Last month, M&S debuted a new column called “Training Talk” where we ask you, our readers and fellow lifters of the iron to discuss with us a topic centered around something we all love to do, pick things up and put them down.
Our first edition was on training the traps and you can check it out here in case you missed it.
We really appreciate everyone who contributed to the conversation so now we’re back at it with topic #2.
You’re hooked already, aren’t you? We are too so let’s get right into it. Outside of “how much ya bench”, the most popular question in the iron game is "how big are your arms?"
Big arms are so popular, they have their own emoji. You know you’ve used it, too. No text to your bros or anyone in fitness is complete without it.
Now that we know that we’re all bonded by big arms, how do we train them? This is where we might travel down different roads. There are two distinct theories when it comes to training the upper arms.
Training Arms with Other Muscles
Unless you’re new to training (if you are, welcome), you understand that when you train larger upper body muscles like the chest, shoulders, and back, the muscles in the upper arm join the party at some point.
When you’re pushing yourself on chest day, the triceps instinctively come into play when you near failure on pressing. Likewise, when you’re about to tap out while rowing or performing pulldowns, your biceps will check in for assistance. Since they’re already being worked, you might as well show them some love, right?
The belief is that the triceps are already prepared while training chest so you can go ahead and train them on their own after your chest training is complete. This is also the case for biceps after back day.
You don’t want to train them before the larger muscle groups because then as you approach failure, they won’t be there for you to help with those final reps.
Below are sample workouts based on how you would train chest and tris as well as back and bis.
|1. Machine Chest Press||3||10-12|
|2. Low Incline Dumbbell Fly||3||12|
|3. Single Arm Flat Dumbbell Press||3||10|
|4. Cable Crossover||3||12-15|
|5. Two Arm Overhead Tricep Extension||3||12|
|6. Close Grip Bench Press||3||15|
|7. Rope Pressdown||3||20|
|1. Reverse Grip Pulldown||3||8|
|2. Reverse Grip Barbell Row||3||8-10|
|3. Seated Row||3||10|
|4. Single Arm Lat Pulldown||3||12|
|5. Dumbbell Preacher Curl||3||10|
|6. Standing Cable Curl||3||12|
|7. Incline Curl||3||12|
There’s always more than one way to approach training and this is another for those of us who like to separate our arm training.
Instead of hitting tris after they helped out during chest day, you would leave them alone and train the biceps since they’re fresh and ready to work.
As for your triceps, they would be paired with back since your biceps were already involved on that workout. The result would be maximizing the work that the individual muscles are capable of and you would be training them twice in a sense.
The triceps would be stimulated on chest day and worked on their own after back. The biceps would be involved with back and put to work after chest. So the above split would be changed to chest/biceps and back/triceps.
Training Arms on their Own
Now we cover the other (and likely more popular way) to train arms. It can be an awesome and powerful feeling to create a massive pump that stretches the sleeves of our t-shirts or left exposed out of our tank tops to be showcased to the world.
Aside from that, many lifters do feel that devoting a day specifically for arms helps maximize their potential for growth and improves overall strength. However, just because you train them on their own day doesn’t mean you can only do that in one way. There are three popular ways to attack arm day.
The first is in the sample workout below and is real simple. You start with one and give it all that you got. When you’re finished, you set your sights on the other. If you feel one or the other is weaker, that’s the muscle you go after first since you have the most energy to commit at the beginning of the workout.
If you feel your biceps need some work, you would follow this type of workout. But if you feel the triceps are weak, then you would flip the script.
|1. Barbell Curl||3||6|
|2. Spider Dumbbell Curls||3||10|
|3. Standing Two Arm Cable Curls||3||10|
|4. Lying Tricep Extension||3||8|
|5. Neutral Grip Flat Dumbbell Press||3||10|
|6. Overhead Rope Extension||3||12|
The second theory is the idea that you want to maximize the workload placed on both the biceps and triceps while keeping the potential for that mega pump. The idea is to alternate training the biceps and triceps so they each have extra time to rest. One is recovering while you’re working the other.
A workout of this nature might look like this:
|1. EZ Bar Curl||3||8|
|2. EZ Bar Lying Triceps Extension||3||8|
|3. Incline Dumbbell Curl||3||10|
|4. Two Arm Dumbbell Kickback||3||10|
|5. Machine Preacher Curl||3||12|
|6. Straight Bar Triceps Pressdown||3||12|
Finally, it wouldn’t be an official arm training discussion if we didn’t discuss Arnold Schwarzenegger. The 7x Mr. Olympia had two of the best arms in bodybuilding history and his training is still covered over three decades since his last contest. He must’ve done something right.
One of his biggest beliefs was in supersets. As he trained for his shows, he would pair up a biceps exercise with a triceps movement and go back and forth with as little rest as possible. While he did this, he visualized his arms getting more and more massive. He compared his biceps to mountains in his mind.
Over the years, Schwarzenegger has said that he believes this is why his arms grew to as big as 22 inches during his prime. The masses heard him and have tried to gain their own mass ever since.
If you were to try this for yourself, you would simply pair up the exercises above in groups of two so that the transitions from one to the other would save time so you can devote more of it to lifting.
What Do You Think?
We covered quite a bit here but there’s no way to share everything that there is to talk about when it comes to biceps and triceps. So now it’s your turn.
Your experience can help us out here as well as your fellow gym rats. We want to hear from all of you about how you approach arm training.
In the comments section below, answer the following questions:
Do you train arms on their own or separate?
What are your favorite arm exercises?
Do you have anything else to add?
Stay tuned for our next installment of Training Talk! We'll be discussing a workout staple - The Deadlift.