Everybody wants a pair of big, strong biceps. The problem is most people don’t know the best ways to train the biceps for size and strength!
- Part 1: Train The Short Head Of The Biceps
- Part 2: Train The Long Head Of The Biceps
- Part 3: Train The Brachialis And The Brachioradialis
- Part 4: Antagonistic Supersets For Big, Strong Arms
- Part 5: Even More Sample Training Routines
In this comprehensive guide I will teach you the best training strategies for building big, strong biceps in record time.
If you want to build big, strong biceps then you must learn how to train four different muscle groups:
All four of these muscle groups respond best to different types of exercises. For example, the long head of the biceps responds better to exercises like incline curls where your elbows are placed behind your body. On the other hand the short head of the biceps responds best to exercises like preacher curls and spider curls where your elbows are held in front of your body.
Finally the brachialis and brachioradialis respond best to exercises where you curl with a neutral or pronated grip. These muscles also respond well to different high-intensity techniques like isometric pauses and accentuated eccentric training.
If you want a pair of biceps that would make Arnold Schwarzenegger jealous then you can’t just pick a few random exercises and train for the pump. You have to be smarter than that!
Note: if you have trouble reading the training routines in this article then check out this guide on how to read a training program. Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: Train The Short Head Of The Biceps!
One of the biggest mistakes that most people make when training their biceps is they never use exercises to isolate the 2 heads of the biceps. Can you imagine a serious bodybuilder or powerlifter not using exercises to target the 3 heads of the triceps? That would be insane!
So why is it so rare for someone to use exercises to target the 2 different heads of the biceps?
The bottom line is your biceps strength and size will shoot through the roof when you start using exercises to really isolate the short and long heads. Let’s start our discussion with the short head of the biceps. The short head is located on the inside of the upper arm.
There are 3 main ways to isolate the short head of the biceps:
- Curl with your elbows in front of your body
- Curl with a wide grip on the barbell or ez-bar
- Curl dumbbells with a supinating grip
One of the most effective ways to isolate the short head of the biceps is to perform curling exercises where your elbows are out in front of your body. The best way to do this is with preacher curls. For example:
The preacher curl is easily the best exercise you can do for isolating the short head of the biceps. The preacher curl is so effective because it fixes your elbows out in front of your body. This helps you to really isolate the short head of the biceps.
The preacher curl has another big advantage: it prevents you from cheating as you curl the weight. Your upper arms are completely fixed against the preacher curl station so you can’t use your shoulders or the rest of your upper body to curl the weight. The only thing you can use is your biceps.
The preacher curl is also a very versatile exercise. You can change the angle of the preacher curl station to overload different points in the strength curve. Here is what a 45 degree preacher curl looks like:
As you can see the upper arms are pointing down towards the ground at a 45 degree angle. This exercise works your biceps very hard in the bottom position of the exercise. It also places the short head of your biceps under a huge loaded stretch.
Another popular variation is the 90 degree preacher curl. For example:
This type of preacher curl is performed with your upper arms pointing straight down towards the ground. Your elbows fixed out in front of your body so this exercise still overloads the short head of your biceps. However, this variation makes your biceps work harder in the top half of the movement. The contraction you get in your biceps at the very top is insane!
Once again the 90 degree preacher curl prevents you from cheating the weight up and forces you to use nothing but the short head of your biceps.
Some of you are probably thinking “if the preacher curl is so effective then why don’t more people use it?” To that I say, “what the hell are you talking about?” The preacher curl has been used by the best bodybuilders in the world for almost 100 years!
In fact the first ever Mr. Olympia winner Larry Scott used the preacher curl station almost exclusively to build his world-famous 20-inch biceps. Larry Scott used preacher curls so much that many strength coaches call this exercise the “Scott curl!”
Here is the exact bicep training routine that Larry used in his prime:
The Larry Scott Arm Workout
- A1: Dumbbell preacher curls (supinated grip), 3-5 x 6-8**, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Ez-bar preacher curls (wide / supinated grip), 3-5 x 6-8**, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Ez-bar preacher curls (wide / pronated grip), 3-5 x 6-8**, 2/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest
**Perform 6-8 full range of motion reps then 4-6 partial reps out of the bottom position.
You can click right here for a perfect video demonstration of this workout.
The preacher curl is one of the best exercises for targeting the short head of the biceps but it isn’t the only good option. Another great choice is the spider curl.
The spider curl is performed with you lying face down on an incline bench with your elbows out in front of your body. For example:
The spider curl works sort of like the preacher curl: it puts your elbows out in front of your body which really isolates the short head of your biceps. The spider curl also does a great job of eliminating momentum and forcing you to use nothing but your biceps to move the weight.
The spider curl is similar to the 90 degree preacher curl in that it overloads the top half of the strength curve. The weight is very easy to move in the bottom position and very hard to move in the top position. If you have ever tried this exercise yourself then you know what I mean!
OK, so far we’ve covered 2 of the best exercises for targeting the short head of your biceps:
- Preacher curls
- Spider curls
These aren’t the only ways to isolate the short head. Another simple strategy is to curl with a wider than shoulder width grip. EMG (electromyography) studies show that the wide grip forces you to recruit more of the short head. For example:
You can also use a wide grip on other exercises like standing barbell curls or even standing cable curls to target the short head. Finally the short head can be targeted with a supinating grip. In other words you would supinate your hand as you curl the weight up.
Here is IFBB pro Ben Pakulski giving a perfect demonstration of the supinating grip preacher dumbbell curl:
The supinating dumbbell preacher curl is an incredible exercise for overloading the short head of the biceps. The short head is 100% responsible for supinating your forearm so this *really* forces your short head to work hard. This is one of the reasons you should include plenty of dumbbell work for your biceps: it’s easier to vary your grip with dumbbells than with ez-curl bars or regular barbells.
There are actually 4 different grips you can use for dumbbell preacher curls:
Each of those links will take you to a sample training video for that exercise. All of these grips are great for training the biceps. In my experience the supinating grip and the offset grip are probably the most effective for training the short head of the biceps.
We already talked about the supinating grip so let’s talk about the offset grip. The offset grip is performed where you hold the dumbbell with your pointer finger touching the inside of the dumbbell. The dumbbell will feel off balance so you have to isometrically supinate the dumbbell on every rep. This is a very underrated training method for targeting the short head.
BONUS: The Eccentric 1-Arm Barbell Curl!
The 1-arm barbell preacher curl is the single best exercise you can do for the short head of your biceps. If you have never performed this exercise then you don’t know what you are missing out on!
The preacher curl obviously recruits the short head of the biceps. However, the fact that you are curling a barbell with one arm forces the short head to work even harder. This is because the short head has to contract isometrically as a forearm supinator to prevent the barbell from tipping over to one side or the other.
If you are not strong enough to curl a 45 pound barbell with one arm then you can perform eccentric-only reps with this exercise. Here is a perfect video demonstration:
If you have a training partner then they can help you lift the weight through the concentric range so you can lower the weight on your own for several reps. If you do not have a training partner then you can use your non-working arm to help lift the barbell from the bottom position to the top position.
This exercise produces some very, very deep muscle soreness. You’ve been warned!
Part 2: Train The Long Head Of The Biceps!
The long head of the biceps is located on the outside of the upper arm. The long head of the biceps is what makes up the “biceps peak” and really makes your biceps pop out when you flex your arm.
The long head of the biceps also plays a critical role in your overall shoulder health. It acts almost like another rotator cuff muscle and helps to keep your shoulder stabilized during all kinds of upper body exercises. If the long head of your biceps is too weak then you will have small arms and unhealthy shoulders – it’s as simple as that!
Larry Wheels and Eddie Hall had to learn this lesson the hard way. They both tore the long head of their biceps in freak training accidents. Here is a video of these two fitness powerhouses discussing their arm injuries:
Don’t get me wrong – I am a HUGE fan of these two strength athletes. I even wrote some of the world’s best guides on their training programs:
The point is they could have avoided tearing the long head of their biceps by training a little smarter.
There are 2 main ways to target the long head of the biceps:
- Curl with your elbows behind your torso
- Curl with a narrow grip on a barbell or ez-curl bar
In my experience the incline dumbbell curl is the best exercise for targeting the long head of the biceps. The incline dumbbell curl works because it places your elbows behind your body while you curl. Here is a perfect video demonstration of this exercise:
The incline dumbbell curl is one of the 2 best bicep exercises you can perform. The other top biceps exercise is the preacher curl. The incline dumbbell curl has many advantages:
- It really isolates the long head of the biceps
- It places the biceps under a huge loaded stretch
- It prevents you from cheating the weight up
In fact EMG research shows that incline curls recruit more muscle fibers in the biceps than other “mass building” exercises like standing barbell curls. According to the Canadian strength coach Charles Poliquin you should be as strong on incline curls as you are on preacher curls.
In other words if you can perform 45 degree preacher dumbbell curls with 30 pound dumbbells for 6 reps then you should be able to do 45 degree incline dumbbell curls with 30 pound dumbbells for 6 reps.
Most people who try this test realize they are FAR weaker on incline curls than preacher curls. This is a sign that you need to spend more time training the long head of your biceps. Or you can ignore this advice and end up like Eddie Hall or Larry Wheels!
One of the things that I really like about the incline dumbbell curl is it is extremely versatile. You can easily change the angle of the incline bench or your type of grip to add variety.
There are 4 major angles that you can use with incline dumbbell curls:
- 30 degree incline DB curl
- 45 degree incline DB curl
- 60 degree incline DB curl
- 75 degree incline DB curl
You can click on the links above for a perfect video demonstration of each exercise. The steeper the angle the more you will recruit the long head of the biceps. In other words the 30 degree incline dumbbell curl targets the long head harder than the 75 degree incline dumbbell curl.
The 30 degree incline will also place your biceps under a much deeper stretch. However, all of these angles work the long head really hard and they all deserve a place in your bicep workouts.
There are also 4 grips you can use during incline curls:
Once again you can click on the links above for video demonstrations of each exercise. The supinated grip will target the long head of the biceps the most but all of these grips have their place in your training program.
Incline dumbbell curls have 4 different angles and 4 different grips you can choose from. This means that you have (4 angles) x (4 grips) = 16 different variations of incline dumbbell curls that you can choose from! Talk about a versatile exercise!
There are actually a couple more ways to use incline curls in your training program. One way is to use special kettlebells that are designed for bicep curls. Here is a perfect video demonstration by the strength coach Wolfgang Unsoeld:
This variation of the incline dumbbell curl recruits the long head of the biceps even more! The kettlebell swings while you curl the weight which forces you to recruit more muscle fibers to stabilize the weight. The center of mass of this exercise is also below the handles which gives the exercise a completely different feel.
Another great incline curl variation that you can perform in a regular commercial gym is the incline cable curl. For example:
This exercise does an awesome job of overloading the long head of the biceps. Your biceps have to work very hard in the fully contracted position on this exercise. It works awesome for establishing a strong mind-muscle connection with your biceps.
Besides incline curls you can also use narrow-grip curls to target the long head of your biceps. Here is an example of the narrow-grip ez-bar curl:
EMG (electromyography) research has shown that narrow grip curls are awesome for overloading the long head. The narrow grip does not truly “isolate” the long head but it does shift the emphasis onto this muscle and away from the short head.
Here is a training routine that Charles Poliquin wrote for bringing up the long head of your biceps. It features 2 different types of incline curls and narrow-grip ez-bar curls to overload the long head in as many different ways as possible. Check it out:
Charles Poliquin Long Head Biceps Tri-Set Routine
- A1: 30 degree incline DB curl (supinated grip), 3-5 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: 60 degree incline DB curl (supinated grip), 3-5 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Standing ez-bar curl (narrow / supinated grip), 3-5 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 3 minutes rest
For this routine the three exercises are performed as part of a tri-set. You perform the first exercise, rest 10 seconds, perform the second exercise, rest 10 seconds, perform the third exercise, rest 3 minutes and repeat the whole circuit all over again. This is very similar to the Larry Scott arm workout covered earlier in this article.
If you have never performed any exercises targeting the long head of your biceps then I highly recommend you give this routine a shot. Once again you can expect some deep muscle soreness from this routine!
Part 3: Train The Brachialis And The Brachioradialis!
The brachialis and the brachioradialis are two of the most important muscles in the upper arm. The brachialis is located underneath the biceps muscle and really makes the biceps “pop” when fully developed. On the other hand the brachioradialis is the largest muscle in your forearm.
The brachioradialis sits on top of the forearm when you curl with a neutral or hammer grip. If you want to build big, strong arms then you MUST use exercise to target both of these muscle groups.
There are two main ways to target the brachialis and brachioradialis:
- Curl with a neutral or “hammer” grip
- Curl with a pronated or “palms-facing-down” grip
The neutral grip will target more of the brachioradialis while the pronated grip will target more of the brachialis. However, both muscles will be targeted with either grip.
The strength coach Charles Poliquin believes that most trainees have a very weak brachialis muscle. He says that your brachialis strength should be about 82% of your biceps strength. In other words if you can curl 100 pounds for 8 reps with a supinated grip then you should be able to curl 82 pounds for 8 reps with a pronated grip.
Most trainees are nowhere near reaching this strength ratio. In fact many trainees will struggle to reverse curl 50% of what they can curl with a regular grip!
In my experience the zottman curl is the single best exercise for strengthening the brachialis muscle. It’s not even close! The zottman curl is a special exercise where you curl a dumbbell up with a supinated grip and lower the weight down with a pronated grip. You just rotate your hand in the top or bottom position of the exercise to change grips. Here is a perfect demonstration of the seated zottman curl:
As you can see the athlete lifts the dumbbells up with a pronated grip and lowers them down with a pronated grip. Why on Earth would he do this?
As you may know you are much stronger when you curl with a supinated grip than a pronated grip. Using a supinated grip during the concentric range lets you use a heavier than normal dumbbell when you lower the weight down with a pronated grip.
In other words the zottman curl lets you eccentrically overload your brachialis and brachioradialis muscles! This is great news because these muscles have a TON of fast-twitch muscle tissue and respond really well to eccentric loading.
In my experience the 1-arm preacher zottman curl is even more effective. For example:
The preacher bench really isolates your upper arm muscles and prevents you from cheating the weight up. Most people can use slightly more weight with the preacher zottman curl than they can the regular zottman curl.
Actually there is one more way to make this exercise even more effective: you hold the dumbbell with an offset grip. Your goal is to have your pinky finger touch the inside of the dumbbell the whole time. This will make your brachialis and brachioradialis work MUCH harder on the lowering phase of the exercise. Just try it yourself if you don’t believe me!
Of course there are many other exercises that you can perform for the brachialis and brachioradialis. Here are some great examples:
- Neutral or pronated grip dumbbell curls
- Pronated grip ez-bar curls
- Neutral grip cable curls
- Hammer grip rope cable curls
You can even combine some of these exercises variations with incline curls or preacher curls to really isolate the brachialis and brachioradialis. For example you could perform pronated grip preacher ez-bar curls or neutral grip incline dumbbell curls.
Here is a simple high-volume brachialis / brachioradialis workout that you may want to try. Check it out:
High Volume Brachialis Workout
- A1: Unilateral preacher zottman curl, 3-4 x 7-9, 3/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest
- B1: Standing ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 3-4 x 7-9, 2/0/2/0, 2 minutes rest
- C1: Unilateral cable curl (pronated grip), 3-4 x 7-9, 3/0/2/0, 2 minutes rest
The brachialis and brachioradialis have a large percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers. This means that you should perform no more than 4-8 reps per set when you are training for hypertrophy. When you are training for strength you can go as low as 1-5 reps per set.
Part 4: Antagonistic Supersets For Big, Strong Arms
Antagonistic supersets are the ultimate training method for building big, strong arms. They work extremely well for training the biceps and the triceps. The basic idea is to alternate between sets for opposing muscle groups.
For example you could perform a set of bicep curls, rest 1-2 minutes, perform a set of lying triceps extensions, rest 1-2 minutes and perform another set of bicep curls. Antagonistic supersets are a favorite technique of Arnold Schwarzenegger and many other famous bodybuilders and strength coaches.
Antagonistic supersets have many advantages over regular “straight sets”:
- They help you recruit more muscle fibers in the target muscles
- They improve your muscular endurance throughout the workout
- They increase the “training density” of your workout
In other words antagonistic supersets make you stronger, improve your endurance and help you perform more total sets in the same amount of time. Talk about a powerful training method!
In my experience antagonistic supersets work especially well for training the biceps and the triceps. This method gives you an unbelievable pump in your upper arms because the blood flow never really leaves your biceps or triceps.
Here is a really simple antagonistic superset arm workout that you may want to try. Check it out:
Antagonistic Superset Bicep / Tricep Workout
- A1: 90 degree preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 4-5 x 5-7, 4/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- A2: V-bar dips (upright torso), 4-5 x 5-7, 4/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- B1: 45 degree incline DB curl (supinating grip), 4-5 x 5-7, 4/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- B2: JM press, 4-5 x 5-7, 4/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- C1: Unilateral cable curl (reverse grip), 3-4 x 5-7, 4/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- C2: Decline DB extension, 3-4 x 5-7, 4/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
This type of workout works great during an intensification phase where you are trying to get stronger and increase the size of your fast-twitch muscle fibers.
You are only resting 90 seconds between exercises but because you are using antagonistic supersets you have more like 3-4 minutes between sets of bicep curls. This means you will be able to lift a TON of weight on each set!
If you are more interested in training for all-out size gains then you may want to use antagonistic supersets with very short rest intervals. Check out the following routine:
Escalating Density Training Bicep / Tricep Routine
Perform the following superset for minutes 0-30:
- A1: Seated DB hammer curls, sets of 4, 3/0/1/0, no rest
- A2: Lying DB extension, sets of 4, 3/0/1/0, no rest
Perform the following superset for minutes 31-45:
- B1: Incline cable curls, sets of 8, 2/0/1/0, no rest
- B2: Hammer strength dips, sets of 8, 2/0/1/0, no rest
Perform the following superset for minutes 46-60:
- C1: Standing ez-bar curls (wide / supinated grip), sets of 12, 1/0/1/0, no rest
- C2: Overhead cable rope extensions (high-pulley), sets of 12, 1/0/1/0, no rest
This workout is divided into three separate phases. You perform the “A” exercises for minutes 0-30, the “B” exercises for minutes 31-45 and the “C” exercises for minutes 46-60. Your job is to perform these antagonistic supersets with no rest between sets.
For example you perform your 1st set for exercise A1, then immediately perform your 1st set for exercise A2, then immediately perform your 2nd set for exercise A1 and so on.
Alternating back and forth between bicep and tricep exercises produces an UNBELIEVABLE pump in your arms! It’s something you have to try for yourselves. The trick is to be conservative with your weights the first time you perform this workout. I recommend you pick a weight you can get about 10 times for your “A” exercises, 20 times for your “B” exercises and 30 times for your “C” exercises.
Your goal is to use the same weight for all of your sets. Each time you perform this workout your goal is to perform more sets with the same weight in the 15- or 30-minute time period. This routine will get your biceps growing very fast!
Another AWESOME strategy for building bigger arms is to combine antagonistic supersets and giant sets. I call this new training method “antagonistic giant sets.” Here is what an antagonistic giant set for the arms might look like:
- Perform biceps exercise #1, rest 10 seconds
- Perform triceps exercise #1, rest 10 seconds
- Perform biceps exercise #2, rest 10 seconds
- Perform triceps exercise #2, rest 1-3 minutes, repeat!
Antagonistic giant sets combine all of the benefits of antagonistic supersets and all the benefits of giant sets training. You get to perform a large number of exercises in a row to create a massive amount of fatigue in your upper arms. However, because you are alternating between sets for biceps and triceps your muscular endurance is WAY better and you can lift a good amount of weight on each exercise.
John Meadows Antagonistic Giant Set Arm Workout
- A1: Dual rope tricep pushdown, 4 x 8-12, 1/0/1/0, no rest
- A2: Standing DB curl (supinating grip), 4 x 8-12, 1/0/1/0, no rest
- A3: Overhead rope cable triceps extension (high pulley), 4 x 8-12, 1/0/1/0, no rest
- A4: Seated DB hammer curl, 4 x 8-12, 1/0/1/0, no rest
- B1: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 4 x 8-12, 1/0/1/0, no rest
- B2: Lying kettlebell triceps extension, 4 x 8-12, 1/0/1/0, no rest
- B3: Standing ez-bar cable curl (wide / pronated grip), 4 x 8-12, 1/0/1/0, no rest
- B4: 30 degree incline DB extension, 4 x 8-12, 1/0/1/0, no rest
Here is the training video for this workout:
This workout features 2 different antagonistic giant sets for the arms. This is an extremely effective way to train for muscular hypertrophy in the biceps and the triceps. If you have never performed this type of workout then you don’t know what you’re missing!
The bottom line is antagonistic supersets are probably the most effective training method for building big, strong biceps. I highly recommend you give them a shot in your next bicep routine.
Part 5: Even More Sample Training Routines!
This guide is all about teaching you how to build bigger, stronger biceps. With that in mind let’s look at some of the best bicep training routines ever invented! If your goal is to build muscular hypertrophy then one of the best training methods you can use is good-old-fashioned supersets.
A superset is a training method where you perform 2 exercises in a row with 10 seconds rest in between sets. Here is what a superset looks like for the biceps:
- Perform exercise #1, rest 10 seconds
- Perform exercise #2, rest 1-3 minutes, repeat!
One of the best ways to design a biceps hypertrophy workout is to perform 3 different supersets: one for the short head of the biceps, one for the long head of the biceps and one for the brachialis. This lets you absolutely trash all of the curling muscles in one simple workout. Check it out:
The Ultimate Biceps Superset Workout
- A1: Preacher 2-arm dumbbell curl (supinated grip), 3 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3 x 10-12, 2/0/2/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Seated zottman curl, 3 x 10-12, 4/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- B2: Standing ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 3 x 10-12, 2/0/2/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: 45 degree incline DB curl (supinated grip), 3 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- C2: 60 degree incline cable curl, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/2/0, 120 seconds rest
One of the great things about this type of superset workout is you can perform it in any commercial gym. For example you only need a preacher curl station for the “A” exercises. Another great hypertrophy training method is called “tri-sets.”
The basic idea is to perform 3 exercises in a row for one muscle group with 10 seconds rest in between exercises. For example:
- Perform exercise #1, rest 10 seconds
- Perform exercise #2, rest 10 seconds
- Perform exercise #3, rest 2-3 minutes, repeat!
Tri-sets are so effective because they prolong the total time under tension of your set. If your sets normally take 40 seconds to complete then a tri-set will take you a whole 2 minutes to complete! That massive time under tension creates a powerful stimulus for growth in your biceps.
There are a couple of different ways you can design a biceps tri-set workout. The first way is to use 3 similar exercises. For example Larry Scott used to perform tri-sets on the preacher curl station to overload the short head of his biceps.
Another great strategy is to perform 3 completely different exercises as part of a tri-set. For example you could perform 1 exercise for the long head of your biceps, 1 exercise for the short head of your biceps and 1 exercise for your brachialis / brachioradialis. Check it out:
Biceps Tri-set Routine
- A1: 45 degree incline DB curls (supinated grip), 3-5 x 8-10, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Standing ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 3-5 x 8-10, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: 45 degree ez-bar spider curl (wide / supinated grip), 3-5 x 8-10, 2/0/1/0, 2-3 minutes rest
Here is a perfect training video for this workout:
This bodybuilder does an AWESOME job of maintaining perfect form on each exercise. I highly recommend you watch this video to get a better idea of how this workout looks.
If you are interested in building size and strength at the same time then one of the best training methods is eccentric training. The basic idea is to use techniques that let you overload the lowering phase of your exercises.
Eccentric training is one of the few training methods that builds lots of muscle mass AND strength all at the same time. One of the best eccentric training methods is called the 12+3 method. Here’s how it works: first you perform 12 regular repetitions on an exercise. Then you INCREASE the weight by 5-10% and perform 3 eccentric-only repetitions.
In other words the 12+3 method uses 12 regular reps plus 3 eccentric-only reps.
The biceps are one of the easiest muscle groups to use the 12+3 method with. For example you could perform 12 reps of reverse curls, increase the weight and then perform power cleans to skip the concentric range on your 3 eccentric-only reps.
Here is a sample 12+3 workout that you may want to try. Check it out:
12+3 Biceps Workout
- A1: Standing ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 3 x 12**, 3/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest
- B1: 45 degree incline DB curl (hammer grip), 3 x 12**, 3/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest
- C1: Standing unilateral cable curl (supinated grip), 3 x 12**, 3/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest
**Use the 12+3 method on your 3rd set for each exercise. Use a 5/0/1/0 tempo (5-second lowering phase) for the extra eccentric-only reps.
For this workout I recommend you use the 12+3 method on your last set for each exercise. If you try to do it on every single set then you will probably overtrain your biceps. Remember, the 12+3 method is a very powerful training tool. The eccentric-only reps will help you build a ton of size and strength in your biceps.
Of course this 12+3 routine was more geared towards size gains than strength gains. If you are looking for more of a strength-focused powerbuilding workout then the 4+2 method has your name written all over it!
The 4+2 method is another eccentric training method that was popularized by Charles Poliquin. The basic idea is to perform 4 reps on an exercise, then increase the weight by 5-20% and perform 2 eccentric-only reps.
This method works unbelievably well for building maximal strength AND functional hypertrophy. In fact Charles Poliquin calls the 4+2 method his all-time favorite training method for building fast-twitch muscle tissue.
Here is a sample 4+2 arm workout you may want to try. Check it out:
4+2 Biceps Workout
- A1: Preacher DB curl (hammer grip), 3-5 x 4**, 4/0/1/0, 4 minutes rest
- B1: Incline cable curl, 3-4 x 6-8, 2/0/2/0, 2 minutes rest
**Performed as the 4+2 method. Perform 4 regular reps, then increase the weight by 5-20% and perform 2 eccentric-only reps with an 8/0/1/0 tempo (8-second lowering phase).
Performing the 4+2 method on preacher DB curls is very easy. For the first eccentric-only rep you just hoist the dumbbell up to the top position and then lower it down over 8 seconds. For the second eccentric-only rep you use your non-working arm to help hoist the weight up and then you lower the weight down over 8 seconds.
It is absolutely CRITICAL that you perform these eccentric-only reps with an 8 second lowering phase. The dumbbell should move at the exact same speed throughout the entire range of motion. If it starts to speed up then swap the dumbbell out for a lighter one. If you go too heavy on the eccentric-only reps then you are setting yourself up for injury.
OK, we’ve talked about some of the best bodybuilding and powerbuilding bicep workouts including supersets, tri-sets and accentuated eccentric training. Now let’s talk about how to train the biceps for pure strength gains.
One of the best training methods for this goal is Poliquin cluster sets. Poliquin cluster sets is a training method where you perform 5 sets of 5 reps on an exercise with 10-20 seconds rest in between each rep. For example:
- Perform your 1st rep, rest 10 seconds
- Perform your 2nd rep, rest 10 seconds
- Perform your 3rd rep, rest 10 seconds
- Perform your 4th rep, rest 10 seconds
- Perform your 5th rep, rest 2-4 minutes, repeat!
The real magic of cluster sets is the short rest periods between sets. These short rest periods let your muscles partially recover so you can use a very heavy weight and still get your 5 reps in. In fact most people can get 5 reps with their 3 rep max using cluster sets! This translates into rapid strength gains for your biceps and any other muscle group.
Here is a sample cluster sets bicep routine you may want to try. Check it out:
Cluster Sets Bicep Routine
- A1: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / supinated grip), 5 x 5**, 2/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest
- A2: Bench press against chains (shoulder-width grip), 5 x 5**, 2/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest
- B1: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 1 minute rest
- B2: Unilateral DB french press, 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 1 minute rest
Here is a great training video of cluster sets on the preacher curl:
There are a ton of different routines you can use to build stronger biceps but cluster sets is one of your best bets. I highly recommend you give this routine a shot!
Training the biceps for size and strength doesn’t have to be rocket science! The most important factor in building big biceps is picking the right exercises and executing them with perfect form.
It’s also important to use neutral-grip and pronated-grip curls to target the brachioradialis and brachialis muscles. In my opinion the zottman curl is the absolute king of exercises for the brachialis and brachioradialis but any type of pronated or reverse curls will get the job done.
If you are already using the right exercises then using advanced training methods like antagonistic supersets, tri-sets and eccentric training can help you build size and strength gains even faster. Remember, even the best bicep routine will only work for a little while. You have to change your workouts over time to keep making progress!
In this guide I gave you more than 10 awesome bicep training routines so that should keep you busy for a while. So what are you waiting for? Get back in the gym and turn those biceps into mountain peaks!
“The last three or four reps is what makes the muscle grow. This area of pain divides the champion from someone else who is not a champion. That’s what most people lack, having the guts to go on and just say they’ll go through the pain no matter what happens.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!
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