Brandon White, from YouTuber duo the Buff Dudes, has made plenty of videos (alongside his brother Hudson) covering how to grow your muscles. He’s also aware of the thousands of videos and training plans out there offering advice on how to build bigger biceps.
After watching a tonne of them, he has some thoughts. White took the time to create his own guide breaking down the biggest issues he's found with popular biceps-building advice—mostly that there's one secret method for success—and the techniques and exercises you need to really get your biceps growing.
According to White, muscle growth starts in the kitchen. He begins the day with a big breakfast, which includes a plate of sweet potatoes and salad topped with fish, followed by a protein shake. "Food is of course an integral part in building muscle, so you can't forget that," he says. "It's the supplies you're giving your body to build the muscle."
But all that fuel needs to be used—so next comes the right type of workout. "You need to activate and stimulate the muscle in order for it to adapt and grow," says White. "The one thing all those videos don't want to talk about is the simplicity of building your biceps. It's going to be elbow flexion. Elbow flexion is essentially the curling action—it's taking your forearm and flexing up." (continued below)
That sounds simple. But, as White explains, there are plenty of opportunities to mess up. "As a beginner, I jumped in on Arnold's bodybuilder competition training where he was doing like 30 sets of biceps, and as a 14-year-old, I couldn't even move my arms the next day," he laughs. "The volume was way too high, there were way too many exercises... my little biceps could not handle it, and I didn't know what activation was."
He emphasises that in the beginning of your bicep training, it's essential to focus on training to learn how to activate and contract your biceps muscles. This principle is called neural adaptivity, where your mind-muscle connection adapts to the stress put on your biceps. To practice this, when you're starting out, take it light. Do not go heavy.
As you become more advanced, White advises increasing training volume, weight, and frequency. This includes incorporating techniques like super sets and drop sets. "Super sets are a technique going from one exercise immediately over to another exercise with no rest in between, so you're increasing the stimulation and fatigue in the muscle," says White.
You can also implement drop sets, which increases more fatigue in the muscle as well. "You're performing the exercise with a certain amount of weight, burning out at that weight (the muscle is completely fatiguing), and you drop the weight in order to continue doing repetitions with the lighter weight, dropping again for extra stimulation and growth," says White.
Next, he shares his three favourite biceps exercises that he credits for building up his arms over the years.
Exercise 1: Barbell Curl
White is a fan of this staple movement because it forces the palms to be in a supinated position, which he cites as an optimal position to help isolate the biceps and get that elbow flexion. Plus, you can go pretty heavy with it. He implements 'cheat' curls, using a bit of momentum from his lower body. This typically would be frowned upon—and you shouldn’t only use cheat curls to train your biceps—but the added weight you can handle by fudging on form increases overload.
White says he always starts his biceps workouts with the standard curl, slowly increasing the weight and decreasing reps.
Exercise 2: Incline Dumbbell Curl
White is a fan of this variation because of the adjustments you can easily make on a bench. He starts with a low angle (sometimes even completely flat), and increases the angle as desired. But why?
"Now you're leaning back and your elbows are placed behind you. That creates more stretch in the long head of the biceps, so the muscle needs to create more contraction to pull the forearm forwards (elbow flexion)," says White. "It's going to have to really contract to pull it up."
He also incorporates a supinating action, twisting his forearms and hands upward, for extra biceps activation and stimulus.
Exercise 3: Concentration Curl
Compared to the other two exercises, the positioning is quite different in this variation. The elbow is placed in front of you, so the long head of the biceps is more relaxed, and the short head of the biceps is more active.
He notes that he prefers a unilateral motion, meaning you work one arm at a time. Tempo is also important to focus on with all curls, but can be especially effective with this movement. Incorporating a hold/squeeze in the top position will create more stimulus.
White ends by emphasising that the one thing no one wants to admit about biceps training is that there is no real secret to success. The principles are easy—it’s a matter of training smart and training often.
"It's very simple: elbow flexion! Be consistent with it and increase complexity of your exercises and training," he concludes.
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