Training

How to get bigger arms – Shocking your guns into action

By February 8, 2011 13 Comments

There’s a sh*t-load of people out there chomping at the bit for this kind of information. It’s mainly because these ‘mirror-muscles’ are so sought after on beaches all over the planet. Luckily for us, building bigger arms is an issue that’s easier to solve than most. If you asked me how to grow impressive calves, on the other hand – I wouldn’t have a goddam clue.

Best shoot Arnold an email and ask him if he remembers. Unfortunately, he’s more than likely busy out-bench-pressing the residents at the old-folks home.

Let’s get one thing straight – If you walk into the gym on ‘arm’ day and decide to work ONLY arms, I may have to slap you in the face with Oprah Winfrey’s sweat towel

Unless you’re a professional bodybuilder, you won’t need a whole training session dedicated to your tiny little arms. Despite what you’d like to think, the biceps and triceps are relatively small muscles and don’t require quite the direct work that your chest, back and legs do.

That’s right – LEGS goddamnit! Go and train them – You shouldn’t be able to bench more than you can squat!

Anyways, where was I, oh that’s right – epic arms

When it comes to arms, you gotta keep it simple and really FEEL each repetition. Connect your mind with the muscle you’re trying to work. Can you feel the triceps burning as you complete that set of a thousand close-grip bench-presses? If not, check your form – you’re probably trying to lift more than you’re capable of (therefore recruiting other larger muscle groups to take on the bulk of the load).

On dumbbell curls for example…

  • Don’t swing the weights nor use your body’s momentum
  • Grip the weights as tight as you can. This will recruit more motor units in your biceps.
  • ‘Squeeze’ the muscle at the top of each movement as you contract.
  • Slowly lower the weight on each rep to maintain full muscle-fiber recruitment.

What rep range should I work in for more impressive arms?

There is no right rep range for any one person ALL of the time. You’ll never be working in the 6-10 range for a year and make continual gains. Not only that, the more you’ve been training, the better your mind-muscle connection is, therefore working in the heavier, 3-5 rep ranges becomes possible. Too heavy as a beginner, and you’ll be throwing your form out of whack (see above).

A common scenario…

Gym guy: So how do I grow my biceps, they appear to be lagging behind my chest?
Clint: How many weighted pull-ups can you do?
Gym guy: uhmm… well assisted I can do… 10?
Clint: Assisted? come back when you can do a single pull-up on your own, then we’ll see if you need some direct arm work.

Big arms don’t come without big ‘everything else’

The human body has a clever way of making sure you stay in proportion. That’s why you’ll never see someone walking around with a tiny frame an epic arms (unless they are the synthol man).
It’s best to concentrate on everything as a whole first, then concentrate on the arms (if they NEED it).

How often should you train arms?

Depends and depends.

I’ve seen guys not train them directly at all and been able to grow solid sets of pythons with key back exercises (like the pull-up remember?). Others require a lot more volume and can benefit from blasting them twice a week. What I’m trying to say is, don’t over think it.

Concentrate on including your arm workouts with your other major exercises and they will grow like weeds.

Pair chest with triceps

On Chest day, add your tricep exercises into the mix.

Why? When working the pecs, you’ll be indirectly working the shoulders AND the triceps, so it makes sense to further stimulate them on this day to give them a rest the next.
Tip: Every now and then, place your tricep exercises at the FRONT of your workout when they are FRESH (yes even before chest). This is a great technique for increasing strength gains.

Pair back with biceps

After you’ve finished your 5th set of pull-ups, why not grab a barbell and bust out 4-5 sets of curls to finish off your guns.

Why? Biceps are worked whenever you’re working your back.
Tip: Yes you can put them at the front of the workout (just like the triceps technique).

Variation is key

To build bigger arms, you can even pair chest with biceps and back with triceps. There’s no right or wrong here when trying to stimulate new muscle growth after a plateau. As dumb as it sounds, stubborn arms need to start ‘guessing’ again – in other words, throw something at them that they haven’t seen before.

Stuck doing the same weighted bicep curls you’ve been doing for months? How about doing them seated, and decline? Mix it up buddy.

The wrap-up

  • Train your body ‘properly’ as a whole – bigger arms don’t come without big ‘everything else’Grip the weights as tight as you can. This will recruit more motor units in your biceps.
  • Don’t use momentum to lift the weight.
  • Grip the weight as tight as you can and squeeze the muscle during each movement.
  • Slowly lower the weight (in the negative portion) for more muscle-fibre recruitment.
  • Start doing chins and pull-ups until you need to add weight. Then progressively add weight until you tear your shirt.
  • Continually mix up your volume and rep-ranges when you choose to directly target both biceps and triceps.
  • Pair arm workouts with other large body parts (no need for a separate arm day – Come back to me when you’re doing 120lb weighted pull-ups for sets of 25 and we’ll talk).
  • Vary your exercises (even weekly) to shock your arms into growing.

As I said up top, if you can’t do weighted pull-ups or chin-ups and you feel like your arms need some ‘size’, start doing them FFS! – you’ll thank me for it later when your size ‘S’ t-shirts start tearing at the seams.

Clint Nielsen

Author Clint Nielsen

Clint is a dad and husband trying to stay in shape. He's also a highly opinionated fitness enthusiast and author of Reveal The Steel. Follow him on: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Google+

More posts by Clint Nielsen

Join the discussion 13 Comments

  • Cool post, my arms are hopeless I wish I could find the secret in getting them bigger. I’ll have to look at your tips and try to make sure I’m incorporating some of those into my workout.
    Jesus that Arnold video reminds me something straight out of an 80s porn movie! … (not that I ever saw one!) LOL
    Raymond

  • Lance says:

    Nice post. Its definitely a macho thing that guys just gotta workout their arms, everyone wants those big guns so they think just pounding at their arms with dumbbell curls all day is going to make that happen

  • Clint,

    I agree that compound exercises that focus on the larger muscle groups such as chest and back are great for working smaller groups such as triceps and biceps. A friend of mine once said “you don’t need to do bicep curls unless you’re working everything else out like a wuss.”

    Alykhan

  • Joob says:

    This was a really great post – I do a lot of the things you posted here. I totally agree that one of the dumbest things I think I see guys do (or not do?) is refuse to train their lower body. It just makes no sense to me why you would want to look big on top with a puny lower body. (Not to mention most large lower body movements are how one acquires the ever sought after six-pack abs)

    Gotta confess though – I do bicep curls. In my defense though, I am 1) training for bodybuilding (hah I laughed when you mentioned that above) competitions 2) I also train my chest back and lower body.

    I’m also a female and Arnold says I need to do these things to prevent flabbiness.

    • Clint Nielsen says:

      Don’t get me wrong, curls are great for adding mass, they are just often done incorrectly, too often and without any variation.
      The pyramid man that you speak of seams to be in a lot of commercial gyms. Possible due to fear of the ‘squat’.

      Arnold is never wrong, so best take heed of his stellar advice at all times :)

  • Bryan says:

    I ought to say that I would love to get meatier biceps and triceps but I know where I fall short at. This article hits true on many accounts. I think the one thing that is hard for most guys is understanding that you need to get your body to grow as a “unit” not just one individual part. Basically, you can’t curl heavy if you have weak forearms, or if your form is weak, as you said Clint, you will incorporate other muscle groups to compensate. I will have to use that technique of squeezing the bar. Thanks!

  • I like the tips about gripping the weight tightly and slightly squeezing at the top of each rep. It’s one of those more advanced tips that I think people neglect. Obviously, the better your form, the more effective an exercise can be. In general, I think performing some basic compound exercises can help you develop the arms that you’d like.

    • Clint Nielsen says:

      Totally – gripping the bar with ‘force’ activates a lot more muscle fibres. It’s like you’re missing out on most of the benefits of your training by NOT doing it.

  • You know, it never occurred to me to actually mix up what muscle groups I exercise on what days. I usually mix up what exercise per muscle section, but when planning my workout, I never even gave a second thought that I didn’t HAVE to do biceps and triceps together on the same day. haha It might sound ridiculous, but I guess when I get into a rut, my mind follows. I’ll definitely be making a change now. Thanks!

    Kyle

    • Clint Nielsen says:

      Nice one Kyle. I get bored easily and mix my regimen up even on a weekly basis. I can’t remember the last time i dedicated a day just to arms though :)

  • Kevin says:

    I’m with ya on this one Clint. I have pretty decent arms (nothing amazing or anything) but I find that “arm day” usually consists of 1 or 2 exercises for each biceps and for triceps … certainly not an entire “day” devoted to them. After chest and shoulders your triceps get a pretty decent beating.

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