Developing the Biceps
by Charles A. Smith (1951)
You can take any world famous bodybuilder or weightlifter and be certain of one thing – that he isn’t himself entirely or absolutely responsible for what he happens to be in the World of Strength. He is heir to all the hundreds of thousands of weight trainers who have gone before him – to their hopes, fears and disappointments, their plans, their successes and failures. He is the fruit of George Jowett, Jim Pedley, Mark Berry, Ronald Walker, Alan Calvert, Bill Lowry, “Father” Bill Curtis, John Barrs, Eugene Sandow, Bobby Pandour, Bill Pullum and the hosts of famous teachers, lifters, champions and those we never even heard of.
Our model of physical perfection is the result of the inspiration they furnished, the experiments they conducted, the knowledge they made available – of all that they were in the field of physical culture and weight training. For these reasons alone is it criminal for ANY Strength Athlete, teacher or authority to hold back any information – keep the training methods he uses secret or for a favored few – for that knowledge and information does not belong to him in the first place. He merely holds it in his keeping, safeguards it, dispenses it when it is needed, to EVERYONE who asks for it, makes every effort to improve on what he knows not only for his benefit but for the use of all the young kids who buy a barbell or sign a gym membership – who value health of mind and body above all else.
Years ago, Mark Berry wrote a book monumental in its field – “Physical Training Simplified” – and in a chapter devoted to arm development he put in a few hundred words, all that could be said at that time on developing the arms. The chapter was entitled – “Manly Arms Inspire Confidence”. That was exactly how I felt when I first saw a man named ARTHUR VERGE – an Englishman of the old school! This man’s arms were phenomenal for his height and weight – Arthur tipped the scale at 140 and wasn’t too tall – about 5 ft. 5 inches or so – I don’t know the exact figure – and his biceps taped a magnificent 16 inches. Forget all those tales of 18 and 19 inch arms you hear, possessed by men weighing 180 to 190 pounds – they are just tall tales and stories. A 16 inch arm on any fellow looks good even if he is around 200 and pretty tall. Imagine how Verge looked at his bodyweight and height with sixteen inches. I didn’t even know what a barbell was back then, yet as I looked at Arthur – I couldn’t have been more than ten or twelve years of age at the time – it aroused in me not only inspiration but CONFIDENCE. I wanted to be big, strong and healthy, and I vowed that some day I would have a pair of arms like Verge’s. “Some day” meant a couple of years to me. When you are a kid, a month appears to be a century in length, and three or four years, Infinity itself. At his weight, Verge could do a two hands slow curl in the Ultra-strict British style with a poundage of 140. He could curl two 40 pound dumbbells alternately for 40 reps each hand. He was somewhat of a whiz at deadlifting too, and, quite a MAN.
Most weight trainers commence their careers by trying with all they have to build up big arms and are very disappointed when they fail. They labor under the impression that the superficial display of bulging biceps denotes strength. I will make no attempt to try and disprove this, for every one of you reading this article is well aware that big arms are in themselves no true indication of a man’s power. But a finely developed pair of upper arms does add greatly to the appearance and, as Mark Berry said, inspires confidence in oneself. The general public figure that where there’s smoke there must be fire, and an athlete with a pair of bulky biceps MUST possess overall strength. The best known muscle of the body is the Biceps. While the major bulk of the upper arm is contained in the triceps – the group at the back and underside of the limb – it is the biceps that impart that massive, bulky, baseball look, that height of arm that adds so immeasurably to the physical development as a whole. It is an “easy gaining” muscle, gets large and defined if exercises properly, and stronger with less effort than the other muscles.
The field of Biceps development has never been thoroughly explored. Most weight trainers rely on curls, using conventional forms with barbell or dumbbell. Only recently have the more “concentrated” type of biceps exercises become offered to the public, utilizing the concept that the deep-seated muscle fibers MUST be activated if you hope to get close to the ultimate in biceps power and form. The Weider Arm Specialization Bulletin made thorough use of both rigid and loose types of arm training in conjunction with the Peak Contraction principle. Perhaps I can best explain the above by instancing two examples of massive arm size and power – Melvin Wells and Reg Park.
Both these men possess upper arm development so terrific that it has become the despair and envy of thousands of weight trainers. They both possess size, shape, strength, and definition. Well makes use of the very strict, orthodox forms of curls, using no body movement and relying on the power of the biceps itself to lift the weight. Park uses the looser forms of curling – cheating curls etc. Despite the conflict of the authorities over cheating methods and “PROPER” methods, both these strength athletes have managed to build up two examples of outstanding arm development, and have proven that exercise will build you up no matter how you use it – the EXERCISE is the important factor, not the form. The Weider Research Clinic compiled a schedule which contained all forms of biceps exercise, picking out the movements which were time honored and tested, combining them into the Arm Specialization Bulletin . . . The results were outstanding and will be the subject of the Editor in a forthcoming edition of this magazine.
Now for the Exercise Bench Biceps Routine. First, let’s discuss the importance of diet. It needed little effort on the part of our research workers to discover that a generous diet and a gain in weight is the best aid, apart from exercise, to increased arm size. In fact, this was obvious from the beginning. So drink a little more milk, eat generous portions of food at meal times and get an extra hour of sleep each night. Keep the bowels active and following the workout, take a hot shower, thoroughly cleansing the skin, followed by a COOL shower.
When you have finished this Exercise Bench Biceps Routine, tense and relax the biceps, forcing them to contract with a tremendous mental and physical effort. Tense one biceps, then, holding the fist at the shoulder, raise your elbow as high as you can, and when it is pointing straight up, pull the fist back down as far as possible. So great will be the contraction of the biceps that you will feel a sharp, knife-like pain. At this point, relax the muscle and repeat. After you have finished BOTH the weight exercises and the mental and peak contraction routine, massage the arms, allowing the muscles to relax, wobbling them from side to side. Squeeze them gently and massage them for five or ten minutes.
Here is an entirely new exercise, never before published in any magazine – pull-up curls. Take two exercise benches; they should be fairly high. Place them parallel and about three of four feet apart. Rest a six-foot bar across them. Lie underneath the bar so that if is directly over the upper chest. Reach up and grab hold of the bar with a shoulder width hand spacing. PALMS OF THE HANDS SHOULD FACE THE FEET, with elbows pointing TO THE FEET. Pull up until the chest touches the bar, HOLD the position for a full count of three, lower slowly and repeat. Don’t allow the elbows to move out or point to the sides. DO keep them pointing to the feet throughout the exercise. Start off with 3 sets of 10 reps and work up to 3 sets of 15. As soon as these are possible, add resistance by placing a barbell plate on the upper chest. Start off with a weight you can handle for 3 sets of 7 reps and work up to 3 sets of 12. The type of grip can be altered to provide change, novelty, and training interest. Instead of he palms of the hands facing the feet, reverse the grip and let the knuckles take up that position with the palms turned to the face.
In my other series – “Secrets of Strength” – I gave an exercise called Bench Curls. Here is the same exercise but with a profound difference. This time, instead of holding the barbell across the join of the hips and trunk, you hold it across the tops of the knees. Sit down on a bench with a barbell in your hands and keep UPPER ARMS tight against the sides of the body. Hold the knees together – you are sitting on the END of the bench – and lower the barbell straight down. Were it lands is where you curl from (see illustration). Start off with a weight you can comfortably handle for 3 sets of 8 reps and work up to 3 sets of 15. DON’T MOVE your upper arms during the exercise, and DON’T shift the barbell back to the hips before you curl it. MAKE SURE it rests across the knees with each and every repetition.
Here is a biceps exercise which utilizes peak contraction. Sit on a bench with a dumbbell held in one hand. The upper arm should be kept tightly against the side of the body and the knuckles should be facing OUT. Curl the weight to the shoulder. As the forearm is level with the ground, turn the hand PALM UP and continue the curl to the shoulder. From here, with the knuckles touching the shoulder, RAISE the elbow FORWARD and UP until you feel a sharp pain in the muscle. Lower and repeat. Start off with a weight you can comfortably handle for 3 sets of 8 reps working up to 3 sets of 15 reps before increasing the exercising poundage. Perform every phase of the exercise carefully. Don’t turn the palm of the hand until the forearm is level with the floor. Raise the elbow FORWARD and UP. Don’t let the upper arm move from the side of the body until the actual curl has been completed, the knuckles are touching the shoulder, and it is time to raise your elbow.
Another grand exercise for height and definition is the Kettle Bell Biceps Curl. Load up a couple of kettle bells with a poundage you can easily use for 3 sets of 8 reps. Lie on the bench so that the LENGTH of it is ACROSS your upper back. You should then be in the “crucifix” position with the kettle bells OVER each end o the bench – Pete Poulton’s excellent drawings show you how. From this position curl the kettle bells up until the FOREARMS are UPRIGHT; lower as SLOWLY as you can and repeat the movement. DON’T arch the back off the bench and DON’T move the upper arms. Concentrate on the action of the biceps and raise the kettle bells steadily and LOWER them SLOWLY.
One of the most successful biceps exercises from the Weider Arm Specialization Bulletin. “Bench End” curls have put more size and strength in fellows than any previous type of curl. Prop one end of your bench up on a box. Lie along the bench length on your tummy with the chest on one end, so that you can hold your upper arms against the support of the bench. Hold a barbell with a fairly narrow grip. Curl it from here as steadily as you can and then LOWER it SLOWLY. Make sure your bench is HIGH so that the barbell doesn’t rest on the floor at any time during the exercise. DON’T let the body or upper arms assist in the exercise. ONLY the FOREARMS move. Start off with a weight you can easily handle for 3 sets of 8 reps, working up to 3 sets of 15 reps.
Heavy Dumbbell Bouncing curls build tendon an ligament strength as well as making use of the muscle flushing principle. Seat yourself on the end of a bench and hold a HEAVY dumbbell at the shoulder just as if you had curled it. Throughout this exercise the elbow is tucked into the hips and the upper arm does not move. Drop the dumbbell – mind the toes there – and hit the floor with it – it’s best to do this exercise on a thick mat – getting a good rebound and making use of the bounce to curl the weight to the shoulder again. Start off with a weight you can handle for FOUR sets of 5 reps, working to 4 sets of TEN reps. Don’t forget, use a HEAVY weight, get a GOOD bounce and DON’T move that upper arm OR BODY.
Use these exercises as a BENCH BICEPS SPECIALIZATION routine. Cut out all movements in your program that resemble them and replace them with this Bench Biceps Schedule. Next month I’ll give you some new and result-producing triceps exercises as we continue with this Science of the Exercise Bench series.