For many guys, their fitness goals start with a pair of strong, muscular arms. But getting there is not as simple as curling themselves into oblivion.
“Even with all the tender loving care in the world, building bigger biceps is no easy feat,” says Jeremy Ethier, kinesiologist, fitness trainer, and founder of Built with Science.
However, based on research and science, there are definite methods to maximize and prioritize your biceps growth (i.e. electing the right exercises and structuring your workouts correctly) that will help you do it. Ethier has a strategy that he believes can show gains in 8 weeks.
“I guarantee that even if you’re a ‘non-responder’ or just haven’t been seeing much results with your current biceps regimen, that implementing this plan will result in new growth for your biceps, or any muscle that you apply these strategies to,” says Ethier.
Here are Ethier’s four steps you should follow to achieve biceps gains.
Adjust Your Weekly Biceps Training Volume
Simply increasing your biceps exercise volume will stimulate more growth. Ethier cites research from respected exercise scientists like Brad Schoenfeld and James Krieger to back up his point.
“You may be able to get to as high as 30 sets per week while still seeing a benefit in growth,” says Ethier.
However, he notes this doesn’t mean you should throw in 30 sets of biceps into a workout and do that once a week. Within each workout, there is a per-session volume limit. That means you don’t want to perform more than about 8 to 10 hard sets per muscle. Instead, you should split up our weekly biceps volume into 2 to 3 workouts per week to stay within that per-session limit.
Ethier recommends using something like the upper/lower split or a push-pull-legs split, and allocate up your weekly biceps volume accordingly. Once you have that set, slowly increase your weekly volume throughout the weeks.
For example, start Week 1 with 10 sets of biceps exercises. Then add 2 to 4 weekly sets, adding up to nearly 30 sets. He notes any pulling movements you do for your back, like pullups and rows, should also be counted toward your weekly biceps sets.
Manage Your Recovery
“All of the other muscle groups we train require energy, effort, and nutrients to recover and grow. So if our main goal is to increase the size of our biceps, it’s a good idea to reduce the volume we devote to our other muscle groups,” says Ethier.
Ethier suggests cutting volume down to about 9 weekly sets to maintain, or in some instances even grow a muscle. For muscle groups like your legs, back, chest and shoulders, allocating 9 weekly sets for each is a good idea to favor the recovery and growth of your biceps.
Make Sure You Vary Biceps Exercises
You should also focus on having the right variety of biceps exercises.
According to Ethier, this helps in a few ways. One, variation ensures that we are targeting both the short and long head of the biceps adequately. Secondly, varying movements trains the biceps through different strength curves in order to maximally stimulate all of the various regions and fibers of the biceps. Finally, mixing up your movements helps to prevent overuse injuries and the wear and tear that would accumulate very quickly if we packed a ton of volume into just a couple repetitive movements.
His 5 favorite biceps exercises that provide a good variety of stimulus, and why:
1. Incline dumbbell curl: These emphasize long head and challenges the peak contraction of the biceps the most.
2. Dumbbell preacher curls: These emphasize short head and challenges the stretched position of the biceps the most.
3. Barbell curl: These are for heavier loads and challenges the mid-range of the biceps the most)
4. Cable curls: These provide constant tension to biceps.
5. Standing dumbbell curl: These emphasize supination function of biceps.
“Simply distribute 4 or 5 of these movements and/or similar variations of them into your weekly biceps workouts as needed, and then as previously explained, gradually increase the sets you devote to each of these exercises throughout the weeks,” says Ethier.
You can also manipulate the order of our workouts. Ethier suggests moving them to the beginning of your workout when you’re fresh, rather than waiting until the end.
Dial in on Your Nutrition
To grow bigger biceps, you should be eating a small calorie surplus, not deficit. This might look something like 250 more calories per day.
And you should also be getting plenty of protein. Ethier suggests having at least 0.8 to 1g of protein per pound of your bodyweight.
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