How to do biceps curls for bigger and stronger arms
Build the big, defined and more impressive arms you want by learning how to do biceps curls to fill out your t-shirt sleeves as fast as you want, says New Body Plan creator and cover model Jon Lipsey
There’s a scene in the original 1987 Predator film where Major Alan “Dutch” Schafer (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) affectionately greets an old pal, Dillon (played by Carl Weathers), with the immortal line “Dillon, you son of a bitch!”.
The pair then grasp hands and the camera cuts to a close up of their biceps. They flex for a second before starting a playful arm-wrestle.
If you’re a man of a certain age, there’s a fair chance that scene (consciously or subliminally) made you want to increase the size of your arms. It was the perfect action movie moment. It captured the banter and the body shape that, as a kid, made you think, “I want some of that.”
Build bigger biceps
The trouble is, 30-odd years later, there’s a good chance that you haven’t quite nailed the action hero biceps look.
There’s an equally high chance that the reason you haven’t added size to your biceps is because you’ve been making some simple but significant errors when doing the classic bigger-arms move: the biceps curl. So follow the advice below and sculpt a set of guns that even Arnold would be proud of.
How to do biceps curls
Let’s begin by avoiding the most common mistake when it comes to barbell biceps curls: trying to lift a weight that is too heavy. As a result you’ll fail to apply sufficient tension to your biceps, which will limit how much they will grow. Put simply, it is your ability to effectively isolate and contract the biceps muscles that will determine the effectiveness of your arms workouts.
When you go too heavy, you have to use momentum (by swinging the weight up), and gravity (by letting the weight fall back down). If that happens your biceps muscle fibres won’t contract optimally. But if you reduce the amount of weight you’re lifting you can then fully control all parts of the movement.
What weight is best for biceps curls?
Saying that you shouldn’t got too heavy isn’t an excuse to go light or go easy. You should push yourself to your maximum capacity. You just need to be able to control the entire rep. So select a weight that only just allows you to complete the final rep of the final set with perfect form.
Are biceps curls the best lift for big biceps?
Biceps curls are great when done well, but you’ll need a range of direct biceps exercise in your plan if you want to maximise your growth potential and we’ll go into more detail on that below. You should also adjust the key workout variables that feature in a session.
You could do 3 sets of 10 reps one week then do 4 sets of 8 reps the next, for example. Or you could play with the tempo (speed of the lift) or the rest period between sets to give your muscles a fresh (and harder) challenge. You don’t need to change everything each session but you should probably change at least one thing each week.
What rep range is the best to build bigger biceps?
Generally speaking, around 10-12 reps are going to be the sweet spot for hypertrophy (muscle growth), but if adding biceps size is your aim then you could work within the 6-15 rep range.
There’s not a lot of value in doing 5 reps or fewer for your biceps. You’re better off using that strength-focused rep range for compound (multi-joint) exercises that also include your biceps, such as chin-ups and bent-over barbell rows. Unless there is a specific reason, you don’t want to do much work in the 15+ rep range because you’ll mainly be training muscle endurance.
When should I do direct biceps moves?
They are best done towards the end of your session. You want to do your big compound exercises early in the workout when you’re fresh. If you do your direct biceps work first and then try to do a compound move such as a barbell bent-over row, your capacity to lift in the latter move will be significantly reduced. You’ll have to lift a lighter weight in the row and your big back muscles won’t get much of a workout.
What’s the secret to growing bigger arms?
Your arms will look bigger if you do an equal amount of direct biceps and triceps (the muscles on the back of your arms) work. They will also appear bigger if you are leaner because lower body fat levels will help to give your muscles a more defined look.
That’s why you’ll need to do big compound exercises and high intensity work to complement your direct arms training. You shouldn’t just do endless biceps exercises, basically. But when you do train your arms, you really want to make it count. Here’s how you can get the most out of the classic biceps move.
How to do biceps curls: part 1
Step 1: Initiate the movement by drawing your elbow back
Before you start to curl the weight, move your elbow back a few centimetres to initiate the lift. The reason for doing this is that it discourages you from bringing your upper arm forwards as you lift the weight. It’s worth doing because when you bring your upper arm forwards that takes the emphasis away from the biceps muscle and moves it onto the front shoulders.
Step 2: Curl with purpose
We don’t want you to lift a weight you can’t control but we do want you to maximise your potential. That means you need to curl with purpose. Lift like you mean it and put everything into getting the weight from the starting position up to your shoulder.
Step 3: Keep your elbows in
Try to keep your elbows tucked in to your sides throughout the rep. When they flare out to the sides that’s because your middle delts (shoulders) are trying to take over. It’s a classic sign that you aren’t isolating the biceps effectively.
How to do biceps curls: part 2
Step 4: Squeeze at the top
When the weight is at the top of the move, squeeze your biceps as hard as you possibly can before starting to lower the weight. This is called a ‘peak contraction’ and will help you to get more out of every rep.
Step 5: Lower under control
The lowering phase is an overlooked portion of the move. People tend to think that the key part is lifting the weight up so they let gravity take over on the way down. That’s a big mistake. You have to control the negative (lowering phase) of the lift and you should lower each rep to a count of three or four to exploit the maximum muscle-building potential of the exercise.
Step 6: Squeeze your triceps at the bottom
This is something that hardly anyone does but it is so effective. At the bottom of the move, fully straighten your arms and squeeze the triceps muscles before starting the next rep. This is called ‘reciprocal innervation’ and will prime your body to activate as many biceps muscle fibres as possible when you perform the next rep.
To find your perfect plan, take the New Body quiz!
Take the New Body quiz!