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If your biceps are never sore after working out you may be wondering if you’re training them right – the truth is that soreness IS NOT an accurate barometer of how good a workout has been. Here’s why you MIGHT not have sore arms, and – if you must – how to get them:
At a glance…
- Sore arms are not an accurate indicator of training efficiency
- Instead focus on progress your long term strength and size goals
- Biceps are a small muscle group and recover from training rapidly
- DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness – tends to be triggered by novel training
- It can therefore be triggered by trying new things – exercises, rep schemes, rest times and training frequency
- Don’t overthink muscle soreness after working out – if you are progressively lifting more weight or getting more reps you are probably heading in the right direction!
Don’t worry: soreness does NOT equal growth
Soreness after working out is usually known as DOMs – or delayed onset muscle soreness. There are various theories on what causes DOMs, but in essence it is typically associated with a novel – meaning unusual or new – stimulus that our body has not yet adapted to.
DOMs is not associated with or an indication of growth or an effective workout. In fact soreness after a workout can be BAD for some people – it can be really debilitating and prevent some from getting back int he gym for a day or two!
Soreness is triggered by novel stimulus – or doing something DIFFERENT to usual. That means if you usually squat a set of 5 reps then you MAY get DOMs from moving to sets of 12, or doing front squats, or doing them at a tempo, or even from simply reducing rest periods.
All of these variables contribute to the overall stimulation a workout has on our bodies and will affect our growth and recovery in different ways.
So if you never get sore biceps it is very possibly because you are following a routine your body is familiar with – similar movement, similar reps, similar sets, similar tempo and similar rep range!
That is not to say this is BAD – remember soreness does NOT equal growth or progress – BUT if you want pain you will need to mix up your game!
Just give it to me: How to GET sore biceps!
Training biceps is high on all of our agendas – and sometimes a bit of soreness after training can add to the satisfaction, even if it doesn’t REALLY mean anything. If you are hell bent on getting sore arms after training here are a few variables to adjust:
1. Exercise or range of motion
The first place to start is to mix up the movement you are performing. If you do barbell curls regularly try one armed concentration dumbbell curls or spider curls. Even throw in some 21’s to vary the range of motion and types of stress we are putting on the muscles.
The subtle change in movement will be more likely to trigger tenderness in your arms after training.
Personally I am enjoying dumbbell spider curls just now done with a 45 degree incline bench, as well as straight barbell curls with relatively low rest between sets (more on this later)
Of course with bicep training there is a limit to the variability just due to the range of motion the muscle has – so it’s good to play with the other variables too…
A quick word on form – biceps are SUPER easy to cheap out on when training. A slight swing in your body can remove a huge amount of work from your biceps at the top or bottom of the rep.
Some cheating can be helpful – if deliberate and understood. For most of us it’s probably not a great thing to be doing.
Try to keep your body still and isolate the arm muscle if you are struggling – for example by doing spider curls on a 45 degree bench or leaning your back against a rack upright.
(Just don’t curl in the rack… 😉 )
3. Training frequency
The second place to tinker with your workout would be training frequency. Smaller muscle groups such as biceps and triceps tend to revere from training quicker than larger ones (such as glutes) and can be trained effectively more frequently as a result. This also contributes to the lack of soreness – they are simply healing quicker.
With that said the impact on SORENESS may actually be counter intuitive… I would argue bicep hypertrophy and strength benefit from more regular training, BUT soreness may be higher if you train them infrequently.
Soak on that one – I doubt you want to train biceps LESS just to get some soreness, but it is an option!
4. Heavy vs light weights
Training focus can also impact soreness – the old strength vs hypertrophy debate. If you typically hit your biceps with high rep, hypertrophy focused work then try cycle in some strength moves as well.
The change in focus will trigger a different response – and possibly some soreness…!
5. Sets and reps
Following closely on from heavy vs light is set and rep schemes. If your biceps are never sore and you’ve tried the above tweaks, then simply try and throw MORE at them – more sets, more reps.
Try different schemes out to get a different stimulus – if you usually do 3 sets why not try 4?
6. Total training volumes
In this context I am speaking about TOTAL REPS performed – the weight itself has no bearing on this particular variable.
Building from the prior sections you can likely trigger soreness in your arms by throwing increasing volume at them – simply doing more reps!
Use the sheer NUMBER of repetitions performed over the week as the novel stimulus.
How you split these reps up over the different movements, number of sets and the training week itself will be influenced by the other sections here.
Tempo is the pace you perform the rep over – try SLOWING it down and really concentrate on a squeeze in the bicep at the top of each repetition. This is a sure fire way to hit your muscles differently and trigger some DOMs!
Slow eccentric motion when curling (the lowering downwards) can really supercharge the pain!
8. Mind-muscle connection
When curling try and concentrate on the SQUEEZE at the top of each rep. You should fell an almost cramp like tightness. If you do this for each rep you will build a strong connection between your mind and the muscle, and stand a good chance of getting an awesome pump (and some soreness to boot!) If you are not feeling it in your bicep when curling then THIS is the place to start adjusting your approach!
9. Rest times & dropsets
Another way to crush your biceps is to reduce rest between sets. This means we are hitting our subsequent sets before we are fully recovered and it challenges the muscles in a different way than when we curl fully rested!
A neat way to keep the reps and volume high while reducing rest is to perform drop sets – for each subsequent set use a lighter weight each time. This will negate the lack of rest to an extent and let you hit comparatively more reps than if you were to keep the weight consistent.
Hopefully this explains that there is no need to worry if your biceps are never sore after working out. Instead of worrying about it try to focus on your progress over the medium term towards your goals – be it strength (weight lifted) or size (arm circumference). Soreness is not a good indicator of progress and aiming for discomfort or even biceps that feel painful after a workout CAN be prohibitive to your long term goals if you can’t get back the gym as quickly afterwards!