The brachialis is easily one of the most under trained and underdeveloped muscle groups. That is a shame because a weak brachialis muscle will impair your overall shoulder health and limit your progress on all of the other upper body lifts.
If you want to maximize your upper body strength and size gains then you have to start training your brachialis like you mean it!
- Part 1: 10 x 3
- Part 2: Rest-Pause
- Part 3: Supra-Maximal Eccentric Training
- Part 4: 3/1/1 Drop Sets
- Part 5: 5 x 5
- Part 6: Patient Lifter’s Method
- Part 7: 1/6 Contrast Sets
- Part 8: 4+2 Method
- Part 9: Mechanical Advantage Drop Set
- Part 10: Cluster Sets
- Part 11: Wave Loading
- Part 12: Modified Hepburn Method
- Part 13: Origin-Insertion Supersets
In this comprehensive guide I am going to teach you 13 of the most effective workouts for rapidly boosting the strength of your brachialis.
The brachialis is one of the upper arm muscles that flexes the elbow. It is located underneath the biceps brachii muscle and looks like a golf ball sitting on the side of your upper arm when fully developed.
For example here is a great picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s brachialis muscle:
It is the muscle circled in red.
The brachialis is a fast-twitch muscle group that responds extremely well to low repetitions performed with heavy weights. Some of the best brachialis training methods include cluster sets, rest-pause sets and accentuated eccentric training.
Fortunately for you the brachialis responds very quickly if you train it correctly. You can expect your reverse curling strength to absolutely explode on any one of these routines!
The brachialis is recruited during almost any type of curling exercise. This includes the following grips during curling exercises:
- Pronated (overhand) grip
- Supinated (underhand) grip
- Neutral (hammer) grip
For this reason the brachialis has earned the nickname the “workhorse of elbow flexion.” If you are flexing the elbow then the brachialis is working! However, the best grip for targeting the brachialis is definitely the pronated or overhand grip.
Here are some great examples of pronated grip curling exercises that you can use to target the brachialis:
Brachialis Exercise #1: Pronated Grip Ez-Bar Curls
Brachialis Exercise #1: Pronated Grip Cable Curls
Brachialis Exercise #1: Zottman Curls
Many trainees avoid reverse curling exercises because they are very weak on them. This is a mistake! A weak brachialis is actually one of the most common causes of poor upper body structural balance.
If your brachialis is too weak relative to your biceps brachii it will reduce your overall shoulder health and limit your progress on the other major upper body lifts.
The world’s greatest strength coach Charles Poliquin discovered that your brachialis strength should be 82% of your biceps brachii strength. In other words if you can perform supinated grip curls with 100 pounds for 8 reps then you should be able to perform pronated grip curls with 82 pounds for 8 reps.
This is a very simple test you can use to assess your brachialis strength. Most of you reading this will be nowhere near reaching this strength ratio.
Please note that all of these routines are written with all of the loading parameters clearly defined. If you have any trouble reading these routines then please consult this article. Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: 10 x 3
One of the simplest set and rep schemes that you can use to strengthen the brachialis is the 10 x 3 method. The idea is simple: you are going to perform ten sets of three reps on one exercise for the brachialis.
This training method is a favourite of some of the world’s best strength coaches such as Chad Waterbury and Josh Bryant. The large volume of triples does more than just stimulate rapid strength gains: it is also great for increasing the size of your fast-twitch muscle fibers.
Here is a sample arm training routine you may want to try. Check it out:
10 x 3 Arm Routine
- A1: Unilateral preacher zottman curl, 10 x 3, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Close grip bench press, 10 x 3, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Seated DB hammer curls, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: Standing cable overhead rope triceps extension, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
If you are paying close attention you may have noticed that this routine calls for you to perform antagonistic supersets. For example let’s look at the A1 and A2 exercises:
- A1: Unilateral preacher zottman curl, 10 x 3, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Close grip bench press, 10 x 3, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
For this routine you are supposed to perform the A1 exercise, rest 2 minutes, perform the A2 exercise, rest 2 minutes, and then perform the A1 exercise again etc. This is called an antagonistic superset because you are training the elbow flexors and the triceps in alternating fashion.
Antagonistic supersets were originally popularized by Charles Poliquin. They have many advantages over regular straight sets:
- They allow you to recruit more motor units in the working muscles
- They improve your muscular endurance throughout the workout
- They allow you to double the amount of work you perform in a given amount of time
In other words antagonistic supersets increase your strength and muscular endurance while saving you time. Talk about an effective way to train!
In my experience antagonistic supersets work especially well when training the elbow flexors and triceps together. Many accomplished bodybuilding coaches such as John Meadows would agree with that statement.
This does not mean that it is a bad idea to perform all of your sets of preacher curls in a row, and then all of your sets of bench presses in a row etc. However, all other things being equal you will get better results if you can perform your sets in antagonistic superset fashion. This is especially true when utilizing the 10 x 3 method.
Part 2: Rest-pause
Rest-pause sets are by far one of the most effective ways to train for strength gains. This may come as a surprise to many of you. After all, the rest-pause method was originally invented to help bodybuilders pack on muscle mass as quickly as possible.
But there are just too many trainees who have turned themselves into literal human forklifts using almost nothing but rest-pause sets.
The procedure for performing a rest-pause set is as follows:
- Train to failure in the 7-10 rep range. Then put the weight down and rest while taking 10-15 deep breaths.
- Train to failure again using the same weight. Then put the weight down and rest while taking 10-15 deep breaths.
- Train to failure a third time. Done!
Essentially you are picking a weight and training to failure three times in a row with very short rest breaks in between each attempt. The three separate attempts count as one rest-pause set.
The rest-pause method is extremely taxing on the central nervous system. Most of the time you only perform one of these high-intensity sets per muscle group. Of course it may be acceptable to perform 2 rest-pause sets for your brachialis in a single workout if it is really lagging behind.
Here is a sample back and elbow flexors workout that you may want to try. Check it out:
Back And Elbow Flexors Rest-Pause Workout
- A1: Rack chins, 1 x 7-10**, 3/2/X/0, rest as needed
- B1: T-bar row, 2 x 8-12, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
- C1: Standing ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 1 x 7-10**, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
- D1: Cable unilateral reverse curl, 1 x 7-10**, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
**Performed as a DC-style rest-pause set.
If you are used to performing higher-volume workouts then this workout may puzzle you. After all, you are only performing 1-2 sets per exercise! The key to making this type of low-volume strength workout work for you is to take all of your sets to technical failure.
If you are a true knucklehead who loves nothing more than pushing yourself to your limit on every set then this DC-style workout will work awesome for you. On the other hand if you like to patiently and methodically grind out your sets then you may quickly burn out on this routine.
Don’t worry, there are plenty of other brachialis routines in this article that should pique your interest.
Part 3: Supra-Maximal Eccentric Training
Accentuated eccentric training is probably one of the best ways to train for strength gains. This is particularly true when it comes to training a fast-twitch muscle such as the brachialis.
As you may already know there are three different types of muscular contractions:
- Concentric muscular contractions
- Isometric muscular contractions
- Eccentric muscular contractions
Eccentric contractions occur when you are lowering a weight under control. In other words they occur when your muscles are being lengthened while contracting. The scientific research has shown that the lowering phase of an exercise actually stimulates more size and strength gains than the lifting phase.
This is one of the reasons why it is so important to lower your weights under control. If you just drop your weights back down after fighting so hard to lift them then you are actually wasting the most productive part of the exercise!
Accentuated eccentric training involves overloading the lowering phase of your exercises to stimulate crazy-fast strength gains. Fortunately there are many easy ways to perform accentuated eccentric training for the brachialis muscle.
One method involves eccentrically overloading your brachialis with reverse ez-bar curls. You take a heavier-than-normal weight and power clean it up to the top position. Then on the way down you slowly lower the weight over 8 seconds.
In other words you are performing multiple eccentric-only reps with a weight that is heavier than your 1-rep max!
This is an unbelievably powerful stimulus for strength gains. Here is another complete arm routine that you may want to try. Check it out:
Accentuated Eccentric Arm Routine
- A1: Eccentric-only standing ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip)**, 5 x 4-6, 8/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: V-bar dips (upright torso), 5 x 4-6, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: 30 degree incline DB curl (hammer grip), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: Decline DB tricep extension, 3 x 6-8, 2/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
One of the challenges with accentuated eccentric training routines is that they can be very difficult to recover from.
The scientific literature has shown that it is the lowering phase of an exercise that causes the most muscular damage. The lowering phase is also much harder on your central nervous system.
If you are going to perform accentuated eccentric training to bring up your brachialis strength then you have to pay attention to your recovery from your workouts.
If you find that you are having a hard time recovering from one workout to the next then you may want to reduce your training frequency or the number of sets you perform in your workout.
Part 4: 3/1/1 Drop Sets
Drop sets are another fantastic training method for boosting brachialis strength. Most people believe that drop sets are exclusively used for increasing muscular hypertrophy.
It is true that drop sets are fantastic for increasing muscular size. However, they can also work awesome for boosting maximal strength if you perform them with relatively lower rep ranges.
One of the most effective drop set protocols for boosting brachialis strength is the 3/1/1 drop set. The idea is very simple:
- Perform a 3-rep max on an exercise. After your third rep you rack the weight and strip 3-5% off of the bar. Then rest 10 seconds.
- Perform 1 extra rep with the new lighter weight. After the single rep you rack the weight and strip 3-5% off of the bar. Then rest 10 seconds.
- Perform 1 extra rep with the new lighter weight. Done!
The 3/1/1 drop set method can be thought of as a post-failure training method. You are NOT actually training to failure during your initial set of three reps or on any of the reps for that matter. However, the third rep should be an all-out effort performed just shy of failure.
This maximal triple is sufficient to activate nearly all of the available motor units in your muscles. The subsequent single repetitions force your body to tap into even more of the high-threshold motor units and further exhaust the already recruited muscle fibers.
The 3/1/1 drop set is particularly useful for bodybuilders who want to perform a strength-focused workout losing any of their hard-earned muscle tissue. Here is a sample upper body 3/1/1 drop set workout that you can use to bring up your brachialis strength.
Check it out:
3/1/1 Upper Body Workout
- A1: Narrow pronated grip pull ups, 3 x 3/1/1, 5/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: 30 degree incline bench press (medium grip), 3 x 3/1/1, 5/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Seated cable rope face pulls, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest
- B2: Flat DB press, 3 x 6-8, 2/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- C1: 60 degree incline zottman curl, 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- C2: Dead stop DB triceps extension, 3 x 6-8, 2/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
If you are going to perform this routine then I HIGHLY recommend you have a training spotter to assist you with the incline bench presses. The spotter is simply invaluable for helping you to quickly strip some weight off the bar and for giving you the confidence you need to go all-out on each attempt.
If you do not have a reliable spotter available then you may want to substitute the incline bench press out in favor of some other exercise. A standing military press or behind the neck press would be an excellent option here.
Part 5: 5 x 5
The 5 x 5 set / rep scheme is one of the oldest and most reliable ways to train for strength. Many classic training programs such as the Madcow 5 x 5 program, Bill Star’s 5 x 5 program and the Texas Method all use five sets of five reps on the big compound lifts.
There is a reason so many programs rely on this training scheme: it works! The reps are low enough to stimulate powerful adaptations within the central nervous system but high enough to preserve and even build muscular hypertrophy.
In my experience one of the best ways to design a 5 x 5 workout is to use the same set / rep scheme on two different exercises per body part. In other words you use the 5 x 5 scheme for one exercise in the first half of the workout and again for a second exercise in the second half of the workout.
Here is a sample arm workout that you may want to try to boost your brachialis strength. Check it out:
5 x 5 Arm Workout
- A1: Standing ez-bar curl (narrow / pronated grip), 5 x 5, 2/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- A2: Standing behind the neck press (shoulder width grip), 5 x 5, 2/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- B1: 45 degree incline DB curl (hammer grip), 5 x 5, 3/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- B2: Unilateral DB french press, 5 x 5, 3/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
This type of routine format works so well because your body has a very clear message on what it needs to get better at. You want your body to get better at busting out sets of 5 and nothing else!
Sometimes trainees try to do too many things in a single workout. They perform low, medium and high reps all in the same workout or during a single training week and then wonder why they are not making progress.
Of course this style of training does work well for many trainees. One only has to look at the success of Louie Simmons and the Westside Barbell powerlifting club to see how strong you can get from training many different rep ranges in a single workout.
However, some trainees really do need to focus on a more narrow range of repetitions in a single workout or block of training to make optimal progress. Actually this is the basis of the accumulation / intensification periodization model as popularized by Charles Poliquin and others.
The bottom line is the 5 x 5 loading scheme is a battle-tested way to boost the strength of your brachialis or any other body part. If you are not sure where to start I strongly recommend you give this arm workout a shot.
Part 7: 1/6 Contrast Sets
The 1/6 contrast method is probably one of my favourite training methods to use with my online coaching clients. It is right up there with cluster sets, wave loading and accentuated eccentric training as one of my go-to training methods to rapidly boost strength.
The basic idea behind this training method is you are going to perform sets of 1 and 6 reps in an alternating fashion. For example:
- Set #1: Perform 1 rep, rest 2-4 minutes
- Set #2: Perform 6 rep, rest 2-4 minutes
- Set #3: Perform 1 rep, rest 2-4 minutes
- Set #4: Perform 6 rep, rest 2-4 minutes
- Set #5: Perform 1 rep, rest 2-4 minutes
- Set #6: Perform 6 rep, rest 2-4 minutes
The 1/6 contrast method works based on the principle of post-tetanic potentiation. This is just a fancy way of saying that the contrasting rep ranges help to excite your central nervous system so that you can more effectively recruit the high-threshold motor units.
It is well established that you are recruiting all available muscle fibers when you perform a maximal single repetition.
When you reduce the weight and perform your 6-rep set your body is still fully prepared to perform an all-out single. This means that your body will achieve maximal motor unit recruitment during your 6-rep set!
In other words the 6-rep set will feel extremely light. You may even be able to use a heavier than normal weight. This nervous system trick is repeated for the rest of your sets.
Here is a sample arm workout emphasizing the brachialis that you may want to try. Check it out:
1/6 Contrast Method Arm Workout
- A1: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 6 x 1/6, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Decline close grip bench press, 6 x 1/6, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Preacher DB curl (hammer grip), 4 x 6-8, 3/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: Dead stop skull crusher, 4 x 6-8, 2/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
If you have never utilized this system before then you are in for a big surprise.
We know from the scientific literature that building strength is all about teaching your body to more effectively recruit the high-threshold motor units. These are the fast-twitch muscle fibers that are only activated when you train with very heavy loads.
The 1/6 method is one such way to teach your body to tap into these “dormant” muscle fibers. If you are a relatively advanced lifter and respond well to lower rep training protocols then I strongly recommend you give the 1/6 method a shot.
Part 8: The 4+2 Method
I first learned about the 4+2 method from the ever-creative strength coach Charles Poliquin. The 4+2 method is another form of accentuated eccentric training. In a way it is actually similar to forced reps as popularized by Dorian Yates.
The procedure for performing a 4+2 set is as follows:
- Perform 4 reps with your 4-rep max. According to Charles your spleen should come out through your left eye on the 4th rep. Your left eye, not the right!
- After your 4th rep you INCREASE the weight on the bar by 5-20% and perform 2 eccentric-only repetitions with the heavier weight. You should lower the weight over 8-10 seconds on these eccentric-only reps.
- That’s it!
So you are performing 4 reps, then increasing the weight and performing 2 eccentric only reps with the heavier weight.
This method is absolutely brutal. First you are exhausting your concentric strength levels by performing a 4-rep max. Then you exhaust your eccentric strength levels by performing 2 eccentric-only reps.
This act of overloading both your concentric and eccentric strength in a single set creates an absolutely horrible amount of muscular damage. It also creates a potent stimulus in your central nervous system. This is a recipe for screaming fast strength gains.
The 4+2 method is often difficult to perform without 1-2 well-trained spotters. Fortunately for us you can perform the 4+2 method on your own when it comes to training the brachialis.
One easy way to do this is with unilateral DB preacher curls. You simply perform 4 reps with a pronated grip on the preacher bench. After your 4th rep you swap out your dumbbell for a heavier one and perform 2 eccentric-only reps. In the bottom position of the exercise you can use your non-working hand to help you lift the dumbbell back up to the starting position.
Here is a sample arm workout that you may want to try. Check it out:
Arm 4+2 Workout
- A1: Unilateral DB preacher curl (pronated grip), 3 x 4+2**, 4/0/X/0****, 180 seconds rest
- B1: V-bar dips (upright torso), 3 x 4+2**, 4/0/X/0****, 180 seconds rest
- C1: 45 degree incline DB curl (hammer grip), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- D1: 30 degree incline DB extension, 3 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
**Performed as the 4+2 method as described above.
****Use a 4/0/X/0 tempo for the first 4 reps, then use an 8/0/X/0 tempo for the 2 eccentric-only reps.
You can click here for a good video for the primary brachialis exercise in this routine: the unilateral DB preacher curl.
The 4+2 method was one of Charles Poliquin’s favourite training routines. In fact he considered it to be the single best training method you could use for boosting functional hypertrophy, or hypertrophy specific to the fast-twitch muscle fibers. Of course it is also a phenomenal way to train for strength gains.
The 4+2 method is just a phenomenal way to train a fast-twitch muscle such as the brachialis. You can’t go wrong with this training method!
Part 9: Mechanical Advantage Drop Set
Mechanical advantage drop sets are probably one of my favourite high-intensity bodybuilding training methods. Some of my online coaching clients have gotten their best size gains using mechanical drop sets.
Of course mechanical drop sets aren’t just for building muscle mass. If you are creative enough and use relatively lower rep ranges they can work awesome for building strength. Mechanical drop sets are sort of like a hybrid between traditional drop sets and giant sets.
Normally during a drop set you train to near-failure and then take some weight off the bar so you can continue busting out repetitions.
Mechanical drop sets are a little bit different: instead of reducing the weight on the bar you just switch to an easier variation of the same exercise! In other words the procedure for a mechanical drop set looks like this:
- Perform your weakest variation of an exercise, rest 10 seconds
- Perform your 2nd weakest variation of an exercise, rest 10 seconds
- Perform your 3rd weakest variation of an exercise, rest 10 seconds
- Perform your strongest variation of an exercise, rest 10 seconds
Note: most mechanical drop sets feature 2-4 total exercises performed back-to-back. You do not absolutely have to perform 4 total exercise variations with this method.
Here is strength coach Christian Thibadeau giving an excellent overview of this training method:
For some body parts it is very easy to figure out how to perform a mechanical drop set. For example for the chest you can perform a tri-set of 60 degree incline dumbbell presses, 30 degree incline dumbbell presses and flat dumbbell presses.
Each time you lower the angle of the bench you are stronger so you can bust out extra repetitions. Back is also a pretty easy exercise to figure out. You can perform a tri-set involving wide overhand grip pull ups, medium supinated grip chin ups and narrow neutral grip pull ups.
Figuring out how to perform a mechanical drop set for the brachialis is a little more difficult but it is still possible. One awesome method is to rotate through 4 different types of preacher curls:
- Preacher ez-bar curls with a narrow / pronated grip
- Preacher ez-bar curls with a wide / pronated grip
- Preacher ez-bar curls with a wide / supinated grip
- Preacher ez-bar curls with a narrow / supinated grip
You simply have to adjust your grip or “spin” the ez-curl bar in order to move from one exercise variation to the next. Talk about convenient!
The pronated grip curls performed at the beginning of the giant set are great for directly targeting your brachialis. The supinated grip curls performed at the end will also do a reasonable job of targeting the brachialis as it will be pre-fatigued from the first 2 exercise variations.
If you perform this sequence for relatively lower rep ranges then you have a sure-fire recipe for rapid strength gains.
Here is a sample routine you may want to try. Check it out:
Brachialis Mechanical Advantage Drop Set
- A1: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / pronated grip), 3-4 x 3-4, 2/0/X/0, 15 seconds rest
- A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 3-4 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 15 seconds rest
- A3: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3-4 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 15 seconds rest
- A4: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / supinated grip), 3-4 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
**Perform as many reps as possible with the same weight that you used in exercise A1.
Whenever you use a training method such as mechanical drop sets, tri-sets or giant sets you have to be very careful with how many total sets you perform. After all, only one of these mechanical drop sets is easily the equivalent of 12-16 regular sets! That is a lot of volume for such a small muscle group as brachialis.
To make sure you do not perform too much volume I recommend you use a 10% fatigue drop off curve. Many bodybuilding and powerlifting coaches such as Greg Doucette are also big fans of using a predefined fatigue drop off curve.
The idea behind a 10% fatigue drop off curve is simple: as soon as your strength decreases by 10% or more on the first exercise of the circuit you are done.
Let’s take a look at an example. Joe Average is performing the above mechanical drop set to boost his brachialis strength. He decides to use 100 pounds for his first set of narrow / pronated preacher ez-bar curls.
Let’s see what Mr. Average is made of:
- Set #1: 100 lbs x 4 reps
- Set #2: 95 lbs x 4 reps
- Set #3: 90 lbs x 4 reps
After just three mechanical drop sets Joe Average has already lost about 10% of his strength on the first exercise of the circuit. At this point Joe wisely decides to stop and move on to the rest of his workout.
Performing more sets would simply be a waste of time. In case you were curious here are some general guidelines for fatigue drop off curves:
- When training for strength: up to a 7% decrease in strength is acceptable
- When training for hypertrophy: up to a 20% decrease in strength is acceptable
These were the general guidelines that Charles Poliquin taught. Other coaches such as Greg Doucette recommend a flat 10% drop off curve in your training.
Regardless of which approach you take the fatigue drop off curve can be a valuable tool for managing your overall rate of fatigue during a workout. This is true regardless of whether you are primarily interested in strength or size gains.
Part 10: Cluster Sets
If you have never used cluster sets in your own training then you are missing out! Clusters are easily one of the fastest and most reliable ways to boost maximal strength on any upper or lower body exercise.
Many strength coaches such as Christian Thibadeau call clusters the most effective and versatile strength training method ever developed. Clusters are defined by one thing: you take short rest breaks in between each of your repetitions in a set.
The most famous cluster set protocol is undoubtedly the “Poliquin cluster set.” The Poliquin cluster set involves performing sets of 5 reps with 15-20 second rest breaks in between each repetition. For example:
- Perform rep #1, rest 15 seconds
- Perform rep #2, rest 15 seconds
- Perform rep #3, rest 15 seconds
- Perform rep #4, rest 15 seconds
- Perform rep #5, rest 2-5 minutes and repeat!
All 5 reps count as one single set. Because you are resting in between each of your reps you can actually use a weight that is heavier than your 5-rep max.
In fact the Poliquin cluster set protocol is normally performed with your 3-rep max! This means clusters enable you to perform 5 total reps with your 3 rep max in a very short time period. This is every bit as powerful as it sounds.
Your nervous system is obviously receiving a powerful training stimulus. However, your fast-twitch muscles are also being thoroughly fatigued with this system. This is very important when it comes to training a fast-twitch muscle group like the brachialis.
There are many ways to structure a cluster set workout to target the brachialis. Performing antagonistic supersets for the biceps and triceps is certainly one way. Another option would be to perform a complete upper body workout featuring overhand grip pull ups and some dedicated brachialis accessory work at the end.
Here is a sample upper body cluster set workout that you may want to try. Check it out:
Upper Body Cluster Set Workout
- A1: Narrow neutral grip pull ups, 5 x 5**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: 30 degree incline barbell press (medium grip), 5 x 5**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Seated DB overhead press, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: Seated cable rope face pull, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest
- C1: Preacher unilateral zottman curl, 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- C2: Standing unilateral cable external rotations (arm adducted), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/2/0, 60 seconds rest
There are of course some other ways to structure a cluster sets workout. For even faster strength gains you can use slightly lower rep ranges with slightly longer rest periods in between your sets. This is known as a “Carl Miller” cluster set.
Another possibility is to actually combine cluster sets with accentuated eccentric training. Both of these options are fantastic for targeting the fast-twitch muscle fibers in your brachialis or any other muscle group.
If you want to learn more about these strength-focused cluster set protocols then I highly recommend the following article:
Part 11: Wave Loading
Wave Loading is right up there with cluster sets in terms of being one of the most effective ways to build maximal strength. It is also one of the most versatile methods.
A strength training “wave” is simply a group of 3 sets performed with decreasing rep ranges. One of the most popular wave loading protocols is the 7/5/3 wave. For this protocol 2 total waves are performed.
- Set #1: 7 reps
- Set #2: 5 reps
- Set #3: 3 reps
- Set #4: 7 reps
- Set #5: 5 reps
- Set #6: 3 reps
There are many different reasons why wave loading works so well. The most obvious is that wave loading operates on the principle of post-tetanic potentiation. This principle simply states that your ability to produce maximal force will improve following a maximum muscular contraction.
When you perform sets with decreasing rep ranges you progressively ramp up your central nervous system. By the time you perform your first triple your central nervous system should be firing on all cylinders and recruiting nearly all of the available muscle fibers.
Your central nervous system will be so primed that you should be able to use more weight on your second wave than you did on your fist!
There are of course some other reasons why wave loading works so well. First of all it is a very psychologically stimulating way to train. The fluctuating rep ranges force you to pay attention to what you are doing and give the workout a totally different feel.
Another advantage is that you can “flirt” with the lower rep ranges without burning yourself out. With 7/5/3 wave loading you get the chance to flirt with some heavy triples without destroying yourself in the process.
Here is a sample 7/5/3 wave loading workout for the upper back and elbow flexors that you may want to try. Check it out:
7/5/3 Wave Loading Back / Elbow Flexor Workout
- A1: Medium pronated grip pull ups, 6 x 7/5/3**, 2/0/X/1, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Seated cable row (v-handle), 4 x 6-8, 2/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Standing unilateral cable reverse curl, 4 x 6-8, 3/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
There are some lower-rep wave loading protocols that work even better for strength gains such as the 5/3/1 protocol and the 3/2/1 protocol.
However, in my experience the 7/5/3 wave protocol is a great option that produces results for a very large percentage of the training population.
If you want to learn more about wave loading then you can check out my article, Wave Loading: The Ultimate Guide! Christian Thibadeau also has some excellent articles covering the wave loading concept.
Part 12: Modified Hepburn Method
The Modified Hepburn Method is one of the most effective ways to train with maximal singles. The idea is simple: you are going to break up your workout into two separate parts. The first half of the workout focuses on building relative strength while the second half focuses on functional hypertrophy.
Here is the exact protocol:
- Part 1: 8 sets of 1 rep
- Part 2: 5 sets of 5 reps
Many people believe that it is foolish to perform more than 2-3 maximal singles in a workout. Louie Simmons, the head coach of the Westside Barbell powerlifting club is certainly of this opinion.
It’s important to understand that these singles aren’t aren’t necessarily all-out. They should be performed with anywhere from 90-95% of your estimated 1-rep max for the day. I recommend you perform your first set at around 90% and slowly work up from there.
- Set #1: 90% x 1
- Set #2: 90% x 1
- Set #3: 90% x 1
- Set #4: 92.5% x 1
- Set #5: 92.5% x 1
- Set #6: 92.5% x 1
- Set #7: 95% x 1
- Set #8: 95% x 1
Performing your sets in this manner gives your nervous system plenty of time to “warm up” and be prepared for your heaviest sets.
By your 8th set your nervous system will be firing on all cylinders and recruiting all available motor units in your brachialis. At this point you switch over to the functional hypertrophy portion of your workout by performing 5 sets of 5 reps.
The Modified Hepburn Method demands that you use a similar but slightly different exercise in the second half of the workout. For example:
- Part 1: Wide / pronated grip ez-bar curls
- Part 2: Narrow / pronated grip ez-bar curls
This slight variation in the exercise will allow you to tap into a similar but slightly different motor unit pool. In the content of the Modified Hepburn Method this slight variation in the exercise works like a charm.
I recommend you use about 80% of your heaviest single from the first part of the workout for your 5 sets of 5. For example:
- Set #9: 80% x 5
- Set #10: 80% x 5
- Set #11: 80% x 5
- Set #12: 80% x 4
- Set #13: 80% x 3
You would use the same weight for all 5 sets. Your goal is to perform 5 reps on all of these sets. However, you may not be able to pull this off on your first workout (as in the above example). That is perfectly OK. Just use the same weight for your next workout and aim to complete 5 reps on all 5 sets.
After you pull this off you can make a small to moderate jump in weight and repeat the process.
Here is a chest / brachialis workout featuring the Hepburn set / rep scheme as described above. Check it out:
Modified Hepburn Method Chest / Brachialis Workout
- A1: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / pronated grip), 8 x 1, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: 30 degree incline press (medium grip), 8 x 1, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 5 x 5, 3/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- B2: 45 degree incline press (medium grip), 5 x 5, 3/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
The Modified Hepburn Method is just an unbelievable way to train. It is of course named after then legendary strength athlete Doug Hepburn.
Doug was an Olympic Weightlifting world champion and was the first man to officially bench press 500 pounds. He was just an unbelievably strong man and he built his super-human strength using this novel training program.
Part 13: Origin-Insertion Supersets
Origin-insertion supersets are an extremely underrated training method. They are probably one of my favourite tools to use to help my online coaching clients bust through a plateau in arm size or strength.
The idea is simple: you are going to perform a post-exhaustion superset consisting of 1 compound exercise and 1 isolation exercise.
The compound exercise will target the origin of the brachialis or the part of the muscle closer to the shoulder. On the other hand the isolation exercise will target the muscle insertion or the part of the muscle closer to the elbow.
When you superset two exercises that overload different parts of the muscle you create an overwhelming overload on the neuro-muscular system. If you use relatively lower rep ranges then this training method can produce very rapid improvements in strength.
Here is a complete arm workout that you may want to try. Check it out:
Arm Origin Insertion Superset Routine
- A1: Pull ups (narrow / pronated grip), 4 x 5-7, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Seated zottman curls, 4 x 5-7, 3/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Bench press (shoulder-width grip), 4 x 5-7, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B2: Standing ez-bar french press, 4 x 7-9, 3/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
This workout is great for building not only maximal strength but also strength endurance. In other words your muscular endurance over the course of the workout will improve as you repeat this workout.
Here is what your performance might look like the first time you try this workout:
- Superset #1: Bodyweight + 40 lbs x 7, 30’s x 6
- Superset #2: Bodyweight + 20 lbs x 6, 30’s x 5
- Superset #3: Bodyweight + 5 lbs x 5, 25’s x 5
As you can see there is a big decrease in strength from one superset to the next. After just a few workouts your muscular endurance should improve substantially. For example:
- Superset #1: Bodyweight + 50 lbs x 6, 35’s x 7
- Superset #2: Bodyweight + 45 lbs x 6, 35’s x 6
- Superset #3: Bodyweight + 40 lbs x 6, 35’s x 5
- Superset #4: Bodyweight + 35 lbs x 5, 30’s x 7
It goes without saying that this kind of improvement in both maximal strength and muscular endurance will add slabs of muscle tissue onto your arms.
I highly recommend you give origin-insertion supersets a shot. They are a highly underrated training method for building strong arms.
I present to you the ten commandments of building brachialis strength:
- Thou shall train the brachialis for optimal structural balance. Your best reverse curl should be 82% of your best supinated grip curl!
- Thou shall train the brachialis with lower rep ranges. It is a fast-twitch muscle group. Performing more than 8 reps is a waste of time!
- Thou shall curl with a pronated or overhand grip. Only the pronated grip optimally recruits the brachialis!
- Thou shall eccentrically overload the brachialis with zottman curls, the 4+2 method and supra-maximal eccentric training. Fast-twitch muscles like the brachialis thrive on eccentric training!
- Thou shall train with novel set / rep schemes such as cluster sets, wave loading and 1/6 contrast sets. Being bored with your strength workouts is not a virtue!
- Thou shall incorporate pronated-grip pull ups for optimal brachialis development. Pull ups are among the most bang-for-your-buck exercises!
- Thou shall… I give up. Who the heck writes the ten commandments of brachialis training?
If you are to take one thing away from this article, make it this:
The brachialis is one of the most under-trained muscle groups in the entire body. This is bad news because the brachialis plays a critical role in your overall shoulder health. If your brachialis is too weak for the rest of your body it will handicap your overall gains in strength and size.
Fortunately the brachialis responds very quickly when trained with intent. I recommend you use one or more of these brachialis strength routines and eradicate this weakness once and for all.
If you bring up your reverse curling strength you will be well on your way to a bigger, stronger upper body.
“What we face may look insurmountable, but what I learned is we are always stronger than we know.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!
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