Build bigger arms with smarter exercise selection
Hi, Joe Warner here, one of the creators of New Body Plan. I was in the gym last night and I had one helluva shock. My surprise wasn’t that of the 10 other guys in there 9 of them were training their arms – I’ve been in gyms long enough to expect that. But what did alarm me was the way in which they were training their arms. I’d never seen a gym floor like it!
In every instance heavy weights were favoured over strict form. Momentum was preferred over muscle power. Moves I’d never seen done before were prioritised over the tried-and-tested sleeve-fillers.
I wasn’t angry so much as disappointed. These men had decided to spend their Monday evening exercising, and so made a hugely positive choice of wanting to look and feel better. Yet while they’d done the hardest part of any training session – actually showing up – I couldn’t help but feel sad that they were wasting so much of their good intention with bad execution.
That’s why I put together this quick post. If you train your arms this week I want to swap in the three following biceps-building exercises, as well as focus on keeping your reps smooth and controlled and always move through a full range of motion, to pack on more muscle in less time.
Out: Dumbbell wrist curl
In: EZ-bar reverse-grip preacher curl
Why? Wrist curls are always been the go-to move for many who want stronger wrists, but in my experience a far-too heavy dumbbell is used and has the opposite effect of weakening the joint. A far better option is the EZ-bar reverse-grip preacher curl: it will work your biceps, as well as all the muscles of your forearm to improve wrist and grip strength, and help build stronger and more defined arms faster.
How to do it
• Sit or stand at a preacher bench, holding an EZ-bar with an overhand grip.
• Keeping your upper arms and elbows on the bench, curl the bar up towards your chin until your forearms are almost vertical.
• Pause at this top position for one second, squeezing your biceps hard.
• Lower the bar slowly and under complete control, fully straightening your arms at the bottom.
Out: Barbell curl
In: EZ-bar spider curl
Why? Curling with a straight bar places unnecessary strain on your wrists and elbows, whereas the undulating nature of an EZ-bar allows you to hold it with a far more joint-friendly grip. It also helps you keep your elbows tight to your sides to maximise the tension on your biceps and minimise the role of momentum in each rep. Even better, the spider curl works your biceps far harder because you’re constantly working against gravity. Think about it: when you do standard biceps curls there’s a point – when your forearms pass perpendicular to the floor – when gravity pulls the bar towards your body, rather than away from it. This has the effect of taking all the tension off the biceps. With a spider curl gravity is pulling the weight away from you throughout, so your muscles must work constantly to lift and lower the weight.
How to do it
• Lie chest-first on an incline bench, holding an EZ-bar with a shoulder-width underhand grip with straight arms.
• Keeping your chest flat against the bench and your elbows locked in position, curl the bar up.
• At the top position pause for a second and squeeze your biceps as hard as possible.
• Slowly lower the bar back down to the start position, fully straightening your arms by flexing your triceps.
Out: Cable bar curl
In: Double-cable biceps curl
Why? The cable bar curl suffers from the same drawbacks as the barbell variation in that it can place too much strain on the wrists, forces the elbows out to the sides, and takes tension off your biceps once your forearms are vertical. A far better alternative is the double-cable biceps curl because it not only works each arm independently, forcing your weaker limb work harder, but by taking a step forward you start each rep with your arms behind your body, thus making them work through a greater range of motion to recruit and fatigue more muscle fibres. And that’s the secret to faster muscle mass growth!
How to do it
• Stand in the middle of a cable machine with a split stance holding a handle attached to the low pulleys in each hand with your hands back and behind your body.
• Keeping your chest up and your abs braced, curl your hands up until they reach shoulder height then squeeze your biceps hard.
• Slowly lower your hands back to the start position under complete control, fully straightening your arms and flexing your triceps at the bottom before starting the next rep.