So you want to add some size to your arm by building bigger biceps? Mark Bell shows you how altering your rep scheme is one way to jump-start your arm gains.
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| Build Bigger Biceps By Changing Your Reps |
Altering your rep scheme is one way to jump-start your training, because it hits the muscle fibers with a novel stimulus.
Let’s say you’re stuck at 105 pounds on the EZ-bar curl, a weight you can handle for 10 reps. Rather than try another set with 105 pounds, load 125 pounds onto the bar. You might be able to lift it for only 5-6 reps with good form, but don’t worry; you’ve just applied an altogether different stimulus to your biceps with a heavier load!
Sets done for reps of fewer than 6 normally are usually better for gaining strength than size, but as you become stronger, you can take those heavier loads and work toward doing more reps, which is how you build bigger arms.
One common, proven method to building strength is a scheme called 5×5, meaning 5 sets of 5 reps. This protocol was popularized in the 1970s by the late Bill Starr, a legendary strength coach. You shouldn’t use the 5×5 technique with barbell curls, however; it’s more effective with multijoint exercises than single-joint exercises. Instead, we’ll choose the weighted chin-up, which uses an underhand grip and stimulate the biceps tremendously.
The goal is to take a given weight and complete 5 sets of 5 reps, resting 2 minutes between sets. The best place to start in terms of load is with your 6RM—that is, a total weight (body weight plus added plates) that allows you to complete just 6 reps. Your 6RM should equal 85 percent of your 1RM.
The right load is one that lets you complete the first 2 sets of 5 reps—but not the third. (Do just 5 reps, even if you can do more.) Adjust the load accordingly if that’s not the case. Over time, once you’re able to complete all 5 sets for 5 reps, add 5-10 pounds to the load and start again.
Even a scheme like 5×5 can become stale over time, so there are other options to consider. Choosing a weight at which you fail at 8 or even 12 reps also offers a marginally different training stimulus. Concurrently adding a fourth set to increase the training volume allows you to vary the stimulus even more.
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