When I was a teenager just getting started in bodybuilding, I used to marvel at the biceps of Larry Scott. They were the best I'd ever seen, and to me they still rank as the best ever. Scott's biceps heads were incredibly long, reaching past his elbows, and they were very thick and full, too. In studying my own biceps early on, I realized that Scott would be a good role model for me because I also had long muscle bellies. As much as I was amazed by the high peaks of Freddy Ortiz (Mr. America short-class champion in 1963 and 1964), I knew that there was no way I could ever attain arms that looked like his because our basic structures were too different.
In time, my upper arms stretched the tape at 22" cold . no pump at all. This was when I was at my biggest, 325 pounds, for the 1994 Masters Olympia, in which I finished second. For that contest, I used the same biceps routine that I had applied in preparation for the 1975 Mr. Olympia [in which he placed third in the heavyweight division]. In fact, I've been so pleased with the results that I still use pretty much the same workout to this day.
I firmly believe that you can get the most growth activation and strength improvement out of the last set or two of an exercise.
There's a general misconception about biceps training that more is better. For more than 30 years, I've been doing three or four exercises, two to four sets apiece and with a strict rep range of eight to 10. That's usually a total of about 14 sets, give or take, which takes me less than a half-hour to perform.
I pyramid up in weight for each exercise, although I don't necessarily lower my reps to accommodate the increase. No matter how hard it may be to bump up your poundage from set to set, it is important that you do so. I firmly believe that you get the most growth activation and strength improvement out of the last set or two of an exercise, when your muscles are pushed to their limits.
For example, let's say I am doing barbell curls, which is usually my first biceps exercise. I'll start with a light weight and do 10 quick reps (still using good form) just to get the biceps warmed up. My next set will again be 10 reps, with a weight that gets difficult to lift on the seventh or eighth rep. For my third set, I'll add another 20 pounds and shoot for eight reps. Then, for my final set, I'll add another 20 pounds and go for eight again. I struggle to get eight on the third set, so when the fourth set comes around, it's a real test of will, after having increased the weight, to try to equal the same number of reps.
When I move on to incline dumbbell curls, I stick with eight reps for all four sets, but I keep increasing the weight for each set, from 50s to 60s to 70s to 80s. A lot of people assume that pyramiding means increasing weight while dropping reps. If you set a goal of keeping the reps the same set after set while increasing weight, you bring a whole new level of intensity and mind over matter to the equation.
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