By Phil Hawksworth
Want bigger arms?
This is the post for you. We will go through everything you need to know to build t-shirt tearing biceps and triceps.
First, some quick anatomy. The main arm muscles, which I’m sure you’re aware of, are the biceps at the front of the upper arm, and triceps at the back of the upper arm. You will also need to consider the forearms and various muscles of the lower arm, and the brachialis, which sits underneath the biceps and triceps.
The brachialis and forearms actually add the most size to your arm, while biceps and triceps will add shape, so you need to train them all to fully develop a good set of arms.
Arms respond well to regular training. They are small muscles that recover quickly, so they can be trained multiple times per week, without exceeding the capacity to recover. They are going to be getting worked in most compound movements anyway, but you can also do 2-3 isolation sessions per week.
Like any other muscle, the arms will grow in proportion to how you train them. If you put them first in your routine, they will usually grow more than if you do them at the end. Of course, you need to weigh off growing your arms with building the rest of your body.
I suggest one or two direct arm training sessions per week, along with some assistance work a further once or twice per week.
Isolation vs Compound Movements
We want to use a combination of isolation and compound movements when training arms. Isolation exercises like curls and triceps extensions are great for getting a big pump, and really working the muscle to fatigue.
Meanwhile, chin ups, rows, bench press and dips are best for lifting a large amount of weight, and putting a high force through the muscles.
You want to use both isolation and compound exercises to fully grow your arms. They will grow just using compound movements, but they will grow better if you train them directly.
Not only should you train them directly for maximum muscle growth, but it is also important to use isolation exercises at higher reps to fully train the ligaments and tendons. Lifting heavy all the time on big compound movements will take its toll on your joints over time. Isolation exercises for higher reps are the best way to build the strength and integrity of the elbows, wrists, and shoulders, to maximize performance and protect against injury on the bigger, compound exercises.
To get the best results for your arms, mix the order that you perform exercises every couple of weeks. Sometimes do compound movements first, when you have most strength and are able to maximize the weight used.
Sometimes mix it up and do isolation exercises first, to pre-exhaust the muscles and then finish with compound exercises after. You will use less weight, but because the muscles are already fatigued they will be getting a great workout.
Time Under Tension, Volume
The biggest variable to manipulate in any sort of training is your volume. Doing more work over time will lead to consistent growth. The arms are just like any other muscle and will respond to increases in volume over time.
That means you want to add more sets, more reps, or more exercises over time. You do not need to be using more weight every time to make progress. Especially on smaller exercises like arms exercises, you will not be able to consistently add weight and maintain good technique. Instead you want to add a rep or two every workout, and a set or two every few weeks.
Whilst looking to increase volume over time it is important you maintain or increase time under tension. This is how long the target muscle is working for during the set. Arms respond especially well to maintaining a long time under tension. You do not need to use a lot of weight to get a good workout, you simply need to keep tension on the target muscle.
That means moving slowly and under control, focusing on squeezing the muscles and feeling them work, rather than just moving the weight from A to B.
When it comes to arms, you’re going to get more benefit from using less weight and being very strict, focusing on squeezing. Don’t use momentum or the rest of the body to move the weight, just focus on squeezing the muscle as hard as you can.
Using cables is a great way to maintain tension, unlike a bar or dumbbell which will become weightless at the bottom and top of the movement, using cables will keep tension in the muscle at all times, making you work harder.
Train All The Different Arm Muscles
You need to train all the different muscles for best results.
The biceps are trained in curls, and you want to alternate between palms up, neutral, and down. You should also have your arms in front of the body, like in chin ups, and behind the body, like in seated curls. This ensures you are fully working the biceps.
The same goes for the triceps, mix grips between palms up, neutral, and down. Have the arms behind the body, like in dips, and in front of the body, like in skull crushers. This ensures both the long and short head of the triceps are getting trained.
Don’t forget about the forearms and brachialis. These muscles are working in hammer grip exercises, wrist exercises, and anything that challenge your grip. Farmers walks, deadlifts and other heavy exercises will work the forearms. Rope climbs or towel pull ups will also hit the forearms hard.
Make sure you do some hammer curls and hit the pull up bar to get the brachialis and fully work the forearms. This will develop the fullest, biggest arms possible.