Who Says Bicep Curls Are Out of Style?

Written by Melissa

Topics: Workout Planning

As ne who at some point said I would never be caught DEAD doing bicep curls, I can 100% support the premice bhind this article AND the importance of the exercise.  Many "benchers" focus on just that, the bench.  Perhaps on the side they'll throw iin some tricep exercises, but they don't really think about the other side of their muscles.  Remember, a strong side next to a weak side = WEAKNESS! 

 

After years of discounting the practice, I’m about to do something I didn’t think I’d ever do. I’m going to do a public about-face and not only endorse but encourage direct biceps work as an integral component of your training, irrespective of your goal. And no, I haven’t been hanging around the Jersey Shore.

But first, a preamble…I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve called John Berardi a brother, mentor, best friend, and business partner for the last ten years. I work in a market segment that’s growing in number and girth, and I’ve grown up and now practice during a period of robust exercise study, theory, and application.

It’s a painful irony that the world continues to get fatter, sicker, and less fit as we get better at what we do, but our grasp on creating whole body transformations has never been more effective. And I fortunately fell in love with the field just as the grip tightened.

The pendulum had just swung away from the regrettable fat-free, spandexed out, machine lauded, isolation centric, and cardio driven period of the late 1980s and early 1990s and toward the resurgence of the real lifter and intelligent eater. Compound free weight lifts were just coming back in vogue, morsels of meat met our mouths with healthy fats, muscles grew, and bodies became more functional.

Time wasn’t wasted on isolation movements that only served the already over attended mirror muscles. Yet we could strip down to our loincloths and look even better naked before chasing down a cougar or other prized piece of tail. We knew it all. We structured workouts around movements, planes, and joints to ensure symmetry and equipoise. We countered quad-hip imbalances. We built indestructible shoulder complexes. We pushed, pulled, and optimized the periodization of exercise versus rest, balls-out versus back off. And we restored movement to stiff, dysfunctional bodies.

We dismissed the biceps curl. We f%$*ed up. And my fortune ended.

It was September 25, 2009, and my biceps tendon ruptured. Was it an unexpected, high force movement? No. Was the muscle or joint cold? No. Was I on steroids or taking a flouroquinolone-based antibiotic? No. Was it a supramax load? No. Was I cheating form? No.

It was the second rep of the second set of a barbell curl, two-thirds of the way through a workout. It came out of nowhere for none of the normal reasons, and my grip on just what to expect from the body and what I thought I knew of the role of isolation work tore right off with the tendon.

But before that, during my initial Nancy Kerrigan-esque “WwwHhhYyy!” reaction, my thought was, “Well, that’s what I get for doing biceps curls.”

It wasn’t until days later, lying awake on the operating table talking to my surgeon as he yanked my tendon back down that I realized instead of thinking “that’s what I get for doing biceps curls,” the proper insight is “that’s what I got for not doing biceps curls.” What my surgeon found was an über-developed muscle matched up with an under-sized tendon. He was puzzled. I had an epiphany.

You see, because of the paradigm and personal shift away from training isolated mirror muscles and instead opting to focus on the compound multi-joint money movements, I may have managed some indirect muscle growth and a good deal of strength, but I failed to pay my tendon(s) due attention. And this failure or treatment of the biceps curl as “non-functional,” literally led to ultimate dysfunction.

I’d created a hidden weak link by way of a severe contractile to connective tissue size and strength disparity because of a well-intended and otherwise effective dogma—prioritizing compound movements over isolation efforts if not abandoning single joint efforts altogether.

So on that fateful day when I mixed in the infrequent direct arm work for vanity’s sake, curling 155 lbs because that’s easy when you can row close to 400 lbs for reps, pop, rip, yank, tear, and rupture went the little tendon that couldn’t.

It wasn’t biceps curls that caused the disparity that ultimately led to my last four months of misery and neither were compound lifts at sole fault either. It was the failure to bridge the gap between structure and function, isolation and compound, movements and muscle complexes.

I should’ve been consistently doing curls of some sort to some degree all along, not simply for the far too frequently flamed aesthetic reason but additionally for the underlying structural and functional integrity of the elbow joint. This latter motive being especially crucial, as the compound pulls got heavier and heavier and the muscles got bigger and stronger.

So now after failing to do that, suffering the injury, and having the epiphany of sorts, I let my lapse in fortune prove to be an upsurge in yours. Take heed of the lesson I learned firsthand and pay proper attention to the structure and function of muscle, bone, and connective tissue. How might you do that? Insofar as the biceps are concerned, below is an example of one way I’m approaching it with our clients.

The Split (3–4 main RT days): The design can be full body, upper/lower, max effort/dynamic, joint based, push/pull, plane based, and whatever you choose. The point is that the exercises performed on these days are compound money lifts, and there isn’t already a dedicated “arm day.” This takes care of the still effective and deservedly championed dogma referenced above.

The biceps supplement: two days per week on otherwise non-RT days perform a mini-session of direct arm work.

So if performing some form of four-day “upper/lower” split, your week may look like this:

Monday: Lower body workout 1

Tuesday: Upper body workout 1

Wednesday: Arm supplement 1

Thursday: Lower body workout 2

Friday: Upper body workout 2

Saturday: Arm supplement 2

Sunday: Rest

If you’re performing three full body days:

Monday: Full body 1

Tuesday: Arm supplement 1

Wednesday: Full body 2

Thursday: Rest

Friday: Full body 3

Saturday: Arm supplement 2

Sunday: Rest

So as you can see, you get your main compound work in as you normally would and then on otherwise off days, you perform a short arm session. Here are a couple examples:

Arm supplement 1

 

(1a) Standing unbalanced grip bilateral dumbbell curls

(1b) Pronated triceps press downs

(1c) Reverse curl/pronated grip curls

(2a) Single arm hammer grip dumbbell concentration curls

(2b) Supinated grip single arm triceps cable press downs

(1a) 9, 6, 12

(1b) 9, 6, 12
(1c) 7, 5, 9
(2a) 11, x
(2b) 11, x

Arm Supplement 2

(1a) Band plus EZ bar curls

(1b) Supinated grip nose breakers
(1c) Lying fat grip dumbbell curls
(2a) Incline bench Zottman curls
(2b) Bench dips

(3) Standing single arm barbell or short bar fat grip curls

(1a) 9, x, x

(1b) 9, x, x
(1c) 11, x, x
(2a) 7, 5, 9

(2b) 3 x AMRAP
(3) 5-4-3-2-1

Notes:

  1. Each number represents a set of that many reps.
  2. If x is given, it means you should perform as many reps as possible (AMRAP) with the load from the previous set. So if “9, x” is given, perform AMRAP with the nine-rep set’s load for the second set or “x rep set.”
  3. Rest is minimal.
  4. Adjust the load to match any wave-like rep demand and fatigue.
  5. Supplement 2, exercise (3), alternate back and forth, working your way through the extended rest-pause set.
  • 5 reps left arm curl
  • 5 reps right arm curl
  • 4 reps left arm curl
  • 4 reps right arm curl
  • 3 reps left arm curl
  • 3 reps right arm curl
  • 2 reps left arm curl
  • 2 reps right arm curl
  • 1 rep left arm curl
  • 1 rep right arm curl

You’ll likely find that your 7–9 rep max will work. Feel your muscles. Don’t just throw the weight up. Momentum should be nonexistent.

Commentary

  1. Don’t stress or over think the exercise selection. Just aim for a well-rounded multi-flexor approach—biceps brachii, brachialis, coracobrachialis, and brachioradialis.
  2. Don’t overdo demand (volume or intensity). We’re counting on frequency instead. Tendons don’t recover as quickly, so we need to balance stimulus with the lower or at least slower capacity for adaptation. In fact, the above may be too much for many.
  3. Consider using this session for abdominal, forearm, and calf work as well.

What we create with this approach is direct or primary isolation stimulus by way of the arm supplements in addition to the indirect or secondary stimulus that our main resistance training compound centric workouts provide spread out over multiple sessions. And what we hope to achieve with consistent implementation is the same thing we achieve for the shoulder with scap work and for the hip with glute and associated support work—improved structure and function all the way up the hierarchy of complex movements and demands.

And heck, even if the above thesis is wrong, over time you get an even bigger pair of cannons all in the name of joint integrity. Not a bad second place prize, I should think.

 

http://articles.elitefts.com/training-articles/biceps-blowout-a-case-for-biceps-curls/

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