Tips to Build Biceps

We Tips to build biceps.get a lot of questions from people wanting to build biceps with more size.

The first trap to avoid is to know there are a lot of time-wasting, low intensity exercises that trainers recommend to build biceps. We have tested all of the common ones and know which ones deliver the highest intensity of overload. Avoid the others.

The number one and two highest-intensity exercises to build biceps are the sitting and standing barbell curl. If you do them inside a power rack so the range is limited to your strongest and safest range of motion you will be able to generate your peak intensity and therefore the maximum growth stimulation to build biceps.

Unlike many exercises, neither the top or bottom of the range of motion is where peak muscle loading occurs. In fact both the top and bottom of the range offer nearly zero load and won’t build biceps at all. For most people the peak loading occurs near or just above the point where the elbow is bent 90 degrees. You can experiment with power rack positions to discover the position where you can lift the most weight.

‘Cheats’ to Help Build Biceps on Machines

Some machines can also be used effectively to build biceps with static contraction training. A good ‘cheat’ for these machines is to use both arms to hoist the weight into your strongest range then release one hand while the other arm performs the static hold. This basically doubles the weight of the machine’s weight stack and provides twice the intensity for you to build biceps. Also, it’s sometimes possible to place one or two dumbbells on top of the weight stack or use the adjustment pin to hold a weight plate. That adds even more intensity.

Maximum muscle stimulation can occur from both alpha strength and beta strength stimulation but in either case it makes sense to use the exercise that generates the most overload to build biceps. It never pays to use an inferior exercise – even if you are ‘bored’ with the best exercise. Be smart – use the right tool and move on.

Static contraction delivers the highest intensity alpha strength overload and I’ve been working on an improved method to deliver the highest intensity beta strength overload to build biceps and the other major muscle groups of the arms. Many people have claimed they need the additional volume of beta workouts in order to see size gains whether they are trying to build biceps or any other muscle.

I hope to have more on the subject of generating maximum beta strength intensity later this month.


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  • Myron

    How do you get the barbell or dumbbell into the holding position? Do you swing it up to position and try to hold it there for 7 seconds? What amount of weight do you use? Thanks, Myron.

  • Hi Myron! 1. I didn’t say to use a dumbbell. Use a barbell, it matters. 2. Yikes, you don’t swing anything. That’s why I said, “If you do them inside a power rack so the range is limited to your strongest and safest range of motion you will be able to generate your peak intensity…” Once it’s in the power rack you lift it one inch. 3. Every exercise is fully explained and illustrated in this e-book:

  • The strategy I use, out of annoyance that the squat rack is usually occupied for lengthy periods, is to walk up to the bench press station (there are usually 2-3 of those), straddle the bench facing the bar, bend at the knees to get my elbows to 90 degrees with the bar on the highest pegs, and then stand up with the bar/weights. I hold for 5 seconds and then do a negative to set the bar back on the pegs. If I can’t hold it at 90 degrees for the 5-count, I know I overloaded the bar – too big an increment for the day. After running through the ramp-up (gradually lengthening the time between workouts) a couple of time over the last 3 years, I now just set it at 14 days and forget it (28 days between the same workout). I just keep getting stronger – absolutely mind-blowing; yesterday did 515 lb in the dead lift and 320 lb for bench, yet another set of lifetime bests, at 71-1/2, 164 lb body weight. Two weeks prior the dead lift was 505 lb, which I had achieved in a previous go-round almost 2 years ago.

  • charlie sanders

    i found that a barbell was too much strain at my wrists(forced supination) so i use an ezcurl bar the zigzag style and try to supinate the forearm as i bear teh weight…or…
    for a few years now i place the bar across my wrists with a squat pad on the bar, the padded bar contacts the distal radius on both wrists. max is 262 on an old e.f. machine
    i find that my strongest angle is just below 90*, i squat down a bit and hoist through my legs and try to lift the bar as hard as i can for 5 count, i try it 3 times usually besting the first attempt, then i hold the curl at 150 for as long as i can stand it. at this point about 30 seconds…1 minute a month

  • Same for me, Charlie. I can always do more with an e-z-curl bar. Kudos for the experimentation too.

  • charlie sanders

    confused on your comment about 2weeks since last deadlift and 28 days tween same workout???

  • charlie sanders

    awesome progress either way, by the way…compared to my pops at 64 who i watched shuffle around sunday morning after he put on a big party for my step-moms 60th. he thinks social dancing is keeping him in shape and he thinks falling asleep at the tv in a horrible chair isn’t helping round his shoulders…sheesh

  • Steve

    After experimenting with bottom, top and middle positions, I have settled on the bottom position, where I can really load up the barbell. I have learned to keep most of the resistance in my biceps (rather than my front delts) and although I don’t feel like I did much on the day of the workout, I can tell the next several days that my biceps have done a ton. I like to feel a pump and get some lactic acid burn (which is supposed to cause a positive hormone release) so I have recently added a set of high rep reverse curls (great for the top of the forearm too) followed by a set of high rep regular barbell curls. I seem to be making good progress with this workout.

  • Tom Strong

    I am one of those guys who are wanting to build my biceps as I had atrophied over a number of years. I also felt that my biceps are holding me back on some other exercises.

    I had purchased the Super Arms Reps book and believe that is helping. In addition as my left arm is smaller than my right I am lifting a dumbbell into a curl position with both arms then holding it for 5 seconds with my left.

    On the barbell biceps curl I find that I can lift more weight at the bottom range, but was working my sholders, back, traps, lats, etc more than my biceps. I went back to just under 90 degrees and find that weight lifted went down but more force is being applied to my biceps.

    Fortunately there are two smith machines at the gym that I go to and nobody is doing SCT so don’t have any problems standing in line to use the machines. Getting there at 6AM helps also.

    Be good to yourselves, live life passionately and always, always expect success!

  • Rob

    Hi Tom,

    Keep up the good effort, suggestion, rather than banging away at the biceps have a real go on your triceps, once you get them humbing your arms will look bigger and show good shape.I use two techiques based on SCt.
    1.Cable pull down, (get a long cable if possible,I have my arms wrist horistontal to the floor and then I push down if I can.I never let my wrists point up at all if possible.Youll soon have to add some weight to the machine.I also keep my elbows in close to my trunk.This can be a real killer but works.
    2.The other way I do from time to time is on the Smith machine where I sit on a bench with the back support allmost vertical into my back.I then get the bar over my head so my arms are nearly at full stretch but only about six inches apart.I load up the weight and then push up but not locking my arms.This really kills mate but results are good.I also push the bar into the machine so the hooks never ever leave the “holding hooks?”for safety
    I think I actually originally got the excercises from Pete.
    The triceps once they start to kick in the growth make the arms look terrific and BIGGER!
    I dont do these often as Im pretty stuffed after a SCT press but may go back to them as another variation-lucky you having 2 Smith machines in the gym-all the best, Rob.

  • Rama

    Tom, are you doing bicep curls using Smith Machines? You need to be careful with those especially if the Smith Machines are vertically straight. From past experience I did try to use Smith machines but they dont work too well for bicep curls. If you look at the motion for bicep curls, even in a limited ROM it goes in a semi-circular motion. The motion doesnt go straight up and down like how most smith machines work. It is best to use Power Rack, or a Preacher curl machine rather than Smith machine. (Again, Pete and Greg, correct me if I am wrong)

  • charlie sanders

    rama, no offense but if i had a million bucks i would bet 900k that it makes no difference in that one inch lift. and if you have some extra bucks you could pay me to run a research study to show it wont make a diff.

  • Guillermo

    I am using the “machine overloading” and “single/double” techniques for my leg presses, as I have maxed out the machine at my gym a long time ago. It has 18 platters that I guess weigh 10Kg each (=180Kg). Then I have to stack 4 barbells with up to 140Kg – I cannot put more because I fear the machine will break (it has a kind of hinge, it is not one of those that slide diagonally). Also, it is difficult to balance the dumbbells so that they don’t fall off. Even with those 320Kg I have to do single leg STCs, as otherwise it’s too easy.

    As described for the biceps exercise, I push with both legs and then I remove each one of them alternatively. Only one rep, for 5 secs. With a bit less weight I can do the super-reps recommended in the CNS workout.

  • Rama

    I didnt take offence, its just that from my experience the movement in Smith machines doesnt seem to really overload the biceps, and the movement seem to put the wrist at a position where its more likely to get injured. Look at the positions of the wrist and the elbows when you do bicep curls on Smith machines, and compare it with if you do bicep curls on a rack. There is a difference.

    And its not just position, I felt my biceps werent worked much, my wrist felt more strain, and most of all the weights werent increasing (even though I had more than adequate recovery time)

    If you havent done bicep curls on Smith machines, I encourage you to try it. I think you’ll feel a big difference when you compare it with bicep curls on a rack.

  • charlie sanders

    i do mine with a static bar, i described it on this thread the other day, i dont use my hands…

  • Rama

    Okay, I am just saying that you will definitely feel that there is a difference in bicep curls with smith machines and with a rack.

    I never owned the EF machine, but from what I’ve seen, if you do a bicep curl the position of the wrists and elbows are also different from Smith machines.

    I read on how you did your bicep curl, but even though I havent seen you do it I am assuming that your movement (along with position of elbows and wrists) is more or less the same as bicep curling in a rack. It is still different compared to bicep curling in a Smith machine.

    We are not talking about just a small inch in movement, but also the position of the wrists, elbows, and whether the motion delivers a maximum overload to the biceps. Hence I believe that doing bicep curls in the Smith machine isnt “right”.

  • Rama

    I would like to add, it is true in Tom’s case that he feels the range in which is biceps is worked most is the point just below 90 degrees. This is true because from my observation, the range in bicep curls that is closest to the straight up and down movement of hte Smith machine is the range just below 90 degrees. That is why I think Tom is able to feel his biceps worked more in that range, using Smith machine.

    But is it the maximum overload his biceps can receive? Somehow I doubt it….

  • charlie sanders

    having trouble imagining what you are describing in these differences. to me i remember seeing it as strange when i saw the demo of curl for sct being way above 90, never liked it.

  • Tom Strong

    Thanks for the recommendations Rob,

    Today was super rep arms day but I did add a cable pulldown. The machine that I use only goes to 200 lbs which I have maxed out for a full range of motion; but I also did pull down with both hands then hold with one hand. Additionally I did use a dip freeweight machine that works the triceps pretty hard.

    Next time I will use the suggestion you gave on the smith machine.

  • Tom Strong

    Thanks for your suggestions Rama; and Charlie for your input as well!

    The smith machines that I use have a 7 degree incline and with a limited range of motion that works well; but I will try the power rack next time for comparison.

  • charlie sanders

    i had a flash, regardless of the machine or apparatus we are seeking to exert maximally and safely. it sounds like all the examples employ a lift directly against gravity, vertically. what if we just each of us experiment in that range of say 25* above or below 90* elbow flexion. when the weight is heavy enough we will only be able to lift it in the strongest spot in that range. raise the weight each workout until you fail to even get it off the safety. add a day off and keep the weight the same next time…
    how can i say it, let’s just test to see where the strongest for you on your machine is. that is the only place you can hold up the heaviest weight.
    sometimes i wish we had no way to measure and just lift blind, just push or pull against immovables for 5-10 sec. start with 2 workouts a week and slowly spread it out to 2 months over a year or so…now maybe add a little ‘endurance’ hold like 30 seconds at sub max effort.
    sorry for rambling now.

  • Rama

    Well, the best way to find out would be to actually do it I guess lol (although I dont recommend it since you might get injured doing it)

    As I mentioned earlier, from my experience doing bicep curls with smith machines will not allow you to maximally overload your biceps. With smith machines you will find that you arent really lifting the weight with just biceps, you might find you actually have to lift with shoulders, elbows, and forearms as well.

    However I dont really know exactly how it feels if the Smith machine has a 7 degree incline (the Smith machine I used to do bicep curls with was vertically straight), but in any case I still wouldnt do bicep curls on Smith machines…..

    My suggestion is to make comparison, if you feel that the 7 degree incline smith machines work better than the power rack, then go for it. Just be careful not to get injured, especially with the wrists.

  • Mark

    Has anyone tried drag curls? I’ve done them before in other types of training (i.e. not SCT) because they keep tension in the biceps once you get past the 90 degree angle. I could see it working towards the top of the range using power rack or smith machine.

  • Dennis

    Question about your tricep extensions. What kind of bar do you use. I use a V-bar that has rubber handles, I have also tried the heavy cord with two sides for the pushdown tricep extension. With the heavy cord, I get a little longer extension, than I do with the solid V shaped bar. I tried dips, and adding a belt for extra weight, however, in the summer my palms sweat and I have to readjust my sweating palms on the bars, too often.

  • I know this question is for Rob but I just want too clarify (for the benefit of other readers) that this exercise is not part of any static contraction or power factor routine because the intensity is sub-maximal compared to other triceps exercises.

  • Jazz

    Hi Pete,
    any tips on building strong forearms and wrists would be great,

  • Apply the static contraction techniques to wrist curls and reverse wrist curls. Those two exercises will work all your forearm muscles.

  • Jazz

    Thanks Greg!

  • Rob

    Is there a way to substitute dips in place of the Hammer Strength machine for triceps in the PFW work out for arms?

  • Sure, you can make any substitutions that you need to. (Most commonly due unavailable equipment.)

  • Dennis

    The Nautilus and Life Fitness machines have a special cam which is supposed to put greater stress in the fully contracted position. My question is do these machines change your thoughts about the place to hold the static contraction for biceps, to a much closer to full contraction?

    I love dips and have attached dumbbells to a belt and performed static contractions. One problem is hands slipping off of the pads when sweaty or wet.


    It was the seated bicep curl which finally convinced me that ‘full range of motion’ is not a requirement for muscle development and can be counter productive.
    I’d ask anyone to do a seated curl with a weight which will cause failure at about 6-8 reps then point out which part of their biceps was not worked by the exercise.

  • I’ve never been impressed with those cams. I measured some old Nautilus machines and the difference in resistance was so negligible it was hard to measure. Reality is often a 200%+ difference between weak and strong range power and the cams never offer even a tenth of that.

  • Rama

    I agree with u, but then some of those guys would say “you are not getting the maximum development of the biceps” or “you are not getting full strength”. I remember a conversation I had with a trainer who said that “yeah you can do bicep curls in half the range of movement but what you would want is strength in the full range” while showing the motion to me. I listened and nodded while thinking to myself “okay, why would I need my strength in the full range of THAT motion?” I didnt ask that because I am the guy who knew nothing and he is the guy with the professional credentials.

  • it is my understanding that the nautilus cam was designed to deliver the same load to a muscle throughout the range of a particular motion. isotonic.
    this would facilitate failure in a random place as well, especially when superslow was developed

  • LJ


    Do you still recommend using a preacher curl pad set completely vertical for the curls?

  • Aristotle said that heavy objects fell faster than light objects. For nearly 2000 years if you wanted a university degree in science you had to agree with Aristotle. After Galileo 100% of “professional credentials” changed. One day it will be the same with the ones who – despite centuries of evidence – insist muscle cannot be built without maximum weak-range effort.

  • Only if you discover it allows you to curl more weight. I always recommend whatever tactic allows you to handle the maximum weight for a given exercise.

  • DaveO

    I have used the seated ‘nautilus’ bicept machine in which you can load wait at 3 different points in the motion (lower, mid, upper). I sometimes use this machine because it allows me to load the weight at the upper end of the curling motion so that it’s easier to lift the weight from the low point.

    Usually, I only use this machine though if someone is using a rack and I can’t or don’t want to wait to use a straight bar bell.

  • DaveO

    In the past, I have experienced pain in my wrists from doing straight bar curls. I found the reason to be related to the type of work I do at my job in IT. From years of using a flat mouse and keyboard turned my arms and shoulders in. However, the body is designed to allow a position where your arms are in front of you with palms facing up as if you were holding a tray. This tray could then be replaced with a bar to do the curls.

  • Rama

    Yes, I understand what you mean.

    Well personally when I did full ROM in straight bar curls I would find there is a degree of discomfort in the wrists.

    I still maintain that there is a big difference in doing strong range curls with a Smith machine and with a barbell (whether straight or EZ Bar). The movement in the Smith machine is just unnatural which is a straight movement, whether it be vertical-up and down or 7 degree incline. Doing curls, with the design of the Smith machine in mind would put your wrists in a bent position and discomfort. I doubt you’ll get the maximum overload you’d want with a Smith machine.

    Compare it to the semi circular movement that allows you to overload the biceps in the natural motion of the bicep curls.

  • Jose L. Santos

    I absolutely agree with you Charlie, when you say …”when i saw the demo of curl for SCT being way above 90, never liked it”
    I own an Explosive Fitness machine, specifically the Streamline, and even it’s very easy to adjust to any position you desire in every exercise, and I’ve experimented quite a bit with all the exercises, I still have to find the stronger position for pulldowns, overhand or underhand, and also biceps. Regarding this last one I agree with Tom Strong that possibly the slightly under 90 degrees position is where y feel more stress in the biceps, but I belive firmly in Pete’s theory and we should be searchin for the “stronger” position and not the more “stressful” because this’s just a “feeling”, but doesn’t indicate higer power factor numbers.