The weekend is here and that can only mean two things for the young adult male population – schmedium t-shirts and late-night attempts to impress the ladies. I haven’t looked at the data regarding the correlation between small shirts, big arms and attention from the opposite sex, but anecdotal evidence says that guys think girls enjoy complimentary tickets to the gun show.
Sure, it sounds vain, but there ain’t nothin’ wrong with wanting bigger arms. Bulging biceps and horseshoe triceps command respect from just about anyone. Hell, you could even call big arms “functional” – they’ll help lock out a bench press, hold on to the bar during a heavy deadlift, knock out a few extra chin-ups and even keep your shoulders and elbows healthy. You show me a guy who never works his arms and I’ll show you a guy who’s gonna run into elbow or shoulder pain somewhere down the line.
If you’re going to the gym today and not planning on knocking out a few extra sets of bi’s and tri’s, you’re probably lying. You’re gonna do it anyways, so here are a few quick ways to put some extra size on your arms.
Super-sets are one of the best ways to improve training efficiency. You do one exercise, followed immediately by another exercise, rest and repeat. You get more work done in less time. Brilliant.
Typically, smart people use what are called “non-competing” super-sets, which means they do exercises for opposing muscle groups back-to-back so one exercise doesn’t interfere for the other. Some examples would be:
- Bench press and rows
- Lunges and hamstring curls
- Biceps curls and triceps extensions
But when you’re training your arms, one of the best ways to spark growth is to get as big a pump as possible. Super-setting exercises that work the same muscle is a great way to gorge that muscle with blood and thunder. For example:
- EZ bar preacher curls and incline dumbbell curls
- Dips and resistance band triceps pushdowns
Do this back and forth for a few sets and your arms will be screaming, which leads to the next point…
2. MORE REPS, LESS REST
I love training with heavy weights for low reps. But like I said in a previous rant about biceps training, not all muscles respond well to heavy weights and low reps. The arms (more so the biceps than the triceps) don’t move heavy weights that well because they’re small muscles. Therefore, to spark new growth, sometimes you have to blast them with lots of sets and reps and get your damn pump on.
The two main ways to make a muscle grow are with mechanical stress and metabolic stress. Mechanical stress is caused by tension, like the feeling you get when you strain under a heavy weight. Metabolic stress is that burning sensation you get at the end of a long set caused by the buildup of lactic acid, hydrogen ions, inorganic phosphate, etc. That’s what you want to happen to your arms. Those things are like the magical messengers that rush into your muscles and tell them that they need to grow.
Research shows us that two things can reliably trigger metabolic stress: working a muscle close to failure and minimizing rest between sets. So if your arms are being stubborn and won’t grow, try more reps per set (12-20) at little closer to failure, and limit your rest (30-45 seconds) between sets.
THIS is the time to use some of those flashy techniques like drop sets and rest-pause sets. Here’s one of my favorites for triceps:
3. SUPINATE ON CURLS
I cringe every time I see some schmuck do dumbbell curls and rotate his hands back toward his sides on the way down. They’re forgetting that one of the primary functions of the biceps is to supinate the forearm (i.e. turn the palm up toward the ceiling). Turning the palms down is going to take a lot of tension off the biceps, which reduces mechanical AND metabolic stress. Not so good for growth.
There’s a time and a place for reverse curls, Zottoman curls, hammer curls, etc. But if you want to smash your biceps with the force of a Liu Kang bicycle kick, you need to keep your palms up during the entire set.
Try this: when you do curls, turn your palms up as far as you can. At the top of each rep, keeping trying to turn your palm up further, as if you were trying to get your pinky on top of your thumb. This will smoke your biceps and help you keep tension on the muscle the whole time.
4. TRAIN THE TRICEPS WITH ELBOWS IN AND ELBOWS OUT
Bodybuilders like to train a muscle from multiple angles to maximize growth. Take a page out of their book when you work the triceps by doing exercises with the elbows tucked in tight to your sides AND exercises with the elbows flared out.
Some triceps exercises like dips, close grip bench presses and skullcrushers can be a little tough on the elbows, so they’re best done with the elbows held tight to the sides. But just as the name implies, the triceps is composed of three heads, and the way you hold your shoulders and elbows can affect the way you target each head.
The more elbow-friendly triceps exercises like pushdowns, close-grip push-ups and Tate presses can be done with the elbows flared out and shouldn’t beat up your joints.
Super-set triceps exercises with elbows in and elbows out to hit the muscle from multiple angles and get the most out of your training. For example:
1A. Close grip bench press (elbows in) – 4 sets of 8 reps with 10RM
1B. Cable triceps pushdowns (elbows out) – 4 sets of 15 reps with 16RM
1A. Weighted dips (elbows in) – 3 sets of 12 reps with 15RM
1B. Incline dumbbell Tate presses (elbows out) – 3 sets of 15 reps with 16RM
RIGHT TO BARE ARMS
Incorporate these four tips into your arm training routine and watch the new gains come in waves. Just be careful you don’t knock anyone out while fist pumping with your new-found pipes.