Building Biceps for Peaks and Size



QUESTION: I am 55 years old and I have been training for ten years with weights. I cannot get my arms to grow any further than they are now (They are 15’ in circumference). I have tried every exercise and nothing seems to work. My biceps are very flat looking and I can barely see the triceps muscles. What do you think that I am doing wrong?

ANSWER: First, don’t get too nervous because where there is a will, there is a way. That being said, how much fat comes off of any particular area of your body is directly relative to three particular pieces to this puzzle: One, how your body naturally stores fat; Two, how long the fat has been in that area; what type of diet you are on. No one can spot-reduce fat—train (or exercise) it away, directly. You can train those areas with weights proficiently and diet correctly and that is how we are designed to perform, grow, and lose body-fat. Speaking of designation; I am under the belief that your musculoskeletal measurements determine which particular exercises you should be doing for each body-part. Let’s first throw out the notion that there are three “body-types.” That is foolish and too restrictive. Instead, look at each joint that the muscles in question attach to, or are near. Then look at the amount of muscle and how it is shaped—in this case, the biceps and triceps (and forearms).

The larger your wrist, ulna/radius (bones of the forearms) and humerus (bone of the biceps), the more likely there is that there is adequate muscle, once hypertrophied, to support a lot of weight. It is all relative to the frame—which in this case is the bones of the arms. Let’s say that you have fairly large bones in the wrists and arms. Let’s also plan that there is a normal to above average amount of muscle fiber from birth to this point in your life.

For the biceps, I would predict that regular straight bar curls (as heavy as you can handle for ten fairly strict reps) should be your number one exercise for biceps. Do four sets and move over the straight bar preacher curls, ensuring that your humerus bone is resting up against a pad that is 90 degrees to the floor. This is so that when you are pulling the bar upward, it is all biceps and no shoulders when done this way. Doing these on a 45 degree incline is not going to get you the stimulation and ultimate response that is necessary to make those biceps pop. Do three sets of 10 reps for this exercise. Finally, execute some type of dumbbell concentration curl. This can be done with the dumbbell hanging away from the body (ala Arnold in “Pumping Iron”); or, with the dumbbell-holding-arm resting on the inside of your thighs. The key here is isolation and supination.

To understand how the hand and wrist are supinated by the biceps; the key is turning your hand as far to the pronated position at the peak of contraction of the exercise. (Put your left hand on your right biceps and turn your wrist of that arm that you are holding the biceps as far as you can clockwise (counterclockwise if you do this with opposite hands). You notice that the more you turn your wrist to the pronated position, the more the biceps moves upward? The bio-mechanics of this demonstration show you that you should always use a straight bar for curling. It also reveals to me that when using a dumbbell, when curling, pronate your wrist as far as you can so that the biceps are at their highest contraction (away from the point of insertion) when your wrist has turned the hand as far around to the pronated position as possible. Say good bye to flat biceps after three months of doing these three exercises once a week.

As far as the triceps are concerned; I like to challenge people with what they think are weak triceps with reverse-grip bench press. Yes, reverse grip, with a spotter to both lift the bar off the rack and put it back on.  Use as much weight as you can to get at least 10-12 reps for four heavy sets. Be sure to lower the bar fairly slowly and allow it to touch the lower part of the pectorals and go right back up again. Use a grip that will just allow your elbows to pass your torso when the bar is slowly being lowered. These will weaken the triceps if done properly, so strict push-downs should follow. Using a straight bar and a cable, keep your elbows in and work your triceps with simple up and down movement. I see many bodybuilders doing this exercise with their elbows out. I challenge you to keep them close to your body and allow the bar to come up above the parallel plain (to the floor). Do three sets of 12 reps. The last movement, for triceps, is standing cable-over-head pushes with a small bar. These should be done standing, in such a manner that the forearms collapse onto the biceps (overhead) and then push upward and/or outward and lock the triceps and I say just hold that lock for a millisecond—especially on the last 3 reps of each of the 10-12 repetition sets; for three sets. Hello horseshoe-shaped triceps!

The forearms should be trained with a relatively thick, heavy bar, rested on the thighs, as you are seated on the end of a flat bench. The bar should not move more than a few inches: from the starting position of the wrist being straight with the forearm and then moved inward as far as possible toward the belly of the forearm (known as the ulna-flexor). By working with a very fast pace, continue to contract and never release your hands (or fingers) and do 20-25 reps and don’t stop until they burn like a gasoline dowsed fire. Between these three sets, use another lighter, straight bar, and reverse the wrist-curls—attacking the radial head, with the same pace and go for the burn). The key here is to not move the bar too much, nor ever release the hands—always grip the bar as tightly as possible and keep the bar moving.

To ensure that you see your work with clear definition only eat lean proteins (skinless chicken-breasts; salmon and other cold-water oily fish, egg-whites, skinless turkey, etc.) For carbs, only take in steamed vegetables and fruits; a small portion of rice each of the five to six meals that you should be taking in. Eat small meals and utilize “good fats” by eating raw almonds, pecans, hazel nuts, Brazil nuts, olives and avocadoes. Take in at least 1-3 grams of protein per body-pound and keep yourself hydrated with a mixture of protein shakes with frozen fruit and water. Dieting is as important as training, so stick with it; then you will see what you are creating.

About the author :

SIDE SHOT NYCPaul T. Burke has a Master’s Degree in Integrated Studies from Cambridge College, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is presently in a Doctorate Degree Program at A. T. Still University, and will be a Doctor of Health Education upon completion. Paul has been a champion bodybuilder and arm-wrestler; and, he is considered a leader in the field of Over-40 and Over-50 fitness training. You can purchase his book, “Burke’s Law,” A New Fitness Paradigm for the Mature Male, from his website, or the Home Gym Warehouse, call (800) 447-0008, or visit ** His second book: “The Neo-Dieter’s Handbook,” A Guide to Finding Your Nutritional Root; Past, Present and Future, will be out in March, 2009 and his third book, “Burke’s Law II,” Reaching Your Muscular Potential through Musculoskeletal Designation (Book Surge/Amazon Publishing, 2013) will be available soon.

Contact Paul Burke: website
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