Toned/Not Bulky: The Secret to the Toned Biceps of Your Dreams

It’s no surprise the first thing a client often asks me is, “how can I tone my arms”?  After all, these are one of those vanity muscles that our eyes conveniently gravitate to when we’re wearing something that shows them off.  A nice, lean, strong set of biceps would give the impression of health, fitness, and wellness.  It makes sense both men and women alike are striving to improve this area of their bodies.

With that said, I first and foremost give anyone the same spiel who comes to me asking about getting “toned”.  As I’ll say until I’m blue in the face, getting “toned” is simply the act of removing excess body fat that’s covering your muscle.  This is accomplished through cardio.  Often times lots of it if you have lots of fat to burn through.  This is what toning means.

Now, I know that’s not why you came here today.  You didn’t come here to have me tell you to go to tons of cardio and then come back to me.  So, I’ll entertain your wishes and make one big assumption. I’m going to assume you’re already of sufficient body fat percentage, so any muscle gains will be apparent and you will start to develop those “toned” biceps.  If you follow all of the advice in this article today and still don’t see those toned biceps, revert back to my first piece of advice found in paragraph two.

Toned/Not Bulky

So the second big concern my lady clients and readers often have, is with bulk.  Some will swear they’ve gotten bulky lifting weights in the past.  Others will swear bulk just accumulates the second they do any kind of compound lifting.  To these people, I say one thing.  Quit your day job.  Get into fitness coaching 100%, because you’ve unlocked a secret that thousands of professional body builders around the world have been looking for.  Start training all these hardcore muscleheads in your techniques for adding excess muscle mass.

Can you detect my sarcasm?

Bottomline, adding bulk is a serious combination of excess calories and lifting huge weights.  Odds are, whatever “bulk” you’ve added is something only you’re seeing.

Nonetheless, there is still a difference between a bicep with increased muscle mass and a long, shapely bicep.  My goal today is help you develop the latter.

Stretch + Lift for Toned Biceps

One of the most neglected aspects of lifting, is arguably the most important part; stretching.  You want long, lean, and toned biceps, right?  You’re not looking for short, compact muscles?  I thought so.  That means, you stretch.  When you stretch your bicep, or any muscle for that matter, you lengthen the body of the muscle.  You also loosen the fascia covering the muscle, giving the muscle more room to grow.

I’m sure you’ve seen the ladies walking out of the yoga studio at some point in your life.  By looks alone, you can tell who is the die-hard yogi and who’s just starting up.  The dedicated ladies almost exclusively have long, lean, muscles.  They look limber, fit, and toned. Go figure.

I’m not saying you need to get into yoga to look like a yogi…you just need to stretch like one. So for the biceps, we’re going to add four stretches AFTER our workouts.  Remember this, it’s always after, never before.

  • Overhead biceps stretch.  Grab a bar, door frame, something stationary overhead.  Extend your elbows so your arms are straight.  Shift your weight forward will keeping your arms straight.  Hands are slightly behind your head in the vertical plane.  Feel this stretch in your biceps as you continue to hold for 30 seconds.
  • Hanging biceps stretch.  Grab onto a pull up bar or anything else that will support your weight.  With an overhead grip, get your feet off the ground and simply hang with straight arms.  Hold as long as you can.
  • Fingers back bicep stretch.  Stretching one arm at a time, extend your arm out in front of you.  Turn your palm to the ceiling.  With the other hand, pull your fingers back, feeling the stretch throughout your forearm and lower bicep.  Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Flat bench bicep stretch.  Lay down on your back on a flat bench.  Holding a dumbbell of sufficient weight in each hand, extend your arms off to the side as if you were about to do a lying bicep curl.  Instead of curling, simply hold the weight, allowing gravity to pull the weight down and give your bicep a nice stretch.  Hold for 30 seconds.

Perform each of the stretches for 2-3 sets each.

Remember, perform these stretches after your bicep workout to get the most benefit.

Of course, stretching your muscle alone isn’t going to create the toned biceps you’re looking for.  We’re going to have to add a little muscle to get this party started.

There are a few exercises I absolutely recommend to anyone trying to add a little muscle mass to their arms.  I’m prescribing one compound exercise (which hits your back as well), along with two isolation exercises to target the biceps directly. Perform these exercises 2-3 times a week for maximum bicep building benefits.

  • Seated Row
  • Barbell Preacher Curls
  • Hammer Curls

Perform each exercise 8-10 reps for 3-4 sets.  One key thing to remember, you’re not going to fatigue the muscle using light weight solely.  And remember, you want toned arms right?  That means you’re going to want to fatigue the muscle.   Go for a weight that causes you to really struggle on the last rep or two.

Of course, feel free to mix things up.  After sticking with this routine for a little while, drop the weight and shoot for 16-20 reps with 2-3 sets for a little while.  The key is to keep things fresh and never allow your body to adapt to the stressors you place upon it.  You do this, and a nice, shapely, set of toned biceps are in your future.

If you’ve got any questions, comments, or complaints, leave ’em below and I’ll happily get back to you.  Happy lifting!