Article by JohnOvManchester
Nothing says ‘big mofo’ like a set of big arms! You’re in a bar and you get asked to flex, what do you think they want to see? Your calves? No! They want to see your arms. When people see you and notice you train, they look at your arms and the first thing they want to touch is your arms.
Your arms say it all, they didn’t give Popeye some big arms for no reason, they are what struck fear into the heart of Bluto and made Olive Oyl and Sweetpea feel safe. Popeye also didn’t forget about his diet, did he but we’ll cover that later?
It’s not just bodybuilding, you look at strength athletes on The Worlds Strongest Man and they have big arms to clamp onto things. You look at the big successful boxers like Mike Tyson’ big arms; your triceps plays a key role in providing you with a stiff and fast jab. You look at famous film stars like Stallone, Arnie, Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson; big arms’ why, so they look like they mean it.
Big arms represent a massive part of your stature and physical presence.
Before we get into the training let’s discuss and understand the motion and composition of your arms. The main muscles we are concerned with are those that will give the manifestation of size:
- The front of your upper arms are for flexion and use the biceps
- The rear are for extension and use the triceps
- The lower arm uses the brachioradialis as an elbow flexor and the forearm also contains extensors and flexors of the hand and fingers
So now we know the function all we need to do to stimulate growth is perform these movements under resistance + nutrients + rest = arm size.
Now I’d better briefly cover the diet bit here… Do not underestimate the importance of adequate nutrition, all your efforts in the gym will be wasted unless you have fuel/carbs to train properly and consume enough building blocks/protein to generate muscle tissue and enough fats for general health, energy, hormones, cell structure, etc. To build extra muscle you have to be in calorie surplus.
How do you get bigger arms?
So now you want to stretch your T-shirt sleeves and you want to know how? The good news is, it’s not that hard but it does take determination and consistency.
This is the part of the arm that will account for around two thirds of your upper arm size. To hit the triceps we need to do extension movements:
- Skull Crushers 3 (sets of) x 6-8 (reps)
Skull Crushers are the daddy of all triceps exercises. You should train these with conviction with the heaviest weight you can handle for 6-8 reps. It would be helpful if you could get a spotter to hand you the weight in the top position as this could enable you to use a slightly heavier weight. You can use a straight bar or an EZ bar and place your hands just outside a heads width apart. Lower the bar keeping your elbows pointing at the ceiling, brush past the top of your head to the level of the bench your lying on. Keep the strain and explode back up to the top position.
- Triceps Pushdowns 3 x 6-8
For these you need a cable machine or you can do them on the lat pulldown station. Get a straight bar attachment, and put the pin in, choosing a weight you know you will struggle to get eight reps with. Hold the bar palms down at just outside a head’s width apart, take the strain and pull it down to just under chin level with your elbows pointing at the floor, but they will be forward slightly. To initiate the push down, pull your elbows inline with your body, pointing at the floor and pin them to this position, push the weight down in an arc until your arms are straight and squeeze for a second at the bottom. Control, then return back up to the start position.
- Overhead Dumbbell Extension 3 x 10
These are to make sure both arms are strong independently. Get two dumbbells of a weight you will struggle to get 10 clean reps with. Sit on a bench, hold the dumbbell in one hand and lift overhead. Palms facing forwards lower the weight behind your head in a controlled motion and explode back up making sure you don’t catch the back of your head! Extend your arm until it is straight back up to the start position. Do all the reps and then repeat with your other arm.
These are the jewel in the crown of your arm size. To hit the biceps we need to do flexion movements:
- EZ Curls 3 x 6-8
With curling you have to get into the right mentality; you have seen all the bicep boys at the gym doing strict super slow curls on the squat rack so this is where we split the men from the boys. Set up the EZ bar with as much weight as you can manage for 6 reps. Grab the bar with conviction, shoulder width apart and stand up, feet shoulder width apart and planted legs slightly bent at the knee. Keep your elbows at your sides and pointing to the floor. Now power the weight up with 100% effort, your elbows will move forward at the top of the movement, which is OK. Do not rest at the top and lower the weight under control back to the start position, keep the tension at the bottom and immediately power back up. Bang out 6 reps and if needed use momentum by springing from your legs to get the last 2 reps. Do not bend at the back.
- Alternate Dumbbell Hammer Curl 3 x 6-8
These are to make sure both arms are strong independently. They will hit your biceps and they will also work the brachioradialis of your forearms. Select two dumbbells that you will struggle to get 6 reps with. Pick both up with palms facing in, keep your hands in this position all the way through the movement. Curl the weight up towards the shoulder, as with the EZ curls, your elbow must stay pointing down but it will move forward slightly at the top of the movement, which again is OK, and lower back down to the start position. Keeping the tension, curl up the other arm in the same way. Pump out your 6 heavy reps then summon up some more aggression and channel that into making the last 2 reps happen, if you need to swing your arms slightly to get the weight up that is OK. Do not bend at the back.
- Concentration Curl 3 x 10
The big curls you have already done will be enough to stimulate growth but for those of us who enjoy the feeling of your biceps being fully pumped up or need the extra isolation, then concentration curls are perfect. You are forcing yourself to be strict with these but you should still do them with passion. Get a dumbbell which is significantly lighter than the other weight you have been handling but don’t worry, you’ll still feel these. Sit on a bench with legs spread and pick up the dumbbell with palm facing in. Put the back of your upper arm just above the elbow against the inside of your knee/thigh. Curl the weight up towards the shoulder and lower it back down in a controlled but no slow manner. Repeat until you have struggled to get 10 reps then swap and do the other arm.
These are a part of the arm that your fellow lifters will appreciate. We have already hit the forearms hard with the Hammer Curls. The majority of the size of your forearms will come from big back movements such as weighted chins, bent-over rows, V-handle cable rows and deadlifts. With heavy movements such as those mentioned above you may not need direct forearm work. You can target your forearms further if they need a more direct approach:
- Wrist Flexor Curl 3 x 6.
Sit on a bench and pick up a straight bar with a head’s width underhand grip. Place your arms along your legs so your arms are supported but your wrists over hang past the knees. Let the weight of the bar bend your wrists back and allow the bar to roll out of your palm into your fingers grip – this is the bottom position. Reverse this movement back up and flex your wrist fully up – this is the top position.
- Wrist Extensor Curl 3 x 6.
Sit on a bench and pick up a straight bar with a head’s width overhand grip. Place your arms along your legs so your arms are supported but your wrists over hang past the knees. Let the weight of the bar bend your wrists down so your knuckles are facing the floor – this is the bottom position. Reverse this movement back up and flex your wrist fully back – this is the top position.
Good luck with your mission for big arms! Remember it’s a simple formula:
Weights + Nutrition + Rest = Growth
Don’t neglect your diet, have ample rest for recovery and train like you mean it!