Biceps Workout: The 5-10-20 Protocol

Build Big Arms Like This

Got hard-to-grow biceps? Use the clever and challenging 5-10-20 protocol in your next biceps workout and try not to cry.

The 5-10-20 Biceps Workout

This hypertrophy protocol requires you to do three specific types of exercises back-to-back, using 5, 10, and then 20 reps in that order.

All three exercises are beneficial on their own, but combining them in one sadistic set multiplies their effect. The 5/10/20 protocol works by exposing you to a variety of muscle-building stimuli at once.

Basically, it looks like this:

  • Do a heavy, multi-joint exercise that hits the biceps (5 reps).
  • Now do a moderate-weight isolation exercise for biceps (10 reps).
  • Finally, grab a resistance band for one final biceps exercise (20 reps).

There are many exercises to choose from, but here’s an example.

Sample 5-10-20 Biceps Workout

  • A1. Overhand Narrow-Grip Inverted Row
    5 reps with a 4-second eccentric, rest 10-30 seconds.
  • A2. Zottman Curl
    10 reps with a normal lifting speed, rest 10-30 seconds.
  • A3. Overhand Band Bicep Curl
    20 reps squeezing hard, 2 minutes rest.

Do 2-4 total sets.

The Details

Step 1

Start with a heavy, multi-joint exercise for 5 reps, taking 5 seconds to complete each rep. Take 4 seconds to lower and 1 second to lift (a 4-second eccentric with a regular concentric lifting speed).

Although you’ll be using a relatively heavy multi-joint movement, you’ll still want to maximize biceps recruitment, as opposed to your back. For that reason, narrow-grip rows and pull-ups tend to work best. Just actively squeeze your arms throughout each rep.

To get a sufficient muscle-building effect, perform each rep a little slower than you might normally, taking about 25 seconds to complete your set of 5.

Step 2

After a 10-30 second rest, move to a moderate-weight exercise with more isolation for a set of 10 reps.

Dumbbell curl variations work particularly well. Use a regular lifting speed (2 seconds to lower with 1 second to lift), and try to select a grip that corresponds to what you did on your previous exercise. If you used an underhand grip on your multi-joint exercise, then use an underhand grip here too.

An overhand grip should pair with an overhand grip curl, and a hammer (neutral) grip with a hammer-grip curl. The grip you start off with will be determined by the areas of your upper arms you’re trying to target the most.

Step 3

After resting 10-30 seconds, transition to a set of resistance band biceps curls.

The band resistance should be strong enough so your final 20 reps are challenging. Since you’ve lifted heavier in the previous exercises, you’ll get a little potentiation effect here (the band will feel light at the start), but the reps will quickly catch up on you by the end. Again, try to use a grip that matches your previous exercises.

That’s one set completed. Take about 2 minutes off to check out your biceps swoliosis, then repeat for 2-4 total sets.

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It is VERY similar to this protocol…

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Similar yes, but I do like the idea of reducing the reps slightly as Gareth has done with regards to trying to maximize both mechanical tension & metabolic stress while keeping muscle damage at bay (too much muscle damage can negatively impact hypertrophic response.)


Couldn’t have said it better!

(Either that or I just prefer counting in multiples of 5😂).


Applied this method to the glutes/hammies:

1 - RDL with a 4-sec eccentric.
2 - Barbell Glute Bridge with a 2 sec isometric squeeze at the top.
3 - Bodyweight Hip Thrust.


I have to throw out a warning on this type of volume to older lifters. I started weight training for the first time about 4 years ago. I’m 55 now. Last year I started hitting most of my strength “goals” and started thinking about hypertrophy for the first time. Taking a look at my body without really “trying” my traps, shoulders, and strangely calves have gotten much larger and more defined over the past 4 years even at 55. However my biceps had not seemed to have grown at all. I started doing some focused bicep work similar to the protocol described above and quickly got tendonitis. Fast forward about 10 months I’m starting to see some growth and definition but anytime I try to add a lot of “drop sets” to my bicep training even with bands or a cable machine the tendonitis comes on strong. I have found that frequency and consistency has worked best, volume (especially with multiple drop sets) seems to always lead to tendonitis. Today I do some sort of bicep work three days a week. 3 - 5 sets, no more than 12 reps per set. I only program drop sets one of the three days. I tried a lot of different bicep exercises but I think I am getting the most hypertrophy from chinups, cable curls with a bar, and strict “heavy” barbell curls with a straight bar. Avoid the “itis” at all costs!

That sounds horrible! I like it!!

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