This is the second part of our biceps training series with Team Beast athlete Rob Riches. You can watch the beginner section here, while this biceps article will focus on the intermediate athlete.
Whereas the beginner bicep routine focused primarily on the core bicep movements and addressed form and technique, this intermediate routine will look more closely at working the biceps through a range of different angles,. It also incorporates different variations with grips and hand positions.
This particular routine is designed to be most beneficial to those who have been weight training for at least 6 months, and have familiarized themselves with the basic movements highlighted within the beginner program. This is so that the lifter will have be consciously aware of engaging the biceps throughout the movements, and forcing a deep contraction at the end of each rep – especially during the final few repetitions when muscular failure is in effect.
The beginner routine will also allow the lifter to train and condition the muscles to become more efficient at working under stress and against increasing resistances. Once you’ve been able to reach a weight on all exercises that you’re unable to further increase without dropping below 10 repetitions, and still ensuring proper form and good technique, should you attempt to move forwards and try this intermediate routine. This helps you receive the full benefit of the following variations and training methods.
Exercise 1: Machine Curls
Target: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
Working the biceps through a fixed range of motion, such on an arm curl machine, will isolate the bicep (long head if arms are at the side of the body, and the short head if the arms are positioned in front of the body). This allows a deep and forceful contraction. The strictness of this movement may limit the overall weight that you may be lifting. But as far as effectiveness, you can’t do much better than machine curls.
While machines typically train the muscles through a fixed range of motion, there are many ways you can add variables into the exercise. After performing the first couple of working sets, where I progress up to my heaviest weight for 10 reps, I’ll incorporate a Rest-Pause into the next set this. This means lifting the heaviest weight I can for a minimum of 7-10 reps. After failure, relieve all stress off the muscles and lower the weight back down. Allow 20 seconds to pass before attempting a further 2-3 reps at the same weight.
This ‘Rest & Pause’ method is a great shocking principle when working with heavy weights without a spotter available. During the 20-second rest period, remain on the machine and focus on deep breathing to slow and control your heart rate. There’s no need to be on your phone, or walking around the gym. Mentally prepare yourself for achieve several more reps giving it everything you’ve got, but still with using good form and proper technique.
You’ll also see at the end of this exercise, I finish with an isometric squeeze of the biceps for 10 seconds. By consciously and forcefully squeezing the muscles and holding that squeeze for 10 seconds, you’ll keep all the blood within the muscle. That works towards greater conditioning of the muscles through the isometric hold. This technique doesn’t need to be used after every set. Just use it on the final set after you reached a maximum threshold of the muscle.
Exercise 2: Hammer Curls
Target: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
Hammer Curls may at first appear to simply be a slight modification of the standard dumbbell curl, and they are. Keep your grip around the dumbbells in this fixed neutral/semi-supinated, where the palms face each other with the thumbs at the top. It is a very different feeling in your arms.
First of all, this hand position will target more of the upper forearm, lower/outer bicep region. It is used to develop the brachialis. That is a muscle in the upper arm that sits deeper than the main biceps, and is a prime mover of elbow flexion. When well developed, it gives a clear distinction between the biceps and the triceps. It almost look as though there’s a smaller bicep muscle between them both.
The technique is practically identical to the seated dumbbell curl. But with a fixed semi-supinated grip, you only need to curl the dumbbells (in their vertical position) as high up towards the shoulder as possible until the elbow begins to pull forwards. I also like to lower the dumbbells all the way down, opening up the biceps for a full stretch.
Incorporate a series of partial reps, or 21’s as they’re also referred to, within the final working set. This is where I’ll focus on 7 reps performing only ½ of the range of motion (from starting position to only half way up), followed immediately by 7 reps of only the upper ½ of the range of motion, and finishing with up to 7 reps of the full range of motion from start to finish.
Given the volume of the repetitions, it helps towards muscular endurance. It also leaves you with a truly awesome pump in the arms. With this said, you may want to lower the initial weight being used. Focus more on really engaging the biceps and feeling them being worked through each range of the motion.
Exercise 3: High Cable Curls* & Close-Grip EZ Bar Curls
Target: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
*Perform each exercise as a superset, one after the other with no rest.
The high cable curls is a great movement that will target the long bicep head and focus on the bicep peak. This is an exercise where you don’t want to go to heavy. Rather, focus on the quality of each repetition. I will typically perform this exercise as part of a superset combo. I follow it immediately after with close-grip EZ Bar curls.
First, lets take a look at the High Cable Curls, which can be set up in a number of different ways. If your gym has two cable pulleys that are far enough apart where you can stand in the middle and still have tension on the biceps when holding both handles, arms stretched out, then you can perform both arms at the same time – just make sure the cable pulleys are positioned at a height where the handles and cables are parallel to the floor when your arms are in the final flexed position of the rep. In short, set the cable pulley height to that of your shoulder height.
If you the cable pulleys are not far enough apart to allow for both arms to be trained at the same time, then sometimes, just by taking a step forwards may give you enough distance so that the biceps will feel the weights when the arms are stretched fully out. If this still doesn’t give you enough distance, you can also perform this movement one arm at a time, as well as seated on a bench in the middle.
As you pull the handles in towards the side of your head, your upper arms should remain fixed without movement. They should be parallel to the floor (this will ensure that the biceps are doing all the work). Angle the elbows directly towards the floor. Have a straight line from your shoulders, through your arm, and to your wrist/grip. By maintain proper alignment, you’ll be focusing the majority of the work firmly on the biceps. It also minimizes any other muscles from doing more than they need to be.
Immediately after finishing each set of high cable bicep curls, have an EZ Bar close by. Perform 15-12 reps using a close, under-hand grip, with your elbows angled slightly outwards.
This has been a long-time favorite of mine (this superset combo). It leaves me with an intense pump in the biceps without needing to be using much weight. If you don’t have access to an EZ-Bar, you can use a straight bar. Use more of a standard-width grip, just with the elbows angled outwards, to train the wrists too much.
Allow for full ranges of motions with both movements. Try adding in a 10-second isometric squeeze after performing both exercises. Allow for no longer than 60-90 seconds of rest before attempting the next set. With these, I won’t increase the weights for any sets, as my muscular energy is already very depleted. Instead, I’ll focus on slowing my tempo and holding the final few reps in the contracted position for up to a second or two. You may find that you need to lower the weights after the first set, which is also fine.
Intermediate Bicep Summary
In summary, the intermediate bicep routine introduces a number of training methods and shocking principles into practice. At this level you should have at least 6-12 months of lifting experience. You should be comfortable pushing your muscles to their threshold during each workout – especially on the final working sets.
It doesn’t mean you should be trying to constantly push heavier weights. Rather, incorporate more variation into each exercise. Make use of a number of shocking principles that will keep the intensity high.
Perform this routine 1-2 times within a 7-10 day period. I’ll typically focus solely on biceps one day, followed by forearms on one day. Towards the end of the week, I may train them along with another muscle group, such as back, shoulders, or even triceps.
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