10 Weeks To Boomin’ Biceps

Having full, pumped biceps with distinct peaks is the classic sign of a true bodybuilder. But what if you’re a serious guy who trains them every week, only to find them exactly the same size as last year? Or worse yet, the year before that?

If this sounds like you, take a step back and look at the big picture. Whatever you’re doing right now is obviously not working. Instead, let’s turn a fresh page and approach the issue from a new angle. Here is a 10-week recipe for jump-starting even the most stubborn biceps.

Week 1: Setting the Agenda

If your biceps are not growing, chances are it is because you use pretty much the same old routine every workout. Other factors include training too much and/or too often, not varying the weight and reps, and simply having lost that inner spark to take on the insane weights once in a while.

Well, no more. The sample workouts for these 10 weeks consist of a bunch of common and less common exercises. If you spot an exercise that you know you have done almost every bicep workout for the past few months, you may want to replace it. The goal here is to bring in some fresh material and let the old favorites rest a little.

As for the number of sets, let’s keep it in the 8-10 range. Why so few? The Biceps are a pretty small muscle that tires quickly. Legs, for example, are made for working all day long and can handle more sets. Biceps are more suitable for short and intense bursts of activity. The goal is to hit the biceps hard and then move on to the next muscle group you’re training.

This brings us to the next point: For the next 10 weeks, you will train biceps FIRST in the workout, to make sure you’re at your strongest. You will also restrict your bicep training to once a week, thus ensuring they have time to fully recover. Remember, the whole point of going to the gym is to trigger growth, nothing more. If you do your job, 8-10 sets should be plenty, and taking a whole week to rest guarantees you reap the full benefit of your hard work.

Week 2:  Going Basic

Exercise Sets Reps
Seated alternating hammer curls 2 6-8
Barbell curls w. EZ-bar 2 6-8
One-arm cable curls 2 8-10
Reverse barbell preacher curls 3 8-10

Going back to the bodybuilding roots can be refreshing for a change. Skip the fancy machines and cables this week. Instead, set your sight on good old free weights. It is true you get more uneven resistance curve and yada-yada, but it is also harder to get all fired-up over a cable machine. Try adding a few of the classic you-go, I-go sets of straight barbell curls with a buddy at the end of your workout and tell me you’re not psyched!

You can also try adding some controlled cheating for extra intensity. This particular intensity booster is easier to do with free weights than machines or cable. However, cheating doesn’t mean swaying all over the place from the first rep, it merely means using momentum to get past the sticking point in order to squeeze out a few more reps at the end of your set.

The trick is to keep your elbows stationary at your waist and only cheat barely enough to complete the extra reps. your biceps should still do most of the work. Remember to keep your abs tense in order to keep your back safe.

* For extra intensity, try to add 3-4 extra reps through controlled cheating.

Week 3: Loading on the Plates

Exercise Sets Reps
Barbell curls w. straight bar 2 6-8*
Incline dumbbell curls 2 6-8
Standing concentration curls 2 8-10
Standing reverse barbell curls 3 6-8

Ok, time to get serious. This week we’re hitting the heavy weights, so expect the reps to go down a bit. As a rule, you should never use weights heavier than those you can do 4 strict reps with. However, this time we want to get as close to this limit as possible. It’s time to wake those biceps up from their slumber!

The seated concentration curls are great for getting 100% focus on the biceps. You can also use your other hand to give the dumbbell a little extra nudge past the sticking point. To reap extra benefit, resist through the negative phase where you slowly let the dumbbell sink back down to the starting position.

Most gyms have at least one machine you can use for hammer curls. My personal favorite is a banged-up old Nautilus monster that lets you train each arm separately (iso-lateral), but use whatever you’re most comfortable with. This week is a bit of an exception from what I said about trying new stuff – you’re lifting heavy, so go with what works best for you.

* Use the other hand to wring out 2-3 extra reps on top of the 4-6 reps.

Week 4: Superset Mania

Exercise Sets Reps
Standing alternating dumbbell curls 2 4-6
Two-hand cable curls w. straight bar 2 6-8
Hammer curl machine of choice 2 6-8
Seated concentration curls 2 4-6*
Standing reverse barbell curls 2 4-6

Supersets are one of those old-school techniques you don’t see too often in the gym anymore. That’s a pity, since it’s a really nice (and quick!) way to blast your muscles into the next level. If you are unfamiliar with supersets, the basic idea is to go two sets in a row without taking a break in-between. This pumps up the intensity in a major way.

There are two variations on this: Either you do two exercises for the SAME muscle group, such as two-hand cable curls immediately followed by concentration curls, or you work two DIFFERENT muscle groups, such as two-hand cable curls immediately followed by tricep press downs.

The first approach, hitting the same muscle group twice in a row, will give you the burn from hell. The downside is that you can only use half (or less) of your normal weight for your second set since you’re pre-exhausted. The second approach, mixing biceps/triceps, doesn’t give as much burn, but brings an overall arm pump you wouldn’t believe.

In the sample workout below, I have used the biceps/triceps superset strategy. If you decide to hit biceps with both sets, you may want to consider making the second exercises one where you can employ controlled cheating.

Week 5: A Low-intensity Breather

Exercise Sets Reps
Arm Blaster curls / skull crushers 2/2 6-8 / 6-8
Preacher cable curls / tricep press downs 2/2 6-8 / 4-6
Seated hammer curls / standing tricep presses 2/2 6-8 / 8-10
Reverse barbell preacher curls / weighted dips 3/3 6-8 / 8-10

You’ve heard the clichés about keeping your muscles guessing before, but here’s a new one for you. After pounding your biceps with intense workouts for a month, you will now throw in a higher-rep, lower-weight workout. Counterintuitive as it may seem, it just may be what you need to keep your muscles from recognizing (and adjusting to) your pattern of heavy workouts.

To keep things from getting boring, keep the rest between sets short (less than a minute) and go for the burn. Lactic acid tolerance is good to have, but remember, finish with a set or two of ultra light curls to flush out the lactic acid.

Week 6: Forced Rep Agony

Exercise Sets Reps
Barbell preacher curls 3 10-12
Bicep machine of choice 2 12-15
One-arm cable curls 2 10-12
One-arm cable reverse curls 3 12-15

Recess is over, Biceps 101 at the School of Pain is back in session. Forced Reps is the intensity boosting technique of having your workout partner give you an extra lift to help you keep going. This should be done in moderation, so that you get just enough help to get past the sticking point.

In some cases, such as seated concentration curls and other one-handed exercises, you can simply use your other hand to provide that extra nudge. Two-hand exercises are trickier, however. If you don’t have a workout partner and aren’t comfortable asking someone at random, you can try the rest-pause technique as a backup solution.

When doing rest-pauses, you do your set to failure as you normally would, but instead of racking the weights you simply wait for a few seconds. Take a few deep breaths, feel the blood revitalize the muscle and try to hammer out an extra rep or two. It’s not as good as having a reliable workout partner, but it’s better than nothing.

Week 7: Back to Basics

Exercise Sets Reps
Barbell curls w/ straight bar 2 6-8
Hammer curl machine of choice 2 6-8
One-arm cable curls 2 4-6
Reverse barbell preacher curls 2 8-10

This week we go back to the free weight training for another dose of old-school intensity. As before, controlled cheating is an option, especially for the standing alternating dumbbell curls. You can also pick a heavier weight for the concentration curls and repeat the trick of using the other hand to grind out a few extra reps.

For an extra kick, this may be a good time to challenge your workout partner to a good ol’ Arm Blaster Duel. At the end of the workout, pick a barbell about 20-25% lighter than you normally use, face each other and start repping out. The first one to throw in the towel buys the other one a protein drink in the sports bar.

* Use the other hand to do 2-3 extra reps on top of the 4-6 reps.

Week 8:  Cable Guy

Exercise Sets Reps
Arm Blaster curls 2 6-8
Standing alternating dumbbell curls 2 6-8
Seated concentration curls 2 4-6*
Standing reverse barbell curls 2 6-8

As mentioned earlier, cables have the biomechanical advantage of providing even resistance throughout the full rep range. Put this to use and dedicate this week to fine-tuning your cable technique.

If you happen to be at a well-equipped gym, you can try alternating this all-cable day with using bicep machines you rarely use. As a rule, iso-lateral machines (handles moving independently of each other) provide the best types of resistance. For the fixed-handle machines, keep in mind that most machines can be used for one-handed exercises. Just let go with one hand, and a mediocre machine can turn into a great one.

Week 9: Heavy Hammering

Exercise Sets Reps
Two-hand cable curls w/ straight bar 2 8-10
Rope hammer curls 2 8-10
Cable concentration curls 2 6-8
Reverse cable preacher curls 2 8-10

Hammer curls, where your thumbs point straight up rather than out to the sides, are a great exercise for adding arm mass. What makes it stand apart is that it not only hits biceps, but also targets the underlying brachialis muscle. This relatively small muscle is a helper to the biceps, working solely by flexing the elbow joint.

This muscle is interesting because it is strategically located under the biceps. In other words, it helps push out the biceps thus making it appear larger than it really is. To capture this effect, we will put some special attention on hammering this week.

This is another time when controlled cheating comes in handy. Except for the hammer curl machine, you can safely cheat in any of these exercises by simply bending your knees a little and use momentum to get past the sticking point.

Another option is to do what you may call “concentration hammer curls”, same as regular concentration curls, except your thumb is pointing up through the entire movement. Since you’re only using one hand, you can use the other to give yourself a little extra help.

Week 10: Negative Nightmare

Exercise Sets Reps
Seated alternating hammer curls 3 6-8
Hammer curl machine of choice 2 6-8
Rope hammer curls 2 6-8
One-arm cable reverse curls 2 8-10

Finally, you’ve reached the end of the 10-week program, and your reward is … more pain. Negative training is very effective, but it takes a heavy toll on your entire system so use caution. If you have joint problems or previous injuries you may want to skip this one. For the rest of you, you have two choices: Plain negatives or forced negatives.

Plain negatives means that you load on more weight than you could normally handle (for example, 140 lbs instead of 110 lbs.) Then have your partner help you curl it up, while you very carefully resist for 2-4 seconds on the way down. Don’t relax your biceps at the bottom – your partner should be there the second you’re all the way down and help you back up to the starting position. Repeat until you reach total muscle failure.

Forced negatives are more flexible. With this method you use the same weight as usual, but your partner presses down on the weight during the negative phase. The flexibility is that your partner can adjust the pressure as you crank out the reps, but it takes a steady hand – unsteady resistance can be annoying. This method works better with plate-loaded equipment.

Week 11…And beyond

Exercise Sets Reps
Arm Blaster curls 2 6-8
Rope hammer curls 2 6-8
Two-hand cable curls w. straight bar 2 6-8
Standing reverse barbell curls 3 6-8

At this point you should see visual improvement. You will notice that I have not discussed any “special tricks” for bringing out the peaks, or how to create those cool splits some of the pros have. This is because a lot of it is genetic. However, as a rule, the larger you grow your biceps and the less body fat you have, the more detail will become visible

Another thing to consider is that the arm consists of more than the biceps. Triceps actually make up a larger part of the overall arm mass; so don’t forget to pour the same amount of enthusiasm into your triceps training.

Last but not least, the forearm extensors get plenty of exercise from hammer and reverse curls. But to achieve balanced arm development, you need to do a few sets for the forearm flexors each week. This is accomplished through simple exercises such as barbell wrist curls and behind-the-back wrist curls. Good luck!