If you are trying to build big biceps, you need to figure out what role lifting heavy weights and light weights plays in your growth. I will tell you right now, you need to find a way to lift both heavy and light if you want to build your biggest biceps possible. Here’s why.
To start, it is important to define what we are talking about when we refer to lifting heavy or light. In general, the heavier lifts are the compound movements that incorporate multiple muscle groups into the performance of the exercise. In the case of the biceps this would be a weighted chin up as a perfect example, or even a heavy barbell cheat curl. In both, the biceps are certainly not the only muscles working to execute that lift. Your back, lower back, abs, and traps are contributing heavily to getting this done.
On the other side, doing exercises like spider curls and strict dumbbell curls with lighter weights are more isolated movements and involve a more focused attack on developing the mind muscle connection with the muscle you are working.
Now, it’s important to point out that research has strongly shown that even in a compound movement, it is possible for you to activate a component muscle of a lift by focusing more heavily on it when doing the exercise. For example, even though the weighted chin up is a compound movement for many muscles as just shown you can more heavily target the biceps if you focus hard on their contraction during the movement.
So where does this leave you specifically?
Well, you first want to determine if you are someone who does or does not have a good mind muscle connection with your biceps and then act accordingly. The two ways to quickly determine this is to assess how your biceps feel when you train them. If you never feel curls, chinups, or any other biceps exercise in your biceps but rather feel them in your forearms, shoulders and lower back then you likely do not have a good connection with that muscle.
Secondly, if you contract your biceps in their most shortened position (which is elbow flexion, shoulder flexion and a supinated forearm) and cannot do so with enough force to cause discomfort when you squeeze as hard as you can, then you very likely do not have a good mind muscle connection with your biceps.
So here, you would want to dial back the use of heavier biceps work in favor of the lighter more focused exercises. Of course, you wouldn’t want to abandon the weighted chin up all together since it has many other benefits for you as one of the best pulling exercises you can do. You simply wouldn’t rely on it as the biceps building exercise in your arsenal given how it is being undermined by your lack of biceps recruitment capabilities.
Build up your connection with the lighter weights and leave your ego at the door. As you improve this, your performance in the big lifts will not only improve but your ability to feel the muscle on these lifts will be greatly enhanced. If you already have this in place, then a reliance on the lighter exercises should diminish but not be abandoned completely since the reinforcement is important for maximizing both the athleticism and aesthetics of your arms.
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What’s up, guys?
Jeff Cavaliere, ATHLEANX.com.
Today we want to talk about growing your biceps
and whether or not there’s an advantage
to lifting heavier weights, in trying to do
so, or lifting lighter weights.
Guys, I’m going to spoil something for you
But don’t go anywhere, because it’s going
You have to do both.
You should be lifting heavy.
You should be lifting light.
However, what you should be lifting right
now is something that can vary from person
Something is different for you, versus somebody
else, depending upon the situation you find
yourself in right now.
That’s what I want to address in this video.
So, what are we talking about?
When we talk about lifting heavier or lighter
weights it really comes down to something
more about the contribution of muscles in
a more heavy, compound lift.
Or the need to find more of a mind-muscle
control over a muscle in an individual, smaller,
isolated, lighter lift.
To start that and dig into that we need to
hold up three fingers.
In this we have representation of three muscles
contributing in a bigger, compound lift.
We know if I try to contract this muscle alone
and bring my finger down here to my palm I
can – do this along with me – you’ll
feel there’s a certain level of power you
can do that with.
When I take the middle finger and do that,
there’s a certain level of power I can do
that with in strength.
Then the last finger, when I bring it down,
there’s a certain level of strength I can
do that with.
But we know when I try to move the three together,
I can do it with much more force.
It’s a lot easier to bring these three together.
Obviously, there’s some connectivity of
the tendon here, in this particular example,
but it illustrates what happens in the compound
The contributing parts have the ability to
contribute in different ways to the overall
impact of that lift.
Think about, in the case of biceps, the weighted
I’ve gone on record saying that a weighted
chin-up is one of my favorite ways to use
a compound lift, heavy overload to provide
a greater stimulus for growth in my biceps.
However, we do know from research that you
can actively contribute more or less to a
lift from a certain muscle group based on
focusing heavily on the muscle that’s contributing.
So, if I’m up on that bar – I have an
exercise I call the ‘chin curl’ – I
can bring myself up more with my biceps than
with my lats, just by focusing more on changing
the alignment of my body and space on the
By actively trying to contract more in the
biceps, keeping more of a 90-degree angle,
instead of folding them down.
I can do that and shift the focus of that
So, if that’s possible we need to know that
mind-muscle control over a muscle is going
to heavily influence our performance on those
bigger lifts, leading to bigger and better
size gains down the road.
If we maximize and optimize our ability to
recruit that muscle.
At that point, the ability to have mind-muscle
control becomes imperative.
Even as a starting point before you start
to pile on in these more compound lifts.
We did some tests before.
I said “What is your mind-muscle control?
Do you know how much control you have over
A) When you do your bicep workouts do you
ever feel it in your biceps?
Or are you just feeling it in your forearms
or shoulders, maybe even your low back?
That’s a sign one that it’s not working
Sign number two would be, if we could take
that bicep into its most shortened position
can you feel it?
Is it uncomfortable to contract in that position?
To reiterate something I’ve covered in a
video before, we know that the biceps are
contracted when we flex the elbow, when we
supinate here like this, of part one.
Then we flex the shoulder and bring it up.
So, if I get in this position here and I squeeze
as hard as I possibly can I can feel it very,
very uncomfortable right here.
I can’t hold this very long without cramping
I want you to be able to feel the same thing.
If you don’t, you don’t have a good mind-muscle
So, when you go to your compound lifts, if
you go to the weighted chin, you’re not
really using your biceps as much as you might
think you are.
Remember, this is hiding the weaknesses and
If I can’t do this with much strength, or
this with much strength, or this with much
strength, but I do this, and it feels strong;
I’m not aware of the fact that the imbalances
and weaknesses are there.
So, we want to make sure we reveal those.
If you’re someone that I just described
who can’t do that and feel that, becoming
really uncomfortable, or you don’t feel
your biceps in your training what do you do?
Your specific prescription is to do this:
maybe forego the heavy barbell cheat curls
like you see me doing here.
Guys, I’ve covered this exercise.
I love this one, too.
But if I’m not feeling it in my biceps,
why continue to do it?
Just because I said it’s a good exercise?
You need to do what’s good for you.
So, what you need to do is start mixing in
more of these exercises like this.
This is lighter weights.
This is a spider curl.
The benefit of the spider curl is that it
puts me in that position where the biceps
are in the position of being able to be fully
We have supination, we have elbow flexion,
and we have that shoulder flexion with our
arm up here, out in front of our body.
Work on progressively building up the ability
to contract that with good force.
Which means I might have to dial back the
weights considerably to do that.
But that’s okay because in the long term
it’s going to be better in the overall pursuit
of bigger biceps.
Or I could do a standing dumbbell curl this
Again, the focus is not to lift like a cheat
It’s to lift with lighter weights, but to
get all three components.
Getting that shoulder flexion in, even at
the every, very end.
Not too early because we don’t want to activate
the delts and make them take over the movement.
That would be reinforcing something that’s
We want to get them at the end.
So, first flex, at the same time you’ve
got the supination going.
Then we have the shoulder flexion at the end.
But I would work on these with priority.
But don’t abandon the other, bigger lifts.
Don’t abandon the weighted chin.
You could still do the weighted chin because
we know what the benefits are of that exercise.
Far beyond building bigger biceps.
It’s a great pulling exercise.
But don’t think that’s going to be your
primary bicep builder if you can’t feel
your biceps at all when you do it.
So, continue to do it for your back and as
a pulling exercise, but shift the focus of
your bicep training to this.
Now let’s say you’re already in a position
where you feel your biceps.
You can do this and feel it.
You could do your bigger lifts and you feel
How much reliance do you need to do these
Not very much.
But don’t abandon them entirely.
Here’s why: if I have the ability to feel
these moves, like I do – I have the ability
to really do what I said those studies tell
us we can do.
That is to focus more on my biceps and recruit
more biceps to a particular compound lift.
If I have that ability, then focus more of
your time on those bigger ‘bang-for-your-buck’
Do an underhand barbell row and really squeeze
your biceps to get more recruitment there.
Do a weighted chin and really squeeze your
If that’s what you’re trying to do.
The focus of this video is building bigger
Do your barbell cheat curls.
But don’t forget these because you never
want to forget the fact that this is the basis
of allowing us to contribute more individually
to these exercises.
We know that as this mind-muscle control improves
we take that improved strength of one finger
back to this three-finger movement here.
We know we’ve got a greater output in strength.
Improve this one, improve this one, improve
all three; we have a greater output.
You want to reinforce that at all times.
You don’t just need to rely on that so much.
One exercise is fine.
It’s the same concept as doing rotator cuff
work as a corrective.
It’s reinforcing something we know we need.
That becomes the role for you.
Start focusing more on those bigger lifts
and not relying on these things and building
But if you find yourself in that first situation
where you do not have good control, be real
with yourself, guys.
Don’t just do what I said was a great exercise.
Be real with yourself.
Realize your limitations and realize at the
end of it, if you focus more time here, you’re
going to be better off.
One last point I’ll make about this is mind-muscle
There are other benefits of this, guys.
Of course, there are more benefits here.
The benefits are both aesthetic and athletic.
Aesthetically, we know that as mind-muscle
control build in a muscle, we’re more efficiently
able to recruit the muscle fibers of a certain
muscle to an action, then the resting tone
of that muscle goes up.
People say “Jeff, you look like your muscles
are harder than mine.”
It’s only a matter of muscle tone.
My resting muscle tone is higher than someone
else’s who might be hypotonic.
That’s because I’ve been able to develop
that over time.
The resting tone is going to be higher.
Performance-wise, we know how critical it
is to athletic performance.
You need to have graded muscular control over
an action to be a great athlete.
Graded muscle control means being able to
grade the ability that your body reacts to
If I said – like Jesse, here.
Here, pick up this bottle of water, bring
it to your lips, and drink it.
This is what it would look like if he had
the ability to grade that just perfectly so
he can bring it up and drink it.
If he was hypertonic, where he had an overreactive
control of his muscles, where he couldn’t
fine tune this, he would look like this.
And you get pretty damn wet in the process.
The fact is, athletically, you benefit extremely
from having precise control over a muscle,
and mind-muscle control matters very, very
So, guys, I hope you’ve found this video
Again, be honest with where you are yourself.
If you’re more toward this point where this
is already something you feel then veer toward
those heavier, compound lifts and realize
you do have the ability at any point to focus
that contribution of a certain muscle by focusing
more on it, as the research shows.
And if you’re on the other side of that
spectrum, be honest with yourself and start
lifting some of the lighter weights and build
up to the fact that you can move toward the
heavier compounds over time All right, guys.
I hope you’ve found the video helpful.
Remember to leave your comments below.
Let me know what you want me to cover in a
future video and I’ll do my best to do that.
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All right, guys.
See you soon.