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supersets represent the fastest route to biceps development—but only if you use the right exercise combos

Biceps size at the double: supersets represent the fastest route to biceps development—but only if you use the right exercise combos

Melvin Anthony

Have you noticed the marked change in training lately? Pro bodybuilders are lifting heavy again. The iron room at my gym is more crowded, and the rust has been twisted off the grips of barbells that had long sat unused in corner racks. Chalk dust, grunting, crashing, the smell of sweat and the sizzle of new life are all thicker in the air. And, in part thanks to me, one of the old Weider Training Principles has reappeared.

Supersets. I can’t say whether bodybuilders realized, after a few years of copping out to the comfort of modern technology, that they had hit the wall in terms of arm growth or whether their guilt finally caught up with them and they admitted that the only way you can have man-sized arms is from man-sized training. Or perhaps they had a sudden awakening when I came on the scene as a new pro with better arms than they’d seen in years. Attribute it to what you will, but when I started talking smack about using more supersets, more total sets and more basic exercises than any professional bodybuilder in the last generation, I’ll bet it hit some raw nerves.

Suddenly, I see all kinds of guys carrying two barbells over to a preacher bench, or setting up a barbell and cambered bar on the same rack, or doubling up their equipment in any number of ways before they begin their biceps workouts — and I can guarantee it’s not to make it easier for themselves. They’re getting set to go to war. They’ve had enough of armchair pumping and the lack of size that goes with it. They want to feel the long-absent thrill of making headway. They want to see their biceps grow, they want to see it now, and they’re willing to face the bitter reality that there’s no better path to arm size than with supersets.

That’s not as simple a proposition as they may think. There’s a right way, and many wrong ways, to superset. One wrong approach to supersets is to assume that any two exercises will do. Picking the right pair of superset exercises requires more critical analysis than picking the right wife.

Usually, when you’re talking about a pair of things, they’re considered one entity — it doesn’t matter which comes first. The objective of supersetting, however, is to start with a basic heavy free-weight exercise that totally fatigues the muscle belly of a bodypart, then — while it is still in its refractory period and unable to fire — pound it again with another exercise that totally fatigues the rest of the muscles in the bodypart.

For optimum growth, you should perform not just one superset combo but two or three in quick succession. This increases intensity, stress and, therefore, growth. When I’m doing supersets for biceps, I rely on three anchor exercises. Each of these exercises hits a specific area of the muscle, with the cumulative effect being complete bombing of every muscle fiber. I use these anchor exercises as the opening movement for each of the specific biceps superset combos I follow in my biceps superset program. I usually do five supersets of each combo (see “Supersizing Biceps Workout”), but for beginners and intermediates, I suggest three supersets of each combo.

Here are my three anchor exercises for biceps and how I use them.

ANCHOR EXERCISE #1: STANDING BARBELL CURLS

There’s no mystery why this is the basic biceps exercise. No matter how they’re used — whether in straight sets, supersets, giant sets, drop sets, rest-pause sets or as forced reps — classic standing barbell curls work biceps the way you’d build a mountain: from bottom up and inside out. Those are the muscles you must first fatigue. Try it the other way around and there’s no way you’ll be able to reach the deepest muscles, because the smaller outside muscles will be so fatigued that the stress will never pass beyond them. With standing barbell curls, the contraction starts with the very bottom fibers in the most basic portion of the biceps, which happens to be deepest in your arm, then spreads outward, progressively enlisting others in turn, until every fiber in the biceps muscle group has been involved in a compound manner.

Successive exercises follow the same pattern, progressively relaying the stress they can’t handle into more isolated secondary regions of muscle fibers closer to the surface. I do this until every muscle fiber in the biceps complex has been thoroughly fatigued.

SUPERSIZING BICEPS WORKOUT

Standing barbell or cambered-bar curls superset with 5 10

Dumbbell concentration curls 5 10

Standing alternate dumbbell curls superset with 5 10

Standing straight-bar cable curls 5 10

One-arm dumbbell preacher curls superset with 5 10

Incline dumbbell curls 5 10

Note: Beginners and intermediates should do only three supersets of each

combo.

ANCHOR EXERCISE #2:

STANDING ALTERNATE DUMBBELL CURLS

Now that the deepest and most compound muscles in the biceps complex have been optimally fatigued by barbell curls, I can proceed to the next level of muscles, which have not been totally fatigued and are thus capable of contracting. These will be at middepth in the muscle group: specifically, both muscles of the biceps brachii, as well as the brachialis. To reach these muscles requires a movement that is slightly more isolated but still offers the greater area coverage of free weights. The exercise that best meets those criteria is standing alternate dumbbell curls.

ANCHOR EXERCISE #3: ONE-ARM DUMBBELL PREACHER CURLS

Now I apply the final detailed touches to all minor isolated muscles left unfatiqued by the preceding anchor exercises (which covered larger areas). The best anchor exercise I’ve found for a final isolation is one-arm dumbbell preacher curls, performed on the vertical side of the bench, not on the inclined side. With my arm in a vertical position, I not only avoid the stresses that precipitate tendinitis of the elbow, but I can also isolate more power directly into my biceps peak, or to either head of the biceps, as well as get a more controlled peak contraction at the top of each repetition.

BICEPS-TRICEPS SUPERSET WORKOUT

For variety, I sometimes blast the total arm area by supersetting biceps

and triceps exercises. Here’s my most effective biceps-triceps workout.

EXERCISE SETS REPS

Standing barbell or cambered-bar curls 5 10

superset with

Pressdowns 5 10

Standing alternate dumbbell curls 5 10

superset with

Close-grip bench presses 5 10

One-arm dumbbell preacher curls 5 10

superset with

Incline cambered-bar extensions 5 10

VOLUME BEGETS VOLUME

Whether you’re talking about my training philosophy, my sets, my reps, my arm size or the pump I’m trying to achieve, one word applies to everything: volume. That’s what I visualize in my physique. Before I go to the gym, I think about legends, such as Sergio Oliva and John Brown, and about how they trained for overall size. Volume is also foremost in my mind when I count sets: There’s no such thing as “too many.” The same for repetitions. I just keep them going, long after the muscle has become dead. Even though I might not be able to feel a thing, I know that another repetition will continue to bring more blood volume into the bodypart, and that will increase the volume of the muscle. Nothing is more important than volume.

FINAL WORD

By now, you may think I’ve covered a complicated style of training, but, on reflection, you’ll see that it has actually been fundamental and simple. What I’ve done is figure out a repertoire of exercises and combos that entirely fry the biceps. More important is the fact that I based everything on only three basic forms of the curl: barbell or cambered-bar, dumbbell and one-arm dumbbell preachers. Those–and their variations, if you so choose–are all you need to build some of the best biceps in the business.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Weider Publications

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group