Contract-Stretch Supersets For Biceps


Strong and Shapely Gym, East Rutherford, New Jersey (“The East Coast Mecca Of Bodybuilding”)… Today was chest, biceps and abs day. Read on and I’ll show you a bonanza of neat muscle-blasting tricks for crossing over the growth-threshold and packing on some major quality mass on the biceps…

My biceps have always been very stubborn and don’t seem to grow easily. They grow, mind you, but what I mean is that casual training doesn’t make them budge a centimeter. using poundages I’ve used before doesn’t make them budge either. It seems that only super heavy training – pushing to personal records in weight – and/or super high intensity techniques with ligher weights – are what stimulate them to grow.

Crossing the growth threshold

It seems that there is a threshold stimulus – kind of like the straw that breaks the camels back type of thing… one point… before that point, almost no growth… after that point, almost ALL the growth!

So, i’m always looking for ways “break the camel’s back” or “cross the growth threshold when it comes to my bicep training. This means training out of the comfort zone and into the pain zone. It also usually means a combination of very heavy movements, usually heavy straight barbell curls or dumbbell curls, combined or alternated with lighter weights and high intensity methods like supersets, tri sets, range of motion changes tempo changes, etc.


The magic of superset combinations

I find that the biceps respond especially well to supersets and there is *something* about certain combinations of two exercises where the sum is far greater than the individual parts.

Sometimes I stumble on superset combinations by accident, just by experimenting and I haven’t the slightest clue why the superset combo works so well. Other times I will think about the science and the muscle anatomy and function in order to target a specific aspect of biceps such as lateral head and brachialis in order to get the bicep thicker and the outer(lateral) part of the arm more developed.

I like to train with a combination of heavy straight sets and with lighter, higher rep work, pump work or superset work. I also like to alternate workouts between heavy and light/moderate days in order to work maximum pump and hit every fiber and every aspect of the muscle. The functional and power guys can scoff all they want at “sarcoplasmic hypertrophy”, but I want ALL the hypertrophy I can get in every part of the muscle.

So with this in mind, our current workout looks like this (alternate each week):

Day One: (heavy day)
A1. Straight Barbell Curls (heavy, semi-cheat) 3 sets X 5-8 reps
B1. Spider Bench Curl, contract emphasis, superset to:
B2. Incline Dumbell curls stretch emphasis
Day Two: (light day)
A1. Straight Barbell Curls (light/moderate, super strict, high rep and

miscellaneous intensity techniques) 3 sets
B1. Spider Bench Curl, contract emphasis, superset to:
B2. Incline Dumbeell curls, stretch emphasis

Last week we started with heavy straight sets on barbell curls and my strength was at or near an all time high. After warm ups I hit 11, 10 and 12 reps with 135 lbs on straight bar curls. I blew way past my rep goal, and will increase weight next time. These are performed with semi-cheat. A little body momentum is allowed to handle the max weight.

today was the lighter day and instead of starting with heavy straight bar curls we did the following:

A1 straight bar curls, shoulder width grip
set 1: 85 lbs X 8 reps — 1 1/2 reps – top half
set 2: 85 lbs X 7 reps — 1 1/2 reps – bottom half
Set 3: 85 lbs X 18 reps, 10 reps very strict at 3020 tempo, then

8 reps fast at 1010 tempo
B1. Spider Bench Curl 2 sets X 8-10 reps, contract emphasis,
B2. Incline Dumbeell curls 2 sets X 6-8 reps, stretch emphasis

On our “light” days, instead of heavy straight set curls, we either do high reps, reguar reps (8-12) with super-strict form, intensity techniques, or all of the above. I often like to use a different technique on each set. For example, the first set of curls was one and a half reps:

The One and A half Method

a) curl up all the way
b) lower down half way and STOP/pause there for a second
c) curl back up to top
d) lower down all the way

That is ONE REP of one and a halfs. The trick is to hold the mid point on part C when you lower half way down. Doing one and a halfs with a fast tempo is not even close to the same thing.

One and a halfs can also be done in the reverse direction, working the bottom half

a) curl up HALF the way
b) lower down all the way
c) curl up all the way to top
d) lower down all the way

I find the one and a halfs working the top position much more difficult, probably because you are decelerating on the eccentric and holding (much more eccentric work). Increase the duration of that hold to make it more difficult…and – this is another trick – initiate the upward curl from a total dead stop with absolutely no momentum and no body swing whatsoever! Curl from the paused mid point position with 100% biceps power. If you do that, you won’t believe what you will feel and what will happen to your biceps afterwards.

The last set of curls on light day was a high rep day, but with a slight twist:

Strict form to loose form extended set

You can extend a set by altering your form and tempo in the middle of the set. This is much like the extension of a set with a drop set, only you are continuing to use the same weight. For example, I performed as many reps as I could with 85 lbs in ultra strict form and i hit concentric failure at 10 reps. But believe me the set was not over. All I did was speed up the reps and begin to allow a little momentum and body movement at that point and I was good for EIGHT MORE REPS!

Contract Stretch Supersets

Okay, now for the grand finale and main event – the contract stretch superset. This is some painful stuff, but so effective (this is only going to interest the REALLY serious – aka “crazy” – bodybuilders…)

You select a contract emphasis exercise, which is preferably one in which your elbows are in front of your body. In this case we chose spider bench curls, which is simply a barbell concentration curl, lying on your stomach (prone) with you arms dangling down towards the floor (like a spider, thus the name).

Great bodybuilding gyms like strong and shapely have a piece of equipment just for the spider curl exercise. An alternate way to do it is off a super high bench, but most gyms dont even have that these days. Your alternative is to do these facing down (prone) on an incline bench or do a bent over barbell concentration curl. the difference is, its easier to cheat on both of the latter. (Note: a more difficult progression on this routine is to substitute spider curls with curl grip chin ups… SAME tempo!!!)

Tempo manipulation for tension maximization

The tempo and range of motion emphasis are everything — all the action is at the top of the movement — tempo is 3022 — thats 3 seconds to lower weight, two seconds to raise weight and most important, two second hold at top – that is contraction emphasis. Forget your ego here, you have to use light weight – i had 60 lbs today and that was very difficult to maintain the form i described. Also, you only lower down 3/4 so you are working the top 3/4 of the movement – there is no action at the bottom – you are just resting there

Then with no rest (supesetted), we move into incline dumbbell curls – a stretch emphasis exercise. this exercise – done with proper form as outlined below and when preceded by a contract emphasis exercise like spider curls – gets my vote for what is surely one of the top ten most painful things i have ever experienced in bodybuilding (good pain I mean!). You cannot believe it unless you feel it

Select a weight that is about 50%-60% of your normal incline dumbbell curl weight for 6-8 reps max. The performance is the exact opposite as the spider – contract curls. As you lower down into the stretch position – slowly, so as not to strain or hyperextend your elbow joint – you completely straighten out your arm to stretch the bicep, you keep your arms behind your body to stretch the bicep (elbows NOT forward), and you keep your head back on the bench and lift your chest up to emphasize the stretch even more.

Then you hold that stretch position at the bottom of the incline DB curl for two seconds, just like you held the contraction position for a two count at the TOP of the spider curl. Again, like the spider curl, you initiate the curl with 100% bicep strength. This is absolutely one of the most difficult parts of this super set combination.

You are going to want to extend your shoulder or swing your body into it, but use NO body or shoulder joint movement, at least for the intial 4-5 reps – start the movement with ONLY biceps!!! Once you are close to failure, you could continue if you want to (using the “strict form to loose form” method described above), but shortening the pause/stretch at the bottom and allowing a little more body movement

as you can see, there are a tremendous amount of intricacies and details in serious bodybuilding training the way we do it. These are the finer points that beginners and casual exercisers need not be concerned with, but which can make all the difference to an advanced competitor.

Heavy straight sets are great and you need them for complete development andmaximum size. But I find that it is the combination of heavy work, with the ligher work and intensity techniques like contract -stretch supersets, which provides that stimulus to push me over the threshold of growth.

You also may notice that we only did 7 sets: 3 sets of barbell curls, 2 sets of spider curls, 2 sets of incline curls. You could do 3 sets on the superset, and I often do 3 supersets (9 sets total), but with the right tempo, load selection and technique, and a lot of effort, just 3 sets of barbell curls and 2 rounds of supersets can completely trash your biceps. Its ALL about the form, techinque and tempo on these… its ALL about the form

Train hard and expect success all-ways,

-Tom venuto

tom venuto most muscular.JPG

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Comments on Contract-Stretch Supersets For Biceps Leave a Comment

December 17, 2006

Lee @ 12:47 pm #

Great biceps variation (one and a half method), Tom. I’ll not only give it a whirl myself; I’ll use this in the exercise classes I lead, smiling with glee as I just know they won’t be able to use their arms the next day!

December 18, 2006

Jordan @ 1:41 pm #

This is a really neat idea, stretching or contracting the bicep. With in-front of body, do you think you’d be able to handle more weight than having arms behind body for curls?

December 20, 2006

Marc David @ 11:01 pm #

I’m one of those typical “I don’t get sore!” on biceps days.
The last time I was sore after doing biceps was 16+ years ago when I first picked up a weight.
Since then, I can honestly say no matter what my workouts have been (reps, sets, tempo) they don’t feel it the next day. I gained plenty of size and strength thru the years and I’m a firm believer that…
Soreness is not an indicator of progress.
But it feels so good to hurt ever so often.
Then I tried your nutty workout and amen brother!
I’m not lying when I say it’s been 24 hours and I can feel soreness in the deepest part of my biceps that I haven’t felt for over 16 years.
Those exercises and combinations seem to hit the belly of the bicep like no other combination.
The peak contractions at the top followed by the intense stretching at the bottoms of the incline dumbbell curls were insane.
Thanks for introducing me to yet another electrifying combination of curls, peaks and contractions. I’ve never hurt so good! :-O

September 7, 2012

Lucas Ebert @ 5:07 pm #

I tried this yesterday and you aren’t joking. This was a big boy arm blaster supreme. Followed it up with some tris and I was kaput! Thanks Tom!

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