“My best curl actually was on the smaller olympic bar, I curled three 45’s and a 5″, says Lee Priest.
I was filming Lee and his then training partner, Ed Brown at Golds Gym in Austin, Texas in 2006. Lee was talking to Scott Peckham, former husband of Monica Brant, as Lee and Ed trained shoulders. Lee curled the weight for four reps. He goes on to say that Eddie Giuliani of World Gym has got photos of it. Lee says he’s just about to lift the weight when Eddie taps Lee on the back and says, “Lee, don’t get hurt.”
“The bar I think was a 35lb bar, the smaller one”, Lee says as he rubs his eyes. Scott Peckham interrupts to make sure he heard Lee right and says “You did 3 (plates) on each side?”
Lee nods his head and says “And a 5 (five pound plate).” Lee then goes on to say that for 4 months after he couldn’t curl due to a strained muscle or tendon in his right forearm.
Ed asks Lee if he used a straight bar to which Lee says yes. Next Lee asks us if we know a guy named Steve Strong who used to be a wrestler. He says Steve keeps a photo of it in his gym bag.
When I add up six 45lb plates, two 5lb plates and a 35lb bar, I get 315lbs. And Lee did it for 4 reps in 1997 while only a few weeks from a contest. He says he was using wrist straps as an accessory. OK, so Lee just curled 315 pounds for four reps. Do you realize that that is more than most of us will ever bench press? A lot of you will say it’s because of steroids, etc I’ve seen Lee train many times both off season and pre contest and I can tell you that he trains with ferocity, with volume and with an unmatched focus when it’s pre contest. I did a little searching around and found an article from 1997 (a forum post actually) that does a good job of summing up Lee’s arm training without the aid of some mystery writer.
Here it is:
10 Commandments Of Biceps Training
I. VOLUME Almost no one trains with enough sets. Every body part must be beaten into senseless submission by set after relentless set, until the last synapse sputters and dies. You’ll never reach that point if you’ve been sold that bill of goods called overtraining. There’s no such thing. Overtraining was invented by wimps to camouflage their inability to train hard. They say, “Because it’s a small muscle group, never do more than nine sets.”
To me, that’s not training your biceps. Even with 20 sets, you’re not shocking them, only training them. A legitimate advanced shock workout not only constitutes at least 20 sets, but all of them must be working sets, each one to failure. Don’t count any warm-up sets, regardless of the pump you get.
No exercise technique activates more muscle fibers or pumps more blood into the muscle group than do supersets; since no bodypart is more responsive to this type of concentrated attack than are biceps, I incorporate supersets into every biceps workout. Doing so, however, carries with it a great responsibility: Supersets are a powerful weapon and must not be used indiscriminately. They have their time and place, so heed the following caveats.
Do not use supersets for every biceps exercise. Use them for the last full working sets in your workout.
Barbell curls should not be used for supersets. As a compound movement, they exact too much energy and do not activate enough fibers to produce the proper superset burn, which is more of a searing than an exploding sensation.
Do not superset biceps exercises with each other. The purpose of supersets is to beat a bodypart into submission by destroying the most remote muscle fibers, so begin each set with as much energy reserve as you can muster. You need maximum strength to reach maximum fatigue. The ideal bodypart superset companion I’ve found for preserving biceps energy is triceps. The two are almost equal in strength, yet directly antagonistic, allowing each other plenty of time for recovery while waiting their turn. Using supersets for only the last heavy exercise in my biceps workout provides a transition into my triceps workout.
To superset a biceps exercise with a triceps exercise, I try to combine movements of equivalent effort, such as dumbbell preacher curls with one-arm dumbbell extensions or seated alternate dumbbell curls with standing French curls.
The only biceps exercises that should be superset are dumbbell curls, preacher curls, seated barbell curls and cable curls. Freestanding barbell curls are too heavy, concentration curls are too light and machines are too isolated to produce a comprehensive burn.
Pyramid your sets, but take each one to failure, regardless of the amount of weight you’re using or the reps you’re getting. Only by failure can you ensure that the fundamental principle of universal destruction is being satisfied.
IV. LOW REPS
Count only those sets for which you reach failure in the six- to eight-rep range. If you do more than eight reps, you are depleting the rest of your body aerobically before your biceps are fully fatigued anaerobically; if you cannot reach six reps, it’s a good indication that your biceps muscles are not being fatigued before ancillary muscles take over the movement.
If we assume that maximum strength should be allocated to the heaviest exercise, it then follows that every workout should begin with barbell curls. Your body, however, has the ability to adapt to any movement with such subtlety that you will be unaware that ancillary muscles have wrested some of the work from your biceps. By starting with a different exercise each time, those ancillary muscles do not have a chance to adapt and your biceps muscles are forced to do all of the work. If you start, for example, with preacher curls or alternate dumbbell curls instead of barbell curls, you won’t be using as much weight, but the exercise will be more effective, because your biceps will have completed the task before the rest of your body figures out how to help.
VI. BICEPS WITH TRICEPS
Do not train biceps with any other bodypart except triceps. This advice is similar to the caveat in the second commandment against supersetting biceps exercises with each other, except that here it’s in the context of the entire body. If you train chest with biceps, as many bodybuilders do, your chest workout depletes energy from your biceps workout, so even though you think you’re giving your biceps 100%, they’re getting only 80%. You’ll realize a better shock if you train only one bodypart a day; in this case, arms. The first exercise can then be hit with full power, and you’ll still have enough energy to control your movements on the remainder without cheating.
VII. DUMBBELL CURLS
What qualifies dumbbell curls as ideal for a biceps shock is that they are usually alternated, allowing each arm more recuperation time, not only between reps but between supersets as well. Consequently, dumbbells enable you to handle poundages as heavy or nearly as heavy as with straight sets.
Concentration curls are an exception — they’re too isolated and light to be effective as a mass builder or as a superset component for a shock. I employ them solely as a warm-up, but add something extra: a slow supination and peak contraction with every rep, which generates such an intense pump that I often keep it going with five pyramid sets of six to eight, the same as for my other biceps exercises. Effectively, it’s a full-blown working exercise, but I still don’t count it.
VIII. PREACHER CURLS
Always include preacher curls of some sort in every biceps workout. A preacher bench provides a combination of power and isolation that cannot be equaled by any other position. With the elbow braced, it’s a power exercise but, since the shoulders are also braced, it’s an isolation exercise. I also use it at two different angles. With the pad at an incline, I can pull back with my body to apply more leverage power. With the pad vertical (in the “spider” position), so that my arms are straight downward, my body ballast is neutralized and I’m forced to use more isolation.
Preacher curls should be performed with one arm with a dumbbell, as well as with two arms with a barbell or cambered bar. A dumbbell allows you to supinate or hammer the movement, so you can target specific areas of your biceps. A bar fixes your hands in a position that keeps all of the stress in the belly of the biceps, so you cannot rotate away from the burn as it develops.
IX. BARBELL CURLS
Just because I advised you earlier to never use barbell curls for supersets doesn’t mean you should never use them at all. Quite the contrary, no biceps mass-building program should be without them, or cambered-bar curls, if you prefer. Every muscle-group workout needs at least one free-weight compound exercise to force all of the muscles in the group to exert maximum strength in a combined effort.
In no other way can maximum mass be distributed throughout the bodypart and its ancillaries. Hardly a biceps workout passes that I don’t include five straight sets of barbell curls, the first set for eight reps to failure and the last set for six reps to failure, every one as heavy as possible but not wasted. This is the prototypical size builder, but I never cheat with it. My biceps do all the work.
In contrast, I often finish a biceps workout with partial-rep barbell curls at about 70% of my maximum barbell curl poundage. This is a highly unorthodox movement, but it enables me to leave the gym with my biceps feeling as though Cujo got hold of them.
To restrict my partial reps to a small arc, I sit on a bench and I make sure never to lower the bar so far that it touches my thighs. I close my eyes, start pumping and don’t stop until I hear my own death rattles.
Lee Priest’s Training Splits
Day 1: Legs
Day 2: Back
Day 3: Chest
Day 4: Shoulders
Day 5: Arms
Day 6: Rest
Priest’s Biceps Shock Workouts
Concentration curls: 3 sets, 10-12 reps
Barbell curls : 3 sets, 10-12 reps
Alternate dumbbell curls: 3 sets, 10-12 reps
Barbell preacher curls: 3 sets, 10-12 reps
Dumbbell preacher curls: 3 sets, 10-12 reps
Concentration curls: 4 sets, 6-8 reps
Cambered-bar curls: 4 sets, 6-8 reps
Dumbbell preacher curls: 4 sets, 6-8 reps
Seated alternate dumbbell curls: 4 sets, 6-8 reps
superset with Standing French curls: 4 sets, 6-8 reps
Seated cambered-bar curls: 4 sets, 6-8 reps
Concentration curls : 5 sets, 6-8 reps
Standing cambered-bar curls: 5 sets, 6-8 reps
Cambered-bar preacher curls: 5 sets, 6-8 reps
Dumbbell preacher curls: 5 sets, 6-8 reps
Seated alternate dumbbell curls: 5 sets, 6-8 reps
superset with Standing French curls: 5 sets, 6-8 reps
Seated cambered-bar curls: 5 sets, 6-8 reps
To get the most out of any biceps curl, keep the movement tight during the extension, slowing the pace the lower you go. Do not extend all the way: If you straighten your arm under stress, you increase the risk of snapping your biceps or developing tendinitis in your elbow. Put your mind into your biceps during the contraction, then get a good peaking squeeze at the top. By all means, forget about the poundage you’re using.
If it feels good, try more, but if it doesn’t feel good, try progressively lighter weights, until you find one that gives you the best pump. Don’t wait for an injury to teach you to grow up and do it right. Too many bodybuilders worry about others watching the weight they’re using. I’m sure many people have said, “Look, there’s Lee. He acts as if he’s in pain, but the weights he’s using are light.” I couldn’t care less. I’m not there to impress anyone; I’m there to train for myself.
I don’t know about the beginners routine that this author writes – it looks like too much volume to me. I can tell you though that people like Lee Priest do not get to the top of the mountain by performing any old routine in the gym. Yes, he’s genetically gifted. So are a lot of people who never touch a weight. You have to have desire, drive, focus, determination, an amazing work ethic and you have to be smart enough to keep things fresh. Lee trained hard and heavy in the off season but he wasn’t as focused, liked to joke and have fun. You can learn a lot from people who have done what you want to do. By being at this website and reading this article, you’re more educated on what it takes to become the best.