Tired of loose t-shirt sleeves? Or maybe you just want bigger, wider arms to show off when you go to the beach or on a date?
Throughout millennia, big biceps have been a symbol of strength. The flexed biceps pose is one seen throughout history, from Ancient Greek statues all the way to the present day in sports celebrations, boxing weigh-ins and bodybuilding competitions.
And for many, it’s an impressive look.
Building big biceps comes down to a variety of factors. You need to be hitting the right amount of reps and sets. You need variation and progressive overload. You need to be working out regularly and maintaining a good, high-protein diet and sleep routine in the long term.
It might sound like hard work or a lot of information to take in, but it will become second nature after you have read through this guide.
The truth about building 15, 16 or even 17-inch biceps? Find everything you need to know down below.
1. Anatomy of the Biceps
First off, to know how to get bigger biceps, it’s important to understand the muscles involved.
Thankfully, it’s pretty simple.
The bicep brachii essentially consists of the long head and short head. The long head is located on the outside of your bicep and the short head is located on the inside of your bicep, closest to your body.
It goes without saying, then, that for big wide biceps you want to train both of the short head and long head equally through a combination of exercises that target each area.
Knowing this, you are already better equipped in your journey to getting big biceps.
2. Hypertrophy Explained
Now you know the bicep muscles, how do they grow bigger? The answer is hypertrophy.
In layman’s terms, hypertrophy is when you stress your muscles to the point that micro tears are created in your muscle tissue. The tissue then repairs itself, growing back slightly bigger than before.
With that said, making sure to initiate hypertrophy in each of your bicep workouts is how to get bigger biceps.
But how, exactly? Science-backed research over several decades tells us that the best way to reach muscle hypertrophy is to perform each exercise within the range of 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps.
It’s not just about hitting those numbers, however. It’s also making sure that the exercise itself challenges you. Put simply, you want to be challenged by the amount of weight or resistance, but still be able to complete the exercise.
As for how many exercises, a good number is 3 or 4 exercises a day for a standard workout routine that involves training each muscle two times a week.
2.1 Progressive Overload
So we know that hypertrophy is what’s needed to grow bigger biceps over time. The thing is that once your muscles have repaired bigger and stronger, the exercise that initially challenged you becomes easy.
This is where progressive overload comes in.
Progressive overload is the key to making sure you constantly reach hypertrophy in every workout. And it simply means that you progressively increase the resistance, or intensity, of the exercise over time.
In general, the easy way to do this is to increase the reps or amount of weight, which you can do every week or every two weeks (depending on how well you recover).
For example, you might be curling 15-pound dumbbells for 3 sets of 15 reps one week. The following week, you would move on to 3 sets of 8 reps at 20 pounds. The week after, 20 pounds again but at 3 sets of 10 reps, and so forth.
That is progressive overload, and one of the ultimate tips for building biceps.
3. Best Exercises for Biceps
Wondering what the best exercises for biceps are? The following biceps exercises all have one thing in common - they guarantee to give you big arms!
3.1 Bicep Curl
Considered the king of all bicep exercises. The bicep curl is an iconic exercise and one that comes with countless variations. It involves curling a dumbbell with a supinated grip, targeting both the short and long heads of the biceps.
And as long as you keep your elbow locked in place throughout each rep, it’s a biceps exercise that you can’t go wrong with. Check out this article to learn how to do bicep curls and everything you need to know about this fantastic exercise.
3.2 Hammer Curl
The hammer curl is a variation of the standard bicep curl that targets the long head, short head and upper forearm. It differs from the bicep curl in that you hold the dumbbell with a neutral grip (thumb knuckle pointing upwards).
Bicep gains aside, the hammer curl is also a great rehabilitative exercise for common injuries like tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow.
3.3 Preacher Curl
The preacher curl is the ultimate bicep exercise for feeling the burn. It involves curling a dumbbell, barbell or EZ bar with your triceps resting on a 45-degree surface.
With your arm locked in place and restricted at the lower portion of the movement, the exercise proves twice as hard - but with greater results. For this reason, it’s one of the best bicep exercises.
3.4 Waiter Curl
The waiter curl is a bicep curl variation that isn’t that commonly seen. The thing is, however, it’s one that delivers huge gains. It involves cradling a single dumbbell or weight plate in both palms, usually at a heavier weight, and curling into the chest.
If you haven’t tried it yet, the waiter curl is definitely one you want to include in your next biceps workout.
3.5 Chin Ups
No dumbbells? The chin up is a highly effective bicep exercise that replicates the dumbbell curl, except that you are pulling your entire body weight up to a bar.
The great thing about chin ups is that they also target your chest and back muscles. Ultimately, there’s a reason why chin ups are prevalent in army training, so make sure they are in your biceps workout.
4. Isolation vs Compound Exercises
What are isolation and compound exercises and why do they matter? When it comes to bicep training, you want to be doing both.
4.1 Isolation Exercises and Compound Exercises Explained
An isolation exercise is an exercise that targets a single muscle or muscle group. In this case, a bicep curl is an isolation exercise as it only targets the bicep muscles.
A compound exercise, on the other hand, is an exercise that hits multiple muscle groups. For this reason, a chin up is a compound exercise because it doesn’t just work out your biceps; it also targets your back and chest muscles.
4.2 Isolation vs Compound for Biceps
Which one is better? The answer is that it depends on your goals and ability.
If you are trying to build muscle mass in general, the chin up would be the obvious choice as it targets more muscle groups.
However, chin ups are a lot harder than bicep curls and require more technique. On top of that, you are limited to lifting your whole body weight, which you don’t have control over in the same way you can switch dumbbell weights at the gym.
5. How Often Should You Workout Biceps?
Like any muscle, you want to train it as much as safely possible with adequate rest in between workouts.
How much rest is enough?
As a rule of thumb, it’s best to allow at least 48 hours of recovery time before you work out the same muscle again.
So, if you train your biceps on Monday, you should wait until at least Wednesday before your next biceps workout.
With this in mind, it’s possible for you to work out biceps two or three times a week.
6 Tips for Bigger Biceps
Want to get the most out of your biceps workouts? Here are some tips that you might not already know.
5.1 Weights vs Bodyweight
Is free weights or bodyweight better for building biceps?
The simple answer is why not both?
Both free weights and bodyweight exercises offer ways to stimulate and encourage muscle growth. There are even many bicep bodyweight exercises that cannot be replicated by weights, such as pelican curls and headbanger pull ups.
For maximum bicep growth, you want to challenge your biceps as much as possible. In fact, before you know it, you will eventually reach a plateau performing the same exercises over and over again. Your biceps will get used to the same stimulus, in other words. So make sure to surprise them by constantly mixing it up!
5.2 Slow Negatives
If you have never tried slow negatives, you are missing out on serious bicep gains.
Slow negatives, or slow negative reps, involve performing the negative (or eccentric) phase of an exercise as slowly as possible. Using bicep curls as an example, the negative phase would be the second half of the rep as you lower your arm.
The key here is to increase the weight of the dumbbell, use your other arm to help you bring the dumbbell up, then perform the negative as slowly as you can (five seconds, for example) for reps.
Why? Because performing slow negative reps puts more tension on the biceps as you fight gravity to maintain control of the dumbbell.
But take note: slow negatives can be detrimental if done too often, due to the stress on the muscle tissue. If you’re going to include them in your bicep workouts, limit them to once every few weeks.
5.3 Bicep Curl Variations
Did you know that grip and range of motion matters for targeting different areas of the biceps?
Let us explain.
Curl a dumbbell into your chest area and you will target more of your outer bicep: the long head. Curl a dumbbell outwards, away from your shoulder, and you will target more of your inner bicep: the short head.
These are called narrow grip bicep curls and wide grip bicep curls. And the same can be applied to chin ups by how wide or narrow you grip the bar. So for big, 3D-looking biceps, you want to do a mixture of both!
You can also mix things up with pronated and supinated grips. A supinated dumbbell curl (knuckles down) will target your short head and long head, while a pronated bicep curl (knuckles up) will target more of your short head and upper forearm.
What’s more is you can even change where you hold the dumbbell, if you’re looking to take your bicep curls to the next level. By holding the dumbbell with your hand off-centre, the instability will force your biceps to work harder with each rep, subsequently providing more stimulus and hypertrophy.
6. What Should I Eat After a Bicep Workout?
Whether you’re training chest, biceps or legs, you should always aim to eat a high-protein meal post-workout.
After any type of resistance training, your muscles will be fatigued, sore and very slightly damaged (in a good way) so knowing what to eat for muscle recovery will greatly help in speeding up the process. Protein provides the amino acids and nutrients needed to build and repair any weakened or damaged muscle tissue. This post-workout recovery phase is known as being in an anabolic state.
How much protein should you eat?
A good rule is to aim to eat at least half a gram of protein per pound of your body weight, per day. So, if you weigh 175 pounds, you should aim to eat at least 87.5 grams of protein per day.
This may seem like a lot at first glance, but spread out over three meals it is easily manageable for most. And for those who need assistance in hitting their daily protein goals, whey protein shakes, protein bars and other high-protein snacks, like peanuts and Greek yoghurt, will help to increase your protein intake in a way that’s convenient.
But don’t forget that protein isn’t the only thing that is required for good muscle recovery. As most of the muscle recovery process happens during sleep, you also want to make sure that you are getting at least 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep a night!
The bottom line is this: the faster that your muscles repair and recover, the more ready and stronger you will be for your next bicep workout.
7. Don’t Neglect Triceps
If you want head-turning 15, 16 or 17-inch biceps, you have to remember the other muscle group that makes up your upper arm: the triceps.
Want wide arms from all angles? Then you have to apply the same amount of dedication to working out your triceps as you do for your biceps. Not only will it look odd if you have big biceps and no triceps, but you will find it a lot harder to achieve thick arms if you constantly neglect your triceps.
Just like the bicep muscle, the tricep is made up of a short head and long head, as well as a medial head. And by training all the heads - employing free weight workouts, bodyweight workouts and a mixture of various grips and techniques - you can guarantee your arms will be the biggest in the room in no time.
Some of the best triceps exercises you can do include overhead tricep extensions, skull crushers, tricep dips, tricep pushdowns, close grip bench presses and diamond push ups, to name a few.
And the same methods apply: aim to complete your workouts within the range of hypertrophy, allowing 48 hours of rest with a high-protein intake and adequate sleep each day.
As you can see, there is a lot to consider when it comes to achieving big biceps that really stand out. Ultimately, however, it all boils down to training for hypertrophy, steady progressive overload, mixing up your workouts each week and making sure to maintain quick and effective recovery through protein and good sleep.
There is no denying that 15, 16 and 17-inch biceps are impressive. And for that reason, it’s going to take long-term dedication and discipline to achieve them. But as long as you are consistent in your training, diet and recovery process, the faster your biceps will grow and the quicker you will move week-by-week towards your goal.
With that said, implement this newfound knowledge into your workouts and you will be in the fast lane to building huge bulging biceps - and the confidence that comes with them.
Say goodbye to baggy t-shirt sleeves once and for all!
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