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Get Out The Big Guns: Bicep Workout

by StephenKelly

Second only to the pecs for "wow" appeal, the biceps are a muscle group that guys just can't get enough of. Capable of serious growth and strength, the biceps have long been a target area for men who believe that size really does matter. Besides the obvious strength-building benefits, a bulging set of "bi"s are probably one reason they invented sleeveless shirts. Why cover up a killer set of guns when you can proudly display them to the world? And where else would men put that ubiquitous armband tattoo?

Unlike the pecs, the biceps are used constantly in everyday life. Their primary function is to flex the elbow so the forearm moves toward the shoulder and to supinate, or twist, the wrists. A strong set of arms are needed for any kind of lifting, carrying, pushing or pulling. So most guys put a lot of importance on working their arms.

Unfortunately, arm exercises are some of the most abused when it comes to bad form. As a trainer, I constantly hear guys say that they work their arms to death, but don't seem to get the results they want. And it's not hard to see why, as guys often equate a good workout with curling a ton of weight. It's been my experience that if you're struggling with a weight that's too heavy, form goes buh-bye. So I see a lot of back sway, elbows coming far out in front of the body and exaggerated wrist bend that gives new meaning to the term "limp-wristed."

There's a lot to think about with these exercises, and an effective arm routine requires careful attention to form. As with all routines, perform these exercises with a slow, controlled motion, using weights challenging enough to allow you to perform three to four sets of 10 to 12 reps. Allow yourself no more than two minutes between sets.

So, if you're looking to be an arm grower and shower, follow our four-point arm routine to get them guns a-blazing.

Bicep Curls
Bicep curls are as essential to an effective arm routine as Madonna CDs are to a gay boy's music collection. If you're going to do only one exercise for your arms, this is it. Curls can be performed with dumbbells or barbells, lending variety to your arm workouts. While most gyms have barbells that are pre-weighted, you may also load your own weights on an EZ-curl bar, which in all cases weighs 25 pounds.

Stand with your back straight and hold the weights with an underhand grip, hands slightly more than shoulder-length apart. Inhale, and curl the weights toward your upper chest, keeping your elbows close to your side at all times. To keep constant tension in the biceps, stop the upward motion about six inches from your upper chest. Hold for a second.

Exhale as you lower the weights to the starting position, going to full arm extension and stopping just before elbow lockout. Keep your wrists straight during each curl, as bending them puts strain on your wrists and can lead to injury. Also remember to tighten your core abdominal and back muscles to avoid torso swing, which is the major infraction of barbell curls.

As you can see, there's a lot more to the curl than just curling. Improper form pulls the front shoulder muscles and lower back into play, meaning that the biceps never get the full benefit of these exercises.

Preacher Curls
I'm not sure I'd want to meet the demented preacher who thought these up, but this type of isolation exercise will really make those guns pop. Most gyms have a preacher (or incline) bench of some kind, whether cable-driven or freestanding for barbell and dumbbell use. Either way, this is an ideal exercise for building size and strength in the biceps.

Preacher curls can be more challenging than bicep curls because they throw gravity into the equation, working against your biceps to make the curl harder in the first few inches of the pull-up. So beginners will want to use a lighter weight while again concentrating on form.

The action here is almost completely the same as the bicep curl. Grab a dumbbell, barbell or EZ-curl bar with a shoulder-width, underhand grip and position yourself on the bench so that the top of the pad almost touches your armpits. Start with your arms straight and against the pads with a soft bend in the elbows.

Keep your back and wrists straight as you curl the weight to just about six inches from the top, inhaling as you curl. Hold for a second and return to the starting position, once again going for full extension of the arms with a soft bend in the elbows.

Dumbbell Hammer Curls
Most guys will work the arms religiously until they've got biceps the size of grapefruits. But arm growth doesn't stop there. For overall arm size, you also need to work the forearms. Hammer curls give you more bang for your buck as they work both the lower part of the biceps and the main muscle of the forearm, called the brachioradialis. Hold a cup of coffee or a mug of beer and you'll see that muscle contract (which is why it's sometimes called "the beer-drinking muscle").

Hammer curls can be performed either standing or seated. Hold a pair of dumbbells at arm's length with your palms facing inward. Inhale and either simultaneously or alternately curl the weights to your shoulders. Hold for a second and slowly lower to the starting position, once again going for full extension of the arms to just before elbow lockout.

Pay close attention to posture, keeping your core tight to avoid swinging at the torso, your elbows close to your sides (the only part of the arm that should be moving is the forearm) and your wrists straight. Do a couple thousand of these and you'll have Popeye-like forearms in no time.

Wrist Curls
Your forearms need a lot of stimulation to grow, and wrist curls emphasize strength and size in the flexor muscles of the lower forearms, wrists and fingers. And we all know how important it is to have a strong set of wrists.

Sit with your arms resting on your thighs or a bench with your hands and wrists hanging over the end. Grab a weighted barbell with an underhand grip, your hands a few inches apart. Be sure to keep your elbows flush against your thighs or bench at all times, never allowing them to come up.

Exhale and bend your wrists, lowering the weight toward the floor. When you can't bend any farther, open your fingers let the bar roll down to the end of your fingertips. Hold for a second and roll the bar back up into your hands, using your forearms to lift the weight as high as you can. The real benefit of wrist curls can be achieved by doing more reps at a lower weight, so choose a weight that will allow you to perform 12 to 20 reps and you will see and feel the pump in the forearms almost immediately.