Tip: The 5-10-20 Protocol For Biceps

Got stubborn biceps? Use this smart training method to get their attention.

Categorized under Training

The 5/10/20 Protocol

This hypertrophy protocol requires you to do three specific types of exercises back-to-back, using 5, 10, and then 20 reps in that order.

Each of the three exercises are beneficial on their own, but combining them in one sadistic set multiplies their effect. The 5/10/20 protocol works by exposing you to a variety of muscle-building stimuli at once.

Basically, it looks like this:

  1. Do a heavy, multi-joint exercise that hits the biceps (5 reps).
  2. Now do a moderate-weight, isolation exercise for biceps (10 reps).
  3. Finally, grab a resistance band for one final biceps exercise (20 reps).

There are many exercises to choose from (see chart below) but here’s a quick example:

A1. Overhand Narrow-Grip Inverted Row

5 reps with a 4-second eccentric, rest 10-30 seconds.

A2. Zottman Curl

10 reps with a normal lifting speed, rest 10-30 seconds.

A3. Overhand Band Bicep Curl

20 reps squeezing hard, 2 minutes rest.

Do 2-4 total sets.

The Details

Start with a heavy, multi-joint exercise for 5 reps, taking 5 seconds to complete each rep. Take 4 seconds to lower and 1 second to lift (a 4-second eccentric with a regular concentric lifting speed).

Although you’ll be using a relatively heavy multi-joint movement, you’ll still want to maximize biceps recruitment, as opposed to your back. For that reason, narrow-grip rows and pull-ups tend to work best. Just actively squeeze your arms throughout each rep.

To get a sufficient muscle-building effect, each rep is performed a little slower than you might normally, taking about 25 seconds to complete your set of 5.

Next, rest 10-30 seconds, then move to a moderate weight exercise with more isolation for a set of 10 reps.

Dumbbell curl variations work particularly well. Use a regular lifting speed (2 seconds to lower with 1 second to lift), and try to select a grip that corresponds to what you did on your previous exercise. If you used an underhand grip on your multi-joint exercise then use an underhand grip here too.

An overhand grip should pair with an overhand grip curl, and a hammer (neutral) grip with a hammer-grip curl. The grip you start off with will be determined by the areas of your upper arms you’re trying to target most.

Finally, rest 10-30 seconds, then transition to a set of resistance band biceps curls.

The band resistance should be enough so your final 20 reps are a challenge. Since you’ve lifted heavier in the previous exercises, you’ll get a little potentiation effect here (the band will feel light at the start), but the reps will quickly catch up on you by the end. Again, try to use a grip that matches your previous exercises.

That’s one set completed. Take about 2 minutes off to check out your biceps swoliosis, then repeat for a total of 2-4 sets.

Exercise Options

Pick one exercise from each category. With all the different combinations, this should keep you busy for while:

Multi-Joint: 5 Reps Isolation: 10 Reps Band: 20 Reps
Underhand-Grip Inverted Row
Underhand-Grip Pulldown
Underhand Seated Cable Row
Underhand Bent-Over Row
Hammer-Grip Pull-Up
Swiss/Football Bar Inverted Row
Hammer-Grip Pulldown
Hammer-Grip Seated Cable Row
Swiss/Football Bar Bent-Over Row
Overhand Narrow-Grip Pull-Up
Overhand Narrow-Grip Inverted Row
Overhand Narrow-Grip Pulldown
Overhand Seated Cable Row
Overhand Narrow Grip Bent-Over Row
Underhand Dumbbell Biceps Curl
Underhand EZ Bar Curl
Underhand Preacher/Scott Curl
Underhand Cable Curl
Hammer Dumbbell Biceps Curl
Swiss/Football Bar Curl
Hammer Preacher/Scott Curl
Hammer Rope Cable Curl
Overhand-Grip Dumbbell Biceps Curl
Overhand EZ Bar Curl
Zottman Curl
Overhand Preacher/Scott Curl
Overhand Cable Curl
Underhand Band Bicep Curl
Underhand Band Preacher Curl
Underhand Lying Band Curl
Band Hercules Curl
Overhand Grip Dumbbell Curl with added band
Overhand EZ Bar Curl with added band
Zottman Curl with added band
Overhand Preacher/Scott Curl with added band
Overhand Cable Curl
Hammer Band Bicep Curl
Hammer Band Preacher Curl
Hammer Lying Band Curl
Overhand-Grip Band Bicep Curl
Overhand-Grip Band Preacher Curl
Overhand Lying Band Curl