Anyone who is even remotely serious about his bodybuilding hobby (or career) knows who Arnold Schwarzenegger is. Basically, he is the icon of the bodybuilding; he is the one who got it mainstream and popular. Before Arnold, bodybuilding was a sport for “freaks”. It was completely underground, and few people know about it. With his titanic body, iron will and cunning mind Arnold made this sport popular for the masses (and achieved numerous victories and awards along the way).
Biceps is arguably the “most-trained” muscle group of all-time (along with chest). So analyzing Arnold’s biceps routine would be beneficial or at least interesting for new bodybuilders. Some people think that his legendary biceps is built with secret exercises that only few people know about. But that is not the case. In bodybuilding the most effective exercises are still the same as it was 40 years ago.
So let’s dive in.
1) Cheating barbell curls (5 sets).
This is the bread and butter of all biceps exercises. If you do only one exercise – do barbell curls and you’ll get gains. Arnold always used pyramid sets in his compound exercises. That means he started with relatively light weight and did 10-12 reps on a first set, then 8 reps on a second set, with heavier weight, 6 reps on third set, and so on. Eventually doing just a couple of reps in the last set, with the heaviest weights possible.
In last few sets cheating is necessary to get the barbell up without damaging your tendons (strain on your tendons is incredibly high when you start a heavy barbell curl from the very bottom, without any cheating). However, down motion (or negative rep) is very controlled and reasonably slow.
Always focus on the biceps and the feeling, when you’re doing this exercise (after you’ve mastered the technique!). You want to get maximum gains and benefits from this one.
2) Incline dumbbell curls (5 sets)
Another great mass-building exercise. Arnold loved it because it allowed him to get maximum stretch at the bottom of the movement. He did it on a bench set to 45 degrees. The way you should do it is this – you start with the dumbbells in your hands, arms straight down. Chest should be arched and shoulders back. Do not lift with your shoulders or swing the barbells. Elbows should be close to your body. This movement should be performed without cheating, that’s why you should use lower weights. At the top of the movement, your palms should be facing up and parallel to the ground. Supinate your wrists a bit and feel the tension.
3) Standing Alternate Dumbbell Curls (5 sets)
Great exercise for mass and peak of the biceps. Arnold loved to supinate his wrists at the top and squeeze the biceps as hard as possible, to get more fiber growth. A lot of people are doing this exercise incorrectly – they move their elbows, or swing the dumbbells wildly, and do a whole lot of other mistakes, which negates the gains. Alternate dumbbell curls should be performed in a very strict form, elbows tucked to the body, no cheating whatsoever. But the weight should be moderately heavy, no light weights allowed.
4) Freestanding one-arm dumbbell concentration curls.
One of the favorites of Arnold. He was first who did this exercise in such way. Before that, concentration curls were performed while sitting on a bench. It didn’t allow maximum extension at the bottom, so Arnold spiced things up.
When done right, this exercise is extremely effective for building biceps peak. Bodybuilders who grasped correct technique (which could be a bit tricky at the start) never looked back. It should be performed like that – stand up and bend over at the waist, while dumbbell is hanging in your right/left hand. Put your other hand on your knee for the additional support. Start the lift while palm is facing your body (faced back to you and not the ceiling). At the top of the movement it should be facing up and you should feel a lot of cramping/pressure in the biceps. Contract hard and repeat.
This is the core of Arnold’s biceps routine and he used it throughout his bodybuilding career with minor adjustments, depending on his needs. One thing to remember – if you are beginner/intermediate athlete, please use less sets for these exercises. Here is the screen of original routine:
Instead of 5-5-5-5, use 4-3-3-3, or else you will over-train incredibly fast. Other than that, you don’t need to change everything.