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Build massive arms in only 20 minutes! Bulging biceps without working out! Believe it or not, there are websites and print publications that even in the modern era advertise that there are shortcuts to building powerful upper arm strength. Forget it!
Here are five exercises that really work--if you work--to give you powerful, well-defined, injury-free bicep muscles. They are done together no more often than every other day. Here are the exercises.

1. Standing bicep curl
2. Preacher curl
3. Cable curl
4. Seated dumbbell curl
5. Concentration curl

In this series of five exercises, you start with heavier weights and finish with lighter weights. You can shock your muscles into greater growth by mixing up the order of the exercises, but never do the concentration curl first.

Standing bicep curl and preacher curl

The standing bicep curl is the most familiar of all the exercises for building biceps. You start by picking up the weight off the floor with your palms facing away from your body.
Your hands should be a shoulder-length apart; that is, don't grab the ends of the bar or the middle. Making sure you don't bend backwards, you can rest one foot behind your body if that makes you more comfortable.

Next, keeping your elbows tucked to your sides, bring the bar up to your chest. You should hold the weight close to your chest for a moment before returning it to the starting position.

It is important to do this exercise slowly. Don't let the weight bounce against your chest. That sets you up for injuries to your lateral muscles, and it doesn't do your biceps any good. If you have trouble doing this exercise in good form, try a lighter weight and build up from their over the next few weeks. Eight repetitions of this exercise is ideal.

The preacher curl is done from a preacher curl bench, which looks something like the pulpit used by a preacher. You sit behind a bench that is inclined down and forward, in front of you. You should be able to rest your upper arms on the pad. Adjust the seat so the top of the pad is close to your underarms.

As in the standing bicep curl, grasp the bar with your hands about a shoulder's width apart, neither bunched in the middle nor hanging on the ends. Lift the weight until your forearms are pointing to the ceiling, and hold for one or two seconds. Then slowly lower the weight to return it to its starting position.

The advantage of using a preacher curl bench is that you have to do the exercise in good form. Since the bench takes care of the way you do the exercise, you are free to use heavier weights with faster muscle gains and lesser risk of injury.

Five repetitions of the preacher curl is optimal. Start heavy and ease off.

Cable curl and seated dumbbell curve

The cable curl involves the same motions as the barbell curl, but it is done with a cable machine rather than with free weights. The cable keeps a constant pressure on the muscle throughout the exercise. And since you don't have to worry about the force of gravity, you can "rest" your muscle at the top of your stretch. You can do the cable curl from either a standing position or from a preacher's bench, but there's more benefit to more muscles if you do the exercise standing.

Adjust the cable so it is as close to the floor as it will go, and clip on an EZ cable curl bar or straight bar. When you grab the bar, make sure your palms are facing away from your body. Pull the bar up to the top of your chest. Pause, and let the bar return gently to its starting position. Repeat for a total of just 3 repetitions. If you want to isolate your biceps so they are getting the greatest benefit from the exercise, keep your elbows "dug" into your sides.

The seated dumbbell curve is an exercise done one arm at a time. It's a great way to isolate the biceps so you can make the biceps in both arms equally strong. Usually, the biceps in the arm of your dominant hand (if you are left-handed, your left arm, if you are right-handed, your right arm) is stronger. This exercise is the equalizer for upper arm strength.

Select the dumbbells and hold them loosely to your side, with the palms of your hands pointed away from your body. Twist your hand halfway through your lift so that your palm is facing your bicep. Slowly lower the dumbbell and repeat for the opposite arm.

Even though you do this exercise while seated on a bench, you exercise muscles in your back and legs. It is very important to keep your back straight and your buttocks flat against the bench, legs not crossed, feet flat on the floor in front of you. Just three repetitions of the exercise is enough. Never "throw" the dumbbell. Always use a slow lift.

Concentration curl

The final exercise in this series, the concentration curl, is about isolating your biceps rather than about lifting the heaviest weight you can. It's called the "concentration" curl because you adopt the same pose as in Rodin's famous bronze statue, The Thinker.

Place the dumbbell in front of you at the end of a bench. Sit at the end of the bench with your feet about a shoulder's distance apart and flat on the floor. Pressing your elbow against your thigh, pick the weight off the floor with your palm facing forward. As you slowly lift the weight, keeping your elbow pressed against your thigh, turn your wrist so your palm faces upward. Slowly lift the weight to the height of the bench, keeping your elbow against your thigh through the entire motion. Squeeze your bicep for a second at the top of the lift, and slowly return the weight to the floor, reversing your hold so your palm is away from your body as the weight touches the floor.

In this exercise, your biceps are doing 100 per cent of the work. It's important to work with a weight you can lift without rocking to the right or left. Keep the rest of your body still as you build both bicep strength and bicep awareness.

Remember, start hard, but finish easy. These exercises put more and more of your attention on your biceps, and you will need to use less and less weight as you go through the set. Be sure to take a post-workout drink to give your biceps the amino acids and glucose it needs to rebuild muscle fibers and restore glycogen, and don't let yourself get dehydrated. Water is actually a building bloc of muscle. Do these exercises no more frequently than every other day so your body can build new muscle and make you stronger with every set.

  • McBride JM, Blaak JB, Triplett-McBride T. Effect of resistance exercise volume and complexity on EMG, strength, and regional body composition. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2003 Nov,90(5-6):626-32. Epub 2003 Aug 16.
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