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Building Biceps with Mark Perry

Let’s be honest—we all want big arms. Probably 70 percent of the people you see in the gym every day are big-arm crazy. With such a crowd over in the corner where the dumbbells reside, it’s a miracle there’s not a constant run at clothing stores for shirts with removable sleeves.

Becoming a “gunslinger” is almost a cult in gyms across America. It’s such an obsession that cheating is more and more common. The other day in my hometown of Houston I saw three young men walking through a mall, arms bulging—with obvious signs of synthol injection.

Like me, you might think that’s taking things too far. As a recent presidential candidate said, it’s time for change. It’s time to bring back the old-fashioned work ethic that was responsible for building the impressive arms of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the awe-inspiring guns of Lee Priest, the amazing cannons of Ronnie Coleman.

Okay, I’m getting a little carried away. The fact is, most of us will never realize the arm development that Arnold, Lee, Ronnie and others achieved. But wouldn’t it be nice to have biceps that stretch the limits of the shirts we already own?

Of course it would.

That’s why I reconnected with the hardest-working bodybuilder I know, Mark Perry. When I last spoke with Mark, he was busy converting his old gym into a storefront for the Salvation Army and putting the finishing touches on his new gym. That he was doing it all and prepping for his light-heavyweight win at the ’07 North American Championships was nothing short of amazing. That he’s continued to train while running Total Fitness of Columbus, Indiana, training clients and managing his family life proves that his is just the work ethic I’m looking for.

Mark’s biceps workout is fairly straightforward—and constantly changing. “I never do the same workout twice in a row,” he confides. “I use several different workouts all with the same biceps-building philosophy in mind: stimulating the muscle and getting the pump—filling the muscle with blood.” What follows is a typical biceps workout for Mark.

Barbell Curls

“I always use a cambered bar,” he says. “For some reason the straight bar doesn’t suit my body and makes my elbows sore, so I stick with what’s comfortable.” Keeping the wrists at a neutral angle is key here. Bending the wrists can lead to injury and brings the forearms into play. The goal on this lift is to choose a weight that causes him to hit muscular failure at the end of each of four sets of 10 to 12 reps.

Alternatives to this exercise include low-pulley curls and standing pulley curls with the same failure target in mind.

Alternate Dumbbell Curls

Speaking with Mark about this exercise, one thing becomes obvious: His focus is mentally connecting with one muscle at a time. “Double-arm curls make it too hard to focus on the movement of one muscle exclusively,” he says.

Squeeze the biceps to bring up the weight and do four sets of 10 to 12 reps. If you have to cheat, cheat with form in mind. “I might arch my back a little to get to the end of a set,” Mark says, “but it’s a controlled cheat—nothing crazy.”

Low-Pulley 21s

I love 21s. If you’ve ever tried them, you probably love to hate them as well. Mark uses a cambered bar that he attaches to a low pulley and then really focuses on controlling the range of motion as he performs seven half reps in the bottom of the range, seven half reps in the top of the range and seven full reps.

“The thing about biceps is that I’m usually done training them in 20 minutes,” Mark says. “I sometimes train them with back or, if they’re trashed after my back workout, on the off-day afterward. Biceps are a relatively small muscle group and can’t handle a very high workload the way the back, legs or chest can. Plus, they get a lot of residual work when I train back.”

Flexibility is the key. Mark’s main emphasis in his biceps workout is to always work them until failure and then push them even further to increase the blood flow into the muscle.

Low-Pulley Concentration Curls

He uses these as a finisher. To perform them, Mark attaches a cable crossover handle to the low pulley and then curls the pulley up across his body, making sure that his elbow remains in a static position throughout the stroke. The goal is to really get the blood flowing through an exhausted muscle. Again, you can cheat some, but keep in mind the goal. You’ve already smoked the muscle with the curls and the 21s. This is the icing on the cake.
Machine Curls

If by some chance you still feel that your biceps aren’t yet properly stimulated, Mark advises hitting the curl machine and performing three to four sets with a moderately heavy weight to failure. While curls are the key to biceps growth, Mark believes that always going to exhaustion and then pushing the maximum amount of blood into the muscle turn it into explosive growth. He never walks away from a biceps workout unless he feels that his muscles are totally wasted.

Mark doesn’t spend a long time stretching after the workout, but he will do some for recovery. He also stretches between sets, again with the goal of bringing blood into the muscle. “Stretching for me is a constant thing during workouts,” he says. “It’s not really planned or structured, but it’s there.”

What You Bring to It

My standard disclaimer applies here: If you follow Mark’s workout to a tee, if you do every lift, with the same poundages and with the same intensity, I guarantee that you’ll end up with biceps that look nothing like Mark Perry’s. You probably won’t be a class winner at the North Americans either.

Incorporating some of the techniques Mark describes, on the other hand, could unlock the door to that extra inch of growth you’ve been striving for or to overcoming the plateau that’s been stumping you. You might even find yourself at a retail outlet, shopping for new shirts because the ones you have are just too damn small.

Sure, it’s hard work, but think of how much better you’ll look with biceps gained through hard work rather than some oil strategically injected. That’s a welcome change indeed.

Editor’s note: Mark Perry is a national-level NPC competitor, bodybuilding promoter and gym owner ( To contact him regarding sponsorships or guest posings, write [email protected]. IM

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