How to Get Bigger Biceps Using Dumbbells
Training the biceps is a great way to increase your arm size. Using dumbbells provides an excellent way to bring highly-targeted focus to this muscle.
When someone tells you to flex a muscle, the chances are you tense your bicep.
You roll up your sleeve in a tradition as old as time and make that swan shape with your arm – making jokes about going to the “gun show,” right?
Because of this tradition, you will find no shortage of tips and tricks on the internet for building bigger biceps and upper arms.
Most of them are full of bro-science and lack real information. If you follow those routines, you may see significant gains.
But, that is because you’re working hard, not because the routine is good.
Today, I will introduce you to a unique way of building showstopping biceps – the prized muscle group!
This is a routine that is a mix of simplicity and science. It works by targeting as many muscle fibers as possible during your workout.
This training is called NSSB training, and it is split into the following:
- Negative – Focus on stressing your muscles by working on the negative contraction; this will create fiber tears and mechanical tension.
- Stretch – Always hold the stretch position to create more fiber damage.
- Squeeze – Use the muscle’s largest motor fibers by focusing on the squeeze during your movements.
- Blood Flow – Be mindful of your blood flow to the muscles; this is the best way to kick-start metabolic stress.
You can maximize all four aspects of the NSSB system using the following workout.
When done correctly, you should hardly be able to lift your arms at the end of this workout.
What’s the trade-off? Maximized mass gains and increased strength.
Make sure you have warmed up in your preferred fashion. I highly recommend you take at least 10-15 minutes to get your blood flowing and loosen up your muscles. Because, as you are about to find out, this workout is tough.
The Lifting Routine
Exercise 1 – Seated Dumbbell Curls
Grab an adjustable bench and put the dumbbells to the side. Adjust the bench so you’re sitting upright at a 90-degree angle. You want to have a dumbbell in each hand.
Begin with 2 sets of 4-6 reps at around 70% of your one-rep max. This should be pretty easy, with a little bit of strain showing by the end of the second set.
Keep your rest to 30 seconds or under between sets. Ensure your elbows stay close to your side and you’re not “swinging” the weights up while squeezing your bicep.
Make sure you are focused on the negative, stretch, and squeeze as outlined in the NSSB method.
Tip: Lower the dumbbells slowly over 5-7 seconds on each rep.
Exercise 2 – Incline Seated Dumbbell Curls
Keep the same dumbbells from the first exercise, and you’ll transition into incline curls.
Adjust to an incline bench at a 45-degree angle and lay on the bench. You want to concentrate on lifting weights with the same method.
This time, you will do 2 sets of 7-9 reps.
Keep the rest below the 30-second mark again. By the end of this, you should feel nice and warmed up with a good amount of burn in your bi’s.
Tip: Use the same technique you would use when doing hammer curls, and hold the stretch at the bottom for at least 5 seconds.
Exercise 3 – Dumbbell Preacher Curls
Now, it’s time to increase the weight.
Swap your dumbbells (or adjust them) depending on how your arms feel so they’re in the 80-85% range of your one-rep max.
Set upon the preacher and do 2 sets of 6 reps.
This exercise is the cornerstone of the routine, so put your absolute all in here.
Make sure you lower the weights slowly and maintain high control. Take 60 seconds of rest between sets. This should hurt.
Tip: At the top of each contraction, hold the squeeze for 3 seconds.
Exercise 4 – Concentration Curls
Now, find some weights around 50-60% of your one-rep max, depending on how sore your biceps are getting from these exercises.
Next, you are going to do 2 sets of concentration curls.
You are going “rep out” until you can’t go any more on each set. You should aim to at least pass the 20 mark.
Take 30 seconds to break after the first one to cry, scream, shake it out..whatever. Then, do another set exactly the same.
When you finish that, put the weights down and attempt to pat yourself on the back.
If you’ve successfully patted yourself on your back, do another set! You’re not done yet.
Tip: Move quickly with the reps, but make sure you keep a high level of control to maximize tension.
Additional Tips + Tricks for Massive Biceps
Fuel the Swans
If you want your swans/biceps to grow into mighty beasts, you must feed them properly. This means making sure you eat adequate protein every single day.
If you’re bulking and trying to pack on as much mass as possible, you must consume between 1.5-2 grams of protein for every kilogram or roughly 2.2 lbs of your body weight.
Protein is only one of the 3 macros you need to be watching, as well. Ensuring your carbs and fat consumption are dialed in is equally important.
Rest the Swans
How you treat your muscles on the days you aren’t working them out will have a massive impact on their ability to repair and grow stronger.
Many hardcore trainers find it almost torturous to take days off from the gym, but plenty of studies explain why rest days are essential.
Since muscle pain can peak in 24 to 72 hours, rest days are critical. Instead of thinking of it as a “rest” day, start thinking of it as a “growth” day.
Taking a growth day builds more muscle, and your glycogen stores replenish. You also allow your central nervous system to return to its optimal state.
Don’t fall into the trap that most lifters do on your rest days, and lower your carb/calorie intake, either.
Growth days require an increase in carbs and calories, not a decrease. If you are aiming to see maximum strength and muscle growth, you need to fuel the recovery of the muscles you pounded into submission in your last workout.
For as long as men have been working out, the biceps have been a favorite muscle -- every man wants to have a beastly set of swans to tense when it comes to t-shirt season.
Using the workout and tips above, I know you will start seeing massive gains in the sleeve size department. However, you want to make sure not to only work on your upper body.
Just make sure you remember to fuel your body properly and rest often. Pair that with raw determination in the gym, and you will buy new shirts quickly.
What’s your favorite exercise for your biceps or arm day?
Tony Lee, MS, RD
Tony Lee, RD, MS, is a highly qualified and accomplished Registered Dietitian with a Master’s Degree in Nutrition Sciences from Arizona State University. Tony brings over two decades of experience in dietetics, specializing in sports nutrition. Interests include studying all aspects of wellness, fitness, genetics, and peak health performance.