Biceps & Forearms

How to build big biceps

IN this YouTube video, online personal trainer Rob Riches demonstrates the seated dumbbell curl (the seated position and performed slowly both serve to cut out cheating momentum), the incline barbell curl, and the concentration curl (one arm at a time). finishing with high cable pulls (otherwise known as the skull-crusher). Rob is an expert at explaining good form clearly, so make notes!

Vary your biceps routine regularly. Keep your workouts fresh with new exercises to stimulate the biceps. Make sure you train the biceps from all angles, such as hammer curls, twist curls, straight curls. And use different equipment: standing dumbbell curls, incline bench curls, EZ bar bicep curls, barbell curls, preacher curls, and cable-machine curls. This will cover all the bases, and maximise the number of muscle fibres being stimulated. If you go heavier with the weights, make sure you don't arch your lower back, as this can lead to lower back injuries. One trick is to do bicep curls with your back against a wall, to ensure you don't arch your back. Using an incline bench helps too.

Scroll down for information about the forearm muscles. It makes sense to train the forearms in the same workout as biceps, as bicep training warms up your forearms nicely. For best results train with a gym buddy or personal trainer, who will ensure you're using optimal technique, and motivate you to push beyond your normal limits (safely!).

Bicep muscle anatomy

Each arm has two bicep muscles: biceps brachii and brachialis. Everyone gets confused between the two, so I hope this clarifies things:

The biceps brachii completely straddles the humerus (upper arm bone), as its origin is at the scapula near the top of the humerus, and its insertion is at the radius (one of the bones of the forearm) just below the elbow. This muscle enables you to flex your forearm, and also to supinate it (twist it so that your palm faces upwards).

The brachialis has very different origin and insertion. The origin is half way down the humerus, and the insertion is at the other forearm bone, the ulna, just below the elbow. This muscle simply enables you to flex your forearm, without the twisting element.

Biceps Brachii

These are some of the best exercises:

Barbell Curl (standing with shoulder wide grip of barbell)

"To build maximum mass and work the total surface of the biceps, do Barbell Curls with your hands shoulder width apart. Notice how this puts the shoulders, arms and hands in a straight line." (Arnold Schwarzenegger's Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding)

Dumbbell curls (You can do this seated at different angles, or standing. You can perform alternate arms, or together. And you can vary the movement - straight curls, or with a twist, or hammer curls).

Preacher Curls (with EZ bar, barbell, or dumbbells)

Cable bicep curls with a straight bar (make sure you perform the movement slowly and under control, it's quality of the movement not just how heavy you lift that counts)

Brachialis

All the above exercises will work the brachialis, but also add reverse curls with barbell (with a reverse grip), with lighter weights than normal curls.

Forearm muscles: Flexors and Extensors

Some of the flexors help you to flex your forearm and others enable you to flex your wrist. Some of the extensors help you to straighten your forearm, and the other extensors enable you to straighten your wrist.

Best exercises for the forearm flexors

Barbell wrist curl - palms up: seated on a bench, rest your forearms on the bench, and curl a light barbell up and down at the wrist, palms up. You'll soon feel the burn! Another great exercise is to stand up, and hold two heavy dumbbells for as long as possible, gripping really hard (or alternating loose grip for 2 seconds, tight grip 2 seconds etc). I had a really good personal trainer in North London (a Russian bodybuilder) who introduced me to this one, and it's very effective. My forearms were screaming after a session with him!

Dumbbell hammer curls (trains both biceps, and upper forearms)

Hanging grip from an overhead bar - time how long you can hang, then make a note of it and try to beat your personal best each time.

Best exercises for the forearm extensors

Barbell wrist curl - palms down: seated on bench, rest your forearms on your knees, and curl a light barbell up and down at the wrist.

For the forearm muscles near the wrist and fingers, a workout you can do while watching TV is to squeeze a tennis ball. Another great forearm strengthener is to wring out a wet towel. This will give you strong hands and wrists.

I had a personal trainer in north London who put together some gruelling arm workouts for me, which began with the biceps, then triceps, and finally the forearms. My arms were so pumped up at the end, gorged with blood, that the veins showed prominently. Nice! It's a great feeling to work the arms to failure, and you'll find that it's easier to reach this peak of intensity if you train with a fitness buddy or personal trainer, for the moral support as well as some timely help with certain portions of each rep.