No physique is complete without a great set of guns and developing a great set of biceps will take more than just hanging out at the dumbbell rack cranking out alternating curls.
It will also take more than your standard machine curls too. Instead, having a balanced approach encompassing multiple angles & loading schemes is best your best to turn those garden snakes into pythons.
With that said, the biceps respond well with variety so understanding that we should utilize methods that fall outside of the standard 8-12 rep hypertrophy scheme is important.
In fact, the best gains I’ve seen personally came from increasing vertical pulling volume (namely high-volume strict chin-ups) but before you go adding a shit-ton of pull-up volume to your plan, check these variations out first.
Barbell Curl Isometric Hold against pins
These can be performed with pins at various heights – you can vary the heights to change things up. Curl the bar to the pins and hold for a 4 count pulling the barbell as hard as you can into the pins.
There is a fair amount of research to support the positive training effects of isometrics in terms of improving neuromuscular efficiency and maximal force a muscle or muscle group can generate.
Moreover, isometrics can be used to ramp up the sympathetic nervous system prior to training and utilize post-potentiation activation.
4-5 x 5 (4s). Rest 90s – 2:00
Seated Incline DB Curls
A favorite of Charles Poliquin due to the massive stretch puts on the biceps through range of motion. In Charles’ words – “this exercise has the advantage of shifting overload to the brachioradialis and biceps brachialis at the expense of the biceps brachii.
3-4 x 8-10
Close Grip C2B Chin-ups
It’s no mystery that the chin-up is an effective arm builder, but adding the chest-to-bar variant adds a new level of difficulty. You’ll be surprised how much more difficult this makes the chin-up and adding additional weight is not usually needed in most cases.
The extra range of motion asks the biceps to contract further relying less on the latissimus vs. a traditional pull-up.
Accumulate 25-30 total reps.
Fat Bar Reverse Curls
Increasing the thickness of the implement you’re using is a way to kill two birds with one stone – there is a strong correlation between grip strength and total body strength so this certainly isn’t an area that you want to neglect.
An easy way to include grip work in your training without having to devote a chunk of your training session to it is by using a fat bar or adding fat gripz to a standard bar. By simply increasing the demand of the forearms you’ll increase the number of motor units activated.
This is a great exercise to work the extensor muscles of the wrist.
3-4 x 8 w. a 3 count lowering
Fat Bar Curls
If using the fat bar for reverse curls is an option then it would only make sense to include the standard supinated grip curl as well. While the benefits of using the fat grip to utilize more motor units are the same, the emphasis now is on the biceps vs. wrist extensors with the reverse curl.
Alternating your grip – close vs. wide will determine if the emphasis is on the short head vs. long head of the biceps.
3-4 x 8-12
Close Grip Supinated Lat Pulldowns
Another staple hypertrophy exercise for the biceps/lats similar in execution as the close-grip chin-up but now we have the ability to add more volume and illicit higher levels of metabolic stress while still emphasizing the biceps involvement.
3-4 x 12-15
Banded Hammer Curls
The benefits of using accommodating based resistance are long-standing, but one of the more noteworthy benefits is altering the strength curve – tension increase through range of motion vs. constant tension with straight weight.
This allows us to work on different aspects of the strength curve. Using bands also provides the benefit of being a great activation tool as well as a prehab/rehab too.
We use band work to improve the elastic ability of tendons and improve the storage of kinetic energy in the series elastic component – more on this here.
Accumulate 75-100 reps
Using the Kettlebell for your curls is simply a different implement and as you can imagine hand positioning is altered not to mention how the kettlebell is gripped vs. a standard dumbbell. Because of this we are simply adding some variance to a standard curl.
The close proximity of the grip puts more emphasis on the short head of the biceps.
2-3 x 15-20
Kettlebell Hammer Curls
No biceps exercise list can be complete with a tried and true variation such as the Hammer Curl. Because of the “neutral grip,” this variation puts more stress on the brachioradialis. Using a kettlebell if you’re able adds a slightly new dimension is the handle is thicker and placement of the load is different than a dumbbell.
4 x 8-10
The final exercise to crush your biceps involves climbing a rope – many of you may not have access to a climbing rope so we’ve included the towel pull-up is a nice scaling option.
The rope climb involves some level of skill if you’re using legs, but for you studs out there these can be done “legless.”
The emphasis on the biceps, lats, and grip will be challenged to a high-degree so make sure you’re able to perform at least 6 strict chin-ups before attempting these.
6 x 1-3. Full recovery between sets
Gaining some considerable girth on your biceps doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Including these variations will allow you not only to add size but improve function & performance, as well as help, keep you bulletproof!