Who doesn’t want to be able to fill their sleeves out on a shirt that is otherwise loose everywhere else? Arms are like the universal indicator for muscle when you see a guy walking down the street. He could have small legs, a big belly, no chest and small shoulders but if he has a pair of swollen guns hanging off his shoulders filling out a t-shirt… well, he gets attention.
So how can you grow a set of Arnold Schwarzenegger biceps with the single big vein running down the middle? Yoga… Only kidding.
The bicep muscles are no different to any other muscle in the body, in that they need to be forced to adapt and grow to a stressor, however, hammering them with heavy weight in isolation also generally results in sore tendons, inflamed joints and injuries.
And with injury, comes a lack of progression and long term a reduced potential to grow more muscle.
But before we get into how to grow big arse biceps, first we need to understand the form and function they provide.
As the name implies, the Bicep Brachii is a 2-headed muscle, with multiple attachments running between the elbow and the shoulder in the anterior (front) portion of the humerus (upper arm).
The two heads of the Bicep include:
1. Long head
The Long Head of the Biceps originates at the top of the shoulder, attaching to the top of the shoulder cavity known as the Glenoid Fossa and inserts on the Radius bone of the forearm.
2. Short head
The Short Head of the Biceps originates at the top of the shoulder also but attaches to a bony protuberance of the scapula known as the Coracoid Process. The Short Head then inserts onto the Radial bone of the forearm as well.
The primary actions of the Biceps Brachii on these joints are to:
- Flex the elbow (bend the elbow)
- Supinate the forearm (turn palms to the ceiling)
- Flex the shoulder (raise arm to the ceiling)
So despite the common understanding of a Bicep simply just flexing the elbow, it also has some method of action at the shoulder joint as well, which is important to remember later when we discuss exercise prescription. Outside of the Biceps Brachhii, two other muscles known as the Brachialis and the Brachioradialis also make up the anterior portion of the Humerus and should also be considered in Bicep training.
1. The Brachialis
The Brachialis is a small muscle the sits beneath the Biceps Brachii, originating at on the Humerus and attaching onto the ulna bone of the forearm.
Its primary movement is elbow flexion and is activated dominantly during an isometric contraction (when a joint remains in the same position but the muscle is activated) as opposed to the Biceps, which take the brunt of the work in dynamic contraction.
2. The Brachioradialis
The Brachioradialis is a small muscle that articulates over the lateral portion of the elbow, originating on the Humerus and inserting onto the distal end of the Radius bone of the forearm.
Its primary movement is elbow flexion and is activated dominantly during elbow flexion when the hand is pronated (facing towards the ground) or in a ‘neutral’ position, known more commonly as a hammer grip (like holding a protein shaker).
Ok now that’s out of the way, and taking all of the information listed above on board, how can we maximally overload the biceps for hypertrophy?
Before we get into the program and the ensuing notes that go alongside it, please note that the following 4 principles will be the cornerstone of this program:
- The muscle that is being stretched the most is the muscle that will be activated the most
- To maximally contract a muscle you must bring its origin and insertion closer together
- The primary determinant of muscle growth is mechanical progressive overload
- A secondary determinant for muscle growth is metabolic stress caused by an influx of exercise induced waste product
So with those 4 key principles in mind and the understanding of the origins, insertions and method of actions of the Biceps Brachii, Brachialis and less importantly the Brachioradialis, behold a program below designed for maximum Bicep Annihilation every time.
Now let's clarify a few things:
- Where you see A1, this refers to the exercise order. If the same letter appears twice, such as B1, B2 and B3, then those two or more exercises are to be completed back to back like a superset or a giant set without rest between each set.
- Occlusion training refers to a technique where you restrict blood flow for maximum metabolic fatigue, which helps stimulate muscle growth in a manner that cannot be achieved with moderate weight lifting. Please read both of the articles below prior to completing this session.
- The total reps column is allocated for the amount of reps you achieved over the entire exercise and the sets allocated
- The goal of the workout in exercises A through to C is to fall 1 rep from failure in the final set. If you can beat the target reps then continue to lift more repetitions.
- As each week progresses, the goal is to either beat the repetitions achieved with the same weight or to increase the weight and maintain the repetitions as best you can.
A1 – Seated DB Alternate Curl
This exercise is designed to act as a primary strength movement and allows you to target the Brachialis, Brachioradialis and the Biceps Brachii to their full potential.
B1 – B3
These 3 exercises are designed to target the biceps through multiple angles, which allows you to overload portions of the bicep more effectively. By using a slight twist from bottom to top on the seated alternate curl, activation of the Biceps Brachii is enhanced, while the spider curl isolates the Biceps by placing the shoulder into isometric shoulder flexion, rendering the shoulders actively insufficient. Finally, when seated on an upward incline, the position of shoulder extension allows for greater Brachii activation as well due to being on full stretch.
We recommend pausing the contraction on B3 to maximise Brachialis activation as well.
C1 – Laying Cable Curl
Lay flat on your back and begin elbow flexion while simultaneously completing shoulder flexion (lifting your elbows to about 30 degrees above your chest) in a smooth manner. Doing this maximises complete Bicep activation across a full range of motion without being impeded by gravity or strength curves commonly felt in standard Bicep movements.
D1 – D2
Occlusion training is a fantastic way to create metabolic fatigue and volume accrual without stressing the ligaments and tendons further with heavy weight.
I wouldn't recommend using occlusion consistently for any longer than 4 weeks consecutively though.
Which brings me to this moment...
The end… time to upskill your knowledge with the below articles and then embrace the arm gains!