Ask The Trainer #104 – Building Bigger Biceps


I was wondering if you could help me? I have really flat biceps. What can I do to get them to grow? My triceps are well developed but I can’t get my biceps to grow to save my life. I train them twice a week. I was considering adding a third arm workout each week to see if that does anything. What would you suggest? Thanks in advance.



Hi, Andy. First off, I would scrap the idea of incorporating a third arm workout each week. In fact, I don’t think it’s even necessary for you to blast through two arm workouts per week. One arm workout each week is sufficient for most people, as long as that arm workout is properly devised and executed.

When I look around the gym, I see that most people train their biceps diligently, but not effectively. I watch people doing barbell dumbbell curls and dumbbell curls with their elbows are cocked forward. They’re swinging and bouncing their weights in a fashion that allows almost no time under tension for the target muscle.

Now, I’m not saying this is exactly what you’re doing. But, if you’re making any of these mistakes to even a slight degree, this will subtract from the amount of muscle stimulation you give your biceps. In other words, you reduce the effectiveness of your biceps exercises.

Bicep Exercises

I think most people become too preoccupied with the type of biceps exercises they should be doing, and lose sight of exactly how those exercises should be executed to maximize the effectiveness of the exercises. A slight change in execution can make the difference between an exercise that produces great results and one that doesn’t do squat!

I’ll use a barbell curl for example. Most people I see doing these will begin my leaning forward, then abruptly swinging their torso backward to gain momentum. They simultaneously cock their elbows forward, swing the bar up at an arch, then once it’s all the way up, they sloppily allow the bar freefall back to the beginning position.

The swinging action of the torso back and forth creates momentum that directs stress away from the biceps. When the elbows cock forward, stress is misplaced from the biceps onto the front deltoids. Then, when the bar is rapidly dropped back into the beginning position, you lose all of the eccentric benefits of the exercise which are extremely significant. In contrast, a barbell curl can work wonders for the biceps when properly executed.

Drag Curl

I actually prefer a version of the barbell curl known as a Drag Curl.

To perform a drag curl, stand up straight with your arms fully extended and your palms facing outward. Instead of curling the bar up in an arch, like you would with a barbell curl, you’re going to instead drag the bar up the tops of your thighs, pelvis, and abdomen as you simultaneously draw your elbows back behind your body. Drag the bar up towards your chest, as high as you can, while keeping your elbows behind your body. For me, the bar comes to a stop right at the lower part of my chest.

Execute this motion in a slow and controlled manner, so it takes 3 seconds to drag the barbell all the way to the top of the movement. Next, you will reverse the movement by allowing the bar to slowly descend back into the beginning position. Again, it should take you 3 seconds to lower the bar back into the beginning position.

By using this technique you are placing all the stress of the exercise exclusively on the long heads of your biceps, which is exactly what you want. The slow and controlled cadence of the movement will ensure that momentum doesn’t take over and remove stress from your biceps. This is just one example of how adjusting your technique on an exercise can make it much more productive. These same principles can be applied to dumbbell curls as well.

Spider Curls and Preacher Curls

I’ve been a longtime fan of spider curls and preacher curls. The difference is that the slope on a spider curl bench will position your elbows at about a 90-degree angle, where a preacher bench will have a more linear slope that places your elbows up higher. They are both extremely effective exercises to build the biceps, but I prefer the spider curl bench because I feel it eliminates the possibility of cheating during the movement, allowing the biceps to be isolated a bit better.

The form with these movements is pretty self-explanatory. However, I still people screwing them up by performing their reps fast and sloppy, just like they tend to with barbell curls. Again, just as with the barbell curls, use a nice, slow and controlled cadence when you’re performing Spider curls or preacher curls. It should take 3 seconds to raise the weight and at least 3 seconds to lower the weight.

I basically just gave you all the exercises I incorporate into my bicep workouts! Again, they are drag curls and spider curls.

The only one I didn’t mention is that I also sometimes incorporate reverse grip curls on the spider bench using an E-Z bar. This is to specifically target the brachialis—the muscle under the biceps that actually creates that split, separating the biceps and triceps to give your arms the illusion they are more massive than they actually are.

Word Of Caution

Be sure your body and your biceps are sufficiently warmed up before performing preacher curls or spider curls with any significant level of intensity. This will help prevent a biceps tear. I generally begin my biceps workouts by performing drag curls first to make sure my biceps are very warm and pumped up, then I move on to the spider curls.

One final point I want to make regarding the number of arm workouts you do each week—when you do pulling movements on back day, you’re also stressing your biceps. When you perform pressing movements on chest or shoulder day, you’re also stressing your triceps.

In short, your arm muscles get overlapping training with other body parts. This increases the likelihood of overtraining your arms. An overtrained muscle is a muscle that will NEVER grow! Just be aware of this as you contemplate the number of arm workouts you should be doing each week.

Again, I think if you’re executing your arm workouts properly, 1 arm workout per week should be sufficient. In fact, as you grow stronger and increase the amount of stress you apply to your arm muscles, it may even be necessary to perform arm workouts even less frequently…maybe once every 2 weeks. That’s actually what I’m currently doing to avoid overtraining and keep my progress moving in a favorable direction!

I hope this information helps make a positive difference for you! I wish you all the best of success with your training!

Prove ‘Em Wrong,
Chad Shaw

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