4 Rules to Build Bigger Biceps: Effective Training Strategies for Faster Results

By understanding the anatomy and focusing on training your biceps at different joint angles and grips, controlling your rep tempo, and incorporating varying rep ranges and intensity techniques, you can accelerate your progress and stimulate the arm growth you’ve been working toward. These strategies will not only enhance your strength and size but also ensure balanced and effective biceps training.

Building bigger biceps is a goal for many gym goers, but achieving those impressive arm gains is likely going to require more than just performing a single exercise a couple of times a week. It’s going to take work. 

By understanding the anatomy and focusing on training your biceps at different joint angles and grips, controlling your rep tempo, and incorporating varying rep ranges and intensity techniques, you can accelerate your progress and stimulate the arm growth you’ve been working toward. These strategies will not only enhance your strength and size but also ensure balanced and effective biceps training.

If you’re more of a visual learner, you will enjoy the video I made with my friend, Jake, from That Fit Friend (shown below).

Understanding Biceps Anatomy

The biceps brachii is the main muscle we think about when we reference building bigger arms, but it is just one piece of the puzzle. Below, you will learn more about the anatomy of the biceps brachii, brachialis, and brachioradialis.

Biceps Brachii

This two-headed muscle is the one you’re likely the most familiar with. It’s the one we typically flex as kids when someone says, “Show us your muscles.” It’s made up of a short head and a long head that both attach to the scapula (shoulder blade) — this means they cross the shoulder joint, making shoulder position important when we’re choosing exercises. More on this later.

biceps

Its main roles are to flex the arm when the arm is extended and to supinate (twist) the forearm as the arm is flexed. These actions are best demonstrated with an exercise like the dumbbell supinating bicep curl (shown below)1.

Brachialis

Interestingly enough, the brachialis is the largest and strongest of the muscles primarily responsible for flexing the arm — often referred to as the “workhorse”—  due to its size and location, but it also starts to pick up more slack when the forearm is in a more neutral (palms facing one another) or pronated position (palms facing the ground) due to the biceps being in a more disadvantaged position2.

biceps and brachialis

Brachioradialis

The brachioradialis — the longest of all the elbow flexor muscles — is also responsible for elbow flexion and is most at work when the forearm is in a neutral position (palms facing one another) or pronated position (palms facing the ground)3. This is the muscle that gives your upper forearm its bulk.

biceps and brachioradialis

Why Biceps Training is Important

Training your biceps — alongside the other elbow flexion muscles mentioned — helps build size and strength in your arms while also helping improve the overall health and function of the surrounding joints, such as the elbow, shoulder, and wrist.

It’s common to think that training arms is not “functional” and is purely for aesthetic purposes. Although you will grow in size and strength in your arms when you consistently train them, it’s important to keep in mind that training muscles across the body helps maintain the health and function of each joint as we age, which is an important factor for our quality of life and overall physical function.

Rule 1: Train Your Biceps at Different Joint Angles

Earlier, I mentioned that the biceps brachii — both the short and long head — attach to the scapula (crossing the shoulder joint), making the shoulder position we’re training with within a given exercise important.

When training to grow the size and strength of your biceps, changing your arm position relative to your torso — in front, even with, and behind — can help change the length of the muscle when it’s being challenged under load. If you spend any time on the internet watching fitness content, you’ve likely heard the recent craze around “lengthened-biased” training. This is referencing the length of the muscle at a given joint angle while being training.

Muscles seem to grow more when they are trained at longer muscle lengths (when the muscle is in a more stretched position while being maximally challenged)4. Knowing this, we can learn how to bias more time spent in these positions to help maximize gaining more muscle size and strength while also learning how to train across the broad range of motion that the muscle offers to help train the muscle more completely, helping maintain the balance of our muscle and joint function.

The biceps have a very large range of motion due to their attachment point on the scapula (shoulder blade). If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many different exercises for your biceps that have your arms staying fixed at different joint angles, you’re about to learn why.

Arms Behind Torso

Training the biceps when the arms are behind the torso helps place the bicep into a more stretched position. If you’re seated, try it out. Put your arms down to your side with your palms facing forward, and extend your arms behind you. You should feel your biceps start to lengthen (and stretch).

The most effective exercises I like to use when training at this joint angle are the Facing Away Cable Bicep Curl and the Seated Incline Dumbbell Bicep Curl (shown below).

Arms Even With Torso

Training the biceps when the arms are even with the torso places the shoulders into a more neutral position, creating a more mid-range bias to the exercises we choose. This is the most common joint angle because it’s most complimented when we use dumbbells or barbells to curl.

The most effective exercises I like to use when training at this joint angle are the Dumbbell Supinating Bicep Curl, Dumbbell Hammer Curl, and DB Supinated Bicep Curl (unilateral) (shown below).

Arms In Front of Torso

Training the biceps when the arms are in front of the torso places the shoulders into a more flexed position, creating a bias toward a more contracted or shortened bicep.

The most effective exercises I like to use when training at this joint angle are the Kneeling High Cable Bicep Curl, Kneeling Cable Preacher Curl, and Dumbbell Spider Curl.

Because the biceps cross the shoulder joint and attach to the scapula (shoulder blade), the position or joint angle of the shoulder matters in determining the length of the muscle tissue when being maximally challenged. But what about the muscles that don’t cross the shoulder, like the brachialis and brachioradialis? That’s covered in rule number two. 

Rule 2: Train Your Biceps Using Different Grips

Since the brachialis and brachioradialis don’t cross the shoulder joint, our shoulder position is less relevant, placing the focus on our forearm position when biasing these two muscles. The two main forearm positions we’re going to use are neutral (palms facing one another) and semi-pronated (palms halfway between neutral and facing down).

The brachialis and brachioradialis have more mechanical advantage with these forearm positions due to the biceps losing mechanical advantage as you rotate your arm. This is why we perform exercises such as the Hammer Curl, EZ-Bar Reverse Curl, and Dumbbell Zottman Curll to place tension on these other muscles, helping add size to the arm.

Rule 3: Learn How to Control Your Rep Tempo

Repetition Tempo represents the time you spend throughout each portion of a repetition.

The published research we have on the topic suggests that we want a rep to last somewhere between 2-8 seconds5. As I’m sure you’ve heard many times, controlling the eccentric—the lowering phase of the lift when the muscle is being stretched—is great for muscle growth. This idea does seem to be supported and is likely an undervalued piece of the puzzle when it comes to trying to put on more muscle.

biceps

Eccentric contractions occur when the muscle lengthens under tension due to the contractile force (muscular tension) is less than the resistive force (external resistance). This occurs in the biceps during the lowering phase of a dumbbell curl. The eccentric portion of exercise causes a high degree of exercise-induced muscle damage and is largely responsible for the soreness that you feel after you lift.

The main thing to know is that eccentric contractions produce more force and are more damaging to the muscle compared to concentric contractions. This means you’re going to be stronger in the eccentric portion of a rep, but it can also do more damage. The concentric portion of the rep is more energetically expensive and is less damaging overall as it produces less overall force.

The eccentric phase of your lift should be somewhere between 2-4 seconds in most cases. The concentric—the raising phase of the lift when the muscle is being shortened—is part of the rep that you likely want to accelerate and be powerful through.

Think: slow, slow, slow, explode! From my experience, a rep lasting a total of 3-5 seconds is likely going to be most effective for most people trying to build more muscle.

Rule 4: Train Your Biceps with Varying Rep Ranges and Intensity Techniques

Performing the same rep range across time can be effective for putting on muscle and strength, especially if you’re focused on progressively overloading the muscle over time. But, if you’ve been training in the eight to ten rep range for the last few months and you’ve noticed that your biceps are no longer responding well to this, try switching things up.

Varying Rep Ranges

It’s common to think that we have to train smaller muscle groups like the biceps with a hyper-specific rep range to get them to grow, but this isn’t the case, and you also may notice that your biceps respond better to a certain rep range over another.

For example, one person may respond better to training their biceps with a six to eight-rep range versus another person responding better to a 12-to 15-rep range. Don’t be afraid to mix it up and try new ways of approaching your lifts, not only with new exercises but also with new rep ranges.

Intensity Techniques

The two most commonly used intensity techniques for bicep training that I use with my clients are drop sets and integrated partial reps.

Drop Sets

Drop sets are a technique lifters use to help increase the overall efficiency of a session without sacrificing the effectiveness toward muscle growth6. To use this technique, you will perform your sets with no rest and decrease the weight used on each subsequent set.

For example, if you are doing bicep curls with a 20-pound dumbbell:

Step 1: Perform bicep curls with 20 pounds until you cannot complete another rep (e.g., 10 reps).

Step 2: Immediately switch to 15-pound dumbbells and continue to curl until failure (e.g., 8 reps).

Step 3: Then, drop to 10-pound dumbbells and curl until failure again (e.g., 6 reps).

There are countless ways to use this method, but the example given above is the most popular and is very effective for building up high amounts of muscular tension and fatigue within the target muscle while reducing the overall time spent performing the exercise.

Integrated Partial Reps

Integrated partial reps — also commonly referred to as integrated partials — are a technique used to help extend the time spent in the most challenging part of the rep. This helps generate more muscular tension across fewer total sets, yet again helping improve the time efficiency of your training session.

There are two ways that this technique is commonly used.

  1. You perform your set of the full range of motion reps, then once you can no longer get a full rep, you start only doing partial reps until you can no longer get at least 20-30% of the rep.
  1. You perform one full rep followed by a partial rep — typically around 25-30% of the rep — and that counts as one rep. The added ¼ rep after the full rep helps add more time under tension where the muscle is being most challenged.

The Wrap-Up — Closing Remarks

A better understanding of the anatomy of the biceps brachii, brachialis, and brachioradialis will help you choose the right exercises to make more effective progress with your time spent in the gym. By implementing these strategies, you can achieve bigger and stronger arms while improving overall upper body function along the way. Consistency, proper form, and adapting your training techniques are key to continuing to progress your training results long-term.

If you have any questions about what was discussed in this article, please email me at coachaustincurrent@gmail.com —  I’d love to help. I’m also open to feedback on something that was confusing or not made entirely clear.

If you’re in need of a trainer to help you create a plan that helps remove the guesswork or stress you feel around your current fitness approach, reach out and learn how I can help — it’s what I do for a living.

Looking for a new book to read? My book, Science of Strength Training, is available on Amazon (currently on sale).

References:

  1. Tiwana MS, Charlick M, Varacallo M. Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Biceps Muscle. [Updated 2024 Jan 30]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519538/ ↩︎
  2. Neumann, Donald A., et al. Kinesiology of the Musculoskeletal System: Foundations for Rehabilitation. Elsevier, 2017. ↩︎
  3. Lung BE, Ekblad J, Bisogno M. Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Forearm Brachioradialis Muscle. [Updated 2024 Jan 30]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526110/ ↩︎
  4. Maeo S, Huang M, Wu Y, Sakurai H, Kusagawa Y, Sugiyama T, Kanehisa H, Isaka T. Greater Hamstrings Muscle Hypertrophy but Similar Damage Protection after Training at Long versus Short Muscle Lengths. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2021 Apr 1;53(4):825-837. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002523. PMID: 33009197; PMCID: PMC7969179. ↩︎
  5. Androulakis Korakakis P, Wolf M, Coleman M, Burke R, Piñero A, Nippard J, Schoenfeld BJ. Optimizing Resistance Training Technique to Maximize Muscle Hypertrophy: A Narrative Review. J Funct Morphol Kinesiol. 2023 Dec 29;9(1):9. doi: 10.3390/jfmk9010009. PMID: 38249086; PMCID: PMC10801605. ↩︎
  6. Coleman, M., Harrison, K., Arias, R., Johnson, E., Grgic, J., Orazem, J., & Schoenfeld, B. (2022). Muscular Adaptations in Drop Set vs. Traditional Training: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Strength and Conditioning, 2(1). https://doi.org/10.47206/ijsc.v2i1.135 ↩︎

About the Author

Austin Current

Austin is a world-class online fitness coach and the author of Science of Strength Training, an international best-selling book translated into 10+ languages. Austin has helped transform the lives of thousands of gym-goers, professional athletes, and personal trainers around the globe. He has contributed articles for major publications such as Men’s Health, Muscle & Fitness, Muscle & Fitness HERS, Barbend, T-Nation, and Penguin Random House Higher Education, among others.

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