Biceps is probably the most known muscle of the whole body. Even most of girls or children know it and are able to flex it. For these reasons it is crucial to have this muscle well developed. In this article we will explain what to do if your biceps is small and doesn’t want to grow. We will discuss:
- What are the usual (wrong) advices about bringing up this body part,
- Why your biceps is underdeveloped,
- How to get bigger biceps – the solution,
- Workout example.
Usual advices about bringing up underdeveloped guns
People with a small biceps have really hard time. They try everything and their guns still don’t want to grow. I’ve heard many and tried most of usual advices about how to bring up this muscle. To be honest none of them really work. Here is the list of the most common advices you can hear in a gym or read in internet about getting bigger biceps:
- Train it twice a week,
- Do more exercises than you do now,
- Do less exercises,
- Train it with a light load and do more repetitions (12-15 or more) – to increase blood flow to the biceps,
- Focus on feeling the muscle,
- Try FST-7 (7 sets of 15 reps) or other fascia stretching techniques,
- Train your biceps after squat (more hormones in the body after compound exercises),
- Train it every day,
- Use different exercises,
- Do it after your back muscles,
- Don’t do it after your back muscles,
- Use some shocking methods like supersets, dropsets, etc…,
- Do not cheat (perform strict repetitions),
- Perform cheated reps :),
- Start doing weighted chin-ups and add more weight over-time.
These advices sound very funny to me now. As you can see many of them contradict themselves and to be honest most of them completely suck. They simply don’t work.
Every experienced bodybuilder will give you different instruction. The worst answer I’ve heard is: ‘It’s genetics. Your biceps will be always small’. That’s a complete nonsense.
The last advice (weighted chin-ups) is the closest to the truth. This tip which is relatively new has much sense. Chin-ups especially with added weight will definitely help us to get bigger biceps. However along with the biceps our back muscles will be growing as well and of course the rest of our body which we train in different days. As a result it will grow a bit but it will be still smaller comparing to the other body parts.
I’ve tested most of those tips myself and I know many people who tried them as well. Guys try to do more exercises for biceps or less, train it more or less often. They use different shocking methods, cheated or strict reps; try to ‘feel’ the muscle and so on. They fail. Their biceps is as small as it was before.
Why your biceps is underdeveloped
To figure out how to get bigger biceps we have to realize why it is smaller or underdeveloped in a first place.
Your biceps is smaller than the rest of your body because it is weaker than the rest of your body.
There are also few not-direct reasons which might hold you back:
These are only secondary reasons and we will not be discussing them in this article.
How to get bigger biceps – the solution
When we understand that our biceps is smaller because is simply weaker than other muscle groups we can figure out how to get it bigger. The simple answer is – make it stronger.
To make your biceps stronger you have to train it for strength.
- Less repetitions (5-1),
- Less volume (one exercise),
- Less sets (3-5 sets),
- Train more often (even twice a week), etc…
And this is how we will train our biceps. The only problem is that when we train for strength we use compound exercises where more than one muscle group is doing the work simultaneously; for example bench press (chest, triceps and front shoulder is working). To get biceps stronger and only the biceps we have to train it in isolation, at least at the start.
This is someway controversial, maybe even a bit crazy, but to get stronger biceps without involving secondary muscles, you have to train it with isolation exercise. There’s no other way for it.
Biceps is isolated when shoulders are hyperextended (elbows behind body). In other words to isolate it we sit on an incline bench with our hands hanging loose behind. Incline dumbbell curl is the best example of isolation exercise for biceps:
We could be performing standard barbell curls in low repetition range but I don’t want to start from them. People with weak biceps tend to use secondary muscle groups more (like lower back, traps or shoulders) to help with the lift. If we add more weight to the barbell straight away without getting guns stronger first we will only increase imbalances (make things worse). However we will perform them in our program only not straight away.
I advise you to perform this workout twice a week in days you don’t train your back muscles. It can be Monday and Friday or some other days you want as long as you have a break between them.
You can train your biceps only once a week this way if you are not able to do it more often. It will also work but it’s better to do it twice. You can perform it after you finish training other muscle groups because it’s only one exercise at the time.
Week 1 to 4
- Incline Dumbbell Curls 5×5
Week 5 to 8
- Barbell Curls 5x(5-1)
5×5 means 5 sets of 5 repetitions. In each set you will add more weight. You can start from the dumbbell which allows you to do easily 10 repetitions but do only five reps. Take a rest, take heavier dumbbell and do another set. Increase the weight in this pattern to do all 5 sets. Example:
5 repetitions with 8kg at around 50% of your one repetition maximum (1RM),
5x10kg @ ~60% of 1RM,
Each week try to use slightly heavier weight. You don’t have to increase the load each session.
If you feel that the weight gets too heavy and you can’t perform exercise correctly or you start to struggle don’t increase the load any more. Just stay with the same weight for the rest of prescribed sets.
The technique in these exercises is everything. Make sure it’s the biceps and only the biceps that does the work. Your arms must hang stationary by your sides and only the forearms should move up and down during exercise. Back has to be resting flat on an incline bench.
If you start to use your shoulders or back to curl the weight up it means that the weight is too heavy. Use lighter load because it defeats the purpose. If other muscles help you to lift you’ll be only making imbalances worse. Your biceps won’t get stronger this way so take your time.
5x(5-1) means 5 sets of around 5 to 1 repetitions. We start from the weight we can lift 5 times, take a rest and add more weight. Do another set of around 3-4 reps. Keep repeating the pattern until you reach 5 sets all together. This is how it will look in practice:
5 repetitions with 20kg at around 85% of 1 repetition maximum,
4x25kg @~ 90% of 1RM,
3x30kg @~ 95%,
Don’t try to be so precise with numbers. Just chose the weight that allows you to curl the barbell 5 times in a first set. Then keep increasing the load set by set. Again, don’t add any more weight and don’t force additional repetitions if your form breaks down. It’s ok if you perform for example 5,3,1,1,1 reps. Next session try to do more reps. On the other hand if you feel strong and you know that you can easily do more reps than that with the correct technique you can perform 5,4,4,3,2 repetitions for example. Next week use slightly heavier weight.
To perform barbell curls correctly I advise you to stand next to the wall with your back touching to it whole time during exercise. This way you will not be able to cheat by swinging your upper body. Make sure again that your arms and shoulders are stationary and that only the forearms are moving.
By training within lower repetition range (5-1) you will notice that you can lift heavier weight than during usual hypertrophy training (12-6 reps). Lower volume (less sets and exercises) causes smaller damage to muscle fibers and therefore fastest strength gains. This is how we train for strength.
8 weeks of this type of training will make your biceps much stronger. You can repeat this cycle again if you feel that you need to improve this body part any more.
Once your biceps is stronger, it will get bigger. Size comes from strength. Weakness is the main reason it was underdeveloped in a first place and training it harder and harder with too many exercises and too many repetitions usually brings no effect. Your guns will never get stronger this way.
Doing isolation exercises in low rep ranges (for strength) might sound insane at the start. But really it is a brilliant idea. This method can also help you to develop other lagging body parts, not only the biceps.
Once your biceps become stronger you’ll notice bigger pump and faster growth when you’ll come back to the traditional hypertrophy training – moderate reps (12-6) and more sets. You will never need to address this problem again; your guns will work perfectly fine in kinetic chain and will grow proportionally to the rest of your body.
Make sure that your forearms are strong enough as well because this can be another reason why your guns are small and weak.
You can repeat this program as many times you want; just watch out to not overdevelop this body part. Too big biceps might also look not proportional and therefore aesthetic. Remember to train surrounding muscles like triceps and forearms to avoid disproportions and imbalances.
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