Most people in the lifting game are in it to increase muscle mass and “get big”. There’s no denying that many of the men and women lifting on a regular basis are also looking to increase raw strength but aesthetic gains are often the real carrot on the stick. Who doesn’t want to look great naked?
The path to more lean muscle is made of regular lifting, either by the use of free weights or machines, and careful dieting ensuring the right caloric and macro (protein etc.) intake. In this article we will be taking a look at the pursuit of bigger biceps in particular and whether or not only lifting dumbbells is enough to make this goal a reality.
More, More, More aka Progressive Overload
The key to great gains, even for those of you solely focused on biceps, is to slowly but surely increase the amount of weight that you are lifting from one workout session to the next. Basically, if you’ve been curling the same two 20 lbs dumbbells for months then you’ve been spinning your wheels.
Increasing the amount of weight you’re lifting from one workout session to the next (or at a rate that’s practical for your ability) is called progressive overload and it’s what ensures that your biceps (biceps brachii) will keep growing. And they will keep growing for quite a while as it takes a very long time to reach one’s genetic ceiling.
Some are more genetically gifted than others when it comes to increasing the size of their arms but everyone has a ton of potential as far as size and strength gains go.
So yes, dumbbells are absolutely enough to increase the size of your biceps but you must ensure that you are upping the weight at a steady pace if you want to see the best results.
Increasing the weight by 2.5 lbs to 5 lbs is your best bet. Making 10 pound jumps is simply too big for exercises like conventional curls and hammer curls.
Rep Ranges – Hypertrophy vs. Strength
Dumbbells are certainly enough for bigger biceps but different methods of working out your arms are going to produce different results. Most are concerned with increasing size so that’s what we’ll cover first.
If you’re a complete beginner you won’t want to introduce a ton of volume (overall amount of repetitions targeting a muscle group) so sticking with 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions is your best bet. This rep range works best because it induces hypertrophy or the increase in size of muscle fibers.
Only focused on working out your biceps? In this case you’ll want to incorporate multiple dumbbell exercises to give your arms enough of a workout. Some examples of effective dumbbell exercises for biceps include traditional curls, hammer curls, incline bicep curl using a workout bench, and concentration curls.
Of course, choosing a full body lifting program is the best approach if you’re after a balanced physique. Many programs can be done with only dumbbells by making a few changes
A beginner’s PPL program is one option that can work well for starters that are focused on aesthetic gains. You’ll have to find dumbbell exercise replacements but you can certainly make it work with a little creativity.
An excellent beginner PPL program can be found freely on Reddit.
Other great options for beginner’s include StrongLifts and Starting Strength. These programs are more focused on building strength but this is absolutely fine because progressive overload will always result in increased muscle mass even when hypertrophy is not directly sought out and isolation exercises can always be worked in.
Another reason why a full fledged workout program will work to your benefit concerning biceps is because compound movements, unlike isolation movements, target multiple muscle groups. For example, the pull up hits the majority of the back as well as the biceps.
And this is why, provided you have the means, you should consider incorporating barbell lifts when you have the chance. You can make excellent progress with only dumbbells but nothing beats dumbbell, barbell, and even machine exercises combined into one routine.
If you just want to grow bigger biceps then this probably won’t apply to you but if you are a novice lifter looking to get into the swing of things then seriously consider doing what you can to either acquire a gym membership or amass a good deal of equipment for a home gym.
In it For the Long Haul (The Only Way to Win)
You want to know the main reason why beginner’s fail? And this applies to any fitness goal not just getting bigger biceps.
It isn’t a lack of protein supplements or any supplements for that matter. It isn’t because they lack the “proper genetics” to increase muscle mass.
The number one reason that guys and gals fail is because they give up way too early. You need to put in the work when it comes to gaining muscle. And we’re not talking days or even weeks. To see serious progress it’s probably going to take you months at a minimum.
Try not to see lifting as means to achieve bigger shoulders, arms, or legs but rather as a lifestyle, a way of living. This kind of shift in perspective will offer you the most bang for your buck and will help cultivate discipline that will allow you lift for years instead of weeks.