Here’s What You Need To Know…
1. Finally, arm training! The arms consist of small muscle groups; learning how your body responds to changes in training volume, intensity, and frequency is a sure fire bet to accelerate your arm growth without going totally overboard.
2. Spending time at the extremes of your muscle’s ROM. As #1 mentions, the arm muscles are small, so not a whole lot of movement in terms of point A to point B will occur. An effective method to stimulate growth is to spend time producing force in the fully lengthened and fully shortened positions.
3. When it comes to arm training, the plan is pretty damn simple. The actions are straightforward, and emphasis on form is paramount. Learn to ask why you are performing a specific movement a certain way first! If you can’t answer that question with anything other than “uhhh…well this FLEX magazine arm workout told me to” ditch the movement. You can do better.
4. You don’t need 50 different arm training exercises. Pick a handful of movements that feel good for YOU, and perfect them. Don’t give in to the false desire to diversify your exercise selection. Vary set/rep/tempo schemes, but if a certain movement always provides a killer pump…KEEP DOING IT!
Introduction to Arm Training GAINZ
And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for…Arm Training! I’m stoked about all the killer reviews on this series and am grateful for the kind words and feedback. Building muscle is what I do, and it means a lot to be able to share that passion via Dr. John’s site. We’ve had fun teaching our badass readers about what we feel is the only way to train, and that’s with science.
With that being said, long before I knew about origins and insertions, the sagittal and transverse planes, and Golgi Tendon Organs, I trained with reckless abandon for a very specific reason. I needed bigger arms. Over the years, I’ve gotten older and wiser (I think), but there will always be that bicep crazed 17 year old in me somewhere. Now if you all are anything like me, which I know you are, I don’t think it’s out of line to assume that each and every one of you would jump on the opportunity to add some size to your arms.
I’m not going to be that guy and promise that you pack on “slabs of muscle” or “an inch on your arms in 1 month” because the results are ultimately up to you. Dr. John and I can only give you the tools. However, I will tell you this; I’ve been training hard for about 6 years now (intelligently for about 3). Still, I am making progress by implementing the very techniques that I have taught in this series. For example, one of my goals for 2016 was to put an inch on my arms. I sat down with a training buddy, made a plan to increase the frequency and decrease the volume of my arm training, and have accomplished that goal is less than 2 months’ time. This stuff works if you truly understand and apply it, I’m living proof.
Ok, here are the arm training goods you’ve been so patiently waiting for…
Although this section is titled biceps, we are going to talk about ALL of the main elbow flexors, since they are all responsible for the ultimate size of your arms. The biceps get all the love, and consist of 2 heads, long and short. The long head starts on the glenoid labrum, while the short head originates on the coracoid process of the scapula. Both heads converge to insert on the radial tuberosity and bicipital aponeurosis (fancy name for fibrous sheath). These muscles flex the shoulder AND the forearm, and supinate the forearm. With that being said, here are my top pointers for training the biceps.
#1 Curl In One Plane
Rotating your humerus doesn’t do shit in terms of preferential activation of your long/short heads. They don’t function to rotate the humerus, so ditch the narrow and wide grip crap. Shoulder width grip will do just fine, thank you.
#2 Don’t Pin Your Elbows When Working Your Biceps
WHAT?!?! Yes, you heard me. Ok, now before you dismiss me as an idiot, let’s be rational and think about what our biceps do…they flex the forearm, supinate the forearm, AND FLEX THE HUMERUS. So, if you pin your elbows to your sides, you are inhibiting one of the functions of your biceps. Uh-oh. Just don’t confuse a slight forward arc of the elbow with a severe spastic episode of horsing dumbbells around. Also, this is bicep specific, not the other flexor we are about to cover.
If you haven’t felt like your biceps are about to A) tear of the bone or B) explode with blood flow, you haven’t trained them properly. Neither of these end points require heavy weight either. Tempo work and isometric holds on top of curling movements are the bees knees in terms of racking up mechanical and metabolic stress while training your biceps.
The brachialis is the next muscle up; it originates on the front of the humerus (about mid-point) and inserts to the coronoid process of the ulna. This muscle flexes the forearm, that’s it. In my opinion, this muscle is home to a lot of untouched potential in most trainees. Here are my favorite tips for unlocking those gains.
#4 Neutral or Reverse Grip All the Things… Sometimes
The brachialis is the prime mover of the elbow joint when the forearm is pronated, so reverse curls and hammer curls with a shoulder width grip are great options for brachialis specific work. If you don’t currently devote 1/3 of your curl variations to neutral/reverse grip work, do it. Thank me later.
#5 Tempo Work Is Your Best Friend
I picked up a tip from Charles Poliquin a couple years back about performing reverse curl work with a 6 second negative. My forearms AND brachialis have responded more than favorably. This makes sense, given the fact that those muscles are predominantly slow twitch.
Ok, now you learned some cool stuff, time to put it to the test.
Arm Training Bicep/Brachialis Routine
*Note that there is little to no rest between exercises in these giant sets
1A. Cable Cambered Bar Curls 3×12 (2 sec. on top)
1B. Single Arm Cable High Curls 3×12 (2 sec. on top)
1C. Barbell Reverse Curls 3×8 (301tempo)
2. Band Hammer Curls 3 x Failure
Your biceps get all the glory but your triceps make up 2/3 of the mass of your arm. To me, that means a lot of untapped potential for growth. As their name implies, the triceps are composed of three heads. The long head originates from the infraglenoid tubercle of the scapula and inserts on the olecranon of the ulna (elbow). This head functions primarily to extend the shoulder NOT extend the elbow. Its secondary action is to extend the elbow. The lateral head of the triceps originates on the back of the humerus, laterally to the spiral groove, while the medial head originates medial and distal to the spiral groove. Both insert to the olecranon, just like the long head and act only to extend the elbow. Hopefully that clears a few things up right off the bat. Here are my top tips to keep in mind next time you hit those horse shoes!
#1 Hit The Long Head the Right Way
This thing is a beast, it is the biggest of the three heads, but doesn’t do what a lot of people think it does. When performing pressdowns of any variety, get your elbows BEHIND your body to introduce humeral extension. Now you’re cookin’ with gas. Overhead work also shines, as the shoulder must be manipulate into full flexion, which in turn fully lengthens the long head. Remember when I said it was a good idea to spend time at the extremes of your ROM? Good.
#2 Train for the Pump
Your triceps get plenty of indirect work from pressing varieties. Take the syngergists out the equation on tricep day and focus on elbow and shoulder extension. Heavy close grip bench press and dips do not give you the same opportunity to truly isolate the fibers of the triceps. In place of these traditional compound tricep movements, tri (see what I did there?) these killer movements below!
Arm Training Triceps Routine
*Note the compound set below is really a mechanical drop set!
1A. Angled Dumbbell Compound Skull Crusher 3 x Failure
1B. Straight Arm Dumbbell Pullover 3 x Failure
1C. Close Grip DB Tricep Press 3 x Failure
2. Cambered Bar 45% Overhead Tricep Extensions 4×15 (2 sec. on top)
*Note – Check out the second movement of this superset video
A Jacked Up Good-Bye…For Now!
You know what they say, all good things must come to an end. And honestly, what better place to end up than with arm training! Hopefully you’ve racked up equal parts knowledge and lactic acid over the past 5 weeks of this series. Thanks again for tuning in and making the Maximal Muscle articles so successful. Stay tuned for some potential spin-offs designed to keep the momentum you’ve picked up with this series going!
About The Author
Ian Padron is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin’s Exercise Science Program and an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer, currently residing in Seattle, WA. Ian’s mission is to revolutionize the health and fitness industry by combining science and education to evoke sustainable change in his clients and readers. He preaches the importance of a holistic approach to training, taking into account the mind AND the body. Ian also walks the walk as a natural competitive bodybuilder and loves arm training.
Stay current with Ian on his website: Padron Performance