Arnold on biceps workout

Arnold on biceps workout

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The arms: the alpha and omega. Probably 90 % of young guys start bodybuilding because they want larger and stronger arms. But strong arms play a key role in building almost all the other body parts as well. For example, you will never bring the most out of a back workout if your arms are too weak for doing proper rows or pull-downs.

Many years ago, I found that it takes much more than barbell curls to build peaked biceps. The right solution is not to increase the number of reps, sets or biceps workouts. Most likely, this approach will only lead to overtraining and disappointment.

If you have been unsuccessfully trying to make your biceps more peaked for a long time, it’s my program you need to make them more spectacular and develop in all aspects: size, shape, peak and sharpness. The following program has proven to be successful so far, for everyone who applied it right. All the guys I used to train back in Munich before I came to the United States used my technique, and they could all develop those so-called egg-shaped biceps (because a properly developed biceps muscle looks like an upside-down egg).

I remember the day many years ago in Chicago, when I had the opportunity to work out together with Sergio Oliva, one of my biggest rivals. After I completed Sergio’s workout – 20 sets of various barbell curls – I grabbed a pair of dumbbells and made 3 sets of alternated biceps curls. Sergio asked me why I was tormenting myself with stuff like that after such a tough biceps workout. And I explained him that I needed this to blast my biceps. Barbell biceps curls are excellent for bulking; but if you don’t use dumbbells, you won’t be able to exercise your biceps entirely.

The biceps is attached to the shoulder joint at one end and to the elbow joint on the other. It has three functions: It flexes your shoulder when you are raising your arm straight out in front e.g. when doing front raises; it flexes your elbow when doing biceps curls; and rotates your palm upwards while the elbow is bent (supination). This rotation or supination is essential to build peaked biceps. And this movement can only be carried out by dumbbell exercises. No two-handed biceps exercise could provide similar contraction or similar pain to that what you feel when you are rotating your wrist in an upward and outside direction in the top position of a bicep curl.

I do not believe in the preacher bench. It limits the range of motion way too much, and in my view, it puts too much stress on the elbows, too. I don’t believe pulley biceps exercises could compare with dumbbell exercises either, regarding their impact on mass and shape; I don’t like standard biceps machines either, because they also limit the range of motion too much.

Most bodybuilders start to rotate the dumbbell when the wrist is straight; and while lifting, they are bending it and moving it toward the shoulder, as they can exert greater force this way. This way they reduce both the impact of gravity and the amount of load. Of course they can use heavier weights this way; but the load will disperse between the biceps and the forearm; moreover, in the top position it actually becomes zero, even though that’s when peak contraction should take place. I never do this exercise like that. I keep my arm straight throughout the whole movement; this way I can feel the load at my fingers, and I am keeping my wrist in this straightened position all along. This will lengthen the lever arm and bring resistance to the maximum. And the combination of this movement with supination makes up the essence of my biceps-peak-raising program. I do the following exercises:

Incline dumbbell biceps curl

Grab 2 dumbbells. Sit on an incline bench and hold the dumbbells with your wrists straight. Keep your elbows near your torso, but make sure the dumbbells are about 20-25 cms (8-12 inches) away sideways. This will ensure the load is exerted on the long (external) head of the biceps. Curl your arms as far as you can, while keeping your wrists straight.

Contract your biceps deliberately in the top position and continue the supinating motion until your little fingers get higher than your palms. You should feel intense pain upon each rep. Do 5 sets with 10 reps each, with no more weight than what enables you to perform the exercise strictly and precisely.

Alternated supine biceps curls

Grab 2 dumbbells while standing. Your palms should be facing backwards. Do one curl with one arm; as you begin, start rotating your palm outwards in a pace that it should face upwards about halfway of the range; then, about 5 cms (2 inches) below the top position, rotate your wrist outwards so that your little finger gets above the level of your palm, and contract your biceps deliberately. The pain you feel upon contraction is beyond expression. Let the dumbbell back down the way you lifted it , and change to the other arm. Do 10 reps per arm. The prescribed volume is 5 sets, with one-minute rest breaks.

Concentration supine biceps curls

There is hardly anybody who performs this exercise properly. Try it my way and watch your biceps come to life again. Grab a dumbbell with your right hand; stand in a narrow stance and bend forward until your back is parallel to the ground. Lean your left hand against your left knee. Start with your palm facing backwards, and, as you are lifting the dumbbell to your shoulder (not to your chest!), rotate it outwards. In the top position, rotate your wrist outwards to the maximum and contract your biceps deliberately (as in the previous exercises). Focus on your biceps all along and try to contract it as much as you can, at each rep. Change to the left arm after 10 reps. Do 5 sets per arm. Remember: Pull the dumbbell toward your shoulder, not to your chest!


  1. Do this routine 3 times a week with at least one rest day between two biceps workouts (The team of doesn’t entirely agree with this recommendation.)*
  2. For maximum muscle pump (hyperemia), continue with the triceps and the forearms after the doing the biceps. I preferred to do my arms on the same day with my shoulders. First shoulders, then complete arm workout.
  3. Focus. Concentrate on the exercise at each repetition. Do not pay attention to anything else; do not think of anything else but your biceps. Visualize it getting more and more peaked and sharp with each repetition.
  4. Contract your biceps fully on the last 5 cms (2 inches) of the range of motion in each exercise. Then let the weight back down fully for maximum stretch, before moving on to the next rep.
  5. All the peak-raising exercises should be performed in moderate pace so that the necessary load could be exerted on the biceps on each centimeter and in each second of the move.
  6. Do not cheat. Strict form is essential. Let your biceps do all the work. In order to force your biceps to cope with ever-increasing load, increase the weight whenever you can, but not at the expense of strict form!
  7. If you are not so skilled yet, 3 sets of each exercise will be enough.

I prefer silence while I am doing these exercises. At times like these, my brain moves down to my biceps. I want no distraction. I can tolerate any noise while doing bench presses, but I want total silence while doing biceps workout: This helps me focus on the peaks of my biceps and get the best out of the workout.

If you want higher peaks, deeper separation and even more details on your biceps, give this program a try. Success won’t come from one day to another: It might take a year until your biceps get into new shape and dimensions; but there will be visible results in a few months. Anyone who wants to develop their biceps can profit from these techniques. If you use them right, you will be the proud owner of a pair of massive and peaked biceps soon.

*: As you might have seen in previous articles, Arnold recommends extreme training volumes (even three workouts a week) for each body part. But you should be aware of the following:
– Arnold had extraordinary genetics; this is something crucial for recovery (as well), and most of the people do not possess it.
– When he wrote this, he would live for bodybuilding only, and nothing else; he subordinated everything else in his life to bodybuilding; he basically didn’t have to care about anything else but training and eating, unlike ordinary people who also need to do their best at school/work/family etc.

All in all, these training programs may be used as guidelines; you may find useful ideas in these programs, but you should definitely not copy them brainlessly. Everybody should experiment on their own to find out which methods work the best for them individually. Because, you know, there are even pros with totally opposing views on some methods or exercise, yet they all have excellent physiques.

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