Monday, May 5, 2014

Biceps Training - Arnold Schwarzenegger

For almost as long  as he can remember, biceps have been a high priority for Arnold Schwarzenegger,  Mr. Olympia winner. "I think I have some good heredity for bodybuilding," Arnold says, "but I don't think it was the make-or-break factor for biceps. It's more important that when I was 10 years old I was already flexing my arms every day.

"By the time I started bodybuilding at age 15, biceps were the most noticeable muscle group on my body, because that's what I had been flexing a lot. And my only arm work that first year was for biceps, because I didn't even know there was such a thing as triceps. We didn't have the magazines to read then - like people do over here - so I had little knowledge of training. Of course when you flex a muscle group so many thousands of times more than others, it is going to be better. By flexing my biceps so much I'd learned to control them more completely. My mind was right there in my biceps when I flexed them, and I could gain great control of my biceps before I ever touched a weight. This mink-link ability then translated into my bodybuilding when I began training with weights. When I did a curl, it felt special, because I could instantly feel blood rushing into the muscle.

"Because I adopted a certain favoritism toward the biceps at such an early age, they grew easily and got a little ahead of the rest of my body. But isn't the name of the game of bodybuilding at higher levels total body balance? I was defeating myself by having such comparatively mind-blowing biceps, because it threw my proportions out of balance. My triceps and forearms looked small in comparison.

"I kept my biceps training very hard but put more emphasis on triceps to bring them up. The plan was to get the right proportions and perfect symmetry. An intelligent bodybuilder will identify such weaknesses as I had in my early years and then work hard to bring these areas up to par. When he does this, he will eventually become a true champion. That is, of course, if he has certain potentials.

"While some have better growth rate potential than others, a more important heredity point is the shape of each bodybuilder's biceps. By being persistent, you can eventually build the size and quality needed to win titles, but if your biceps is naturally flat it is extremely difficult to build an incredible peak on it.

"From the very first, I had a natural peak, which became accentuated as I trained. I was blessed with round, football-shaped biceps, while others - like Sergio Oliva and Larry Scott - had natural length and fullness but not a great peak. Heredity causes the peak, but it doesn't cause a person to have a 20 inch arm. That comes from hard training."

Listening to Arnold talk one is quickly convinced that a powerful mind should be the base of every quarter inch of new muscle growth. "Throughout my bodybuilding career I was constantly playing tricks on my mind. This is why I began to think of my biceps as mountains, instead of flesh and blood. Thinking of my biceps as a mountain made my arms grow faster and bigger than if I'd seen them only as a muscle.

"When you think of biceps as merely a muscle, you subconsciously have a limit in your mind. When you limit yourself to that, it is very hard to get there, and nearly impossible to go beyond. But when you think about a mountain there is no mental limit to biceps growth, and then you have a chance of going beyond normal mental barriers.

"This is almost like a psychic phenomena of sport. They had the four-minute barrier in the mile run, for example, and nobody could beat that barrier, it seemed. But once Roger Bannister ran under a 4:00, everyone seemed to be doing it. Four minutes was just a mental barrier, and once broken, it no longer existed.

"I didn't want to set up any barriers in my arm training, because many years ago 18" was an arm barrier, then 19, then 20, which Leroy Colbert finally broke. These obstacles, these limits, are placed on you not by your body but by your mind. Thinking of mountains simply eliminated biceps barriers for me."

As Schwarzenegger was talking about arm barriers I personally found it difficult to believe that he had spent much time taking measurements, since most of the champions I've (Bill Reynolds) interviewed relied on the mirror to evaluate progress.

"It wasn't very often that I got out the tape, and that was usually when I was at my heaviest body weight. "Then, at 245-250, my upper arm measurement was at its largest.

"At times just before a competition I would measure my arm merely to see how much it had dropped in size from the strict dieting and consequent weight loss. Otherwise I didn't measure much, because I was at a stage of concentrating on my perfection rather than just size."

During his 'growing boy' days - when he was winning his first Mr. Universe title at 19 years of age - Arnold trained much differently than in his later competitive years. "For biceps I was always using the basic exercises - barbell curls, dumbbell curls - with heavy weights. In most workouts we would go up to 225 lbs in the barbell curl.

"This was a pretty strict movement, because I remember at the time doing cheating barbell curls with 275 for four reps. With 225 I would rest each repetition on my thighs for a moment, inhale and exhale, and then pull it up again, instead of just throwing the bar up and down.


On dumbbell curls I was very careful to supinate my my hands fully as I curled the weights up. I'm sure this supination movement is partly responsible for the fullness and peak I eventually obtained for each biceps. The biceps come into play quite strongly to supinate your hands, as well as to flex the arm. This little twist gave me the separation, the brachialis development and the lower biceps thickness.

"So what is supination? I'm sure that many Muscle Builder readers are unfamiliar with this term, so perhaps I should explain it. If you are doing curls with two dumbbells and supinating correctly, your palms will begin by facing directly toward each other when your arms are straight down at your sides.

"From there, with your arms still straight, rotate your knuckles forward in order to fully stretch your biceps. The begin simultaneously curling the bells up and rotating your thumbs in the opposite direction - out away from each other - as the weight goes up. At the completion point your arms should be fully flexed and your hands turned out as far as humanly possible. This turning out of the hands and wrists is the supination movement.

"When I did these curls correctly, there was always a stabbing sort of pain in my biceps at the top, a reassurance that I had fully contracted the muscles. I could only get this sensation when concentrating well, however. If my mind was wandering I'd lose this flexing sensation. I'd feel like there was another inch of movement to go, but it just wouldn't come. That's when I knew my mind would need to be forced back to the task at hand.

"An average training program back in Munich would include barbell curls, dumbbell curls - seated or standing - preacher bench curls, and concentration curls. Keep in mind, though, that the way I trained I changed a lot of times, because I'd always try to shock the muscles. Toward this end, I'd do no typical number of sets and reps. I recall days when my training partners and I would do 20 extremely heavy sets of biceps work, with only five reps each set. Another day - maybe only two days later - we would do 10 more sets, 15 reps each, using a lighter weight.

"This 'shocking method' was extremely important to my training. Your muscles tend to become complacent and resist growth if you are constantly doing the same workout for them. But if you try all different types of training methods, exercise weights, set-rep combinations and training tempos, you keep the muscles off balance. They sort of say to themselves, 'There's something new here that I'm not used to. I'll have to grow!'

"If you need this variety in training - and I did - it can be a definite advantage for you to include it in your routines. I felt that I needed variety in order to maintain excitement in my training, and also to make the muscles respond. I believed that if I trained for two weeks exactly the same way - the same sets, same reps, same speed, etc. - the muscles would get too used to this and build up a resistance to a set type of workout. Therefore, they would cease to respond much.

"This could be the same for almost everyone, but it depends on the mental makeup of each individual bodybuilder. Some feel more comfortable when sticking to the same routine six months or a year at a time. If that works, then it's better for you and you should stick with it. I never try to tell anyone that my way is the only way, because everyone is an individual, with individual exercise and nutrition requirements."

In the summer of 1975 - before he went to South Africa for his sixth Mr. Olympia win - Arnold was still training with a good deal of variety, but was doing less sets than a few years previously. "By then I could train with more intensity, and i also didn't want to exaggerate my biceps and throw off my proportions.

"At that point I might have done three exercises  - typically barbell curls, dumbbell curls, and concentration curls - with 4 sets of 6-10 reps on each. Almost always I would use a 'stripping method' for the barbell and dumbbell curls. This consisted of three sets within each set of curls, each done with a quick weight reduction. In other words, I would do several reps with a heavy barbell, have some plates stripped off while I took a very short rest-pause. Immediately after the plates were off I would do a few more reps, strip off more plates, and finally force out a final few, very hard repetitions.

"As I was working out I would do each set until I couldn't do any more repetitions. Then I would put the weight down for a few seconds and open and close my fingers to relax. Almost immediately I would pick the weight back up again and do another two or three repetitions very slowly. During the set there was a sensation of deep burning, as well as an extreme fullness in the biceps. My arms were so pumped - they felt so great - when I finally stopped. This feeling has always been a real high for me.

"I would almost always use a full, strict movement for biceps, except at times at the end of a set, when I would do some partial rep or 'burns' from the bottom of the curling movement. One thing that never changed was the tempo of the curls in each set.

"The weight would be raised relatively slowly, and then lowered even more slowly, so I could feel resistance over the full range of motion. I'd say that I lowered the weight about 10% slower than I raised it, because we can get as much development from the downward segment of the movement as from the upward part, if we resist the weight as it is lowered."


Those who have seen the movie Pumping Iron probably noticed how much posing Arnold did after training each body part. "I always tried to flex the biceps in various positions after working out. The problem with a lot of guys is that they only flex their biceps in one position - in a front double biceps shot. But then the biceps tends not to look good from the back, in a side chest shot or in a most muscular pose.

"I'd flex my arms in every possible position and try to hold the flex as long as possible. This way my biceps - and other muscle groups as well - would become used to the various postures I would need to hold in competition. 

"Another important thing is that I would pronate my hands (the opposite rotation to the supination discussed earlier) and straighten my arms between sets to fully stretch the biceps. This allowed blood to flow freely through my arms, flushing out waste products and bringing in a fresh supply of oxygen for the next set. Far too many bodybuilders tend to walk around the gym with their arms bent and biceps half contracted after a set. That closes down the arteries, so you need to concentrate on stretching. It really helped me.


Since bodybuilders of all experience levels read Muscle Builder, I wanted to elicit Arnold's training advice for beginners and intermediates, as well as for advanced men. "For beginners, I'd simply advise doing five sets of barbell curls and five sets of dumbbell curls, doing 10 total sets of 8-12 repetitions. Concentrate on a strict performance, and try to gain some strength. Experiment with different curling arcs, until you find the one that puts maximum resistance on your biceps. 

"Curling a weight strictly - like I've already described - is a difficult movement to make correctly, and I've rarely seen anyone take the time to learn to curl rights. Even the more advanced bodybuilders seem to curl the easiest way possible, instead of the harder, correct way.

"When a bodybuilder does the movement poorly - when he just swings the weight up any way he can get it to his shoulders - it's usually because the barbell or dumbbells he's using are too heavy. So he swings, hunches or horses the weight up. He may be using the wrong curling arc, too. It's letting the muscle find the easiest groove to get the weight to the top, but the bottom line isn't merely to get the barbell or dumbbells up to your shoulders. It is to put full resistance on your biceps."

Intermediates? "By the time you've been training a year or so, I'd look at your biceps development and determine where you have weak points. Then I'd give you a tailored program to bring these weaker areas of your biceps up to par. Maybe you'll have no weak points, but after a year it will be easy to see them if they are there.

"You can see if the biceps are shorter - this was the case with Franco Columbu who consistently fought the problem of a short biceps. Of course, he finally triumphed, but only after years of intelligent training to overcome the weakness. If you have a short biceps, I'd recommend a lot of preacher curls, as well as some burns at the start of each curling movement. In time, this will fill in the gaps somewhat between your biceps and the elbow.

"If you lack biceps fullness, do heavy dumbbell curls, being sure to fully supinate your wrists on every repetition. If you lack peak, stay totally away from barbell work, and do everything with dumbbells. Do plenty of concentration curls and dumbbell curls lying back on a high bench, like Reg Park used to do them. In this exercise you get a great stretch.

"You have to get the biceps used to being fully stretched and curling up to a completely contracted position. That's what you get when you do dumbbell curls lying flat on your back on a bench. You stretch the biceps very hard, because your arm is going back, and then you get a peak contraction effect when you curl the bells up."

Any final advice for the more advanced bodybuilders? "The biggest post-intermediate mistake is to burn the biceps out. The biceps is basically a small muscle group, and you can't do too much for it without overtraining. It's very small in relation to thighs or back, so the muscle should be trained proportionately less.

"Generally speaking, a muscle twice as big as the biceps should be trained twice as much. I'd say that the upper limit for biceps would be 15 sets in a hard workout, but I see all kinds of bodybuilders doing 25-30 sets on a regular basis.

"The number of days per week that the biceps should be trained is totally up to the individual. Indeed, this training frequency question can only be resolved by an individual bodybuilder after experimenting with both two-day and three-day training of a body part each week. I know great bodybuilders who grow best on two days per week, and others who grow faster on three days per week. Overall, I happen to be a three times per week bodybuilder.

"Phase training is another important concept that advanced bodybuilders should master. This essentially consists of training differently in the off-season than prior to a peak. I'd personally concentrate primarily on my weak points for six to nine months of the year. Then, as the next peak began to loom closer, I'd switch back to training the whole body hard.

"One year I'd emphasize, say, forearms in the off season, and the next it might be triceps or deltoids. Since biceps were a strong point from the beginning I trained pretty much the same on them all year, merely experimenting with different movements in the off season. If my biceps had been weak, however, I would have blasted the hell out of them during my noncompetitive phase."

In conclusion,m Arnold sums up his ideas about what it takes to build a truly great set of biceps. "The important things are to do the movements correctly and concentrate your mind on making the biceps grow. Using the shocking method, the stripping method, and all of the different training principles is also vital.

"Combine a very strong mind with optimum training and nutrition, and you can't help succeeding."


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