WORKOUT WEDNESDAY: Skip Curls, Build Your Biceps


Everyone wants impressive biceps — but are curls the best way to get them?

If there’s one image that’s synonymous with what novices think of when they think of weight lifting, it’s the figure of a python-armed bodybuilder curling a dumbbell. The biceps are the premier glamour muscle of the entire body — an eye-popping pair of upper arms is usually one of the first things people notice when they take in the sight of an in-shape person (who has a shirt on, anyway).

Functionally speaking, though, your biceps really don’t do much on their own. Outside of the gym, when was the last time you used only your upper arms to move or lift something? If it was heavy, you were recruiting your back muscles and forearms; if it was lighter, you probably didn’t need to use a curling motion in any form whatsoever. People joke about “12 oz. curls,” but seriously: Name another day-to-day movement that involves simply bending at the elbow to lift an object about a foot?

You can still build big, strong upper arms without donating a bunch of time to curls. Do you have to? Of course not. If you really enjoy wrecking your biceps once or twice a week, don’t let us stop you. But if you’d like to be a little more efficient, consider these alternatives that will not only tax your biceps, but do so functionally.

Pull Your Weight. Literally — just do pull-ups. Your grip and hand placement determine how you’re hitting your biceps on this classic movement, and it’s one of the most functional there is. Trying to build up your biceps peak? Close, reverse grip pull-ups will do the trick.

Want to simulate a reverse curl, to hit the whole biceps area and recruit your forearms, too? Standard-width overhand chins are the ticket. Even Hammer curls are bested by a neutral-grip pull-up.

The top reason people tend to avoid back movements like chin-ups and pull-ups is that, they argue, the back is doing all the work. Wrong. The larger muscles in the body will always tire well after the smaller ones, and there is no comparison between the orange-sized biceps and massive slabs of muscle the back makes up — in other words, your grip, forearms and biceps will all fail before your back does. The weak link in any chain is the first to break down — meaning that in doing pulling exercises to build your arms, your lats, traps, rear deltoids and rhomboids are all working as “backup” (sorry, we had to say it) as your biceps do the work. Once they’re tired, your back takes over fully, up to the point that your grip simply won’t allow it.

Bottom line: Curls will get you bigger biceps. Real, functional pulling movements will get you bigger, stronger biceps.

Workout of the Week: Arms Like a Bodybuilder

NUTRISHOP CDA is proud to be a sponsor of personal trainer and bodybuilder competitor Talon Sullens. Today, he shares with us this sample arms workout!

Dumbbell Curls: 5 sets, starting at 10 reps. Each set, add weight and two reps. Example: 20 pounds for 10 reps, 25 pounds for 12 reps, 30 pounds for 14 reps, and so on.

Skull Crushers: 4×12. Use the cambered bar and lie flat on a bench. Keep your elbows tucked in and don’t allow them to flare outward!

Preacher Curls: 4×8. Go all the way down and up until just before the tension releases off the biceps.

Cable Pushdowns: 5×10 negatives. Push the bar down like you normally would, elbows tight, but then slowly control the bar on the way up on the negative portion of the movement.

3 Supersets — 30 Dumbbell Hammer Curls/12 Regular Curls.

Tricep Cable Extensions: 3-stage drop set — 30, 20, 10. Yes, you’ll be using small weight at the end. Yes, it will still burn like crazy.

Workout of the Week: Crazy Pump Arms Workout

Add some size and “swole” to your arms with this rep-intensive workout. Download the .pdf here and take it to the gym with you!