A lot of dudes talk about wanting "stronger looking" biceps. Rarely do you hear a guy talking about wanting his biceps to actually be stronger. Why not? Increasing strength in this muscle group can yield a host of other benefits, not the least of which includes pumping out more reps with more weight on biceps-building curls. Phil Gephart, MS, CSCS, a Newport Beach-based (Calif.) trainer (www.newportfit4life.com) and exercise science professor, offers up these tips to start building stronger bi's. The bonus? They'll be stronger looking in no time flat.
1] GET ANGULAR
"The arms need to be strong at all angles so you need to hit them with the elbows in front of the body, behind, and at the side of your body," Gephart says. He recommends incorporating this modified superset -- you'll get a little rest between exercises -- to your next biceps day:
-modified superset with-
Dumbbell spider curls
"Lay back on the incline bench, let the arms dangle so they are behind your body," he says. " Now supinate the forearms and start curling. Don't let your elbow move towards the sides of your body -- leave them back where they were dangling. Pull up as fast as possible and slowly lower the weight for 3-4 seconds. Wait 45 seconds then perform the incline spider curl. To do this grab a set of dumbbells to achieve a 6-8 rep range and lay face down on the incline. In this position your elbows are now in front of your body, as with a Scott curl or preacher curl. Same protocol as before, quick up, 3-4 seconds down. Wait 45 seconds then go back to the first exercise."
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2] USE FAT GRIPS
"Using fat grips is great because it causes the brain to activate more motor units," says Gephart. "More motor units can lead to strength gains and growth." If your gym doesn't have fat gripped bars, you can simply wrap a towel around barbells or dumbbells for curls or rows, or around a bar for pull-ups and chins. This challenges your grip strength which can be a limiting factor on how much weight you can curl effectively.
3] DO CHIN-UPS
"Can you even do one chin-up?" Gephart challenges. "Doing supinated (underhand), close-grip chin-ups can help your biceps grow stronger." Think about the overload of your triceps with close-grip bench presses -- by working your biceps on this type of pull, other muscles can assist, allowing you to stimulate them with much more weight than you would on an isolation move.
"The problem is biceps strength can also be a limiting factor," Gephart says. "Ever try to pull up to the top and you don't quite get there? That very well could be biceps strength limiting you. If you can't do a chin-up, grab a box or bench and jump up as you pull. Try to pin your chest to the bar making sure your shoulders are down and you're squeezing your back. Once you can hold yourself for 30 seconds you can try lowering yourself for 30 seconds. Once you can lower yourself through a full range of motion for 30 seconds (not 5 seconds most of the way down and 25 at the bottom) then you should be able to do (at least) one chin-up."
4] THINK ABOUT THE BRACHIALIS
"The brachialis is the small muscle that sits on the outside of your arm between the bi's and tri's," says Gephart. "It won't be the big, bad beach muscle you want all the chicks to see but it can definitely limit (or enhance) your strength potential. One way to grow that little, soon-to-be-big, guy there is with a standing pronated (palms down) EZ-bar curl. Use the outside grip rather than the inside grip. Again I'm looking for quick activation up with a 3-4 second negative." Try a 4-5 sets of 6-8 reps following the superset listed above.