High-Intensity Biceps

Prioritize your biceps training with this sure-fire muscle packer


The measure of a man comes in many forms: bank balance, investment portfolio, and even how many teeth he’s been willing to lose playing hockey. For the fit-minded guy, sure that stuff’s important, but you’ll also have to add a great pair of biceps, which are only second in importance to sliced abs.

Now, when you first start training, virtually any biceps routine will bring results. But that initial burst will shortly stall, and you’ll be left bewildered about what you’ve got to do to restart the growth. That’s where MaxFit comes in with the biceps workout strategy designed to boost your arm development in six short weeks.

How It Works
During the next six weeks, you will prioritize your arm training. The goal with priority training is to focus on a lagging body part and hit it twice during each training split or cycle. And that’s what you’ll do with this program, which also adds a few intensity techniques to the mix to boost muscle fiber stimulation.

Workout 1
The first time you hit arms in the training cycle will be immediately after your back workout. Since back training severely pre-exhausts the biceps brachii, this workout will consist only of one exercise done for a minimum of five or six sets. The intensity techniques employed at this stage includes drop sets and a modified form of rest-pause, wherein you rest no more than 20 seconds between sets.

For the first set, choose a weight at which you’ll fail on the 10th rep at which point you rest for 20 seconds, before launching into another set of as many reps as you can get—preferably eight. Continue like this until you’ve completed five or six drop sets. You should experience in incredible pump. Note: If you find you can’t reach eight reps per set from the second set onward, drop the poundage between sets to reach the target number of reps on the next set, and as necessary continue dropping the weight for each set thereafter. You are pushing the edge of the intensity envelope, so stay with it, even if on some sets you can only reach five or six reps.

Enjoy the pump, and if you’re up to it by week three of the program, finding that you’re sailing through five-six sets, you can increase the intensity of this simple routine by adding a couple of extra sets to the workout.

Exercise choice: With the exception of the standing EZ-bar curl, you can use any of the other exercises presented in this workout to use for this extended drop set. However, your best bet would be to use any cable version suitable for biceps work, since this will allow you to quickly drop the poundage on each set by simply moving the selector pin on the weight stack and continuing.

Workout 2
The second workout of your cycle, done a couple of days after Workout 1 (see “Suggested Training Schedule”), has a more traditional structure. It includes four exercises, each done for three sets, taking each set to failure. This structure relies on science to maximize your development during this priority training cycle.

Exercise scientists say that strength gains occur in lower rep ranges, up to six or seven, while muscle gains occur higher up, between eight to 12 reps. The choice of exercises and the set-and-rep schemes of this workout are designed to help you get both stronger and bigger—fast. That’s why you’ll shoot for the heavier weights and lower reps for the first two exercises of the routine and more moderate weight and higher reps for the final two, back off sets, which take into account the fact that your glycogen stores are pretty well depleted at this stage of the workout.

Rest 45 to 60 seconds between sets and exercises. Yes, welcome to the fun house.

Exercise Sets Reps Comment
Any biceps exercise (except straight or EZ-bar curl), preferably cable type 5-6 Starting set: 10 reps tell failure; subsequent sets: to failure, shooting for eight per set Rest no more than 20 seconds between sets, dropping weight if necessary to hit target number of reps
Exercise Sets Reps Comment
Standing EZ-bar Curl 3 6, 6, 8 Position grip on the outside camber to involve both heads of the biceps brachii
Standing Unilateral Cable Curl or Alternating Dumbbell Curl 3 8, 8, 10 Curling toward the body’s midline will target the outside head; curling outward will hit the long head; curling toward the shoulder will hit both heads of the biceps brachii
Preacher (Unilateral Dumbbell or Easy Bar Curl) 3 10, 10, 12 If you avoid full extension at the bottom, you will be able to maintain continuous tension on the biceps
Standing Unilateral Dumbbell Cross-Chest Hammer Curl or Hammer Rope Curl 3 12, 12, 12 In addition to hitting the biceps brachii, this exercise also involves the brachialis and forearm muscles
Day 1
Chest, triceps and abs
Day 2
Back and biceps (one biceps exercise done in extended-set format)
Day 3
Legs and calves
Day 4
Day for shoulders, traps, biceps and abs (do the complete biceps workout)

Max Fit Tip
Go heavy in your first two exercises, when your energy stores are full.

Standing EZ-bar Curl
A mass builder, the EZ-bar’s cambers lessen the wrist strain that is more common with the straight barbell. Grab the barbell with the shoulder-width underhand grip, allowing your arms to hang. Standing erect, retract the shoulder blades and then lift the weight in an arc toward your chin. Do not curl to the point where you feel a loss of tension in the biceps. Also, try to keep your elbows as close to the body as possible. Contract hard in the top position, and then lower the bar to the starting position. Repeat.

Standing Unilateral Cable Curl
Depending on execution, you can hit either the outer or inner biceps head or both heads simultaneously (see workout chart). Using underhand, grab a D-handle attached to a low pulley cable using an underhand grip. Curl the handle toward your shoulder, making sure to keep the elbow tucked against your torso. At the top of the moment, squeeze the biceps, before slowly returning to the starting position. After completing the required number of reps, repeat with the other arm. For variety, you can also do a unilateral dumbbell curl.

Unilateral Preacher Curl
Position yourself at a preacher bench, extending a dumbbell held with an underhand grip. You can grip the pad with your other hand for support. In a smooth and controlled motion, curl the dumbbell toward your shoulder, stopping short of where you sense you’re losing the contraction. Squeeze hard, and then slowly return to the starting position. After completing the required number of reps, repeat with the other arm.

EZ-bar Preacher Curl
Sit snugly on a preacher bench and grasp the bar with a shoulder-width underhand grip. Extend your arms at the bottom, keeping your elbows bent slightly to maintain tension on the biceps. In a smooth and controlled motion, curl the bar upward toward the chin, stopping just short of where you feel you’re losing the contraction. Squeeze hard, then return to the starting position but go slowly, working the negative on the way back down to engage deeper muscle fibers. Repeat the movement to failure.

Standing Alternating Dumbbell Curl
Using a neutral grip, grasp the dumbbells and let them hang at your sides. Retract your shoulder blades and slowly curl either dumbbell up toward your shoulder. As soon as the dumbbell clears your hip, supinate the hand until the palm faces the ceiling. Keeping your elbow as close to the torso as possible, continue curling. Stop curling at a point when you feel the contraction begin to weaken, squeeze hard, and slowly return to the starting position. Repeat with the other arm.

Standing Alternating Cross-Chest Hammer Curl
Grab a dumbbell using a neutral grip by your side, with your palm facing inward. Curl it across your body toward the opposite shoulder. Try not to flare your working shoulder too far away from the body. (This is a great workout for your forearms.) Slowly lower the dumbbell back to the starting position, and repeat for required number of reps. Switch arms.

Cable Hammer Curls
Hook a rope cable attachment to a low pulley. Keeping your feet hip-width apart, grasp the rope in a thumbs-up neutral grip and extend your arms. Retract your shoulder blades, grab the rope ends using a thumbs up or neutral grip. Maintaining the neutral grip and keeping your elbows locked at your sides, curl toward your clavicles. Stop at the top of the movement and flex your biceps intensely for a peek contraction effect. Return to the start position.

Originally featured in Maximum Fitness #11, March/April 2008

The information in this article is presented for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice or attention of any healthcare professional. Consult your physician before beginning or making changes to your diet, nutritional, supplement, or exercise program.