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Building Impressive Biceps

Q: You definitely have the arms, especially the biceps—which is the required muscle, isn’t it? I’m up to 19 inches, but my arms still look skinny to me, and they pale in comparison to my delts. I’m tall, with seven-inch wrists, so getting upper arms that have the “bodybuilder look” is not exactly easy. Mine actually look much better when semi-extended—sort of like the way Arnold used to pose. When I close them up, I just can’t seem to get the required amount of peak. My biceps are still long, even when contracted, so I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do. Then again, there have been tall bodybuilders who didn’t seem to have much of a problem with this. So is it just me, or do all successful bodybuilders have to work especially hard to get their biceps to look like that? I don’t think mine are ever going to ball up into the shape that gives impressive peak, so I’ll just have to compensate by putting as much mass on them as possible—another thing that’s easier said than done in my case.

A: The shape of your biceps, including the peak, is mostly genetic. I had a peak on my biceps before I even started training. As early as the eighth grade, my classmates used to call me “Popeye” because of my biceps peak.

When I started bodybuilding, my biceps were one of my best bodyparts right off the bat. I never had to work to develop the peak because it was always there naturally.

You say you have 19-inch arms. That’s certainly not small. The shapes of your arms are a big factor in how large they look. I’ve seen bodybuilders with 16-inch arms that looked two inches bigger because they had a great biceps peak and good triceps separation.

Larry Scott and Sergio Oliva both had great arms, but they did not have big biceps peaks. Larry was famous for developing biceps that were very thick and long. His arms, in fact, were a big factor in his winning the first Mr. Olympia contest, and he tailored his posing routine to showcase them.

There are certain exercises you can do to build more of a peak to your biceps, even if they are naturally shaped longer. I like doing the peaking exercises at the end of my biceps workout, when the muscle is fully pumped and the heavy, mass-building exercises are completed; however, you can also do them first if you feel you get more out of it that way.

Concentration curls. The best exercise for developing a biceps peak is concentration curls. You can do them with your elbow tucked against your thigh while seated on a bench, or you can stand, with your upper body bent over, and curl the dumbbell up with your arm positioned perpendicular to the floor.

I prefer the second version so my elbow is free without being held against the leg. It takes more concentration (hence, the name of the exercise) to hold your arm while you slowly curl the dumbbell up to your shoulder for a peak biceps contraction. Form is everything on this exercise, and you should use only a moderate weight in order to get the peak contraction in the muscle.

Preacher curls. Although preacher curls are famous for developing the lower portion of the biceps, they can also be great for building a better peak. To focus more on the peak of the biceps than the lower part of the muscle, do the preacher curls with your arms over the vertical side of the bench instead of the angled side. Grab the barbell with a narrow grip (you can also use dumbbells) and peak-contract the biceps at the top, holding the peak contraction for a second at the completion of each rep.

Close-grip chins. Another good peak contraction exercise for the biceps is close-grip underhand chins. The biceps get a great peak contraction at the top of the movement. Again, I like doing this exercise at the end of my biceps workout to finish off the muscle after some heavy basic exercises like barbell curls and dumbbell curls.

Do two to three sets of one of the above at the end of your biceps routine, and that should help to add some peak to your biceps. Don’t forget to flex your biceps on a daily basis, as that will also help shape the peak.

Editor’s note: John Hansen has won the Mr. Natural Olympia and is a two-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Check out his Web site at for more information about how you can be a part of his exciting, new Natural Olympia Fitness getaway. Send questions or comments to [email protected]. Look for John’s DVD, “Natural Bodybuilding Seminar and Competitions,” along with his book, Natural Bodybuilding, and his training DVD, “Real Muscle,” at his Web site or at Home Gym Warehouse, Listen to John’s radio show, Natural Bodybuilding Radio, at  IM


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