How to Get Bigger Biceps Without Doing Endless Curls
Biceps are the quintessential show muscles because they sit front-and-center on your upper arms. Whenever anyone asks you to show off your gains, your first instinct may be to flex your arms.
Big arms — specifically, big biceps — are associated with strength, fitness, and confidence. However, the key to developing your upper-arm muscles isn't spending hours doing biceps curls.
In this article, we'll explain how to get bigger biceps through various workouts that will add definition to your upper arms and increase your upper-body strength. We'll also share common misconceptions about biceps exercises so you can maximize your training time.
The Benefits of Bigger Biceps
The biceps, or biceps brachii, is a two-headed muscle comprised of:
- Long head — located outside of your upper arm, where your biceps peak
- Short head — found along your inner arm, gives your biceps girth and width
While many people want bigger biceps for aesthetic reasons, bigger arms may also benefit your health. According to a 2016 study by researchers at UCLA, a higher level of muscle mass reduces the risk of death in cardiovascular disease patients.
Building up your biceps can improve your upper body strength and forearm stability, too, which will make it easier for you to throw, lift, push, and pull.
3 Common Biceps Training Mistakes
There is plenty of misinformation floating around about the best ways to develop bigger arms, primarily for those who seek a quick-fix solution. Here are three common mistakes people make when trying to build muscle in their upper arms:
1. Biceps Exercises Alone Are Not Enough
Many bodybuilders and other athletes resort to isolation training of the biceps muscles while neglecting key muscle groups like the triceps.
Your triceps are a much larger muscle group than your biceps. If your sole focus is on growing your biceps, your upper arms will become aesthetically and functionally imbalanced.
Don't ignore the muscle groups in your back, either, such as the latissimus dorsi and trapezius. The biceps alone won't help you build upper-body strength. Not to mention, weak back muscles can impact your shoulder rotation and increase your risk of injury.
2. Focus Less on Reps, More on Form
A common misconception about growing bigger biceps is that you should grab a set of the heaviest dumbbells you can find and perform endless biceps curls.
At most, you only need to perform 8 to 15 repetitions per set. Start with lighter weights and decrease the number of reps when you move to heavier weights. Your strength-training sessions shouldn't last longer than 60 minutes, assuming you’re working more than just your biceps.
Maintaining proper form and utilizing the right amount of intensity play a more integral role in achieving bigger arms. Overtraining and poor technique can lead to muscle fiber strain and other setbacks.
3. Don't Forget About Eccentric Movements
However, the inclination to quickly lower the dumbbell eliminates the eccentric movement that elongates the muscle to help it grow. Relying on the gravity of the dumbbell instead of maintaining proper control can lead to shoulder injuries.
A combination of concentric and eccentric movements promotes biceps muscle growth and increased upper-body strength.
The 4 Best Exercises for Bigger Biceps
To build muscle in your upper arms and improve your upper-body strength, incorporate the following exercises into your workout routine. Modifications for each exercise are included.
1. Biceps Curls
What it is: This is the classic workout used to develop bigger biceps. It'll build strength in your forearms, too.
Targeted areas: Biceps and forearms.
What you'll need: A pair of dumbbells.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Your elbows should be loose — if they're too tense, you're likely to injure yourself.
Hold the dumbbells at your sides in a neutral position. Lift both arms up at the same time, rotating your palms towards you, then squeezing the dumbbells for about two seconds. With control, slowly bring your arms back down into a neutral position.
Breathing is important. Exhale when you lift the dumbbells up, and inhale when you drop your arms.
As you move your arms up and down, keep your elbows locked at your sides. Moving your elbows forward while bringing the dumbbells up takes tension off the biceps.
- With a barbell: This exercise can be done as a barbell curl. With an underhand grip, lift the barbell up towards you, squeeze for about two seconds, then bring it back down with control.
- With a resistance band: Stand on top of a resistance band with your feet shoulder-width apart and a slight bend in your knees. With your palms facing forward, bring the band as close to your shoulders as possible. Hold briefly, then slowly bring your arms back down.
- With an incline bench: For seated incline dumbbell curls, adjust an incline bench to between 45 and 60 degrees. Rest your back against the bench and keep it there while you move the weights up and down. Resist the urge to lean forward.
2. Preacher Curls
What it is: Preacher curls provide more isolation of the biceps muscles than a biceps curl.
Targeted areas: Biceps.
What you'll need: Preacher curl bench and an EZ bar or a barbell.
Lean the back of your arms flat against the pad of the bench. You may need to adjust the pad so it's at the best height for you.
With an underhand grip, grab the EZ bar or barbell and slowly bring it up to around your shoulders as you exhale. Once you start to feel resistance from the bar, bring your arms back down with control and inhale.
Keep your elbows locked in front of you to isolate the biceps. Avoid using your upper body as resistance. The bulk of the movement should be coming from your biceps.
- Modifications: If you don't have a preacher curl bench at home, you can use almost any surface with an incline. Alternatively, you can perform this workout without a bench by sitting forward and resting the back of your arms on your knees before lifting your arms at a slight angle.
What it is: This compound workout works your biceps muscles and strengthens your upper back and shoulders.
What you'll need: A stationary horizontal bar.
Supinate your arms so your palms are facing you as you grip the horizontal bar. You should hang with your feet slightly off the ground and crossed at the ankles.
Curl your arms as you lift your body upwards, until your chin reaches over the bar. With control, straighten your arms to bring yourself back down. Remember to utilize the full range of motion in your arms.
The difference between chin-ups and pull-ups is how you grip the bar. An overhand grip will rely on your back muscles to do the heavy lifting. Chin-ups utilize an underhand grip, which puts your biceps to work.
- For beginners: Use an assisted pull-up machine to build yourself up towards doing a chin-up with just your bodyweight. If you don't have access to such a device, loop a resistance band around a horizontal bar. Place the band under your knees for support as you lift your body up.
4. Diamond Push-Ups
What it is: Unlike standard push-ups, which primarily target your shoulders and chest muscles, close-range diamond push-ups also activate both the biceps and triceps for the ultimate upper-body exercise.
What you’ll need: No equipment needed.
From a plank position, create a diamond or triangle shape with your hands by touching your thumbs and forefingers right below your chest. Lower your chest to your hands then bring yourself back up to the starting position, squeezing your glutes and keeping your back straight the entire time.
Just like a traditional push-up, make sure to keep your elbows as close to your ribs as possible so they don't flare out.
- For beginners: If a diamond push-up is too difficult to start with, separate your hands while keeping them closer to your body than you would a normal push-up. Over time, you can gradually move your hands closer together until you can make a diamond or triangle shape with your hands.
- Decline push-ups: This push-up variation also works your upper arm muscles. Place your feet on a raised surface with your hands underneath your shoulders. Bend your elbows as you lower your chest to the floor. You can make this workout more challenging by raising the surface.
Bottom Line: Vary Your Workouts for Bigger, Stronger Biceps
Biceps curls are useful for building muscle in your upper arms, but they are not the end-all, be-all. A varied workout routine with exercises that target the surrounding muscle groups in your arms, shoulders, and back will culminate in sculpted upper arms and improved upper-body strength.
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