shower and only for the muscles i worked, but nothing too hard like you advise here, i know stretching on a pumped muscle can stretch the fascia and give it room to grow, but you can never get a good stretch on a contracted warmed muscle and if you do you will have more chances of getting injured than getting the benifits from it.. but thats just me..

  14. Tudor March 21, 2011 at 6:23 am #

    Man, I just can’t help to think when I look at that picture of Arnold, how he looked back in the day, and how he looks now.

  15. M.P. March 21, 2011 at 11:44 am #

    Jay, knowing what a fan you are of body-weight training, would I be OK using the TRX for my bicep/tricep work? Or does it have to be an external load like dumbells or sandbags?

  16. JMJ March 22, 2011 at 7:54 pm #

    Now if only Urlacher could have not let a scrawny Aaron Rodgers tackle him in the open field, maybe Da Bears win that game. He never shoulda got mixed up w/Paris Hilton, he’s never been the same.

  17. Farrell Vaughan April 2, 2011 at 9:33 pm #

    Jason,

    I love this frickin’ no BS site! Keep up the good work dude!

  18. Niko September 2, 2011 at 2:34 pm #

    More good advice, I was at the gym last week completing a session that included deadlifts, bent over rows and chins. A young bloke no older than 17, all of about 140 pounds, full of enthusiasm, in the same time completed 4 different variations of bicep curls. I’m not one to approach strangers in the gym and give advice, but hopefully he will catch on to what exercises are more effective before his enthusiasm dies off.

  19. Abhi January 9, 2012 at 12:28 pm #

    Its awesome…thankx…please tell us about forearms develpoement

  20. Bob February 10, 2012 at 10:14 am #

    Enjoyed your content on building bigger biceps. What you’re saying makes great sense.
    I wish I would have had this insight years ago. Doing things the right way the first time sure saves a lot of wasted time. I am looking forward to changing my routine for my biceps at the gym.
    Thanks, Bob Williams

  21. Jason Ferruggia June 26, 2012 at 9:58 am #

    @Mike Paton- Yes. It’s safer that way.

  22. Brian June 30, 2012 at 10:44 am #

    Ok guys/gals too, I am going to throw in something here that may give encouragement. I am the tiniest guy probably on the planet (not in height though). I had the luck, or should I say the bad luck, of inheriting my mom’s small bone structure. I am not talking small, I mean extremely small (off the charts). I am 46 years old 5′ 7” and weigh 115lbs on a good day. I constantly get compliments on my arm development! What’s the reason? Do I have good genetics? Not a chance, I used to be a fat teen (yet a small fat teen). Do I do some special arm routine that I could make a millions dollars on? Nope. I stick with what Jason recommended. Then what gives? It is the fact that my bodyfat is LOW, 10% or sometimes a little less depending on what I am doing. The leanness in my arms (which are also a non-responding bodypart like many of you) gives the illusion of size. Just like your abs, your arms will look so much better if you are lean. Nutrition, nutrition, nutrition. By the way, I thank Jason for pointing me toward Sunwarrior protein. It is awesome and has really helped me stay lean and build muscle.

  23. Bob June 30, 2012 at 10:52 am #

    Jason, Great Website!!!!!!!!! I am so impressed with the photo of ARNOLD S. that you have above, while doing his dumbbell curl routine. Awesome.
    This is a great motivator.
    Thanks, Bob Williams

  24. Shizz April 14, 2013 at 6:44 am #

    @ Jason, I really don’t have time to how 2 a gym
    because Im always workn & I have a lil baby girl.
    I have 2 dumbbells & I do push ups but If keep
    doin hammer curls, dumb bell curls & push ups
    will I get bigger arms or do I have to go to a gym??

  25. Ramey June 15, 2013 at 6:40 pm #

    Hi I’m a truck driver so I don’t have room for any large equipment all I have is a 20 lb dumbbell I’m trying to get larger arms what would be a good workout? I’m currently doing 35-40 curls every other day and how long will it take to see results?

  26. Amanda August 17, 2013 at 11:16 pm #

    My friend was burned severely and cannot use both hands. Any suggestion on how he can work out to getting like he was before the fire or is he pretty much stuck in the shape he’s in right now