To be honest, biceps have been one of the easiest bodyparts to develop. Thus, in line with the 'you can learn best from the hardgainer' school of thought, the question might be asked, what can a fortunate Ronnie Coleman with 22 inch guns teach a beginner about building trophy - winning biceps?
Quite a bit, I think, as all of my training routines have been constructed after a great deal of thought.
I never advocate the use of the exercises cited as the kind of mass building for the biceps: the barbell curl.
Like everybody else, when I started bodybuilding, I waned bigger biceps, even tough I am blessed with good arm genetics. I though the route to follow was doing barbell curls, but my early experiences with that exercise taught me that although barbell curls allowed me to use heavy weights, the muscular stress caused by the poundage was in no way being applied 100% to my biceps. I believe that the heavy weights employed for barbell curls encourage the user to cheat through the exercise, perhaps without even knowing it. A person tends to bend the upper torso to let the momentum of the weight take over. In addition, instead of the biceps powering out the reps, forearms and front delts are called into play too much.
You must analyze what kind of development you are aiming for with your biceps training. You should seek full development in terms of thickness and fullness of your biceps muscle attachments, plus optimum accentuation of the biceps peaks. Those aspects are best achieved by exercises that isolate the biceps - ones that allow you to put maximum stress on your biceps throughout the completion of each set. Cheating on barbell curls means that at certain times during the course of a rep, the biceps are given an easy, if not free, ride.
Based on the preceding thought, I came to the conclusion that cable work provided the required dual facilities of isolating the biceps while allowing them to be under constant stress throughout the completion of each set. The latter element is particularly difficult to attain during the negative (descending) part of each rep. This is where cables score heavily. With cables, you can maintain muscular stress during the negative phase to an extent that is not mechanically possible with free weights.
Many authorities claim that cables are solely for advanced bodybuilders, in order 'to refine what they've already built.' I don't agree. Cable work allows you to attack the biceps with 100% concentration, and that sort of exclusive application will make the biceps grow. Muscle fibers don't know whether the stress is being applied by free weights or a machine; they respond only to the level of muscular stress being placed on them. Whatever does the job, will do the job!
Although I'm a professional bodybuilder, I feel that the biceps routine I am currently employing for my Olympia preparation is, with minor modifications, suitable for weight trainers of all levels. Let me first detail the training program and then explain how it can be adapted for anybody from beginners on op.
As a police office in Arlington, Texas, I work the 3 to 11 PM shift Sunday through Thursday. I train six days a week at around 11 M, and do my aerobic work after I finish my shift. This is the bodypart split I am using for my 1995 Mr. Olympia appearance.
With my arms measuring 22 inches in contest shape, I don't have to worry too much about building size with my current biceps routine, so I keep my reps high (15 per set) to boost density and hardness.
Beginner's Biceps Routine
I start my routine with one arm cable curls. You can do this exercise by finishing a set with one arm at a time (i.e., do a set with the left arm, then complete a set with the right arm) or in alternate right hand to left hand style. Whatever method you use, the main effect of this exercise is to place maximum stress on the peak of each biceps muscle.
At the start of each rep, I let my arm hang fully extended, while still supporting the full pressure of the weight. Then, while keeping the rest of my body motionless, I curl the weight slowly upward. At the midpoint, I hold the weight and 'squeeze' the biceps for a full contraction. Then, I slowly release the weight to the starting position. As stated previously, the descent phase is where cables really come into their own, as they allow you to maintain full stress on the muscles at all times.
i use a weight with which 15 repetitions will be about my limit, but I train to failure, so if during a particular workout I hit 15 and still have something left, I'll continue until a full rep is impossible. I employ the failure principle with all my biceps exercises.
My second exercise is bar cable curls. In terms of adding bulk throughout the entire biceps muscle, I find this movement to be superior (for reasons outlined previously) to the standard barbell curl.
The execution is along the same lines as that used with one arm cable curls; I maintain pressure on the biceps throughout the completion of each set and hold the weight in the midpoint position for a peak contraction. However, for the concluding tow sets, but only at every other session, I go past failure and finish the set with two or three forced reps. Just for the sake of variety, I'll substitute rope cable curls for the bar cable version twice a month.
I complete my biceps routine with an exercise I call the cable crossover curl, which builds maximum peaks while bulking up the entire biceps muscle. This is a much neglected exercise (it doesn't even have a standard name) but one that seems custom made for a competitive bodybuilder. When you do this movement, you are really hitting a double biceps pose while applying weight resistance. What better biceps movement could there be for a competitive bodybuilder?
I start this exercise by holding cable attachments in each hand. I keep my arms straight, fully extended and parallel with the floor. Then I hit a double biceps pose and, in the fully flexed position, I squeeze the muscles for a maximum burn. Finally, I slowly release the weight to the starting position. Again, the biceps are under pressure throughout the whole set, and as you eke out the reps, you'll find you get a great pump.
Remember, my biceps training routine can be followed by weight trainers of all levels, though for beginners, I would suggest a slight modification to the routine. As you will notice, I advise that a beginner reduce the number of reps and increase the weight on the last two sets of each exercise. This is because a beginner's need for sheer size is more urgent than building hardness and density. The lower rep range and heavier poundages will fulfill that need.
Without letting you ego carry you away, go as heavy as your strength allows for the strict execution of each movement. 'Strict' means no cheating of the exercises by calling secondary muscle groups into play. Your goal is to build the best biceps your genetics will allow, so isolate the biceps and don;t let other muscle groups assist in moving the workload.
The most common biceps training mistake is overtraining. Many bodybuilders train this showcase muscle group too often with too many sets and reps. Working the biceps twice a week with 12 sets per session is enough for anybody. You can't rush progress. As a police officer, I know that undue speed will only mean that sooner or later you will be brought to an abrupt halt.