There are a number of gay guys who, if they don't faint at the sight of a flexed bicep, at least sweat profusely and breathe like an asthmatic. Some subliminal, fantasy-driven power takes over and turns their knees into KY jelly. With their connotation of assertive strength and macho mojo, bulging biceps possess a universal currency. Even straight boys obsess about their "guns" in an oddly militaristic/homoerotic fashion. Let's face it, biceps are Popeye's best asset, and they didn't hurt Bob Paris's career, either.
Baseball-sized biceps, though, aren't just pretty to behold. They function as the flexors of the elbow, so in pragmatic terms, they're mighty essential. Without that musculature, a volleyball serve would fizzle and a tug of war wouldn't tug. And you'd have to pull those bags of loot out of Abercrombie & Fitch with your teeth instead of lugging them by hand.
What people normally refer to as the biceps actually involves two sets of muscles: the biceps brachii and the brachialis. The biceps brachii , as the name suggests, is a two-headed muscle. Both heads originate near one another on the front of the scapula (shoulder blade), cross the elbow on their pathway, and insert together at the top of one of the lower arm bones (the radius—on the thumb side of the arm). The brachialis, positioned deeper and more medially than the biceps, originates on the upper arm bone and inserts onto the other lower arm bone (the ulna—on the pinkie side of the arm). Both muscles act in unison as strong elbow flexors. When executing biceps exercises, you should hit the biceps from different angles to fully engage all the muscles.
With that in mind, follow the biceps routine below one or at most two times per week to make your biceps pop:
- EZ bar curls (Photo 1): If you don't know what an EZ bar looks like, it resembles a straight bar with two V-shaped indentations that allow for an easy grip (see Photo 1). Gripping the bar so that your palms face inward, stand with your knees slightly bent. Begin with the bar at arms length against the thighs. Curl the bar, keeping your elbows close to the sides and back and hips motionless, in a semi-circular motion until the forearms touch the biceps. Lower to the beginning position using the same arc; inhale on the up, exhale on the way down. Do three sets of eight to 10 reps with moderately heavy weight, making sure you keep the weight light enough that you don't impact your form.
- Alternate dumbbell curls (Photo 2): Standing with your back absolutely straight, hold relatively light dumbbells in each hand to the sides with your palms facing forward Keeping your right elbow flush against the torso, curl your right arm up, allowing the wrist to twist slightly inward at the top of the movement. Squeeze the biceps muscles at the end of the contraction and then slowly allow the arm to descend. As the right arm descends, begin the same curling movement with the left arm. Do three sets of twelve complete reps.
- Seated hammer curls dual (Photo 3): While seated, take dumbbells in both hands and let them hang at your sides, palms facing each other. Keep your upper body still and your elbows locked against your sides (they should not move throughout the exercise). Keeping your palms facing each other, curl the weights in both hands up toward the shoulders. Don't move the wrists at all. Squeeze the biceps muscles at the top of the exercise, and then slowly lower the weights. Don't lock your arms at the end or you'll risk ligament and tendon stress. Do three complete sets of eight reps.
- Concentration curls (Photo 4): Concentration curls are a good finishing exercise for isolating the biceps. Sitting on the end of a bench, spread your thighs into a V formation and lean forward. (If you have problems envisioning this, pretend like you're one of Liza Minnelli's Kit Kat girls in Cabaret.) Then grasp the dumbbell in the right hand with the palm facing forward. Rest your elbow on your inner thigh and allow the weight to hang. Slowly curl the weight up, keeping your torso, upper arm, elbow, and leg still. At the top of the lift, twist your wrist so that the pinkie turns toward your body. Squeeze the biceps at the end of the movement and slowly lower. Repeat with your other arm. Do three complete sets of eight reps.
Joseph Carman is a contributing editor for >Dance Magazine who writes for the New York Times and the Advocate, as well as other publications. A former professional dancer, he is now a bodybuilder and the author of Round About the Ballet (Limelight Editions, 2004).