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November 09, 2020 11 min read

The biceps and triceps are amongst the showiest upper body muscles. Most beginner gym-goers want to build up their arms as a priority, and think that training their biceps all-day-everyday is a one-way ticket to the gun show! Unfortunately, there are many common mistakes that can lead to an upsetting realization; my biceps won’t grow. Even professional bodybuilders sometimes hit a plateau in their work, but if you’ve been struggling to build your biceps for some time, it might be necessary to make some changes. 

Don’t worry if you seem to have hit a wall in your upper arm muscle mass. Training is always a learning process, even long-time gym residents sometimes need to re-learn how to bench press properly or take a new approach to their training. We all have problem areas and body parts which just don’t respond no matter how much you lift; when this happens it’s a sign that you could be making a common mistake. Luckily, we’re here to explain exactly why your guns aren’t growing, and how you can tackle the issue. 

Before discussing anything else, it’s important to recognize that a huge genetic element is in play. The biceps are actually a very small group of muscles with a limited function; to bed the elbow. The point at which your bicep muscles attach to your arm has a big impact on the potential for growth. Some people's biceps continue all the way to the crook of the elbow, while others stop short part-way down the arm. There’s nothing to be done if you’re in the second category. Unfortunately, you just won’t be able to get as big as other bodybuilders. 

Don’t be discouraged if you think this applies to you; you can still complete a thorough bicep and tricep workout which will help build up some impressive arms. Many workout addicts complete bicep workouts all the time, and outside of the genetic factor we just mentioned, there are other reasons you may not see this muscle grow. If you’re completing a balanced weekly workout routine and your biceps still won’t grow, one of these 5 reasons could be the answer. Read on to discover the most common culprits behind disappointing bicep gains, and how you can avoid them and achieve the bulging arms of your dreams! 

A skinny man doing bicep curls

1. You're Overworking Your Arms

The first and most common mistake in bicep workouts is actually overtraining. Biceps get a lot of attention at the gym, and many people can overwork them in an attempt to get gains fast. When struggling to grow your arms, it can be easy to just keep on adding to your routine, but this can easily go wrong. Biceps are different from larger muscle groups, where additional exercise is always better. 

The biceps are a small group of muscles made up of a “long head” and “short head” which work in unison to flex your elbow. They can also have a small contribution to shoulder flexion, but the primary joint worked is the elbow. Although this muscle is small, it’s used in a great many upper body workouts. Pull-ups, barbell rows, chin-ups, and more all activate the bicep passively as the focus on training larger muscles. 

The impact of this is that you end up working out your biceps several times a week. Rather than isolating arm day, and then allowing rest for muscle recuperation, you could be hitting your bicep muscles several times a week! Seeing this, many people can become discouraged. You’re working out your biceps all the time, so why aren’t you getting results? The answer is, you’re not giving this tiny group of muscles enough time to recover. When you do your next workout, the muscles won’t be fully stimulated and can’t achieve maximal growth. 

To build up size in any muscle, you need progressive overload. This term is simply referring to the act of lifting additional weight over time, going from a 20- to a 25- to a 30-pound bicep curl. Adding weight is the most effective way to achieve muscle gains, but it doesn’t work if your muscle didn’t get at least 48 hours of rest beforehand. For optimal bicep gains, you might need to make adjustments to your weekly workout routine. 

As a rule of thumb, weightlifters are recommended to train a large muscle group before a smaller one. Biceps are an exception to this rule. Many people make the mistake of following their back workout with a bicep workout, but your arm muscles will be fatigued from the support work they’re done already. If you want to get truly shredded from head to toe, isolate one gym day for arms alone, and smash the bicep and tricep exercises. 

2. You're Training Incorrectly and Aren't Hitting the Bicep Muscles

For bicep-targeting exercises, you’re almost completely limited to the curl. Unlike the shoulder, a ball and socket joint which can be trained in many directions, your elbow only moves one way. That means there’s pretty much only one option to build your guns; a bicep curl. Completing this exercise correctly is a sure-fire way to get more impressive arms. Unfortunately, there are many common mistakes people make in bicep curls which reduce your potential for gains. 

Here are several ways that you could be training your biceps incorrectly:

  • Swinging your arm: You need to ensure that your bicep muscle is the only one working to lift the weight. If you allow your arm to swing and build momentum in your rep, your anterior delts and lower back are doing most of the work. This takes away the majority of benefits to your biceps, robbing them of the powerful contraction necessary to build muscle. When completing curls, come to a complete stop at the top and bottom of the movement. This will help you to isolate the bicep muscles and ensure they’re doing enough work.
  • Moving your wrist: It’s vital you keep your wrist joint completely rigid when completing bicep curls. If you use your forearm flexors to start the movement from the wrist, you’ll get a fantastic pump in the forearms. Unfortunately, this takes away from your bicep gains. Concentrate on keeping your wrists straight throughout your set to make sure bicep muscles are targeted. 
  • Going too fast: Completing a set of bicep curls in record time might allow you to use heavier weights than going slowly. Many gym-goers make the mistake of believing this will lead to better gains. It’s far more effective to use a smaller weight, and spend more time with your muscle under tension. Try to take 5 full seconds for a single bicep curl repetition, and the results you see will be much more encouraging. 
  • Skipping the squeeze: Any kind of curl requires a strong contraction at the peak for maximum results. Take a moment to flex and squeeze your bicep muscles as hard as you can at the peak of a curl. This will increase muscle activation and make growth much more likely. 

As you can see, there are numerous ways that a bicep workout can be ineffective. No matter how many repetitions you do, making any of these mistakes means your effort is wasted as the bicep muscle isn’t properly activated. You can’t get big biceps without proper form. 

3. You Aren't Meeting the Other Requirements for Muscle Gains

No matter how many times a week you go to the gym, you aren’t going to see results unless you balance your workouts with proper rest and fuel. If you’re working out with proper form, and can’t see any reason why your routine isn’t being effective, the answer may lie outside the gym. Professional bodybuilders know that a healthy routine includes plenty of sleep and balanced nutrition, without which muscle gains simply aren’t possible. 

A lack of quality sleep could be the reason you aren’t seeing the results you want. For optimal muscle growth, you need at least 7 and a half hours of sleep every night. If you don’t get enough sleep, not only will your body not recover from the day’s training, but you won’t be able to exercise at 100% tomorrow. A good night’s sleep is the first step to impressive arm muscles. 

Lack of protein is another culprit of disappointing bicep growth. The amino acids contained in protein are what allows your body to build and repair muscle tissue. Every person needs from 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilo of body weight every day. If you’re struggling to include it in your diet, there are plenty of fantastic supplements like the Ultimate Shred Stack to boost your protein intake. Another nutritional deficit you might not consider is carbs. It’s important to also include complex carbohydrates in your diet such as oatmeal and whole grains, to fuel your workouts. 

Dehydration, stress and alcohol consumption can also negatively affect your muscle gains. The conclusion we draw here is that also lifting weights is an important part of building muscle, it’s not possible if you don’t focus on other areas of your health. A solid night of sleep, a nutritious diet, and good overall general health are necessary if you want to pump up your biceps. 

4. You Need More Variation in Your Technique

We know that it’s difficult to vary exercises for the bicep, as there are only so many different types of curl. While you’re limited to this single exercise, that doesn’t mean you don't change up your technique. Just like any other muscle group, if you always work out your biceps in the same way, you’re limiting their growth potential. Variation is the key to any successful workout routine. 

There are a number of different curl exercises which are popular for bigger biceps, including the barbell curl, dumbbell curl, hammer curl, incline curl, preacher curl, concentration curl, and the list goes on. You can read more about these exercises in the ultimate dumbbell workout plan. No matter how many different curls you complete, they can only work that one elbow joint. Therefore, you need to get more creative to introduce variation. 

To change up your bicep curl, you can change a few different factors. Firstly, there’s no reason your grip always needs to be the same. With a barbell, you could try a close, medium, and wide grip. When doing dumbbell curls, try sitting, standing, leaning forwards, and changing your angle. You can also adjust your grip to have your fingers splayed or together. These changes are small, but by breaking the habits of your regular routine you’ll introduce a slightly different strain on your biceps and help them grow bigger every day. 

5. You Need More Balance in Your Workouts

More people join the gym or start working out for aesthetic reasons than health reasons. As much as we talk about fitness levels and body mass, we know that most are aiming for a totally shredded physique because it simply looks fantastic. There’s nothing wrong with taking care of your appearance, but this single focus can cause unbalanced workouts. If you only train trophy muscles, the ones you want to look good at the beach such as your abs, pecs, and biceps, you’re leaving a huge imbalance with much larger muscles in your body. 

“Never skip leg day” is about more than just chicken legs. The muscle groups in your legs and back are some of the largest in the body and have a huge impact on your overall strength. By training only the most obvious aesthetic body parts, you’re missing out on a lot of potential gains! Not only this but creating such a strength imbalance in your body can cause injury down the line. You can’t get big biceps without also training the rest of your body. Don’t rush towards bigger arms; work on improving your whole physique, and the gun show will follow. 

A man with strong biceps.

Techniques for Bicep Growth 

Instead of adding more training days to your schedule, or piling on the weight for constant repetitions of curls, here are a few things you can try to change up your bicep exercises. These body building techniques are designed to better stimulate the growth of muscle fibers in the upper arm, so your arm training days will be much more effective. As always, you need to focus on achieving the full range of motion with perfect form for maximal results. 

The first method that brings success for a lot of lifters is the sliced reps technique. To try it, take a curling weight you would usually use to complete 15 reps, and perform your first curl to the peak of the movement. Then, instead of dropping back to your starting position, only lower the weight to approximately 1/9th of the way down. Then contract your bicep and bring the weight back to the top. Repeat the process at 2/9ths of the distance, then back to the top, gradually increasing the movement until you achieve a full range of motion. 

You can continue doing sliced reps by splitting the movement into 8 pieces, and then 7, forcing your bicep muscles to contract from a different position every time. This technique makes a regular bicep curl more intense and is a sort of fast-track to progressive overload. You don’t need to use heavy weights as just one set of sliced reps equals a lot of repetitions, with much more time spent under tension. This high-intensity upper arm training technique is a fantastic way to spur the growth of bigger biceps. 

The second technique we’ll share with you is arc variation, a very intense method of bicep training. This option does include training to and through failure, which is not something we always recommend. Arc variation puts a huge strain on your bicep and elbow joint, which is great for gains, but we only recommend introducing it if you’ve already tried everything else in this article. If you’re confident in pushing your biceps to the limit, try changing the movement arc of your bicep curl. 

To do this, you need to start your curls with your elbows in front of your ribs. Rather than leaving your arm by your side, pushing it forward increases the strain on the bicep. Perform your reps in this position until you hit fatigue, and then tuck in your elbows. Instead of stopping here, you can continue lifting with a smaller movement arc. Having your elbows by your sides will decrease the strain on your bicep muscles, allowing for a few more reps before rest. This technique allows you to train the bicep from two slightly varied angles and intensifies the workout considerably.

Achieving the Guns of Your Dreams

So your biceps aren’t growing, but be discouraged! There are plenty of reasons you may hit a wall in muscle growth, and many techniques you can try to solve the problem. Firstly, remember that big arms are more than just biceps; you need tricep exercises in your routine as well. By building these two small but important arm muscles, the changes in your appearance will be obvious. Here’s a quick reminder of what to do if your biceps aren’t growing: 

  • Don’t overwork your arms: Rest days are just as important as training days. For optimal upper arm growth, allow your muscles to recover before blasting the bicep curls again. 
  • Improve your technique: Because the bicep is a relatively small muscle, it’s more important than ever to perfect your form. Work on achieving a full range of motion, and take your time through every step of the movement to get maximum muscle activation. 
  • Take care of your body: If you aren’t sleeping enough, not giving yourself the proper nutrition, or damaging your body with alcohol and stress, there’s no chance of growing those impressive bicep muscles. Lifting weights alone is not enough; a better overall health level will always lead to improved gains. 
  • Change up your routine: While you’re mostly limited to curling exercises, changes in grip and angle will help stimulate the bicep in different ways. 
  • Find a better balance: If you work out your biceps every single day, they will never grow. Balance your upper arm workout with leg days, back days, chest, core, and cardio. Aside from the potential health implications, top-heavy lifters with giant arms and tiny legs look ridiculous.