This week we are wrapping up our focus on the Biceps… And when it comes to biceps it’s ALL about that STUPID PUMP!
I have found that the biceps really don’t respond better to relatively heavy weights (such as doing an all out 1-3RM) as they do medium weights lifted to emphasize the pump and break down lots of muscle tissue (lots of sets of 10-20 reps)… And in fact the heavier most people go on biceps more elbow joint and shoulder pain seems to happen, not to mention form deteriorates FAST.
So for the sake of growth and health, I always like to train the arms, and especially the biceps, for the stupidest possible pump, and here is how we do it. I have blended a few concepts from some of my favorite coaches and have seen many people get good results like this.
Have An Arm Day
Train Bi’s and Tri’s together instead of adding on Biceps to back day or Triceps to shoulder day like some people do. This does a few good things for us:
Pump: Training the 2 muscles together gives us the STUPID PUMP we are after, and does so better than training them after a huge muscle that requires a lot of blood flow already. The pump has long been a goal of body building training and more and more research is showing that it isn’t just Bro Science, there really is something to it.
Frequency: The biceps already get trained with fairly heavy loads on back day, and your triceps get hit when you do your pushing work (chest and shoulders). Giving the arms their own day automatically doubles the frequency you train them at.
Recovery: Training just the arms together gives the rest of the body another day of rest during the week. Lets face it, even a “brutal” arm day is not that stressful to the whole body, so while you are pumping those arms full of blood, the rest of the body is getting a much needed break from all the heavy work and Fatality Sets you’ve been throwing at it.
Bicep Training Techniques: Burn Baby, Burn!
The biceps are designed to hold weight and to lift over and over again… So that’s how we will train them. Instead of doing the typical up-down-up-down piston-like rep style, I like sets that combine reps and holds to really pump the blood in there and keep it there. Everyone knows the standard techniques for biceps, but here are some you may not have tried before:
Countdown Sets: I like these on machines because you can much more easily focus on the intense squeeze you need to make these work. They are, like most good ideas, simple… but that doesn’t mean easy. You simply do an isometric at the contraction of the rep, squeeze that bitch for 5 seconds, and then perform 5 reps, after which you squeeze it for 4 seconds then do 4 reps, then a 3 second squeeze followed by 3 reps, all the way down to 1 rep.
Constant Tension Curls: These are a novel technique I picked up from Christian Thibaudeau over at T-Nation. It’s essentially a regular set of alternating hammer curls, except instead of holding the weight at your side on the arm that isn’t doing the rep, you hold the weight in in the 90 degree curl position, squeezing it the whole time the other arm is doing a rep. The goal here is to drive as much blood to the arms as possible, and keep it there for the duration of the set, so you never EVER release the tension until the very end of the set. Even when you are doing the rep you shouldn’t release tension at the bottom of the rep to switch directions… Remember ABC: Always Be Contracting
1.5 Reps, Top and Bottom: I like to mix up the way I do 1.5 reps on curls… Sometimes I’ll do the traditional way and come up half way, back down, and then all the way back up. Sometimes I like to do the contraction, come back down half way and go back up and then all the way back down. One method stresses the stretched position, and the other method gets you twice as many contractions, but both methods have value so add in either one to your arm day for some variety, and the flesh out whatever you need extra work on that day.
Or Do a set of 21’s and get the best of both worlds in the same set.
Drag Curls: Use a straight bar and keep it very close to the body the entire rep. You don’t actually have to drag it across your body, but you should be almost touching. These really get a intense contraction up top, and combined with a constant-tension style technique as described above can result in a huge pump.
Arm Day Layout
For arms I like to follow some simple rules:
Alternate Bicep and Tricep exercises. Doesn’t matter if its by super-setting, or by alternating exercises, but I find doing it this way gives the best pump, and you can keep your rest periods short that way. This is also the day I throw in some Ab and Calves training to make it a little more productive than just training a small muscle group like the arms.
Start the day off with one of the pumping/isometric exercises I listed above, or another pump style exercise of your choice. This will get the blood flowing into the area, serve as a warm up for the muscles, and protect the elbow joint.
After the pump is there, you can go into the stuff that puts the bicep in a stretched position (1.5 reps, preacher curls, incline curls). While no definitive science exists to show there is a benefit to this, many top level trainers insist there is abenefit to training the stretched position of a muscle. Given that this is the most injury prone position however, it is wise to keep it after the pump work to make sure the joints and muscles are nice and warmed up prior to doing it.
Focus more on hammer and reverse grip than the usual palms up grip. I find most guys have been doing the “regular” grip for years so the other grips need to catch up. Don’t completely neglect the palms up grip, but make an effort to use the other grips.
Sample Arm Day Layout
A1 – Countdown Machine Curls x 3 sets of 5-4-3-2-1
A2 – Rope Ticep Pushdown 3 sets of 20 reps, squeeze hard at the bottom of the rep
B1 – Fat Bar Drag Curls 3x 10-12
B2 – Dips, weighted for 3x 10-12 or body weight for 3 sets to failure
C1 – Incline Hammer Curls 3×10
C2 – Frech Press 3×10
That should just about do it there, and you are covering a wide range of techniques and grips with this layout which will challenge all the muscles in the arms. If you wanted you could finish off with some heavy curls, but I really don’t find it necessary if you are training the arms 2-3 times a week, and for many it may even be counter productive.
There you have it. Using these techniques you have tons of info to get you started down the road to bigger biceps, titanic triceps, and formidable forearms. If you need more info or want more ideas from in the trenches that have been proven to work by Mike Rashid and his clients, check out his book.
Kicking off the week right with Muscle Monday everyone… This week lets focus on making shirt sleeves everywhere rip themselves off and run away in fear. While everyone knows that the triceps are the real meat of the upper arm, making up 2/3 of the mass, lets face it… The biceps are the younger, hotter sister everyone really wants to get with, so that’s where we’ll start.
This week we do get a bit technical, but I promise you its for your own good. To really understand the in’s-and-out’s of upper arm training it’s important to delve a bit into the anatomy of the upper arm. I think every booth babe at the Mr Olympia will agree, a little more Anatomy is never a bad thing.
3-D Biceps: Covering All The Angles, No Dorky Glasses Required
When it comes to training “the biceps” most peoples arm training programs are woefully lacking in variety. Tell me if this looks familiar:
Exercise 1 – EZ Bar Curls, or Straight Bar Curls
Exercise 2 – Machine Curls
Exercise 3 – DB Curls ending with the Palms Up
This will definitely hit the biceps, that’s for sure, but the problem is that every exercise is essentially hitting the same muscle group because of the palm orientation and most people never alter the speed of movement. That’s basically the exercise 3 different times, with the only difference being the implement… That’s called redundancy, not efficiency.
The highlighted muscles are what we are trying to stimulate with biceps training, and as you can see the upper arm, or what most people are trying to hit when they train “biceps,” is actually made up of 3 different muscles, each of which gets activated preferentially at different wrist angles. The Palms Up position that essentially every bar and machine puts you in is preferentially hitting the Biceps Brachii, which is great as that is what most people think of as the Bicep anyway, and is really the most pronounced muscle of the three when you are flexing. It’s the star of the show as it’s the one that sits on top.
But believe it or not there is a way to make the Bicep Brachii even more impressive by training the muscle just below it, the Brachialis. Not only is a well developed brachialis a sure sign of a veteran lifter and someone who is dedicated to detail, but it actually “pushes up” the bicep from below when its really developed, given the arm a much more full look.
Slow Motion for Me… The Brachialis
Luckily for us the Brachialis is easy to “turn on” when we do arm exercises. It’s as simple as using a Hammer Grip (palm in the hand shake position) and slowing the rep cadence down during the lowering portion of the rep. The slight twist of the wrist to the hammer position switches the stress more onto the Brachialis, and the slow cadence (up to a 5 second negative) has been shown in studies (1) to activate the brachialis over the bicep brachii.
So next time you hit the gym on arm day, you definitely need to have a hammer grip movement in there for your arms. To put extra emphasis on it put the muscle in a stretched position at the bottom of the rep by straightening out the arm ALL THE WAY (no half rep hero’s here boys and girls, all the way down! Guys in particular are guilty of doing a swinging motion at the hip which gives the illusion of bringing the bar all the way because it touches the hip, but in reality are only going half way down at the elbow and then bending over. Make sure your elbow straightens all the way out.) and when you come up really squeeze the hell out of it. Imagine yourself trying to “bunch up” all the muscle up there and really focus on the squeeze, then lower under control for 3-5 seconds per rep. I don’t know if arm training can be described as “brutal,” but if it can this is how its done.
The Brachioradialis: The WOW Factor
To really stand out it helps to not only be supremely developed, but to have a particular muscle group that is overly developed. The immortal Tom Platz will forever go down in body building history not because of the amount of times he won the Olympia (he never did) but because of his love affair with Squatting huge weights for ungodly amounts of reps, and the near-tortuous intensity techniques he would do on the leg extension and hack squat machines he developed the finest set of legs the body building world has ever known.
The current Mr Olympia Phil Heath has something of his own freak factor with his arms. Some say that his arms are the single most defining reason the Sandow keeps finding his way onto Heath’s trophy case. Let’s take a look at the Current Champ, and friend of the site, to see if anything in particular is standing out.
As you can tell by the picture, Phil Heath has such abnormally over developed arms I am almost tempted to call in an Oncologist to screen for tumors. Huge arms have been a staple in body building for as long as the stage has existed, so its no surprise for the best in the world to have big arms. However the area that sticks out the most to my eyes is his massive, protruding forearm muscle. It almost looks like Phil got an extra muscle there where the rest of us mere mortals simply have a bone. This muscle is called the Brachioradialis.
Not all hope is lost however, as there is a way to train this muscle. The brachioradialis essentially is the “backup” for the Biceps Brachii, and takes over when that muscle is in a poor position to lift… Such as with the Palm facing the floor in a Reverse Curl. The hammer grip will also work this muscle to a lesser extent, but to really activate the brachioradialis turn that hand all the way over and do your curls with the palm down. In addition you can do reverse forerarm curls this way to really isolate this muscle and rep it out until it burns like a witch in Salem.
Saved By The Bell
Class is over for this week… Now that we know how important our exercise selection is to getting full stimulation of all the muscles in the bicep region, next week we will wrap up Bicep training by discussing METHODS to train the arms with some great fatigue methods and some of the techniques I’ve seen work the best out in the real world to get the most growth out of all the biceps muscles.
Muscle Monday time everyone, and today instead of talking about what lifts to do or how much of each, let’s talk about the rarely discussed HOW to pick things up and put them down again.
I wont make this needlessly complex by talking about angles and force vectors and yadda yadda yadda, but it is often helpful to have one or two “rules” or cues when we lift to get the most out of each rep. I have generally found the most success by doing my Pushing exercises one way, and my Pulling exercises a slightly different way.
Push it FAST
The Pushing muscles (Chest, Shoulders, Quads, Tri’s) generally respond best to rapid acceleration and maximum force. 1014lb Squatter “Dr. Squat” Fred Hatfield referred to this technique as Compensatory Acceleration Training… Which is a fancy way to saying always move the weight as fast as possible, no matter the load (you compensate for the low load by accelerating it as fast as possible, thus producing max force each rep)
Think of what these muscles are designed to do. Before modern weights came around and workout clothes were naught but a loin cloth, these would be used to throw a spear fast, to strike another predator as hard as possible, to jump up into a tree, or to push a foe off of your chest. All things that simply cannot be accomplished to the best of their ability done at a slow pace.
When you are doing a compound exercise for the pushing muscles (Bench Press, Overhead Press, Squat and all their variations) I want you to think “EXPLODE!” when you come out of the bottom of the movement. As you approach greater and greater loads the movement won’t actually be explosive, but its the intent to be explosive we are after.
Pull it HARD
The function of the muscle on the back of body and the biceps, the pulling muscles, on the other hand are designed to hold, and to be fatigued. After one defeats a bison and has to take the copious amount of meat back to the campsite, or to hang off a cliff or tree branch, think of how long the back and bicep muscles would be activated to hold this load.
To get the most out of these muscles while training them, it is worthwhile to focus on fatiguing them during the set. A very simple way to do this is to incorporate a 1-2 second squeeze at the top of each rep.
Really squeeze and activate the muscles. This technique also ensures you are using “the right” weight for back, bicep, and hamstring work because so many people use a ton of momentum to do lat pulldowns, hamstring curls, and do heavy cheat curls that the muscles you are trying to hit are really getting short changed, and you only work the bottom 1/2 of the movement (or even less than that). But if you have to pause at the peak of the movement it basically kills the momentum, and focuses the load right on the muscles you are trying to use.
The cue I use while doing these movements is to literally think “squeeeeze” at the top of the rep, or to count “and one” while holding the squeeze. It engages your mind into the muscles and keeps you focused on the contraction.
This also goes a long way into developing a better Mind-Muscle-Connection (MMC), so that when you do end up using a bit of momentum with a heavier weight you are better at focusing the load on the right muscles.
Putting It Into Action
So next time you are training your hamstrings, back, and biceps, kill the momentum out of the bottom a bit and really focus on a 1-2 second squeeze at the end of every rep. For a real killer version you can do a slow 2-3 count negative, or incorporate a 1-2 second pause half way down the lowering portion of the rep. Do this on your first exercise of the day and then move on to the heavier weight stuff so that when you do you will have a killer pump and a better MMC going into it and will get more out of it.