All guys want big guns. A set of well-toned arms are a sign of power and masculinity. No other body part – not the chest, shoulders, back, legs – can measure up to the power and respect one gets when he has a set of 18+ inch guns bursting out of his shirt!
It’s all about making the other guys jealous and the hot girls who cross your path swoon, right?
It’s damned hard work building big arms though. You have to put in the gym time and make sure to eat plenty of extra calories, since our bodies tend to build big arms when the rest of us is getting big too (ie., not dieting!)
If you’re just starting out with weight training, don’t jump into dedicating too much time to building your bi’s and tri’s right away. A progressive beginner workout like this one, will give your virgin arm muscles all the stimulation they need to slap an inch or two on your arms right out of the gate.
Once you’ve been working out for a couple of months, you can move to some more targeted arm training, to continue adding bulk to them while also sculpting the smaller inner muscles that will help add wicked definition to all that size.
Putting it Together
The list of exercises below are broken up into both areas of the upper arm: triceps and biceps. The forearms should never be targeted, since any gripping exercise you do will give them all the work they need.
Each exercise listed offers mass and definition-building benefits. Choose two or three of each and do them once per week only. It doesn’t matter whether you work them all in a dedicated arm workout, or mix them in with your larger muscle groups (ie., tri’s with chest/shoulders, bi’s with back).
The arms are very easy to overtrain. They work harder than any other body part. The tri’s get blasted every time you’re working your chest and shoulders. The bi’s get a massive workout when you’re working the back. Your forearms are involved in nearly every exercise and are constantly being taxed into submission.
Arms need to recover in order to grow guys. Work them hard when you work them, but don’t train them too often!
(Protip: choose 2 or 3 exercises on tricep day and perform 3 sets of each, working up in poundage and down in reps with each successive set: ie., 1 x 15 reps, 1 x 12, 1 x 8 – 6)
• Tricep Dips: This is the #1 mass-builder for the back of your arms. There’s much argument out there among gym-goers as to how to effectively isolate the triceps while doing dips. For all intents and purposes; if you lean forward and turn your elbows out while dipping you’ll isolate the chest more, if you keep your upper body straight and keep your elbows tucked, you’ll tax the triceps more effectively.
• Close Grip Bench Press: Truth be told, a regular bench press is “almost” as effective a tricep builder as close grips, but these bring the medial head more into play, giving you a sharp tail on the bottom of that horseshoe you’ll soon have! Grip the bar at either end of the middle knurl of an olympic bar, with approximately 6 inches of space between your hands.
• Skull Crushers: Skulls work all three heads of the bicep, however they really hit the long and medial heads which are the beefy upper portions of the back of the arm. Don’t confuse skulls with french presses which are performed with a reverse grip and largely only isolate the smaller medial head of the triceps brachii. Skulls are performed regular grip with an ez-curl or straight bar. Keep your hands spaced no more than 6 inches apart to avoid bringing the chest and front delts into play.
• Overhead Dumbell Extensions: You won’t see a lot of dudes doing these at the gym, as they’re often mistaken for an isolation exercise. But they aren’t if you do them heavy, doing the two-handed variation. Hoist a big old dumbell overhead and don’t get caught up in doing a full range of motion either. Start with one end of the dumbell resting on the top of your traps and raise to just short of a lockout. This exercise blasts all three heads of the tri’s.
(Protip: choose 2 or 3 exercises on bicep day and perform 3 sets of each, working up in poundage and down in reps with each successive set: ie., 1 x 15 reps, 1 x 12, 1 x 8 – 6)
• Standing Barbell Curls: You’ve all probably heard that the standing barbell is the king of curls. It is! Standing barbells hit both heads of the bicep and the meaty brachioradialis of the upper forearm. Most guys fail to gain mass from this exercise because of the importance that a lot of trainers place on form, but the truth is that adding a little body language at the bottom, so you can heave a few extra pounds for a few extra reps will make your arms grow way faster. Check out any of the pros on YouTube (Ronnie Coleman, Jay Cutler, Phil Heath, Branch Warren) and you won’t see any of them pussy-footing around with light weights and ultra-strict form!
• Reverse Grip Pullups (chins): This is an exercise you won’t see being done too often for biceps. Lots of people believe reverse grip pullups to work the mid to lower back, but it’s actually largely a bicep movement and that’s where you’ll feel it when you do them! Reverse grips work the middle brachialis muscle of the upper arm which is responsible for the big “golf ball” that gives your guns a big peak when you flex. Only pull as far as it takes for your biceps to fully contract (usually to the chin).
• Preacher Curls: Preachers can be done with a straight bar or ez-curl bar. Most people find the ez-curl to be easier on the wrists. Preachers work the inner peak muscle of the brachialis. Don’t get caught up in trying to get a full range of motion at the bottom of this movement. While many so-called experts will try to tell you different; when you extend your arms fully at the bottom, you force the front delts to do a lot of work to get the arm moving. It’s also an easy way to tear your arms to shreds! Squeeze at the top and stop about 7/8’s the way from the bottom.
• Hammer Curls: Hammers are a great way to end any bicep workout. They work the entire upper bicep, along with the brachioradialis that ties the forearm into the bicep. If your gym has a hammer curl bar, you’re all set. Otherwise, curl both arms simultaneously if using dumbells. Hammers really help build bulk at the elbow area, making your arms look really big when viewed from the side!
1. Beginners should work up to dedicated arm training days progressively. You’ll get plenty of newbie gains from sticking to the basics like: bench press, military press, pullups, rows and dips.
2. Don’t overwork the arms. You’ll see a lot of the pros doing arms more than once a week but, er-um… they can recover a lot faster than regular folks thanks to a little help from the pharmacy! Once a week is plenty and don’t do more than ten sets total for either triceps or biceps.