Big Arms Without the Big Gym
You don’t need a gym membership to grow your arms. Here’s the at-home plan for big, impressive biceps.
Want to build sleeve-stretching biceps without stepping foot into a crowded gym? This at-home workout saves you time and sanity. All you need are adjustable dumbbells and a chin-up bar.
To build big biceps, we have to understand the basics. There are two heads in the biceps:
The long head: The long head runs along the outer side of the upper arm and is responsible for the peak.
The short head: The short head is on the inner side of the upper arm and contributes to the overall thickness of the biceps.
Then there’s the brachialis, which sits under your biceps. Building it contributes to a fuller, more defined upper arm, especially when viewed from the side.
Do this once a week for four weeks in addition to your regular training plan. Just don’t do it right after a back day or a pull-focused workout. Wait at least 36 hours.
A. Offset-Grip Dumbbell Curl: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
Rest 90 seconds between sets.
Push the thumb side of your grip to the edge of the dumbbell to increase the involvement of the short head. The primary goal is to get a slight pump and warm up your elbows. Don’t decimate your biceps on this one.
Rest 2-3 minutes between sets.
If you’re able to add weight, then do a couple of ramp-up sets of 4-6 reps, gradually going heavier to get used to the load of the working sets. Now, find a weight where you hit failure at 8 reps. Once you can do 8 reps easily, add weight until you’re failing at 6 reps again and progress up to 8 again.
Exercise substitution: If you can’t do 6-8 chin-ups, do barbell bent-over rows with a palms-up grip instead. Use a heavy one-arm dumbbell row if you don’t have a barbell.
C1. Incline Dumbbell Curl: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
This is the first exercise of a mechanical drop set. The incline dumbbell curl builds the biceps peak better than any other exercise. Because your elbows drift behind your body, your biceps are placed under an incredible stretch. For this reason, you’ll need to go light with a slow tempo. Don’t worry. The pain will be worth it when your sleeves start hugging your biceps.
Go directly from this exercise to C2 without rest.
The alternating portion of the curl allows you to “cheat” slightly and get a brief break (if you want to call it that) between each rep.
Go directly from this exercise to C3 without rest.
The pinwheel curl, or cross-body hammer curl, targets the brachialis, a muscle located beneath the biceps. This exercise lets you go heavier than traditional hammer curls, providing a more effective muscle-building stimulus.
Choose a weight heavy enough that you fail at 8 to 10 reps per arm.
Rest 2-3 minutes before starting over again with C1.
Hold the first rep in the curl position for 15-20 seconds.
Rest 90 seconds between sets.
Isodynamic contrast curls are an advanced technique to shock your biceps into growth. This method combines an isometric hold at the beginning with a traditional curl, creating metabolic stress and improving the mind-muscle connection.
So start with a weight you can curl for 15 reps, hold the squeeze for 15-20 seconds, then perform 8-12 reps.
Let’s geek out a bit on why these exercises work. Your body understands the tension it must create to overcome resistance, and it understands time under tension. Equipped with this knowledge, you can trigger the key drivers of hypertrophy no matter what tools you have in your gym.
Mechanical tension is developed through lifting a heavy weight through a relatively large range of motion. By emphasizing mechanical tension, you can directly build lean tissue while improving muscle fiber recruitment and work capacity for a more significant overall training effect leading to muscle growth.
The stronger you are, the more muscle fibers you recruit, allowing you to lift heavier weights and create progressive overload. Focus on building strength in the 4-8 rep range for significant movements.
Metabolic stress is triggered by working muscles under adequate tension with insufficient rest. Metabolic stress increases muscle growth by increasing the following:
Cell Swelling: When you perform high-rep, pump-inducing exercises, your muscles experience a temporary “swelling” effect. This is due to increased blood flow and the accumulation of metabolites like hydrogen ions and creatinine in the muscle cells. This swelling contributes to muscle growth, creating tension in the muscle fascia (the connective tissue surrounding the muscle), which may stimulate muscle growth.
Hormone Release: Metabolic stress leads to the release of certain hormones like growth hormone (GH) and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), both associated with muscle growth. These hormones help stimulate protein synthesis and muscle repair, leading to hypertrophy.
Cellular Signaling: Metabolic stress activates specific cellular signaling pathways within muscle cells. For instance, activating mTOR. Activating mTOR leads to increased protein synthesis, essential for muscle growth.
Blood Flow and Nutrient Delivery: The increased blood flow to working muscles during high-rep, metabolically stressful exercises improves the delivery of nutrients, oxygen, and growth-promoting factors to muscle cells. This enhanced nutrient and oxygen supply jumpstarts muscle growth.
Improved Mind-Muscle Connection: You’ll struggle to build muscle if you can’t “feel it” contract. Getting a pump is a great way to key into muscles you struggle to connect with and help them grow over time.
Muscular damage is the by-product of practical training, but it shouldn’t be the goal. This damage triggers an inflammatory response, potentially leading to further muscle growth. Focus on performing exercises through a full range of motion to create significant stress.