By Mike Berg
Improve the size and definition of your arms — without endless hours of lifting. These four 20-minute biceps-focused circuit-training workouts are designed to build bigger biceps no matter your life’s time constraints.
Can you name the muscle group that, when developed, gets noticed more than any other? No, impressive as it may be, the answer is not a thick chest. It isn’t wide shoulders either. Washboard abs? Good guess, but wrong again.
Think about it: Unless you’re an underwear model or one of those guys who strip down and paint themselves in team colors at local sporting events (and please, tell us you’re not one of those guys), all of those aforementioned body parts are usually hidden under clothing. Meanwhile, the muscles we’re referring to are often on display if you have plenty of short-sleeve shirts in your closet — your arms. Capped by a hard softball-shaped biceps, they tell the world you’re a bodybuilder, or at least that you’re serious about fitness.
Now here’s some good news. Building mountainous bi’s doesn’t have to take hours upon hours in the gym. For those of you with wickedly brutal schedules, we have devised the following four circuit workouts, each and every one of them compressing all the benefits of a longer training session into a mere 20 minutes.
Before you start, there are just a few things to keep in mind. To complete the routines that quickly, you’ll want to employ a two-seconds-up/one-second-squeeze-at-the-top/three-seconds-down cadence for every rep, and rest no more than one minute between circuits. Within circuits, the only break between each exercise is the brief period it takes to switch positions and/or weights for the next movement.
Later in the “Short Circuit” series, we’ll provide 20-minute workouts for triceps. Whether you use the routines in that article or another triceps workout of your own choosing, the combination with these biceps-busting regimens should spur your arms to grow — and garner plenty of attention in the process.
Workout Circuit #1: Dumbbells
|Standing Alternating Dumbbell Curl||12, 10, 8|
|Dual Dumbbell Hammer Curl||10, 10, 8|
|Dumbbell Concentration Curl||10, 10, 8|
|Dual Reverse-Grip Dumbbell Curl||10, 10, 8|
|Instructions: Repeat the circuit three times through.|
|The math: 172 total reps (which figures in the fact that the alternating curl and concentration curl are done one arm at a time) at 6 seconds per rep = 1,032 seconds, or about 17 minutes; plus one minute rest between the first and second circuit and second and third circuit, totals 19 minutes, leaving 1 minute for switching from exercise to exercise within the circuits.|
|Note: If you have a few more minutes at your disposal, you can break this workout into two supersets, pairing the first two exercises and the second two. This should allow you to handle a bit more weight overall on each set because of the additional rest.|
Workout #2: Barbells
|Standing Barbell Curl||15, 12, 10, 8, 8|
|Barbell Preacher Curl||12, 10, 10, 8, 8|
|Reverse-Grip Barbell Curl||12, 10, 10, 8, 8|
|Instructions: Repeat the circuit five times through. Use a very light weight for a warm up on your first set of barbell curls.|
|The math: 149 total reps at 6 seconds per rep = 894 seconds, or about 15 minutes; plus 1 minute rest each circuit, totals about 19 minutes, leaving 1 minute for switching from exercise to exercise within the circuits.|
|Note: It’ll add slightly to the length of the workout, but for an extra challenge, try to get 15 reps on every set, selecting poundages that are challenging enough that you can’t finish without using the rest/pause technique — pausing a few seconds mid-set as many times as it takes to complete all 15 reps.|
Workout #3: Free Weights & Machines
|EZ-Bar Preacher Curl||15, 12, 10, 8|
|Incline-Bench Dual Dumbbell Curl||12, 10, 8, 8|
|Smith-Machine or Barbell Drag Curl||12, 10, 8, 8|
|Reverse-Grip Straight-Bar Cable Curl||12, 10, 10, 8|
|Instructions: Repeat the circuit four times through. For the incline-bench curl, lie with your chest on the pad of a bench set at about 45 degrees and curl both dumbbells simultaneously.|
|The math: 161 total reps at 6 seconds per rep = 966 seconds, or approximately 16 minutes; plus 1 minute rest between the first and second, second and third and third and fourth circuits, totals about 19 minutes, leaving 1 minute for switching from exercise to exercise within the circuits.|
|Note: To limit the amount of equipment you need to take up at the gym, you can do the EZ-bar preacher curl by standing behind the incline bench, using a close-grip so both elbows fit on the pad. Some benches are built too narrow to accomplish this, but in that case you could also do the first exercise with dumbbells, repping one arm at a time.|
Workout #4: Free Weights & Machines
|Standing EZ-Bar Curl||15, 12, 10, 8|
|Hammer-Grip Pull-Up||10, 10, 10, 8|
|Dual Incline Dumbbell Curl||10, 10, 10, 8|
|Standing Straight-Bar Cable Curl||10, 10, 10, 8|
|Instructions: Repeat the circuit four times through.|
|The math: 159 total reps at 6 seconds per rep = 954 seconds, or about 16 minutes; plus 1 minute rest between the first and second, second and third and third and fourth circuits, totals about 19 minutes, leaving 1 minute for switching from exercise to exercise within the circuits.|
|Note: If you tire on the dual incline dumbbell curl to the point of failure, switch to alternating reps to complete the set. The small moment of rest each arm gets as the other does a rep will help your biceps recharge just enough to continue to the end.|
Within “In Search of Power, Part 1” I introduced a plan to improve strength and power, targeting the posterior chain via the use of basic static holds found in the preliminary work of my DMC™ system. In many ways the basic notion of this training system revolves around poor movement patterns and key structural problems that the overwhelming majority of the public is plagued with and results in the inability to maintain proper posture under duress. Running parallel to the nine-stage DMC™ system that I introduced in my book on middle-aged fitness “With Grace”, is another new system of mine, RED2.
RED2 will merge into DMC™ in the intermediate phase as the tempo and syncopation changes from slow, static holds to a rapidly changing dance-based environment. The upper stages of the program are some of the most challenging I have ever developed but like all things, a foundation must be built first before progressing. I have taught this program to a series of top-flight accredited fitness professionals who maintain that this is an enormously far-reaching program that will provide benefit for the elite athlete as well as to the everyday individual.
In the introduction of the RED2 system, the obvious difference from DMC™ is that it is simply an upright program with key emphasis once again on strength of the posterior chain although with extensive demands on flexibility and overall body control. However as you look deeper into the movements you’ll notice that once again it places enormous demands on the posterior chain, with heightened focus on glutes and hip flexibility. When performing this program, it is crucial to do the movements correctly, with particular emphasis on “stepping-out” when lunging (as opposed to sliding), and stressing the ability to maintain perfect body position whilst under duress. Per my experience, transition from movements from position five through six are extremely challenging with flexibility as the incumbent needs to powerfully straighten the lead leg and then generate power in a controlled fashion to rise into the final position.
For those following the DMC™, you have quickly noticed how “focus” needs to be intense through the long holds to avoid “mental failure.” This is equally the issue with the RED2 system as mental focus must not waiver through the holds and total foot control must be stressed. Those with background using the Rx Squat series will have a solid head start on the following developmental series. I would suggest all readers begin to make use of the following preliminary development program plan a minimum of five times per week at the start of training, in conjunction with my yoga series “Pink” and the program found in part 1 of this article series.
Users should make sure they are wearing comfortable clothing, with good supportive footwear and in a relaxed, peaceful setting in which they can devote complete attention to the program. In the event the holds are too long to start, roll them back to a 15 second start and repeat the circuit twice. When performed properly this will take roughly sixteen minutes. Each circuit starts with 30 second holds of the following positions and performed equally forwards AND backwards in alternating fashion:
figure 1: Rx 1
figure 2: Rx 2
figure 2: fwd lunge
figure 3: fwd lunge (ss)
figure 4: fwd lunge (ws)
figure 5: fwd lunge reach
figure 6: standing lunge
figure 7: T
Follow this program with diligence and you’ll notice your power and muscular gains will come with ease.
In March of 2006, Greenville, South Carolina resident Jeremiah Gould broke the Guinness Book of World Records standard for most one-arm push-ups in one minute. He did 126. Remarkably, that’s over two push-ups per second. Just two years later, Jeremiah shattered his own record by doing an astounding 135 one-arm push-ups in one minute. To truly appreciate the significance of these accomplishments you’ve really got to understand the heart of this young man. Born a premature baby and having suffered a severe brain hemorrhage as an infant, Jeremiah wasn’t given much of a shot from the get-go. Since then, Big Jer (big for the size of his heart rather than his physical size), as he’s often referred to by family and friends, has spent his life determined to prove his naysayers wrong.
1. Where on earth did you get the crazy idea to try to break these records?
Well, ever since I was kid I’ve always been interested in records and trying to break them. I was born a preemie, and was always the smallest kid for my age. I also had a brain hemorrhage when I was a baby, which caused some cognitive issues and made school a real struggle, to say the least. It did however fuel my competitiveness, and athletics became my outlet. I found that performing crazy physical tasks with my body that nobody else could do gave me confidence in myself. When I was twelve I set the record at my school for most push-ups and pull-ups, and as far as I know those records still stand today. In 2001 I was looking at the Guinness Book of World Records and noticed that a guy from Switzerland held the record for most one-arm push-ups with 120 in one minute. I wondered how many I could do in one minute. I immediately got down and did 125 but it took a lot longer than one minute. I became determined from that point on to break the record and for the next five years trained to do so.
2. You’re a former competitive bodybuilder, how long did you compete and at what level?
I did that when I turned eighteen and competed at the amateur level for about two years. After working my tail off and not placing at any of the competitions, not to mention getting relentless grief about my skimpy briefs from my friends and family, I decided to move on to competitive power lifting.
3. Why did you originally get into bodybuilding?
It was the man, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger! As a kid I used to watch all his movies, Terminator, Predator, Total Recall, you name it. It was Pumping Iron though that got me interested in the actual industry of bodybuilding. Though I was always the smallest out of all my friends, I was always the strongest. When I was seventeen I could curl 90 lbs. ten times with one arm … So I decided to give it a shot.
4. Were you into any other sports?
I played all sports as a kid. When I was six I actually was the state runner-up in wrestling. But to be honest, performing physical tasks that nobody else could do was always the most rewarding. There’s just a rush I got from it and still do! Whether it be push-ups, pull-ups, you name it, breaking records became a driving force in my life. My dad bought a weight set for me when I was twelve and I immediately took to it. Like I said before, I wanted to be just like Arnold!!