Killer Bicep Workouts | Building a Bicep Exercise Plan
Maybe you’re trying to turn a pair of soup noodles into serious, bulked-out guns. Or maybe you don’t care how bulky you get as long as your noodles are stronger than two skinny bars of wrought iron. In either case, a good bicep exercise plan will target the three large muscles that we use to flex the elbow: the biceps brachii, brachialis, and brachioradialis. And a great bicep workout will target not only these three, but also supporting muscle groups including those that stabilize the torso, strengthen the back, and control the hand grip.
As with all workouts that focus on one muscle area, it’s important to remember that no body part or muscle group functions independent of the others. To meet your bicep workout goals, regardless of what they are, you’ll need to make sure your movements are varied and balanced. And you’ll need to take a variety of factors into account including your lifestyle, motivation strategy, and nutrition plan.
Bicep Workout Goals | Strength or Mass?
Got your tickets for the gun show? Great! Let’s get started. The first step will involve setting attainable goals. Most bicep exercise plans begin with a simple question: If you have to choose, would you rather add mass or build power? A general rule of thumb suggests that greater muscle strain per movement will cause muscle tissue to expand at a faster rate (a process called hypertrophy), whereas fewer reps with lighter weights will increase strength instead of size. The actual truth behind muscle growth versus strength is a bit more nuanced than this, but in most cases, this equation works well as a simple guide.
Balance Realism and Ambition
Once you know where you’d like to go, you can build a plan that will get you there. Remember than any successful workout will require patience and dedication. Depending on your starting point, it may not be realistic to expect Popeye-sized arms in a week, or even a month. But if you recognize this upfront, you’ll be more likely to stay motivated when frustration sets in and the going gets rough. Set a realistic timeline, accounting for the hours per week you’ll be able to dedicate to your bicep exercise plan.
Bicep Workouts: Moves and Technique
Build your bicep workout around movements that contribute to healthy, balanced muscle development. This means variety, comfort, safety, and challenge. This does NOT mean 1) repeating only one or two movements endlessly, 2) continuing a movement that hurts the wrist, elbow or back, 3) Using a large weight to test a new lift you just invented while your spotter is in another room, or 4) boring yourself with weights and reps that fall far below your challenge threshold.
A good workout plan should burn your biceps without causing suspicious pain. And it should keep burning them as your strength increases and your challenge threshold goes up. Begin with these popular moves, adjusting the amount of weight to account for your starting point and personal goals:
1. The Alternate Hammer Curl
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and a weight in each hand. Raise the weights one at a time, focusing on the bicep as you lift (rather than the shoulder or back). Hands should be neutral with thumbs facing the sky.
2. The Alternate Incline Dumbbell Curl
Seat yourself on a weight bench with your back resting at an incline. Hold the dumbbell at your side and curl it toward your shoulder, again focusing on the bicep.
3. The Preacher Curl
The preacher curl is popular because it excludes the shoulder and back and places the weight of the dumbbell almost entirely on the elbow flexors. Kneel with a padded incline between your arm and body. Rest your elbow on the incline and curl the dumbbell toward you. Do this one arm at a time.
4. The Barbell Curl
Stand with feet at shoulder-width, holding a barbell in front of you using an overhand or underhand grip. (The overhand grip will better strengthen the muscles of your hand and wrist, which can increase grip strength and make your bicep workouts more effective). Hands can be spaced far apart or close together. A close, attenuated grip will strengthen the muscles on the outside of the arm, while a wide grip can help with back strength and balance.
Burn Down/Drop Sets
For bicep workouts focused on mass rather than strength, use the drop set or “burn down” technique. Select the heaviest weight level you can handle, and then execute your curls or lifts until you can’t do them anymore (failure).
Then reduce the amount of weight by a bit and lift to failure again. Repeating this over and over with gradually reduced weight will cause the incremental damage to muscle fibers that contributes to mass. Avoid this method if your goals are focused on strength or athletic performance.
Stretching and Flexibility
Stretching before your workout opens blood flow to the muscle fibers you plan to target. More blood flow means better oxygen delivery, and that means faster cell growth, faster recovery, and faster healing for hypertrophy and minuscule damage to muscles, nerves and tendons.
Stretching also improves ligament strength, increases balance and coordination, and helps to prevent injury. Don’t underestimate the benefits of stretching and warming your muscles before and after your bicep workouts.
Lifestyle and Nutrition Tips to Support Workout Goals
No matter which bicep exercise plan you choose, all good bicep workouts should be supported by healthy eating, plenty of sleep, and a balance lifestyle.
Don’t skip breakfast. Not now, not ever. When you wake up, eat. If you start the morning with a bite or two of whole grain carbs, fruit, and/or lean protein, you’ll be better able to manage your eating habits throughout the rest of the day.
Like breakfast, your lunch and dinner should be founded on whole grain carbs and plant nutrients, and supplemented by plenty of lean protein like fish, poultry, nuts, and legumes. Before a short workout, feel free to pack on the carbs (whole grain). Afterwards, choose lean protein sources like turkey to rebuild muscle and boost recovery.
Meanwhile, pay attention to the rest of your lifestyle. Get at least six hours of sleep every night (you’d be surprised how much this affects the success of your workout). Stay hydrated (choose milk, water or juice, but skip the soda), and find ways to manage daily stress. If you keep an eye on these supporting factors, you’ll have the focus, patience, coordination and determination you need to get the most out of your bicep workout.