There’s more to bigger biceps than aimless repping. To earn your tickets to the gun show, you need to attack your biceps from every angle. Fortunately, we’re on hand with 20 all-encompassing tips for you to squeeze the most out of arm day. Time to get to work.
1. Warm up
Put one arm’s biceps under continuous tension for maximum growth. While sitting, hold a pair of dumbbells with your palms facing up. Then curl one dumbbell until your forearm is parallel to the ground and hold. Do ten curls with the other arm, then switch arm positions. Do three sets on each side.
2. Tense up
Raise your temperature with five minutes on a running machine, followed by five on a rower to shift blood from your abdomen to your arms. “This prompts the release of protective synovial fluid in your wrists and elbows – vital before lifting weights,” says fitness advisor Simon Harling.
3. Avoid risk to your elbows
Give your elbows a break with the standing cable one arm biceps curl. Set the pulley at shoulder height. With your arm elevated and in line with the pulley, curl the weight towards your head, and don’t allow your arm to drop down. Return to the starting position. Do three sets of 10 repetitions with each arm.
4. Get down
Here’s a great stretch for the biceps and forearms flexors (inside your forearm, crucial for sport). Kneel with your palms on the floor in front of you, in line with your shoulders, fingers pointing back. Lean back until you feel a stretch in your biceps and forearms. Hold for ten seconds.
5. Pull down
Seated at a lat pulldown station, with back straight and arms fully extended, grab the bar with an underhand grip a little narrower than shoulder width. Slowly pull the bar down, bending your elbows until the bar is just under your chin. Hold for one second, then count to two as you return the bar. Do three sets of 12.
6. Make changes
“Every six workouts your body has fully adapted and won’t get the same benefits,” explains Harling. So try to incorporate a new move each time and reverse the order.
7. Fuel up
“Eat an hour before your workout for energy without sluggishness,” advises sports nutritionist Penny Hunking. Here’s an ideal pre-workout shake… blend 250ml apple juice, 250ml semi skimmed milk, 250ml fat-free yogurt, and 200g raspberries.
8. Shake down
Focus on carbs after a big session. “Carbohydrates stimulate insulin, the rapid transit system that gets nutrients to your muscles to refuel and repair them,” says sports nutritionist Anita Bean. So add a banana to yesterday’s shake.
9. Isolate it
Sit on a bench with your legs spread, holding a dumbbell in your right hand. Your right elbow should rest against your inner right thigh, just above the knee. Curl the dumbbell up as high as you can without moving your elbow from your thigh, then slowly lower. Do three sets of 10 reps on each arm.
10. Dumbbell draw
With a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing upwards, pull the dumb bell up and in line with the side of your body. Next, rock your arm, so your elbow’s pointing forward and your fists are pointing over your shoulder. Hold, then perform the rotation in reverse. Do three sets of 12 reps on each arm.
11. Keep breathing
Exhale as you complete the repetition, and then inhale as you lower the weight to maintain posture. “But it’s not a problem if you do it backward,” says Ceri Hannan, national fitness manager at Fitness First. “The point is to avoid holding your breath, as that can cause your blood pressure to spike.”
12. Take a break
Resting for 30 to 60 seconds between sets isn’t long enough for your muscles to recover fully. “Wait three or four minutes, and your muscles will have a chance to return to full strength,” says exercise physiologist Ed Eyestone. Then you can use more weight on your next set for greater muscle growth.”
13. But not a complete break
If you don’t want to hang around for four minutes, train a different group of muscles during the rest. Work your triceps with push downs, then work your (rested) biceps as your triceps recover. “This reciprocity training will induce exhaustion and build muscle quicker,” explains sports physio, Jonathan Lewis.
14. Rest easy
“Leave at least 24 hours between heavy weights sessions,” sports physio Jonathan Lewis advises. “It’s the micro-tears that cause the soreness in muscles, and it’s during the rest period after your session that the muscles will grow, so don’t interrupt that with another heavy session.”
15. Lean into it
Get rid of any help gravity might provide with regular curls by lying forward on an incline bench and using dumbbells 5kg lighter than usual. Slowly curl one dumbbell until your biceps can’t contract any harder, then lower it – again slowly – and curl the other. Do three sets of 10 reps with each.
16. Chin up
If you can’t manage a proper chin up – and most people can’t so don’t beat yourself up about it – try the negative version. Standing on a chair, jump and grab the chin up bar with an underhand grip so you’re in the finishing position. Slowly lower yourself, counting to six. Do three sets of four.
17. Go small
If you exercise your biceps at the end of a workout, you could be too tired to crank up the intensity. “It’s best to exhaust the area you want to focus on first so you can give it all your attention,” says sports physio Jonathan Lewis.
18. Get a grip
How you hold your weights affects the way muscles are worked. With a barbell, have your palms facing upwards to work your biceps – palms facing down to work your forearms. Keep elbows relaxed and not too tight against your body.
19. Work the angles
Work your muscles with different motions. “Change the angle your arm has to move through to get maximum stress and build muscle,” says sports physio, Steve Briggs. Start with a standing barbell curl, then move on to a preacher curl, and lastly do a set of concentration curls.