No matter what your goals are in the gym, a dream for most trainees is having big, well-shaped arms.Everybody strives for the solid feeling of a peaky, bulgy biceps and a horseshoe triceps musculature.
Well, we haven’t yet found the magical pill, that will eliminate the need of busting your butt in the gym to get to that goal, but, we will give you a couple of practical advice, as well as our arm blaster routine which you can use to your advantage in the gym.
Of course, odds are you won’t be the next Arnold Schwarzenegger, but using these simple tips, tricks and exercises will definitely have a positive effect on your musculature and overall strength.
#1 Bulk Up!
This one might be obvious, but let’s break down the process of gaining serious mass
There are three very simple requirements for the growth of any muscle group
- Progressive overload- New stress for the musculature
- Positive caloric intake- Carbohydrate dominant with enough protein
- Adequate recovery times
Why Is Progressive Overload Important?
Progressive overload is the simplest, most basic concept of muscle growth.The idea behind progressive overload is exposing the musculature to new, previously inexperienced stress.
Once exposed to this new stress, which might be induced by increasing certain parameters of our workout (Intensity, volume or density), our musculature adapts to this so-called “irritant”.
One thing to point out here would be the fact that muscle growth is best achieved through heavy, heavy lifting.
Intense, short-burst movements in the 10-20 second range are proven to have the biggest impact on muscle growth.Take a look at a sprinter. Sprinters would be the prime example of an aesthetic physique, achieved through intense movements.
Now take a look at a marathon runner and compare him to the sprinter.
The physiques are nothing alike. The marathon runner’s muscle definition is barely visible.
The overall shape is pretty skinny, compared to the toned-up, aesthetic and athletic physique of the sprinter.
How To Apply The Progressive Overload Principle?
As we said, progressively overloading (causing new stress) is done by increasing one of the three parameters of the training load.
This means going up in weight, increasing this parameter will be most beneficial for muscle gain, if you’re not reaching the extremes.
70~85% of your one repetition maximum, in the 6-8 rep range will be good enough to make the muscles grow.
While increasing intensity, you may find yourself in a situation where you switch to a power-lifter-like routine, in which you complete heavy lifts for 1-2 to 3-4 repetitions max.
If your goal is muscle growth and aesthetics, the preferred rep range would be 6 to 12 reps.
An important thing to know is that increasing the intensity, as we said, may lead to lower volume.
Example- 150 kg bench press in one set of two reps= 300 kg volume (150kg x 2 reps) while 100 kg bench press in one set of 10 reps would have a total volume of 1000 kilogram.
So, in essence, try to find the balance between intensity and volume and stick to a 70-85% of your maximum in 6 or more reps.
To boost up the density of the workout, you simply need to reduce rest times. The density is the volume of the workout, referred to the time that you would need to go through this volume.
Usually, increasing the density is not the best option for muscle growth, but it’s one of the key factors during fat-shredding phase training.
As a conclusion to density, we can say that instead of reducing rest times, you can try and find your perfect recovery window in between the sets, so that you can complete your heavy lift with a still-warm musculature.
After heavy lifts and movements, our musculature cannot adapt to the new stress by hyper-recovering the energetic substances in the muscles, and therefore, increase in the volume of the muscle fibers is achieved.
The energetic substances in our muscles (glycogen) are only partially recovered after a workout, but are also an important part during the workout itself.
The muscle glycogen is the muscles’ fuel for heavy, intense workouts and skin-bursting pumps, and this is where we reach our second requirement for potent muscle gains.
One of the main rules of nutrition when it comes to bulking up is the so-called “Caloric surplus”
To create this surplus, you simply need to consume more calories than you burn daily.
This number of calories burned daily, we call “Total Daily Energy Expenditure” (TDEE – the number of calories your body requires to MAINTAIN its body-weight) depends on your gender, age, height, weight, daily routine and current levels of physical activity.
You don’t really need to weigh every bit of food, but it would be a good idea to calculate your TDEE to get an idea of how many calories you would need to maintain your weight, and after that add some more food to create the desired surplus.
So Why Is Carbohydrate Dominance Important?
As we said earlier in this article, the glycogen, which is obtained during the metabolism of carbohydrates, is the muscles’ fuel for heavy workouts.
Going into each intense workout session, you will need to load up on carbohydrates, to achieve optimal muscle function during the workout itself.
Remember- Optimal, intense workouts are close to impossible without an adequate carbohydrate intake
It’s like a road trip- You prepare beforehand by packing trip food and loading up your vehicle with gas, so you can endure the whole trip.
Best carbohydrate sources
- Plant products
- Whole grains
The Importance Of Protein
Besides having enough fuel (glycogen) for a heavy arm workout, you will need to adequately recover the damaged muscle structures afterwards.
An easy way to do that is consuming natural, foods rich in protein with high biological value (the biological value of the protein rich foods, determines what percentage of the total protein will be used by the body to recover damaged structures).
Among the protein rich foods with highest biological value are
- Dairy products
- Plant products
#3 Focus On The Basics
Of course, concentration curls and skull crushers are nice, but you need to acknowledge the fact that your arms are involved as synergists and stabilizers in many different exercises for other muscle groups.
Chest movements- triceps and shoulders involved
Back movements- Biceps and forearms involved
Shoulders movements- Triceps secondarily involved
So… Do you think you will still have spaghetti arms and a flat chest after reaching the point where you can bench 120 kilograms for reps? Think again.
Being able to push that much weight for more than 5 repetitions will definitely buff up your triceps muscles.
The same goes for another basic exercise, namely dead-lifts. If you get to a solid number, the development in the forearm department will be noticeable, and trust us on this one, having a bigger forearm really gives the illusion of a bulkier, bigger arm.
So, focus on compound movements that involve more than one muscle group- These are the exact exercises where you can reach high levels of intensity, compared to isolated exercises where you use just one muscle group to overcome the heavy load, and therefore, significant weight increase cannot be achieved.
Basic, Compound Movements That Target The Triceps Musculature
- Flat/incline bench press
- Dips (head down)
- Dumbbell shoulder presses
- Close grip barbell flat bench press
- Parallel bar dips (head up)
- Bench triceps dips
Basic, Compound Movements That Target The Biceps And Forearm Musculature
- Pull ups
- Lat pull downs
- Rowing movements
- Straight bar curls
- Preacher curls
This doesn’t mean you should neglect your isolated arm movements like cable curls, skull crushers and behind the head triceps extensions, but next time you think of skipping dead-lifts just to sneak in those extra few sets of curls, think of which one would be actually more beneficial.
#4 Keep Constant Tension
This is probably one of the most important rules, that will help your arms (and not only) grow.
The constant tension principle is no magic, but simply expresses how long the muscle stays under tension during an exercise.
The whole concept is to just avoid any distractions, that will make you simply go through the movement without paying close attention to how the muscle actually works while you are lifting the weight.
Feel your biceps while curling, and your triceps while dipping on a bench.
Establish that important mind-muscle connection, that will make you feel every bit of muscle fibers working to endure the weight.
#5 Find Your Balance And Diversify The Workouts
If you don’t train your arms – They won’t grow.
If you train your arms too often, guess what- They won’t grow significantly.
Find your golden environment, or the so-called “training balance” and don’t reach the extremes.
The human body is highly adaptive, which imposes the need of diversity in our day-to-day workouts.
It’s not just about increasing the basic training parameters (intensity, volume, density) or changing the exercises, but rather bringing creativity into the workout itself and listening to your body.
Once you find something that works for you- Use it! Abuse it!
If it ain’t broken- Don’t fix it. If this stopped working, well, then adjust it a little bit more to give your body a new challenge, that it will adapt to through muscle growth.
It’s all about the exposure to new stress, that your body needs to adapt.
It doesn’t matter if it’s arms, chest, back or legs, the muscle growth principles are one and the same.
#6 Apply The “Torturing Principles”
You are in the middle of a heavy machine preacher curl set.. Five reps, fatigue increases. Sixth repetition, you’re on the verge of failing- You almost missed this rep. Seventh repetition- You successfully reached failure (paradox) and were only able to complete half of this repetition.
This is where you can use the ‘forced repetitions‘ principle.
This principle is based around reaching the point beyond failure, through the help of your gym buddy.
Of course, your gym buddy should spot you, but he shouldn’t be making the exercise any easier for you.
The whole point for him is to help you bust out a couple more repetitions after you have reached the point of failure, by taking you out of the dead point (and not lifting the weight for you).
Another principle, which will drive you a couple more reps beyond failure is the cheating principle.
You know, those curls that you usually consider “incorrect, poorly executed”? You see someone straight bar curling and swinging their body.. Well that is actually a training principle called ”cheating”.
Cheating simply means using inertial body movements (like swings) to overcome the dead point of a movement, after reaching failure.
So essentially, you will be using strict form for the first 6-8 repetitions until failure, after which you will use inertial movements to overcome the next 2-3 repetitions beyond failure.
Note: This principle is not viable for all exercises, and can be damaging for a lot of the fixed machine movements, and free weight exercises like squats, where you can seriously damage your knees if you bounce at the bottom, in an attempt to create inertia.
Best exercises to apply cheating with:
- Barbell/dumbbell bicep/hammer curls (for reference, search YouTube for a video of Arnold doing cheat curls)
Last but not least- Isometric training.
This type of training is done by tensing your muscle, and holding it tensed for a couple of seconds.
Flexing your arms doesn’t really require any weight, but it is highly beneficial when it comes to musculature detail and density.
Isometric contractions will also help you build that essential mind-muscle connection, that is one of the key elements of controlling the movement, whether it’s a curling or pressing exercise.
Besides these benefits, posing will let you learn how to show off those big guns.
You might have 16-inch arms, but do you really know how to make them look juicy by striking a couple of aesthetic poses that highlight your arm development?
Now of course, posing just helps you further shape up the arms, but how can you make them massive in the first place?
We’ll give you a workout routine, that will help you reach peak levels of arm development.
This particular biceps and triceps workout focuses on intensity in the first compound movements.
The amount of exercises also creates a big amount of volume, which will result in massive pumps.
However, rest times in between sets are significantly short, to keep the maximum pump going.
This is a more advanced workout, so, try to use heavier weights with sets until failure, while maintaining proper range of motion and form.
As per the rules of muscle building we gave you in the beginning of this article, this routine won’t work for you unless you take in enough calories to achieve muscle growth.
#1 Close Grip Barbell Bench Press
The exercise is done in pyramid fashion, starting from a 15-repetition light weight, warm up set, and then going all the way down to 6 heavy reps.
Warm up sets
Set 1- 15 repetitions
Set 2- 12 repetitions
Set 1- 10 repetitions
Set 2- 8 repetitions
Set 3- 6 repetitions until failure
- Load the barbell with a proper weight and lay down on the bench
- Grab the barbell at about shoulder width (close grip) and lift it up from the bench
- Puff up your chest and let the bar go down to the lower portion of the pectoral muscles, then return the barbell to its initial position, without suddenly locking out the elbows
Keep the arms closer to the body, with the elbows closed in.
Keep a moderate pace throughout the whole movement.
Avoid lifting your head off of the bench, to avoid excessive neck strain.
#2 Barbell Decline Skull Crushers
This is a great isolating movement for the triceps, that will help you achieve that bulgy, horse shoe look.
3 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions
- Lay down with your arms extended vertically, holding the bar with a close grip- Use a small barbell or a Z-bar
- Keep the upper portion of the arm at a 90-degree angle
- Let the bar down to your head, then push it up to its initial position
If you feel excessive tension in the triceps tendons or the elbow, move your upper arm to a 50-60-degree angle, so that when you let the bar down, it goes behind your head.
Don’t swing the weight and don’t lock out suddenly.
#3 One Arm Cable Extension
Another isolated movement that will help you really separate all three triceps heads. The workout transitions from heavier compound movements like close grip bench press, to isolated movements that will emphasize on shaping up the triceps.
2 sets of 15 repetitions
- Stand up straight so that you have balance
- Grab the pulley with your palm looking forward (Underhand grip)
- Push down and contract the triceps
- Return to the position at which your forearm is parallel to the ground
Don’t let the arm go all the way up, as that will place excessive tension on the triceps.
Don’t lock out the elbow suddenly, as that can lead to soft tissue and/or joint damage.
#4 Rope Push Downs (Optional)
Done with a rope on a cable, this is an isolated exercise that will again emphasize on the separation between the triceps heads.
3 sets of 12 repetitions
- Grab the rope, slightly puff your chest up and place your legs at shoulder width so that you have balance
- Push the rope down and get it back to a parallel to the ground position of the forearms- This is an essential part for all triceps cable movements, as letting the cable beyond that point may result in injury of the triceps tendons
This basic bicep exercise will help you get massive bicep peaks and an overall arm development, as it will also develop the forearm musculature.
2 sets of 12 repetitions
2 sets of 8 repetitions (heavy)
- Grab the dumbbells and open up your arms so that the palms are looking forward
- Curl both dumbbells up simultaneously, then let them all the way down, stretching your biceps
Don’t swing your arms- Keep the tension on the biceps.
While curling, supinate your wrists furthermore, if you want to target the outer head of the bicep, responsible for that desired “bicep peak”.
#2 Barbell Preacher Curl
This is a ‘peak specific’ exercise, made famous by Larry Scott.
3 sets of 10 repetitions
- Sit on the preacher and let your arms down so that your armpits are tightly placed against the edge of the preacher
- Your upper arm should be completely laying down on the preacher
- Grab the bar at shoulder width and curl it up until the point you feel optimal bicep flexion
- Let the bar completely down and get as much stretch as possible
Keep constant tension on the bicep.
Focus on a slow, controlled execution and bicep contraction.
#3 Dumbbell Hammer Curl (Standing)
This is a wonderful finishing exercise, that will target the brachialis (The muscle between the biceps and the triceps) as well as the brachioradialis (The muscle on top of your forearm).
3 sets of 15 repetitions
- Stand up straight and grab the dumbbells so that their sides point forward
- Keep your upper arm static and pull the dumbbells up, then let them down to the initial position
This is an exercise that will really help you make your arm look bigger and wider. You can contract the triceps at the bottom of the movement.
This arm workout will definitely help you get big, juicy guns, but if you solely rely on it, without getting enough food, sleep and recovery- You won’t get anywhere!
Make sure to remember that your musculature’s size cannot increase if a caloric surplus is not present.
We hope to have enlightened you with our valuable guide here, that you will be able to apply in your everyday workouts and get closer to the goal of having bigger arms.