THERE COMES A time in every workout journey when change is needed in order to continue making gains. When it comes to constantly keeping your biceps blasted, sometimes you need to drop the standard three sets of 10 reps of barbell curls and add a new twist—and a few more reps—to your sets.
You’ve probably heard of drop sets, a regimen that consists of performing a set number of reps for exercise, then continuing to push through fatigue by reducing the weight to enable you to pump out more reps until task failure.
There are other ways besides reducing the weights to incorporate drop sets to your routine, especially when it comes to training your biceps. You can add additional reps to create an additional pump to your biceps by switching other arm-blasting elements, such as the angle of your movement and different range of motion (these are called mechanical drop sets).
“You're gonna want to feel a really good squeeze from all these biceps ideas, and you're going to eventually get biceps growth that you want,” Samuel says. “So try all these out. They're really going to help you put your arm growth to the next level.”
What Is a Drop Set?
Again, the basic goal of a drop set is to increase the volume of one single set. You can do this by performing a prescribed number of reps at a challenging weight until fatigue sets in, then dropping to a lower weight or changing the mechanical difficulty level so that you can keep performing reps with good form. This allows you to extend your set for a few additional reps, providing a better pump as you push a little longer to failure.
But there's more to a mechanical drop set than just pairing two similar movements and working them back-to-back. Samuel employs these three biceps drop sets to create three different challenges to burn your arms and grow those biceps.
“We want to mix and match our equipment in smart ways so that we can create more challenge and push ourselves to the limit on every single set,” Samuel says. “And that one's of being at the heart of everything we're doing on all these biceps drops.”
Standing Dumbbell Curl Drop Set
Dumbbell Biceps Curl
This is perhaps the most accessible of the three drop sets. All you need is one set of dumbbells. Instead of dropping weights to extend the working set, the goal here is to shorten the range of motion once fatigue sets in.
Here, perform your basic dumbbell biceps curl as you normally would, using a full range of motion while maintaining solid form. When you think you may have one or two reps left in the tank, take a few seconds rest, then finish your drop set with halfway curls, lifting only to the point where your forearms are parallel to the ground.
By cutting the range of motion in half, the move becomes less difficult to perform. That said, halfway curls are much more challenging than you think. This variation challenges you to get into a position where your forearms are parallel with the floor, arguably the most difficult portion of the lift. You can hold it at that spot for a moment to increase the burn. Don’t expect a whole ton of reps, but expect plenty of pop to your biceps.
Incline Curl Drop Set
This drop set style relies on the way changing your body position can affect the intensity of your curl. You’ll need an adjustable bench and one set of dumbbells for this one.
By starting with an incline curl, you’re placed in a tighter position as you work on keeping your elbows behind your torso, which will give you a little more stretch in the biceps. Aim for 10 to 12 reps.
As fatigue sets in, continuing this drop set is as simple as sitting up. With the seated variation, you probably won’t have enough energy left in the tank for a whole lot of reps, so Samuel says it’s okay to cheat (just a little) in order to maximize your drop set. Aim for three to six reps—you won't be able to do much more.
Spider Curl Drop Set
Dumbbell Spider Curl
Cable Spider Curl
This final drop set variation proves that full range of motion doesn’t always equate to a more challenging biceps exercise. You'll need an adjustable bench, a set of dumbbells, and a cable machine.
Think of your full strength curve like this: a standard dumbbell curl is more difficult at the bottom of the move, then gets easier once you move past the 90 degree mark as you curl to the top. Sure, you’re working on squeezing that biceps as hard as possible, but once you’re no longer fighting gravity, your curl becomes a little less challenging. The movement is harder at the bottom, and easier at the top.
That’s where the cable portion of this drop set kicks in. By starting with dumbbell spider curls, then shifting to a cable curl, the more challenging portion of the exercise is the opposite of using dumbbells. The closer you curl to peak contraction using the cable, the more difficult it becomes.
Again, don’t expect a high number of reps, but expect a vicious pump at the end your drop set. Think 10 to 12 reps using dumbbells, and three to six reps on the cable.
Brett Williams, a fitness editor at Men's Health, is a NASM-CPT certified trainer and former pro football player and tech reporter who splits his workout time between strength and conditioning training, martial arts, and running. You can find his work elsewhere at Mashable, Thrillist, and other outlets.