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Sneak A Peak

Your Guide to Sky-High Bi?s

‘Imagine your arms looking like mountains,’ Arnold used to say when he was talking about training biceps. Of course, that was an easy visualization for him because his biceps did look like mountains! Seriously, though, Arnold’s point was that if you can imagine a bodypart looking a certain way, it might start actually taking on that shape. While visualization is indeed a tool that can help everyone have more productive workouts, it won’t alter the genetically determined contour of your biceps.

Many men have built arms that are indescribably huge, but they don’t all have outstanding biceps peaks. Look at the difference between Arnold’s and Sergio’s biceps or between Ronnie Coleman’s and Kevin Levrone’s. Each has arms that stretch the tape beyond the 20-inch mark, but while Arnold’s arms were peaked, and Ronnie’s are peaked beyond peaked, Sergio’s and Kevin’s are more flat and football shaped. Did that occur because Arnold and Ronnie had some special arm program or magic exercises that Sergio and Kevin weren’t privy to? Of course not. The answer is simple: If it’s not in your genetic code to have mountainous biceps peaks, no amount of concentration curls or other so-called peaking exercises is going to make it happen for you.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that by using the right exercises in your program, you can give your biceps the illusion of greater height. The key is a little-talked-about muscle that lies underneath the biceps called the brachialis. You can see it pop out on highly defined bodybuilders when they flex their upper arms in a back double-biceps pose. The beautiful thing about the brachialis muscles is that the more you develop and thicken them, the higher they’ll push your biceps, making them look more like the mountains that Arnold was talking about. Not to mention the fact that highly developed brachialis muscles will help your upper arms look thicker overall.

Although all biceps exercises work the brachialis to some degree, the key to coaxing significant hypertrophy there lies in putting the biceps in a mechanically weak position so that the brachialis is forced to take the brunt of the work as you flex your arm. Regular curling exercises like barbell and dumbbell curls don’t do that, as it takes specific hand positions and/or curling angles to force the brachialis to become more of the primary mover. The following are excellent exercises for recruiting brachialis power:

Reverse curls. You perform these just like regular barbell curls but with your palms facing down rather than up. Keep your elbows locked into your sides at all times, and don’t try to go too heavy. Some people will find it a little more comfortable on their wrists if they use an EZ-curl bar instead of a straight bar on this movement.

Variations: You can also do reverse curls with a low cable and/or on a preacher bench.

Hammer curls. Sit at the end of a bench holding a dumbbell in each hand, with your arms down at your sides and your palms facing in toward your thighs. Keeping your elbows close to your sides, curl the dumbbells with your palms facing in’just as you would if you were using a hammer. Squeeze hard at the top, and then lower the dumbbells under control until your arms are straight. You can curl the dumbbells simultaneously or in an alternate fashion.

Variations: You can do hammer curls while seated on an incline bench, standing, with a rope attached to a low cable or in concentration-curl style. 90 degree preacher curls, a.k.a. spider curls. You can do these on a preacher bench or a bench specifically made for the exercise, called a ‘spider’ bench. If you use a preacher bench, remember to use the vertical side. Position yourself over the bench with your armpits snugly pressed into the top of it. Whatever weight you use for regular barbell curls, plan on cutting that number at least in half for this exercise, as you must perform it very strictly. Start by holding the barbell with your arms straight down, and without moving the position of your shoulders or elbows, slowly curl it to complete contraction. Again, squeeze for a count at the top, and lower slowly back to the bottom position.

Variations: You can do 90 degree preacher curls with dumbbells, working both arms simultaneously or one arm at a time. You may also want to try using an EZ-curl bar or a low cable instead of a straight bar.

Lying cable curls. This exercise is very rarely performed but may well be the very best for adding biceps height. Start by placing a flat bench in front of the weight stack on one side of a cable crossover machine. Make sure the bench is at least a foot away from the stack. Attach a short straight bar to the upper pulley. Lie on the bench with your head at the end near the weight stack. Have someone pull the bar down to you. Start with your arms perfectly straight, the bar over your chest at arm’s length. Curl the weight down and back. The goal is to curl the bar back behind your head, not to your forehead. That increases the range of motion and forces a much deeper brachialis contraction. In order to curl the bar behind your head, you’ll need to move your elbows slightly back as you curl. The upper-arm movement shouldn’t be excessive, however’just enough to get the bar behind your head. At the bottom squeeze hard for a count, and then slowly return to the straight-arm position. Once you reach the point where you can no longer bring the bar behind your head due to fatigue, take your feet off the bench and place them on the floor. That will give you a bit of extra leverage and enable you to get a few more full reps. ALL Variations: Try seated overhead cable curls. Attach a short straight bar to the cable on a lat pulldown machine, and sit on the machine. Grab the bar and curl it down and back behind your head. Try to keep your upper arms next to your ears, and do your reps slowly and strictly. It doesn’t take a lot of weight to make this exercise effective.

Now let’s put together a few routines that will get those biceps going up, up, up.

Beginner program

Barbell curls 3 x 6-10
Seated hammer curls 2 x 8-12
Reverse curls 1 x 12-15

Intermediate program

Barbell curls 3 x 6-10
90 degree preacher curls 2 x 8-12
Incline hammer curls 2 x 8-12
Reverse curls 1 x 12-15

Advanced program

Barbell curls 3 x 6-10
90 degree dumbbell
preacher curls 2 x 8-12
Lying cable curls 2 x 8-12
Hammer concentration curls 2 x 12-15
Reverse curls 1 x 12-15

Very advanced trainees may want to superset or even tri-set brachialis exercises. Drop sets, slow negatives and peak contraction are also extremely valuable techniques for getting the brachialis to respond; however, they’re strictly for those who have been lifting intensely and consistently for at least three years.

Use one of the above programs for several months, and you’ll begin to notice that your arms look fuller and thicker from both the front and sides’and when you hit a biceps shot, they will appear to be higher and more peaked. One more benefit to performing brachialis exercises like hammer and reverse curls is the positive effects they’ll have on your forearm size as well.

Okay, put down this magazine right now and flex your bi’s. If you’re happy with their height and shape, just keep doing what you’ve been doing (yes, that means you, Mr. Coleman). But if you feel that your arms look more like molehills than mountains, get to the gym and get acquainted with your biceps’ new best friend, Mr. Brachialis. IM

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