Starting this week, Christian Thibaudeau will share a new exercise, a new twist on an exercise, or a new exercise routine every Monday. So if you want to start the workout week with a fresh idea, you know where to come.
There are literally dozens of quality exercises, strategies, and programs to help build your biceps up. However, this new movement is something that few, if any, people are actually using in their training programs. And it's sad, really, because it's a very effective weapon in your quest for big guns.
So, who's the new guy at the gym? It's the constant tension alternate curl (and its variations).
This movement, which is a simple alternate curl with a twist, is based on three physiological facts:
1. The three main ways to stimulate growth are:
- Inflicting structural damage (micro-trauma) to the muscles to force the body to adapt by rebuilding itself bigger and stronger.
- Increasing neural activation and building neural efficiency to improve your capacity to stimulate the growth-prone high-threshold motor units.
- Preventing blood and oxygen from entering the muscle during a set. This is accomplished by using the constant tension technique, and it stimulates hypertrophy via an increase in the production of local (IGF-1, MGF) and systemic (hGH) growth factors. Our new exercise capitalizes on this.
2. Unilateral dynamic work increases motor unit activation in the working muscles, thus facilitating the recruitment and stimulation of more muscle fibers.
3. Isometric action (contracting a muscle without any movement) allows you to recruit up to 10% more muscle fibers than other types of muscle actions. These fibers will also stay activated during a subsequent dynamic phase.
The Constant Tension Alternate Curl
The trouble is, few biceps exercises make use of all three factors.
For example, the regular alternate dumbbell curl – in which you start each rep with the arms fully extended (illustrated below) – takes advantage of unilateral action but not of constant tension because the muscle can relax when it's in the extended position, waiting for its turn.
Furthermore, you don't get the benefit of preceding the dynamic phase by an isometric action, either.
On the other hand, it's easier to maintain constant tension in the biceps by curling with both arms at the same time (either using dumbbells or a bar) and avoiding a pause at the bottom of each repetition. However, it doesn't allow you to reap the benefits of unilateral work.
(By the way, if you're using dumbbells, but are curling both arms at the same time, it's not a unilateral movement. Unilateral means that you're doing the dynamic portion of the movement one limb at a time.)
So, the solution that allows you to take advantage of constant tension, isometric potentiation, and unilateral-enhanced neural drive is to perform the alternate curl starting from the top.
Basically, in the beginning position of all of the reps, both arms are in the fully flexed position. You then lower (eccentric phase) the working arm while keeping the non-working arm flexed. Curl up the working arm until both arms are once again flexed. Then switch arms and do the same thing.
You keep on alternating this way until the set is completed.
The benefits of this new biceps bombardment are:
1. The biceps are under constant tension; while the non-lifting arm is "waiting its turn," it's still contracted (isometrically).
2. You're performing a unilateral dynamic movement.
3. You're preceding the dynamic action by an isometric one.
The downside is that you can't use as much weight, thus you won't create as much muscle damage. This is why it's important to use this exercise as a secondary biceps movement, after a "regular" and heavier exercise.
An Added Bonus
For some additional fiber-stimulating pain, you can use this technique with any biceps exercise performed with dumbbells.
- Alternating dumbbell preacher curls (supinated, pronated, or hammer grip)
- Alternating incline dumbbell curls (supinated, pronated, or hammer grip)
- Alternating chest-supported dumbbell curls on an incline bench (supinated, pronated, or hammer grip)
And anything else you can think of...