I think it’s safe to say that for those of us who are working to build better bodies through bodybuilding and or fitness, out of all the muscle groups we work so hard to develop, the muscles of the arms seem to be the most universally admired. Whenever a bodybuilder is asked in public to make a muscle, it’s always the biceps they’re referring to.
Right now at the age of 34, I’ve got 23 years of drug free bodybuilding training experience and have sorted through the all the various styles of arm training that exist to figure out which methods are effective for a drug free bodybuilder and which ones are not. Most people tell me that my arms are my most outstanding feature and I receive tons of messages from people requesting information on how to improve arm development.
People are always shocked to find that out of all my body parts, I train my arms the least. You don’t need to spend hours training arms each week to develop impressive arm muscles. On the contrary, I believe about 98% of natural bodybuilders who want bigger arms are not getting bigger arms because they are over training them.
It’s also interesting to me that many people who lack arm development are told by personal trainers to double or even triple the volume of their arm training to achieve better results and are greatly disappointed when they put forth all the extra effort and have nothing to show for it. Why is this? The reason is because the biochemical resources that our bodies use to build muscle are strictly limited and any amount of training beyond the precise amount that it takes to build muscle will merely subtract from your progress.
The key to building a great set of arms is high intensity training combined with adequate recovery periods that give the body enough time to produce muscle. Keep in mind that unless you use chemical enhancements, you can train intensely or you can train long but you can’t do both. The body is not naturally equipped to replenish all the biochemical resources necessary to build muscle during and or after long intense training sessions.
Your goal when you go to the gym to lift weights should be to stimulate muscle growth, not to see just how much strain your body can endure. If you want to see meaningful progress then you need to go in and train intensely for the precise amount of time it takes to stimulate muscle growth and then get the hell out. This shouldn’t take over 20 minutes in most cases.
One important thing that people forget is that the arm muscles are hit very hard indirectly when you train other muscle groups. If you don’t believe me then ask Dorian Yates who completely ruptured his bicep during a set of heavy barbell rows, or I’m sure you or someone you know may of injured a shoulder or tricep muscle doing bench presses.
The arm muscles even get exerted statically during other movements where the biceps or triceps aren’t going through a full range of motion, like lateral raises for example. Even though the deltoids are the primary muscles being worked there is still allot of exertion on the biceps and triceps moving the arms outward with weight resistance.
Static muscle tension can still be depleting even though you’re not taking a muscle through a full range of motion. For example, try doing a set of barbell curls with a strained abdominal muscle. You’re not doing a sit-up but I bet the pain in your strained abdominal muscle will stop you dead in your tracks!
What I’m getting at here is that it’s very easy to over train the muscles of the arm. It’s true that genetically we all recover at slightly different rates; however, one thing that remains the same among us all is the biochemical reactions that need to take place in order to build muscle. Done naturally it’s somewhat of a lengthy process.
After an intense workout on a muscle, that muscle is in a state of under compensation, (it has less than it did before you trained it.) Now via a series of chemical reactions the body must compensate (put back what was already there), before it can overcompensate (put back more than was there before) which means add more muscle! Depending on how deep of an inroad you cut into that particular muscle this process could take weeks to occur!
So what type of arm workout should be done in order to get positive results? I recommend a very intense low volume routine for arms. When I say intense I mean very intense pushing to all out 110% muscle failure. High intensity training is important because the training must threaten the physiology of the muscle in order for the body to trigger an adaptive response. Once the body adapts to a certain type of stress it no longer needs more muscle to keep pace with that particular stress so then the intensity must be increased ever further.
I’ve found that using super sets or extended sets and partial repetitions are a great way of doing this. I’ve made tough men cry with the brief but intense arm workout I’m about to show you. It’s based on a routine that was practiced by Larry Scott, the very first Mr. Olympia who in my opinion had perfect arms. There are some modifications I’ve made to make this more effective in my opinion.
This routine will involve using a straight bar for preacher curls. Stay away from the E-Z curl or cambered bar because it’s counter productive to building the biceps as it causes the hands to be placed away from the supine towards a prone position limiting the contraction of the bicep muscle. Before doing these supersets, go ahead and perform at least two warm up sets, 1 light set and 1 medium set for just enough repetitions to get the muscles and joints warm but do not push to failure on them!
Since your first bicep exercise will be double arm palms facing up dumbbell curl using a preacher bench, do this exercise to warm up your biceps. After you train your biceps then go ahead and perform 2-3 warm up sets on a cable tricep press down to get the triceps warmed up before training them.
1ST SUPER SET! (Go from one exercise to the next with no rest between sets!) You will need to select your weights your going to use and have them ready along with a preacher bench in, which you will be doing these exercises on. use heavy weight that you can handle for about 6 reps.
- Exercise 1. Double arm dumbbell preacher curls (palms up), 6 full range reps + 3 short-range partial reps (lowering the bar from the contracted position about 3-4 inches).
- Exercise 2. Preacher curls using a straight bar, 6 full range reps + 3 partial reps.
- Exercise 3. Double arm hammer style dumbbell preacher curls (palms facing in), 6 full range reps + 3 partial reps. DONE! Your biceps should be swollen up like big blood balloons!
2ND SUPERSET! In the same manner as biceps, go from one exercise to the next with no rest! Get situated by a top cable pulley and attach a straight bar to it. Grab a flat bench and place it the long way in front of you and have it far enough out that you can face the bench away from the pulley and grab the straight bar and pull it all the way down so that your kneeling on the floor with your head down and your elbows resting on the flat bench. Kneeling down in the starting position your arms should be at a slightly higher level then your head. With your elbows resting on the bench you will perform tricep extensions in this position.
- Exercise 1. Kneeling tricep cable extensions, 1 set of 6-8 reps till failure.
- Exercise 2. Standing tricep cable press downs (facing the cable pulley this time and keeping the elbows at your side.) Perform 6-8 reps till failure. DONE.
Now do 1 more exercise for just one set not in superset fashion though. Grab 2 different flat benches and place them parallel to one another and place your palms behind your body supported on the edge of the 1st bench and then place your heels up on the other bench so that you can bend your elbows and lower your body towards the floor and perform dips. You can also hold a dumbbell between your legs just above your knees or have a partner balance some plates on your lap for added resistance. These are called weighted dips.
Do 1 set of weighted triceps dips going through a full range of motion using enough weight to limit your best effort to 8-10 reps.
Now you’re done with arms! I’ve given a lengthy description but this workout goes fast! You should be done in 20-30 minutes including the time it takes you to set up the weights! Try this arm workout just 1X per week and see what happens. Be sure to record in a journal everything you do including the amount of weight you use and also your reps you complete.
You can compare from one week to the next and see how your strength is improving which means your muscles are growing! When your sets are feeling less intense like the current weight your using isn’t causing you to fail within the rep ranges listed then you will need to add more weight to keep the intensity level high for maximum muscle growth stimulation.
Keep in mind that when your strength increases and the poundage’s you lift increase, then that stress will cause an even deeper inroad into the muscles recovery ability thus requiring more recovery time in order to keep making gains. When you hit a sticking point where your strength isn’t increasing then it’s because your muscles haven’t had adequate time to recover yet so when you’ve reached this point I’d recommend adding an additional 2 recovery days between all weight training workouts from that point on. After doing this you should start seeing progress again.
Just a quick overview of the workout:
- Biceps - 1 set of double arm preacher dumbbell curls, 6 reps + 3 partial reps + 1 set of straight bar preacher curls, 6 reps + 3 partial reps + 1 set of double arm hammer style dumbbell preacher curls, 6 reps + 3 partial reps.
- Triceps - 1 set of kneeling cable tricep extensions, 6-8 reps + 1 set of standing cable tricep press downs.
- Finish -1 set of weighted tricep dips 8-10 reps.
If your struggling to get your arms to grow, give this simple yet intense routine a try and watch your arms explode! Remember that more isn’t always better; the precise amount is what is best!