Back when I was in college I thought working out to look better was self-absorbed and stupid.
I laughed and made fun of guys doing curl after curl in the gym, but couldn’t squat 400lbs. They weren’t even strong, what was the point of working out?
I was actually training to become stronger and more athletic. To me it was the noble way to do things, oppose to working out to look better so you can get laid more. I shake my head in shame just thinking about it.
Looking back I can see why. My physique sucked. My biceps, forearms and shoulders were all underdeveloped.
But isn’t that what I was meant to look like? My body didn’t like to put on size. I started as a 120 pound skinny weakling with baby joints. It was easier for me to stick to being a powerlifter who didn’t care if he got fat because he just wanted to lift as much weight as possible. I got to eat anything and everything I wanted.
My physique showed it. I didn’t kno what to eat or train to put on muscle, I was just winging it.
The biggest and strongest guys in the gym just told me I needed to get strong. To me that meant a 500lb squat, 600lb deadlift and mid 300lb bench.
Welcome to ‘The Gun Show’
If we are being honest with each other, most people workout out to look better with our clothes on and off.
When we look better, we feel better.
Having a good physique tells potential mates that you take care of your body and you know how to work hard.
This means better dates with more chemistry which leads to better sex and possible a future life partner.
Improved performance at work which leads to more money, which means you can do more things you love.
A marker of working out are well-developed arms if you are a man, and lean toned arms if you are a female. The actual size and leanness will is subjective and will vary depending on who you ask.
You may have heard you only need to do weighted chin-ups and curls for your arms to look better.
If you’re like most people, this isn’t going to cut it. You need to do more. But what do you do?
Tender Love and Care
Good looking arms require some tender loving care. Before you slam your computer shut and knock the barbell out of your buddies hand and go get a sensual arm massage, keep reading.
There’s more to building your arms than countless barbell curls.
You can do it that way but with science, smart programming you will get you there faster.
In the quest for better arms most end up with severe elbow pain from too much heavy barbell curls. This article isn’t meant to demonize the barbell curl, in fact, I love the exercise. I even give you recommendations at the end of the article if you aren’t in pain and still want to keep it in your workout.
This article will give you exercise variations and recommendations to dodge cranky elbows while building nice ass biceps so you can #HitEmWithTheCobra all over the world.
The keys to healthy elbows and sweet ass biceps
- A warm-up of some sort
- Picking good exercises
- Manage volume, intensity, and frequency
- Check your form
- Recovery (rest periods, nutrition, sleep, active, massage, etc)
Picture this, the zombie apocalypse takes over and for some odd reason the zombies flock to all barbells. You can:
A) Risk fighting off bicep eating zombies who will stop at nothing to prevent you from doing barbell curls
B) Find a safer alternative that not only feels better on your joints but is effective and saves your life from bicep eating, zombies
I choose ‘B’.
A person with no pain is able to train more, with a higher intensity and will have a longer training career.
This will allow them to build better biceps, compared to the person who is always hurt and has to take weeks and weeks off.
Again, more cobra’s in great places…
There are countless benefits of a good warm-up before working out. In this case, it decreases the chances of elbow pain by warming up your muscles, tendons and ligaments and getting them ready exercise.
Think of your warm up as throwing the some WD-40 on a creaky door. If you try busting through an old door with rusty hinges it’s going to be rough. If you throw some lube on it before, it will make for a much smoother open.
If you have a dynamic warm-up that is great. If you don’t like dynamic warm-ups you can do something more specific.
For example: Perform 3-4 warm-up sets of your first exercise at a controlled speed. Ramp up the weight and use heavier weights on each set.
Choose Good Exercises
This hack alone has decreased elbow pain in many of my fellow bros on the quest for bigger guns. A trick I learned from John Meadows is to train your brachialis first.
My favorite way to do this is to use lighter weights with a forceful squeeze at the top.
One of my favorite ways to do this for biceps is a slower tempo hammer curl with a forceful squeeze at the top of the movement. If you have access to Fat Gripz, feel free to use them here.
Use a light weight with a strict slower tempo and squeeze the shit out of the dumbbell at the top. This will get a lot of blood into the elbow and get it ready for a good workout.
*This is also a great thing to do before you bench press. You will feel much more stable when performing the exercise. Give it a go and let me know how it feels. I learned this trick when I was interning at Westside a few years back and it made a huge difference how strong I felt when I would bench heavy.*
I put together this video of 11 different bicep exercises so your training won’t go stale. Mix and match these exercises with the different intensity techniques I give you later in this article. You’ll be busting out of your shirt in no time.
Volume, Intensity, and frequency
This is where things can get out of hand and one of the main culprit’s overused and cranky elbows.
As a good reference point follow these guidelines…
- Weekly Volume: 15-25 working sets. This does not include warm up sets.
- Weekly Frequency: 2-4 x per week.
- Intensity: 50-85% of your 1RM of the exercises you are doing.
Learn more about training for muscle size in ‘The Muscle Building Manual’.
*DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT test your 1RM in every exercise, use an estimate which will also vary depending on the exercise and it’s order in the workout.*
Form and Intensity Techniques
Don’t be a hero, keep your form in check and keep the swinging out of it.
There’s a time and place for cheat curls but when you are doing some arm specialization and have had cranky elbows, it is rarely the case.
With an arm specialization program, your weekly volume is already much higher than normal so you are just asking for an injury.
I have yet to see a girl in the gym walk over to a guy and start making out with him because he impressed her with how much weight he curled (If you have seen this happen please let me know ASAP and I will be sure to update you but in the meantime keep your form in check and add one of these intensity techniques instead.)
- Slow eccentrics – change the speed of eccentric phase of the movement (lowering) to 3-6 seconds.
- 1.5 reps -add in a ‘pulse’ in the top half of the movement. For example: perform a bicep curl when you begin lowering the weight, stop half way down and then return to the top position. Then return all the way to the bottom. That is one rep.
- Hard contraction: perform and deliberate and intense squeeze at the top of the curl.
- Constant tension: perform the movement in a smooth continuous flow with no locking out or stopping at the top or bottom of the movement.
‘The Muscle Building Manual’ will teach you other ways to increase the diffuclty of an exercise and allow you to put on more muscle.
Sleep 7-8 hours, eat your protein and veggies, rest between heavy training sessions, and like ‘Hulkamania’ says take your vitamins and say your prayers.
Now you know how to rest when you aren’t training, but what about during your training session, like in between your sets?
Keep your rest times short, 30-45 seconds between sets.
This should be plenty of time when you are training your arms.
It will also prevent you from feeling like Superman because you waited 6 minutes for your last set of barbell curls so you keep adding more weight and end up in pain.
Can you still perform the barbell curl?
Of course, you can. Especially if it hasn’t given you any pain in the past.
Just keep in mind when you start increasing the frequency and volume things may start to bother you.
If you are hell bent on using the straight barbell curl, follow these 2 tips to decrease the chance of overuse injuries associated with barbell curls:
- Move them to the end of your workout
- Add ONE of the four different intensity techniques I listed above (slow eccentric, 1.5 reps, constant tension, hard contraction.)
By moving the exercise to the end of your workout and adding intensity techniques, you are less likely to be injured. You are properly warmed up and in most cases will actually be performing the barbell curl in a fatigued state.
The combination of being fatigued and adding different intensity techniques which make the exercise even harder forces you to use lighter weights than normal. This decreases the load you would normally use and reduces the stress on your elbow that is associated with heavy barbell curls.
Before you #hitemwiththecobra
Follow the guidelines I listed here if you want to build nice arms by avoiding elbow pain.
Grab your own ‘Hit Em With The Cobra’ T-shirt HERE. (Order through that link for free shipping.)
If you read this all the way through there’s a good chance you’re a bro or bro’ette who likes to have a good time.
If that’s you, I have put together something for you that will teach you the secrets to keeping your abs while still going out to party on the weekends.
This article was originally posted on Brobible.
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