I recently wrote a five-week triceps program that immediately prompted multiple requests for something similar for biceps. Although triceps contribute more to total arm circumference, guys tend to possess an affinity for big biceps. One of my best friends in high school literally had a preacher curl in his bedroom and did curls daily. I learned a few things over the past 20 years regarding the best methods for training biceps. Here is a five-week program:
Week 1: Programming
Similar to my five-week triceps program, I want to start by addressing programming. For training efficiency and injury prevention, I suggest placing direct bicep work after back training. My reasoning stems from the fact that your biceps become pre-fatigued from your back exercises, which eliminates the need for excessive warm-up sets (improved efficiency) and minimizes injury via a thorough indirect warm-up.
I often hear this argument: “Well, if my biceps are pre-exhausted, I can’t lift as heavy.” If your primary goal is muscle growth, then who cares? The pump is more important than the pounds you lift. Stop trying to impress your gym buddies with the pounds you curl.
I suggest finishing every back workout with a couple sets of neutral/close or supinated grip chin-ups. Create continuous tension by not hanging completely at the bottom before initiating the pull-up. Two sets of 8-12 reps is an ideal transition from back to biceps. Do this every week, meaning for this first week, simply finish your back session with several sets of supinate grip chin-ups before doing your choice of bicep work. Below is an option for week one.
I tend to need an assist machine, and if preferable, you can superset them with your first bicep exercise, like this:
Week 2: Peak Contraction
Two big biceps training failures by beginners include lifting too heavy and resting briefly at the point of peak contraction. It’s also the portion of the rep range often breezed through by seasoned lifters because an intense peak contraction limits their reps or weight lifted. Both beginners and the advanced miss an opportunity for growth due to a lack of emphasis on peak contraction. I believe that the more you feel the muscle you’re working, the greater the muscle recruitment. For week two, follow up your neutral or supinated chins with the following:
Guillotine Curls x 3 sets of 6-10 reps. The key here is to hold the peak contraction for a split second on every rep. Flex so hard that it feels like your biceps might cramp. Few other exercises facilitate a peak contraction like guillotine curls.
Here is a video:
Next, perform Concentration/Spider Curls x 3 sets of 6-10 reps with a fixed weight barbell. I like this exercise because you’re positioned in such a way (face down on an inclined utility bench) that it’s impossible to “rest” at the point of peak contraction. Again, flex as hard as possible for a one- to two- second count on each rep at the peak contraction.
Here is a video:
Week 3: Isotension
Many of you know my love (sometimes hate) relationship with blood flow restriction training. The technique is brutally effective at building muscle with a lighter weight, which is safer for an aging bodybuilder like me. Numerous scientific studies have vetted BFR efficacy, however, wrapping your upper arm is a bit of a hassle. For this reason, I like to utilize isotension reps. A contracted muscle naturally occludes or restricts blood flow, hence the burn due to lactic acid build-up. For week three, I want to focus on isotension as a highly effective BFR mimicker.
Perform a 5-4-3-2-1 (Isotension Training Technique) Dumbbell Curls x 4 sets after your chin-up transitional exercise. Prepare for biceps annihilation.
Here is a video of a 5-4-3-2-1 isotension rep sequence using an Arm Blaster:
Week 4: Giant Set
Giant sets work well for bicep development because they increase training efficiency (more work in less time) and attack the muscle from different angles. You may notice a theme here regarding my prioritization of pump over pounds lifted. Reserve the heavy weight for compound exercises and major muscle groups. I’ve witnessed far too many lifters destroy their elbows and wrists in the pursuit of curling big weights.
This week, I want four rounds of this giant set: Reverse curls (targets brachialis and brachioradialis) x10 reps, go immediately to barbell drag curls (targets long head and minimizes deltoid recruitment) x 10 reps, and go immediately to incline dumbbell curls (stretch exercise) x AMRP.
Here is a video of the giant set:
Week 5: Extended Set
The value of extended sets resides in the recruitment of additional muscle fibers. When we stop an exercise at/or near failure, we miss the opportunity to tap into the dormant, lazy fibers, which aren’t activated until absolutely necessary. This week, we force them out of hibernation with extended sets.
A multitude of options exist for extending sets. One such option is as simple as grabbing a fixed weight bar in which you can curl it at least 30 times, non-stop. Perform as many reps as possible, set the bar down for a 30-second count, go again to failure, set the bar down, go again, etc. Go until you achieve 100 reps. I don’t care how long it takes you! You’ll experience brutal lactic acid build-up. Use this rest-pause technique to extend your set or to perform jettison curls as described below; your choice.
Jettison curls represent another great option for extending a set. You will need one of these bands. The sequence is as follows: fixed-weight bar curls w/band x 10 reps, jettison the band and continue to curl just the bar x 10 reps, and jettison the bar and curl just the band x 10 reps. Rest and repeat three more times.
Here is a video:
That concludes this five-week biceps program, but I want to leave you with one final bonus consideration. I specifically want to encourage stretching either between sets and/or at the completion of your biceps. Stretching a fully pumped muscle aids in recovery by drawing even more fresh blood and growth factors to the area. This holds true for any muscle group.
Also, maintaining mobility across all muscle groups is vital to injury prevention. You obviously won’t progress if an injury keeps you out of the gym. Overly bound-up biceps can impact lats, shoulders, and pecs because they all tie into the same area.
Below is a video of a partner-assisted compression stretch. Give it a try!