Biceps Curls

In an effort to write about what I get asked about I’m going to address the use of biceps curls and other arm exercises.

Did you think there wasn't going to be a picture of this guy?

Walk into any gym and you will see no less than 3 dudes doing bicep curls at any given time.  Further down the dumbbell rack you will see women using the little pink dumbbells to “tone” their triceps.  A deep investigation of these individuals would indicate that they are both using relatively light weights and and doing high reps.  The dudes to mimic the high volume workouts done by their favorite bodybuilding professional according to the interview they read in some muscle magazine.  The women are just listening to the advice of their local boot camp instructor featured on the front page of a back section of the paper.

So we have one group trying to bulk up, and another group trying to slim down using the exact same protocol.  So who is right?  Well, honestly, neither.

George: Now I do 3x12 with light weights on my biceps curls to get huge arms. Bill: Well I do 3x12 with light weights to get that long lean toned look.

Well the women are WAY off.  Doing light weights for high reps will do nothing for them.  No training effect whatsoever.  No toning, no slimming, no long lean muscle creation.  Nothing.  I’ll just leave that one there and move on to the guys.

Guys, you will also get no results from that arm day you’re doing.  This goes for shoulder day too.  Or any day aimed at high rep ranges to copy what the bodybuilders are doing.  Unless, however, you happen to be a bodybuilder.  Or really strong.  The thing you have to remember, is that these bodybuilders are huge.  They are incredibly strong.  And most of them are chemically enhanced.  Taking what a bodybuilder does will not apply to 99% of the population.  You must be crazy to think that you are part of that remaining 1% that can train and recover with the huge volume(sets x reps x weight) of work done by most bodybuilders.

You can't ignore physiology...

More to the point most guys are not strong enough to gain any benefit from his high volume work for smaller body parts.  There has to be a minimum amount of weight being moved to signal your body to start producing more muscle mass.  There are two ways to increase strength, to increase neuromuscular recruitment (more muscle fibers(cells) used to overcome the resistance), and increase muscle fiber size/number of muscle fibers (the exact mechanism of hypertrophy is still largely unknown and debated).  Women and children operate largely in that first group as they lack the hormones that drive muscle growth.  Men operate in this way too until they max out their neuromuscular recruitment capabilities.  Then and only then will they start to increase muscle mass as a way to keep up with the demand to overcome more of a resistance.  Or in this case more volume.

In other words, you have to get strong in order to get big.  There is no skipping that first step and going straight to sets of 12 on the curls with a weight you can do 50 times.  And that doesn’t mean doing heavy curls either, it means strong in the major lifts.  I’m talking about being able to bench press 1.5 times your body weight.  Deadlift twice your body weight.  Perform 12 full chinups.  Only then can we start talking about adding volume to increase the muscle mass in smaller areas.  And even then it probably wouldn’t be the greatest use of time for most of the population.

So don’t assume you’re in that small minority, if you are, you definitely know it, as does everyone else around you.





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