It seems like the biceps are everyone’s favourite muscle group to chain! The last thing anyone would need is 3 more bicep training tips, right? WRONG!
- Tip #1: Incline Curls And Preacher Curls Are The Best Bicep Exercises!
- Tip #2: Use Tri-Sets For Rapid Hypertrophy Gains!
- Tip #3: The 1-Arm Eccentric Barbell Preacher Curl Is The Ultimate Plateau Buster!
In my experience most trainees have a hard time training their biceps. This would explain why so many people are not satisfied with the size and strength of their arms.
If this describes you then these bicep training tips are for you. Trust me, you won’t find these superior training tips anywhere else.
The first part of this article is devoted to incline curls and preacher curls. According to the scientific literature these are the top 2 most effective exercises for targeting the biceps brachii.
They are also some of the most versatile biceps exercises you can perform. More on this below.
In part two you will learn how to design tri-set workouts to bust through hypertrophy plateaus in the biceps.
I have included three incredibly effective bicep tri-set routines that you can start using today to add muscular hypertrophy to your biceps. Each routine is complete with detailed instructions and plenty of sample exercise videos.
One of these biceps routines was even a favourite of the 1st ever Mr. Olympia champion Larry Scott!
Finally in part three I will teach you how to perform the most under-rated biceps exercise of all time: the eccentric 1-arm barbell preacher curl!
This exercise may sound a little ridiculous at first. However, I can assure you that it is the real deal. In fact, it might be the single most effective exercise for training the short head of the biceps.
There is a reason world-class strength and physique coaches such as Charles Poliquin and Josh Bryant have used this exercise throughout their careers to help their athletes bust through biceps training plateaus.
I hope you’re ready! I’m about to give you a master class in training the biceps for size and strength.
Now let’s get down to business….
Tip #1: Incline Curls And Preacher Curls Are The Best Bicep Exercises!
Be honest with me: what do you consider the best “mass-building” biceps exercises? If you are like most people, then you will probably say the standing barbell curl.
One of the perceived advantages of the standing barbell curl is that you can lift a lot of weight.
Perhaps you have another one or two favourite bicep exercises, such as standing alternating DB curls with a little “body-oomph” or some type of machine curl.
I have nothing against these exercises. They are all perfectly reasonable for stimulating the biceps.
However, my job here at Revolutionary Program Design is to cut through the BS and give you the most cutting-edge training information available anywhere in the world.
This includes telling you which exercises give you the biggest return on investment and which ones come up short.
Well, I’ve got some good news and bad news for you. Let’s start with the bad news.
The bad news is standing barbell and dumbbell curls are NOT the best bicep exercises. They’re actually pretty lousy at stimulating the biceps!
This isn’t just my opinion though.
EMG (electromyography) studies have repeatedly shown that standing barbell and dumbbell curls do a relatively poor job of recruiting the biceps brachii muscle.
Why is this important? I’ll tell you why!
As a general rule of thumb the best exercises for any body part are the ones that recruit the most motor units within that muscle. After all, a muscle fiber can only grow bigger and stronger if it is first recruited during the workout itself.
Now here’s the good news:
You probably haven’t spent much time focusing on the most effective bicep exercises. If you correct this mistake then your biceps gains will shoot through the roof!
The scientific literature and “in-the-trenches” experience have clearly demonstrated that the following two exercises are best for maximizing motor unit recruitment in the biceps:
For example, here is a video of incline curls:
And here is a video of preacher curls:
These two biceps exercises are so much better than the alternatives it isn’t even funny! In fact, I believe so strongly in these 2 biceps exercises that I have written numerous comprehensive guides about them. Check it out:
Preacher curl articles
Incline curl articles
So what makes incline curls and preacher curls so effective? Put another way, why do these 2 exercises recruit so many more motor units than the supposed “mass-builders” such as standing barbell curls?
There are three distinct reasons.
Reason #1: Both of these exercises are performed sitting down.
When you are performing curls in the standing position your body is “wasting” energy activating motor units in your legs, lower back, and core musculature. If your body didn’t do this you would simply fall over!
This is necessary to keep you standing but ultimately it reduces the number of motor units you can recruit in the biceps brachii muscle.
A much better solution is to perform the lion’s share of your curling exercises in the seated position.
This way you waste no energy activating motor units in the rest of your body and can direct all of that neurological activity towards the biceps.
Reason #2: Incline curls and preacher curls make it almost impossible to cheat!
Just picture the typical trainee performing standing barbell curls (or any other so-called biceps “mass-building” exercise).
Most trainees use their lower back and anterior deltoids just as much as their biceps to curl the weight up.
I have absolutely nothing against this bodybuilder. He’s built a very impressive physique and for that he has my respect.
Unfortunately he has chosen to lift with his ego rather than his biceps! Just look at how much he is using his lower back and anterior delts during this set!
Actually his form on the standing barbell curl is relatively “strict” compared to most trainees who attempt this exercise. That should really tell you something!
The problem with these “mass-building” biceps exercises is that it is very, very hard to maintain strict form. It is almost inevitable that you will start “cheating” during the set which compromises the quality of the training stimulus.
Just compare this to a set of preacher curls:
How are you supposed to “cheat” on an exercise like this? You can’t! The only muscle that can possible move the weight on preacher curls is the biceps!
I promise you that you will the difference right away when you start focusing on preacher curls and incline curls. Cheating is naturally kept to a minimum which means your biceps have to work that much harder.
Reason #3: Incline curls and preacher curls are superior exercises for targeting the long and short heads of the biceps brachii, respectively.
The biceps muscle has two heads: the long head and the short head.
The short head is located more towards the inside of your arm, while the long head is located on the outside of your arm and is responsible for the iconic biceps “peak.”
Ideally you want exercises that maximally target each of these heads. Of course, in order to isolate each head of the biceps you need to know their specific functions.
Each head of the biceps brachii is responsible for flexing the elbow. However, there are some key differences that you need to be aware of.
These differences can make the difference between having an average pair of biceps and a pair of biceps that would make Arnold Schwarzenegger jealous!
The long head is more strongly activated when the elbows are held BEHIND the body. Incline curls work perfectly for accomplishing this.
Here is another sample incline curl demonstration:
On the other hand, the short head is maximally recruited when the elbow is held IN FRONT OF the body.
Preacher curls have the added benefit of preventing any cheating during the movement as the elbows are totally fixed to the bench.
Here is another preacher curl demonstration:
Of course, you need more than just two exercises to train the biceps over the long-term.
Take incline curls for instance. You can easily adjust the incline of the bench to target a different portion of the biceps motor unit pool.
For example, you can adjust the bench to the following settings:
- 30 degree incline
- 45 degree incline
- 60 degree incline
- 75 degree incline
You also have 4 different grips at your disposal for incline curls:
- Supinating (start neutral and supinate as you curl up)
- Neutral (hammer grip)
- Supinated offset grip (pinkey touching inside of the dumbbell the whole time).
This means there are at least 4 different inclines x 4 different grips = 16 different variations of incline curls that you can do in any commercial gym!
To be honest I sometimes have a hard time myself believing how versatile incline curls can be! This is without even counting other variations such as incline cable curls etc.
Preacher curls are also quite versatile in their own right. You have at least the following 6 variations at your disposal to train the biceps brachii:
- DB supinated grip
- DB supinating grip
- DB neutral grip
- DB supinated offset grip
- Ez-bar wide supinated grip
- Ez-bar close supinated grip
Of course you could use a pronated grip with either a dumbbell or ez-bar, but the pronated grip is a very poor choice if you are trying to target the biceps brachii.
Some gyms even let you adjust the angle of the preacher bench. This gives you exponentially more variations of preacher curls to play around with!
For example, let’s say your gym has an adjustable preacher bench with 2-4 different angle settings.
This means you have (2-4 angles) x (6 grips) = 12-24 different preacher curl variations to choose from for targeting the short head of the biceps!
There is no excuse for using the same-old, same-old routine of standing barbell and standing alternating DB curls.
Not only are incline curls and preacher curls superior exercises for recruiting the biceps, they are more versatile as well.
Even in the most poorly equipped commercial gym you should have at least 16 different variations of incline curls and 6 different variations of preacher curls to choose from!
If you are less than satisfied with the size of your biceps then I have a simple recommendation for you: make incline curls and preacher curls the foundation of your long-term biceps programming.
This is one decision you won’t regret!
Tip #2: Use Tri-Sets For Rapid Hypertrophy Gains!
It is no secret that I absolutely LOVE using tri-sets to blast through hypertrophy plateaus. They seem to strike the perfect balance between volume and intensity for a large portion of the training populace.
It seems like every time I place one of my clients on a tri-sets arm routine they rave on and on about how incredible their pump was in the gym.
That usually only lasts a day though, because 24 hours later they’re ripping me a new one for all the delayed onset muscle soreness they’re experiencing!
On occasion I’ll have a client complain that combing their hair hurts their arms a tri-sets arm workout!
As much as I like using tri-sets for building big arm I can’t take credit for the concept. After all, they were being used to great effect by the first ever Mr. Olympia winner Larry Scott in the 1960s!
Larry was famous for his monstrous arms complete with un-freaking-believable bicep insertions. They looked like they inserted directly into his forearms!
If you know anything about Larry Scott, it’s that he famously built his biceps with tri-sets performed on the preacher bench.
He liked the preacher bench so much and used it so often that many people call preacher curls by the name “Scott curls!”
I won’t tease you any longer – here was Larry Scott’s favourite tri-set for building massive biceps.
Bicep Tri-Set #1:
- A1: Bilateral dumbbell preacher curls (supinated grip), 3 x 6**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Ez-bar preacher curls (wide / supinated grip), 3 x 6**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Ez-bar preacher curls (wide / pronated grip), 3 x 6**, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
**Perform 6 full range of motion reps then 4 partial “burns” out of the bottom position
Please note: if you have trouble reading this routine, then you will want to check out my article on reading a training program.
Now let’s discuss Larry Scott’s favourite bicep routine a little more.
Larry’s preferred training volume
Let’s contrast this to what most bodybuilders are doing nowadays. I feel like the new gold-standard is to perform 10, 15, or even 20 sets for biceps within a single workout!
Why did Larry Scott stick to only nine working sets for his entire biceps workout? After all, I’m sure he could have recovered from more.
Larry has talked about how he just felt he get the biggest return on investment from three tri-sets performed with maximum intensity. Anything more than that hurt his progress.
The point here is that there is a difference between the maximum number of sets you can perform and the optimal number of sets. If 20 sets for biceps works for you then by all means continue training that way.
The important thing is to experiment with your training volume until you find your own personal sweet-spot.
I have to agree with Larry on this one though: for most trainees three tri-sets circuits is more than enough if you push yourself hard on every single set!
Larry’s love affair with preacher curls
This routine is really a type of “uni-angular tri-set.”
Uni-angular tri-sets involve performing three different exercises for the same body part where the muscular plane does not change.
For example, Larry often performed uni-angular tri-sets using three different types of preacher curls.
Uni-angular tri-sets are not necessarily better than more traditional tri-sets (using multiple different limb angles across the 3 exercises).
However, they are a great way to inject variety into your routine and spur greater hypertrophy gains. Remember, a routine is effective to the degree it challenges the body!
Doing the same old, same old routine again and again just won’t cut it if you want to build a pair of eighteen (or more!) inch arms!
Of course uni-angular tri-sets can be performed using incline curls as well.
Bicep Tri-Set #2:
- A1: 30 degree incline dumbbell curl (supinated grip), 3 x 6-10, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: 60 degree incline dumbbell curl (supinated grip), 3 x 6-10, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Standing ez-bar curl (close / supinated grip), 3 x 6-10, 3/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
Again, make sure to read this article if you are having any trouble reading this routine.
This routine absolutely trashes the long head of the biceps! The key reason this routine works so well is that it overloads the long head in two completely different ways.
Let me explain.
There are two ways to increase emphasis on the long head.
One method is to curl with the elbows behind the body (incline curls etc.) The other is to curl with your hands held close together (close grip ez-bar curls etc.).
This routine combines both of these methods into one brutal tri-set. This is a sure-fire way to murder every muscle fiber in the long head of your biceps!
Biceps Tri-Set Routine #3:
- A1: 45 degree incline DB curl (supinated / offset grip), 3-5 x 4-6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Seated zottman curls, 3-5 x 8-10, 3/1/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: DB spider curls (neutral grip), 3-5 x 12-15, 2/0/1/1, 180 seconds rest
Here is a third tri-set routine in case you were hungry for more. Unlike the previous two tri-sets, this one trashes both the long AND the short heads of your biceps in one brutal tri-set!
Are you sure you can handle the pain? For your sake I hope you are! Don’t say I didn’t warn you!!
This routine is unbelievably effective for building big, strong arms. There are three major reasons why this routine works so well.
The first reason is that this routine works more than just the biceps brachii: it thrashes all of the major elbow flexors!
In order to maximally develop the upper arm you have to use exercises that target all of these muscles.
The brachialis is especially neglected in most trainees’ long-term programming.
The great thing about this routine is that all 4 elbow flexors are specifically targeted!
The incline curls target the long head of the biceps; the zottman curls target the spider curls target the brachialis and pronator teres; finally, the preacher spider curls target the brachioradialis and the short head of the biceps.
The second reason is that this routine overloads all parts of the strength curve!
Every muscle group has a unique strength curve that can be divided into three major sections:
- the stretched position
- the mid-range position
- the shortened position
The stretched position refers to when your muscle is fully stretched (i.e. your biceps when your arm is fully straight).
The shortened position refers to when your muscle is fully contracted (i.e. your biceps when your arm is fully flexed).
Finally, the mid-range position refers to when your muscle is in-between these extremes (i.e. your elbow is half-way bent).
For optimal results you want to pick exercises that overload all three parts of the strength curve. This is exactly what our biceps routine does!
The incline curls overload the stretched position, the zottman curls overload the mid-range position, and the spider curls overload the shortened position. How cool is that!?
Finally, this biceps routine utilizes a wide range of rep ranges to make sure we are fatiguing both the fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers.
All in all this is one powerful training routine for building bigger, stronger elbow flexors!
Tip #3: The 1-Arm Eccentric Barbell Preacher Curl Is The Ultimate Plateau Buster!
I saved the best for last!
This really is one of my favourite bicep training tips. In fact, the exercise I am about to share with you is my all-time favourite exercise for targeting the short head of the biceps!
Seriously, nothing else even comes close. The exercise I’m talking about is the eccentric one-arm barbell preacher curl.
No, that was not a typo – my secret exercise is the eccentric 1-arm barbell preacher curl!
I know what some of you are thinking right now: Have you lost your mind? Really? Eccentric 1-arm barbell curls? On a preacher bench??
Yes, I’m 100% serious. Eccentric 1-arm barbell preacher curls are like CT Fletcher: they command you to grow!
But before you dismiss this exercise you should know that many of the world’s top strength coaches regularly use it with their world-class athletes.
For example, here is Josh Bryant taking one of his bodybuilding clients through a eccentric 1-arm barbell preacher curl workout:
If Josh Bryant has his bodybuilding clients doing something then you should probably pay attention!
So what are the benefits of 1-arm eccentric barbell preacher curls?
There are 2 main benefits: it maximally recruits the short-head of the biceps and it takes advantage of accentuated eccentric training to achieve an unbelievable amount of muscular tension and damage.
This is a powerful recipe for strength and size gains in the biceps.
As you already know the short head of the biceps is responsible for flexing the elbow when the elbow is held out in front of the body. Preacher curls are a perfect example of this.
However, the short head has another major function: supinating the forearm.
During one-arm barbell curls the barbell becomes extremely unsteady. You have to constantly fight the barbell from tipping over too far to the left or the right.
The muscles that are responsible for supinating and pronating the forearm are forced to contract isometrically in order to balance out the barbell in your hand.
Now I want you to take a wild guess: what muscle is responsible for isometrically contracting to balance the barbell?
That’s right, the short head of the bicep! The same muscle that is targeted with preacher curls!
This means we are working both the elbow flexion component and the supination component of the short head of the biceps as much as possible.
Of course that is only half the battle. The eccentric loading on this exercise is out of this world!
Of course there is a downside to this type of eccentric loading: it can be very difficult to recover from.
As a general rule of thumb I recommend you hold off on eccentric training methods until you have at least 2 years of solid training experience under your belt.
I don’t want to see you in my physical therapy clinic with an injured biceps tendon because you attempted this exercise before you were ready!
Here is a sample arm routine you may want to try (triceps training included!):
- A1: 1-arm Barbell Eccentric Preacher Curl**, 6-8 x 3, 8/0/X/0, 120 sec rest
- A2: Eccentric V-Bar Dips****, 6-8 x 3, 8/0/X/0, 120 sec rest
** Use your non-working arm to help you complete the concentric range
**** Skip the concentric range by standing on the vertical posts to prop yourself up at the top start position
Again only perform the eccentric portion of this exercise. At the bottom of each rep step back on the platform to return to the stop position.
You could perform some additional “accessory work” for the arms if you felt really motivated.
However, I think it is a better idea for most individuals to stick with just the two exercises and not perform any accessory work.
The eccentric loading from these two exercises will more than make up for the reduced training volume.
If you put your mind to it you can expect some of the best size and strength gains of your life on this simple routine.
In the words of Louie Simmons, “my advice for you is to get to it and good luck.”
You now have three of my all-time favourite best bicep training tips:
- Use the most bang-for-your-buck exercises like preacher curls and incline curls
- Use tri-sets to blast through hypertrophy plateaus
- Use the 1-arm barbell eccentric preacher curls to maximally train the short head of the biceps
I have held nothing back in this article! Don’t get me wrong – I have many more “tricks” up my sleeve to help someone build big, strong arms in record time.
For example, if you are looking for even more killer arm workouts you may want to check out the following articles:
If you want to take your training to the next level then the choice is obvious: hire Dr. Mike Jansen!
I guarantee that I will dramatically increase your rate of progress and help you reach your fitness goals in record time.
I know how important your goals are to you and I will do whatever it takes to help you achieve them.
Always remember: the mind is more important than the body. Where the mind goes, the body will follow.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!
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