When it comes to body parts that we associate masculinity with, most people would say the arms, specifically the biceps are in the top three . Large, defined, muscular arms are seen as a sign of manliness and strength. They are one group we see every time we look in the mirror, so we tend to prioritize them over our posterior muscle groups that we see less.
Arms come in all shapes and sizes, and training them effectively varies just like all other muscle groups. What works for one individual may not work for the next. However there are some basic training principles that anyone (men and women) can use to help grow, shape and define their biceps.
The three "Bicep" muscles
First off, most people don't realize that there are multiple muscle groups in the bicep region and they all need to be prioritized, instead of just focusing on the specific “biceps”. The Bicep has two heads, the long and short head, both can be seen when body-fat is low enough to see the separation in the middle. Curling a weight with your hands in the supinated position (underhanded), specifically targets the bicep muscle. Supinated curls hit the biceps best.
SECRET: Additionally to curling with this hand position you can try and exclude the forearm flexors and really hit the peak of the biceps by curling limp wristed. Instead of squeezing the weight, you allow your wrists to extend which removes the flexors from the movement and focuses on the “peak” of the bicep. Curling this way causes your biceps to develop with a peak that truly separates a decent set of biceps from an amazing set.
Under the biceps is a less commonly known muscle, the bracialis. Again this muscle can be best seen in individuals with a lower body fat. To target this muscle you need to curl with your hands in the neutral position (hammer curls). Neutral grip also happens to be our strongest hand position, so this is great for heavy hammer curls, rope curls, or even neutral grip pull ups.
The last muscle that rounds out the biceps group of muscles is the brachioradialis. This muscle originates under the bicep and crosses over the elbow over the upper portion of the forearm. This muscle gets targeted when you use a pronated (overhand) grip. This happens to be our weakest curl variation as were at a mechanical disadvantage with forearms pronated. However this variation should never be avoided as you will neglect to grow your forearms. Reverse curls with an EZ Bar are my go to for the brachioradialis.
Exercises, sets, reps and secrets to growth!
I like to train biceps with triceps as I find I get a better all around arm pump when I hit both groups in one session. But like with all training, you need to continually mix it up so your body never gets a chance to plateau, so I occasionally hit biceps with chest or even on the odd back day. Shock your muscles! Never let your body get used to your training routine.
Keep in mind a symmetrical arm should be made up of ⅓ bicep and ⅔ tricep. So by prioritizing just your biceps you are limiting the overall size of your arms as your triceps should be roughly twice the size of your biceps.
I usually do 4-5 exercises for biceps. I'll start out with a warm up exercise to get the blood circulating through the muscles and get my CNS firing and ready for some intense lifting. Alternating DB bicep curls are a good starter and I'll execute 2-3 warm up sets and 2 heavier working sets. I never rush through the set and always focus on each rep.
Every rep can be broken down into 4 portions, the concentric (curl), the peak contraction (squeeeeeze it), the eccentric (the negative), and the transition back into the concentric. Play around with tempos and stick to a tempo with an explosive concentric, a peak squeeze, a 3-second slow negative, and a quick pause at the bottom.
An explosive concentric will build speed, power and target your type 2 muscle fibers. The slower negative will build strength and focus on hypertrophy (growth). Changing the angle of your arms relative to your torso will also put more of a stretch on the bicep. Try one exercise in each bicep training session that uses a preacher bench, an incline bench, or just curl the weight with your torso bent slightly forward.
Always train until, and past failure, unless you're on a de-load week. Utilize drop sets, partner assisted reps, rest-pause sets, super sets, monster sets, isometric holds, etc. Your body is extremely efficient and looking to resume homeostasis, by periodizing your training into weekly, and even daily meso and micro cycles of differing intensity your muscles won't get the chance to adapt to your training style and plateau.
One workout do pyramid sets, then try higher volume/lower intensity (10x10), then try higher intensity/lower volume (5x5), then try a de-load of low intensity/higher volume (3x20). The secret to building big defined biceps is the same for all muscle groups.
Be consistent! Train hard, eat healthy food, rest and recover to grow, and supplement to get the most from your training. I started training my biceps at age 12, they were my focus at a young age and now they are one of my stronger attributes.