You don’t want to be that guy. You know who I mean: the guy walking around the mall wearing the "Welcome to the Gun Show" T-shirt who's got popguns barely stretching the sleeves? That's right—that guy.
My guess is, if you've spent the money to buy this magazine and are taking the time to read this article, you already know what good biceps development looks like. You know that spindly arms in a "Gun Show" T-shirt aren't going to get the job done (unless ridicule is your goal). You also know that soft, fluffy biceps aren't going to pass muster either.
You're here because you want to expend the effort to build dense, full biceps resembling softballs under the skin, right? To do that you're going to need a plan, and chances are that plan will involve doing curls. No, not the Olympic competition with the big stone and the brooms. I'm talking curling weights—dumbbells, barbells you name it.
Outside of curling, however, there's very little consensus as to what goes into building the perfect pair of biceps. Some adhere to the hard-and-heavy principle, where low reps and high weights are the norm. Still others will tell you that high volume is the key, the object being to engorge the muscle with blood to ensure growth. Who's right? Well, they both are. That's because everyone's body works differently and responds to different stimuli. How do you know what's the right method for you? The answer lies in trial and error. Come on now, you didn't expect this to be easy, did you?
Whenever I want to learn about training a bodypart, I seek out someone who's known for having exceptional development in that area. For biceps I tracked down Dan Decker, a top national-level NPC bodybuilder. Dan is known as much for his aesthetic physique as he is for having well-developed arms. I thought he'd be the perfect candidate to dispense some biceps-training knowledge that can help you not be that guy in the T-shirt at the mall.
Biceps are funny muscles, and a lot of people don't do them justice when they work out. "Most trainers tend to neglect the outer head and brachialis when they work biceps." That was one of the first things Dan mentioned. The biceps brachii actually consists of two heads: the shorter inner head and the longer outer head, with the outer head providing the most mass in the muscle group. Underneath the biceps is the brachialis, which is visible on the side of the arm between the triceps and biceps—if you're lean and the muscle is developed. When training biceps, you want to make sure that you fully exhaust every muscle in the group, not favoring one section over the other, to ensure full development.
The Full-Blown Workout
The keys to any biceps routine are form and range of motion. Poor form on curls can lead to shoulder and elbow injuries, and a poor range of motion can lead to decreased movement in the arm. If you're lucky enough to train at Gold's Gym in Venice, California, or the Fitness Factory in Costa Mesa on a Friday, you'll see Dan doing his arm workout—and you'll see firsthand what good form is all about.
Dan's biceps workout is typically coupled with his triceps workout, but he took the time to break out the specific biceps movements so we'd get the full-blown info regarding his development.
Incline hammer curls. This is Dan's favorite starting movement, and he very rarely removes it from the leadoff spot in his biceps batting order. Remember the brachialis? Incline hammer curls specifically target that muscle and the outer head of the biceps.
Dan's standard plan is to start off with a manageable weight. For him that usually means 50-pound dumbbells for a warmup and then 70-to-80-pounders for three to four work sets of eight to 10.
"Don't rush it," he warned. "You want to take your time and focus on having the target muscle move the
weight—don't throw the weight around."
Don't get too weight happy when it comes to working biceps either. If he had to choose between good form and pushing around more weight, Dan would choose the former every time. Big weights may seem cool at the time, but there's nothing cool about shoulder surgery or having an injury that keeps you out of the gym for weeks or months.
Standing barbell curls. If ever there was a "basic" exercise for a bodypart, the standing barbell curl is it for biceps. Odds are you can walk into any gym in the land at any time and see at least one person performing barbell curls. The bottom line is, they work. The standing barbell curl is a mass builder for biceps that has no equal, and using the barbell gives Dan a lot of flexibility, which, again, lets him put equal stress on every part of the target muscle.
Dan uses a pyramid approach on this movement, starting out with a 10-pound plate on each end of a 45-pound bar. Then he adds five to 10 pounds per set for around 10 reps each. Dan will do three to four sets total, and he varies his grip width on each set, which changes the force point of the lift. That way he involves the entire muscle group equally.
In discussing his curling technique, Dan warned again about never sacrificing form for weight. He also advised that it's essential to have a spotter, if at all possible, on this movement. "One final tip," he said, "is to keep your wrists cocked back to really focus on the biceps and to keep the forearms disengaged."
Reverse EZ-curl-bar preacher curls. "A reverse [palms-down] grip is a simple way to spread the workload," Dan said about this exercise. By holding the bar with a reverse grip, you increase the workload on the brachialis. That also activates the pronator muscle on the underside of the forearm, a seldom worked area that's responsible for supination. Because of the risk of injuring the shoulder with a reverse grip, Dan keeps things relatively simple, using the same grip width, a moderate weight and a consistent eight-to-10-rep count. ALL "I have to rest about three minutes between sets because I'm getting close to, or hitting, failure on almost every rep," he said. This is where having that spotter will pay dividends as well.
Standing cable curls. By this point in his workout, Dan's biceps are screaming for mercy. After working to failure with heavy weights on the previous movements, Dan switches to more of a concentration move: standing cable curls. He goes a little on the lighter side for three sets of 15, which engorges the muscle with blood and increases the fiber activation. Dan performs the reps at a moderate speed, focusing on keeping his form on both the ascending and descending halves of the movement.
Machine one-arm preacher curls. For his finishing move, Dan likes to take advantage of a machine and really isolate the inner head of the biceps by choosing a weight that's going to take him almost to failure in eight to 10 reps. He does three sets at a moderate speed, focusing on getting the full range of movement until he hits failure.
The Gun Show
Even if you follow this workout to a tee, I guarantee that you won't build biceps like Dan Decker's. Remember, Dan has chosen bodybuilding as his career, so he lives a lifestyle that allows him to spend more time in the gym than someone who works a nine-to-five job would. His career as a personal trainer and fitness model is designed to afford him the opportunity to pursue an IFBB pro card. He also has exceptional genetics.
Does that mean you'll never have good biceps? Not at all. You should take a look at Dan's routine and learn the basics of what he's saying. Ultimately, your own work ethic—and your genetics—will determine what size biceps you'll have stretching the sleeves of your T-shirt. You can try his program with fewer sets, or pick out a few key exercises and give them a go. Of course, if you're experienced and have the time, you can put his full program into practice and see what happens.
The bottom line is that if you work hard, you can have people gawking at your guns, even if your genetics aren't that great. Use Dan as a role model: He'll be at Gold's, Venice, almost every Friday getting ready for the '08 NPC Junior Nationals in June. The guy in the "Gun Show" T-shirt will probably be sitting on his couch dreaming.
Decker’s Bodypart Split
Note: When he’s on a contest diet, Dan performs cardio every morning on an elliptical machine for 33 minutes. He does limited cardio in the off-season.
Decker’s Full-Blown Biceps Attack
Incline hammer curls (pyramid the poundage) 3-4 x 8
Standing barbell curls (pyramid the poundage) 4 x 10
Reverse EZ-curl-bar preacher curls 4 x 8-10
Standing cable curls 3 x 15
Machine one-arm preacher curls 3 x 8-10
Running the Rack
Although this intensity technique isn’t officially in his workout, Dan recommends occasionally using it as a finishing move in place of the machine preacher curls. He suggests using the fixed barbells that you find on a pyramid rack in the free-weight portion of most gyms, or you can use fixed dumbbells.
Choose a weight that allows you to complete 12 reps at or near failure. Perform the set, and then, taking no rest, move to the next-lighter-weighted barbell and complete 12 reps. Continue moving to the next-lighter-weighted barbell until you complete 12 reps with the lightest weight available.
This technique is called “running the rack” or “going down the rack” because it is typically done with dumbbells, in which case you’d be working down the rack of dumbbells, choosing progressively lighter weights. It’s not something that you can do at every biceps workout because you could become overtrained. As an occasional growth shocker or plateau buster, however, Dan finds it to be just the thing he needs. Just make sure that you have a spotter to assist you if you start hitting failure so that you don’t drop and damage the weights or hurt yourself.
Editor's note: To contact Dan Decker for training consultations, guest posings and sponsorships, go to www.DanDecker.net. IM