If there’s one muscle that gets more attention than just about any of the other 640 muscles in the body, it’s your biceps.
And you don’t need to be a personal trainer, fitness pro, or bodybuilding to understand this.
Think about it. Even kids know biceps are a measure of strength. Most have the double-front bicep pose mastered before they’re even out of diapers.
Everybody loves beefy biceps. And we’ve bombarded with messages to remind us like:
- Guns out, sun’s out
- Biceps don’t grow on trees
- Let me know if your biceps get in your way
- If I flex my biceps, this shirt will rip
- Do you have your tickets to the gun show?
With all the hype out there about bigger biceps, why doesn’t everybody who lifts have monster-sized biceps?
After all, on any given day, you can walk into the gym and find somebody cranking out curls with an EZ bar, doing dumbbell curls, or on a cable machine trying to get a major pump.
But is there a holy grail of exercises for bigger biceps? Or is there more to building your biceps than just lifting weights?
5 Ways to Build Bigger Biceps
If you show up to the gym and train your biceps every day with the same rep-set ratio, the same weight, and the same exercises, you might see some gains at first.
But after a couple of weeks of nothing new, your body will adapt, you’ll hit a plateau. To really stimulate muscle growth needed to build bigger biceps, there’s a lot more you can do than simply pick up the barbell.
1. Add volume
If you’re serious about adding inches to your biceps, increasing the amount of training you’re doing per workout will have a big impact on what you see in the mirror.
Research shows that volume training (higher reps, more sets) is more effective at stimulating muscle growth than other forms of training like a low-volume workout with heavy weights.
The ideal rep-set range for hypertrophy is 3 to 5 sets with a rep range of 6 to 12 reps.
Supersets or pyramid sets can also be a great way to add volume to your workout and keep things interesting.
2. Vary exercises
There’s a reason the guy who runs a jackhammer 8 hours a day or a mom who carries a baby on her side all day doesn’t have hulking biceps.
Sure, those muscles are engaged to do the work, but the same stress and movement on the muscle every day leads to something called General Adaptation Syndrome. Your body gets familiar with the load and finds the path of least resistance. And growth stops.
It’s why changing up your training routine, exercises, lifting tempo, and other variables on a regular basis is so important.
If you’ve been doing the same arm workout since the beginning of time, change things up. Swap barbells for dumbbells. And pick exercises you haven’t used before.
In case you’re wondering, a recent study by the American Council on Exercise found that the most effective bicep exercises that stimulate the most muscle activation include (in order):
- Concentration curl
- Cable curl
- Barbell curl
- EZ-Bar curl (wide grip)
- EZ-Bar curl (narrow grip)
- Incline curl
- Preacher curl
Level up the intensity
How can you make your next arms workout harder to get better results? Level up the intensity.
The easiest way to do this is to get strict about how much time you rest between sets. No more wandering around in the gym, long-winded chats, or casual strolls to the drinking fountain.
If you want to stimulate muscle growth to build bigger biceps, keep your rest period between sets to 1 to 2 minutes. Use the clock, a stopwatch, or your phone to stay on track. Do a set of concentration curls. Wait a minute. Repeat.
Research shows that shorter rest periods help release hormones responsible for muscle growth and increase blood flow for protein synthesis.
You can lift weights all day, but if you’re not feeding your body the protein, fats, carbs, and calories it needs to grow, you’re not going to get the results you want from weeks of punishing biceps workouts.
Missing the mark on nutrition is one of the most overlooked factors that get in the way of building muscle for a lot of people. You need to eat to grow. And that has to match up with your training habits. In other words, you need to consume more calories than you burn from lifting weights, cardio training, and the rest of your life.
Feed your biceps plenty of protein and the right mix of fat, carbs and calories, and high-volume training, and you’ll get results. Research shows post-workout protein helps maximize muscle growth.
Increase time under tension
In a hurry to get through your arms workout? You might be tempted to rush through your reps and sets, throw the weight around a little, and neglect your form.
But that’s a mistake, especially if you’re trying to build your biceps. Instead of rushing, using time under tension training damages more muscle fibers and does a better job at stimulating muscle growth.
Here’s how. Use slow and controlled movements for each arm exercise in your workout.
Take the barbell curl for example. Holding the bar with your arms hanging down, slowly curl the weight up. Flex your biceps hard at the top of the lift. And then slowly lower the weight back down.
If you haven’t done this before, you’ll probably need to use slightly lighter weight. But hit your arms workout using this technique, and you’ll definitely feel it and notice a major pump by the time you’re through.
Want to build bigger arms and your ideal body? Check out my customized training plans to get started.
- Burd, N., et al. (2010). Low-load high volume resistance exercise stimulates muscle protein synthesis more than high-load low volume resistance exercise in young men. PLOS. From: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0012033
- Smith, D. (2015). Back to the basics: Hypertrophy. National Academy of Sports Medicine. From: http://blog.nasm.org/sports-performance/back-to-the-basics-hypertrophy/
- Young, S., et al. (2014). Ace study reveals best biceps exercises. American Council on Exercise. From: https://www.acefitness.org/prosourcearticle/4933/ace-study-reveals-best-biceps-exercises
- Kraemer, W. et al. (1991). Hormonal and growth factor responses to heavy resistance exercise protocols. International Journal of Sports Medicine. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2262468
- Stark, M., et al. (2012). Protein timing and its effects on muscular hypertrophy and strength in individuals engaged in weight-training. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3529694/