I have a confession to make.
For a long time, I didn’t really train arms. I have big arms, but genetics seem to have played a kind role in helping with that, so it wouldn’t take much to help them grow when I wanted them to.
I’ve since come to a realization, however, everyone doesn’t have a genetic edge. And arm training takes their own day of the cycle if you really want to slap some size on them.
First, however, I’ll start with the most obvious two in my books.
Tip 1: Start Doing More Chin Ups
Chin ups with a palms-in grip are a terrific way to target the biceps in a way that most curls won’t hit. The overhead hanging position activates the brachialis muscle, which can help add plenty of upper arm thickness and a more pronounced “peak” in the biceps when flexed.
It’s tough to hit in other curl variations, so chin ups have their benefit in your program. Plus, they double as a great upper body strengthener and back developer. Who wouldn’t want that?
If you’re struggling with the idea just take a look at gymnasts. You will rarely find one with poor biceps development – and that’s due to the nature of their sport. Plenty of hanging pulls dominate the main events (think rings and uneven bars), and they have the biceps development to show for it.
Tip 2: Dips – Another Staple!
As long as your shoulders can handle it, there’s no reason dips shouldn’t be in your arms training routine. They’ll make your arms grow in a hurry.
Many make the mistake of stopping at 90 degrees or just above for all of their reps. Instead of working in that small range, utilize the entire range of motion available. Don’t stop your eccentric rep until your biceps touch your forearms. Don’t touch weighted dips until you can perform 12 unbroken reps under control using the above technique directive. You’ll be sure to see gains.
Also, be sure to perform parallel bar dips, and not bench dips. When you put your hands behind you on the edge of a bench, not only do they risk slipping off more easily, but they’re also a culprit for having the shoulder joint bear load in an uncorrectable internally rotated position. 9 times out of 10, that spells trouble. Using parallel bars solves this problem instantly.
One more thing: Many people who deal with joint problems to the shoulder and elbow aren’t aware of the factor bar thickness plays during pressing movements. In the case of dips, making the surface area of the dip bars a bit thicker will diffuse the amount of joint stress since the load is more evenly distributed through the palm of your hand.
Adding fat grips to any dip bars (see video) is the easiest way to reduce joint stress, and trust me – it takes some getting used to, but feels fantastic.
Tip 3: More on Triceps – Hit the Long Head!
The further away your upper arm moves from your waist, the more of the long head of your triceps you’ll hit when training them. Using that knowledge, it means pressdowns, bench press, and even dips won’t tap into the long head nearly as much as an overhead triceps extension or French press. The rules for either of these movements are simple:
- Keep the elbows in as best you can. If you’re using a bar, squeeze in on the bar a bit with your hands, to emphasize this.
- Intend for the biceps to remain vertical. If you’re seated, it may help to slide forward in your seat by a few degrees. That will help with shoulder range of motion.
- Avoid driving the elbows forward first. Think about “throwing” the handles of the weight machine to a target, and pretend that target is on the ceiling directly above the BACK of your head.
- Focus on higher reps before you focus on loading up the weight. This can be stressful on the elbow joints in a hurry if the loading is too high.
Tip 4: If You’re Gonna Curl, It’s Hammer Time
Nothing wrong with some curls as long as you get the brachioradialis muscle contracting while you’re at it. That’s going to come from using a neutral grip – at least at peak contraction. Hammer curls are the perfect solution and will beef up the biceps and forearms in a hurry. You can use dumbbells or cables, but I prefer the latter as they’ll provide a much more constant force curve for tension throughout the entire rep.
Remember: it doesn’t take much to stimulate your biceps, and logic would tell us that they’re going to generally respond well to high rep training due to the nature of their demands from a biomechanics perspective. Adding time under tension by way of high rep sets, rest pauses, and other extended set methods will leave them screaming, while creating the pump of their life.
Peppering in a heavy barbell curl is good every now and then, but most of your gains will probably come from putting down the 55 pound dumbbells and opting for a pair of 35’s instead for a few sets of rep-outs.
One Last Thing: Don’t Fear Training to Failure
For a long time it’s been said that training to failure will keep your tank too empty to perform on subsequent sets. We have to remember that if our goal is to build muscle and add size, then performance should actually be lower on our list of priorities.
That means failure should be something we welcome at various points during our workouts. It doesn’t even only have to be limited to our final set. Bodybuilders will often be on the same page with this thinking. Chasing a training effect and total muscle fatigue is more important than keeping the weight lifted consistent from set to set, or workout to workout.
The triceps make up 60 percent of the upper arm. Hitting them hard and often will trigger some of the most significant size gains you make. As for the biceps, going for the most bang for your buck is your key to seeing change happen.
Most of all, if you’re after bigger arms, but you’re a “functional” training zealot who’s married to the barbells, it’s time to bite the bullet. If you want a muscle to grow, you’ll generally have to isolate it. It’s time to add an arms day to your arsenal. You’ll be splitting sleeves in no time.