You too can build 12” guns!! Excited? Okay, I agree, not very appealing. The only reason you would have been attracted to this headline is to see what’s wrong with the writer. But this is exactly what you are going to get when you take advice off people who probably have exactly that – 12” biceps.
I have read of late (more times than once) that you don’t need to do specific bicep exercises to build big biceps. Mmm. Wonder what the definition of big is? 12”?
Now before we get into it I want to make it real clear I am not glorifying big upper arms. I can take them or leave them. In fact when you look at my list of the disadvantages bulging biceps present you will appreciate this. What I am simply seeking to do is put forward a version that may help you get sucked into the bullshit, if in fact you do want to build big upper arms.
The proposal that you don’t need to do specific bicep exercises to build big upper arms can only, I conclude, come from the minds attached to bodies that have never build big upper arms.
Here are my concerns with building big biceps:
• Powerlifters are more likely to tear them in deadlifting
• Weightlifters struggle to catch the bar on their shoulders in the front squat/clean recovery position
• Athletes get distracted from effective strength training by building big upper arms
But apart from that, if you want to build big guns, go for it. If you want to take them significantly past 12”, you might want to ignore the no-bicep exercise bullshit.
You can see I’m not a big fan of bicep focused training for anyone other than bodybuilders and body beautifuls. But I am as equally not a fan of bullshit like this theory.
I found an example of this ‘no-bicep curl exercises needed’ theory in a book (1). I believe that the authors specifically set out to shape the readers value system and induce compliance to their theory with the following subjective statements:
• If they thought that doing a lot of sets of bicep curls every week would help them build their own biceps, they would be going out and doing this, just like the ‘meatheads and mooks’ do.
[You probably don’t want to think of yourself as a ‘meathead’ and/or ‘mook’ - so you may think twice about doing a bicep curl]
• Curls are mostly for newbie’s and juicers.
[You probably don’t want to feel or act like their definition of a newbie or a drug user, so you may choose to avoid doing bicep curls]
• The changes in muscle size would not be dramatic.
[A statement of fact, of dubious accuracy, but perhaps enough to discourage you from, God forbid, doing a curl]
• Unless you had a specifics reason for doing arm-isolated exercises, you should save your time and energy for other pursuits.
[Now if you needed any more discouragement, you just got it – no way are you ever going to do bicep curls again!]
Let’s take a step back. Where did these beliefs come from? Science of course. Three studies were quoted, none of which have any guarantee they relate to you. But let’s humor their ‘evidence’ for a bit longer.
The first study was conducted 13 years to the release of the book, was based on a research group of elderly m en. Unlikely to have any bearing on you, however that was enough for the writers to conclude that doing bicep curls only work for beginners.
The second study cited was conducted 14 years prior to the release of the book, and was based on competitive bodybuilders, again unlikely to have any specific bearing on you. But it was enough apparently for the authors to conclude therefore that any one beyond a beginner will see minimal if any hypertrophy from doing isolated bicep curls, because these competitive bodybuilders, during the period of this research study, didn’t.
With the third study cited, comfortingly was conducted in the same millennium, no details were provided of what they did, who they were, and there were allegedly no changes in arm size in the nine weeks of the program. It’s difficult to give any comment as to how this result may relate to you or not because inadequate details were given. Suffice to say it was allegedly research and therefore we don’t need details – we just need to believe! [Sounds a bit like sciences predecessor of social conditioning, religion…]
That’s it - on the basis of the above, you are to stop doing specific bicep curl exercises…..
Now what are the other alternatives that these writers and anyone else, yourself included, may reach a conclusion. That is, other than be basing your thoughts and actions on the apparent authority of the printed word, or on the basis of research with limited application to yourself.
Well, there is experience. You could come to your own conclusion based on your experiences. Let me share you mine. Now according to this theory, or at least this theory as presented by these ‘experts’, I should not get any results in increased upper arm girth from adding isolated bicep exercises. Why?
Because that only works for beginners and juicers, of which I am neither. And because a study conducted nearly two decades ago allegedly using experienced, competitive bodybuilders, failed so see any change in upper arm girth during the period of that particular study, that is further evidence that I would be wasting my time. After all, I too am experienced aren’t I? After all, these authors appear to have categorized themselves as experienced.
So furthering this line of thinking, what constitutes experienced? What equates with being a competitive bodybuilder? What if a person is one but not the other? Does that mean that this research applies still?
I can tell you this – I consider myself to be experience (continual strength training for approximately 30 years) but I am not, have never been and will never be a competitive bodybuilder. I know these authors have not, are not, and probably never will be competitive bodybuilders either. So it must be their experience that places them in the same category of non-response to isolated bicep curl as this study group cited above?
So how do you measure experience? Is it on number of years alone? Or is there potential for some level of qualification? Say an upper arm circumference measurement. Let me give you mine. Anything less than a 16” upper arm on an average height male is not advanced.
Anyway, as an experienced person (based on both years in training and passing this arbitrary upper arm circumference), what happens when I do isolated bicep training – they grow. Immediately.
So the value to you of the cited science is dubious, and the belief-shaping message by these authors (and others of their ilk) was not based on the writer’s personal experience, which is understandable as if you were as familiar with the upper arm circumference of the authors….
Yes, you can build big upper arms through heavy pressing and pulling, especially with the way the triceps dominate the bulk of the upper arm. But if you want to create specifically large biceps, create a peak in them, and maximize the contribution of the biceps to upper arms – you are not going to do this by avoiding specific bicep exercises. What research can I quote to give my statement credibility? None.
Or at least none that would fit the expectations of those who want to see a research article quoted, irrespective of whether it is relevant or not. Irrespective of whether it is valid or not. Irrespective of whether the researcher was even in town the day the research was allegedly conducted…
Just the observations over a few decades are used to support this conclusion.
This is just one example of how easily your conclusions and behavior can be influenced by people who seek to shape your beliefs, in the absence of personal experience.
[This is an extract from my upcoming book 'Barbells & Bullshit]
(1) Schuler, L., and Cosgrove, A., 2006, New Rules, Penguin Publishing