As much as most bodybuilders emphasize biceps training in their routines, many still have difficulty getting the kind of biceps development they're aiming for. One of the most common reasons for this, Lee Haney believes, is overtraining.
"A lot depends on what kind of physique you have," Lee says. "For example, certain bodybuilders with short, thick biceps and great leverage, who can generate incredible power with little effort, can train them fairly often with very heavy weights and still recover within a relatively short period. But other bodybuilders with different body types, with longer biceps muscles and more vulnerable joints and attachments, have to train with lighter weights and longer periods of rest between biceps sessions - or they risk injury and overtraining."
Lee follows two basic rules to avoid overtraining biceps:
1) Don't train too long.
2) Don't train too often.
"I don't believe in marathon training sessions for biceps," says Lee. "I see bodybuilders all the time doing as many as 25 sets for biceps and the same again for triceps, and that's no way to build impressive arms. In my own biceps training, I usually stick to 4 sets each of 3 different exercises - 12 sets - and with the intensity I'm able to generate in my workouts that volume of training is more than enough."
The exercises Lee uses in his biceps training are designed to do very specific things:
- Barbell Curls (or Alternate DB Curls) - for mass.
- Barbell Preacher Curls - for shape, length, balance and quality.
- Concentration Curls - for peak and finish.
"All biceps training involves some type of curl," Lee points out. "But different kinds of curls affect the arm in different ways. Just as with other bodyparts, some exercises build mass and others produce quality detail. The basic mass exercise for biceps is the barbell curl, although I sometimes use dumbbell curls for variety. Preacher curls involve more isolation and a variety of strict training principles such as full range of motion and continuous tension.
"Concentration curls," Lee adds, "require less weight and more of what the name implies - focused concentration. This is the exercise you use to get a finished quality in your biceps, such as an ultimate peak and full detail."
Training too often is as much to blame in overtraining as training too long, Haney believes.
"A lot of beginners and intermediates believe that more is better when it comes to training, and they immediately jump into a six day per week program. If you're just training for fitness and not pushing yourself too hard, that might work. But if you're a bodybuilder trying to make substantial gains in muscle mass, I'd recommend training less often. Say four days in a row, with a rest day following."
Some intermediates can benefit from a six-day program, Lee says. These are usually individuals who have made a lot of gains in strength and conditioning, but who are not yet able to generate the mental intensity of more seasoned trainees. But, Lee emphasizes how often you can train and how long you need for recovery is very much an individual matter.
"Some bodybuilders become overtrained more easily than others," he says, "and develop joint problems or tendinitis if they train too frequently - as well as seeing a shrinkage in the muscles themselves. Others are physiologically able to handle constant, heavy strain without ill effects. So my recommendations are just that - recommendations - not ironclad rules to follow. The program you ultimately follow has to be based on your own individual needs."
In his own training, Lee follows a three-on, one-off schedule most of the year. Sometimes he'll go to a four-on, one-off program before a contest, but any more volume than this and even the incredible Lee starts to experience symptoms of overtraining.
"The more advanced you get," he says, "the harder you can train and therefor the more time you need to rest and recover between workouts."
For that reason, Lee avoids the common practice of working his back and biceps together. Because he feels biceps are a particularly important muscle group for the bodybuilder, he trains them first thing in the morning of the first day of a cycle and waits a full two days before working them again as part of his back training. Here's how he splits his workouts to do this:
Day 1 -
A.M. Biceps and Chest (or shoulders)
P.M. Triceps and Calves
Day 2 -
Day 3 -
P.M. Shoulders (or chest)
Day 4 -
A final misconception about training that Lee finds all too prevalent nowadays is the idea that you can "change" the shape of the biceps by doing a variety of specific exercises for such qualities as length, width and peak. Unfortunately, this leads bodybuilders to do too many exercises in each workout and is a prime reason for overtraining.
"What determines the ultimate shape of any muscle," Lee says, "is genetics. There is an ultimate limit to how far you can develop the biceps, how much peak you can get, how much length, and there's no way you can go past that limit. For example, if you weren't meant to have biceps the size of Arnold's or with the peak upon a peak of Boyer Coe, doing all the barbell curls or concentration curls in the world isn't going to make that happen.
"But almost nobody ever reaches the genetic limit of his development," Lee goes on, "and what training is all about is an all-out attempt to get as close to that limit as possible. The only way to do that is not by doing endless sets and reps of every biceps movement you've ever seen or read about. Instead, you need to do a moderate variety of movements and make sure you make every set and rep count. For great biceps or any other bodypart, ultimately, it's intensity and quality of training that counts, not volume.
Barbell Curls are the basic mass building movement for biceps training.
4 sets, 7-9 reps, after warmup set.
Standing Alternate DB Curls in my routine are an alternate to barbell curls, a way of building mass that forces each muscle to work on its own without any help from the other side of the body, which helps to restore and maintain balance and symmetry to both arms. Since the arms are not as strong working on their own, I do a little bit - just a little - of cheating in order to put sufficient stress on the biceps to build mass.
4 sets, 7-9 reps, after warmup set.
Barbell Preacher Curls, which allow for maximum isolation, range of motion and stretching at the bottom of the exercise, are a basic quality-creating movement.
4 sets, 7-9 reps, after warmup set.
Lee Haney's Biceps Training Techniques
Rest - Generally about one minute for most exercises, the amount of time it takes my workout partner to do his set. For concentration curls, I go right from one arm to the other without stopping to rest.
Weight - I increase weight with each set of barbell and dumbbell curls. For preacher curls, I increase weight the first 2 sets, but not the last 2, since my biceps are considerably weaker when isolated by the preacher bench. For concentration curls, weight is not so much a consideration as strict technique and keeping the mind in the muscle.
Enjoy Your Lifting!