Many people fail to realize that they already train their arms multiple times per week, without ever doing any direct arm work. Every time we do a pressing movement, we use our triceps.
Every time we pull, we use our biceps and forearms. Because our biceps and triceps get a lot of work during compound movements, it’s important to limit the number of sets during isolation work. With dedicated arm training, keep the sets low and the intensity high.
An even bigger problem is that most people don’t understand anatomy well enough to train their biceps and triceps effectively. So to build big arms, we need to start by using our head.
How Your Arms Work
The major action of the biceps brachii is elbow flexion and forearm rotation. The name—biceps—means that the muscle is made of two heads, a long and a short. These muscle heads have two different origins but come together to form one tendon, which attaches to the radius.
You can feel your biceps working if you put your left and on your right biceps muscle and then rotate your forearm from a pronated (palm down) to a supinated (palm up) position. You can also feel your biceps participate if you put your left hand on your right biceps and flex your elbow.
Your biceps can fatigue easily, and thus relies on your front deltoid and brachioradialis (anterior forearm muscle) for aid. To get the most out of your biceps training, you need movements that include both flexion and supination.
The triceps brachii is named similarly because of its three heads. The triceps is a slightly larger portion of the arm and just as complex as the biceps. The triceps main function is to extend the elbow. To feel your triceps, place your left hand on the back of your right arm and then extend your right arm until it is completely straight. The long and lateral heads of the triceps create the “horseshoe” shape everyone is gunning for. The medial head is a “deep” muscle.
Not all three heads originate at the same place, but they all insert into the elbow. The long head of the triceps originates at the scapula. To isolate it, your elbow must be over your head.
Now that I dropped some knowledge bombs, let’s blow those arms up! Do this workout once per week on any day you choose. Generally, I do an abs/arms/forearms day later in the week after I’ve already worked my larger muscle groups.
Set the bench at a 45-degree angle and place your chest at the top of the bench. When you curl your arms up, don’t raise your elbows. The last set should be relatively light.
4 sets, 12, 8, 6, 15 reps
Incline Dumbbell Curl
Curl with both arms at the same time, supinating your wrists as you go up. Lower the weights slowly. Go fairly heavy on this movement. If you do have to cheat, do it on the way up, so you can fight it on the way down.
3 sets, 8, 8, 6 reps
Do this exercise with your back against a wall and your elbows down. Keep the eccentric portion slow and controlled. I find that biceps grow extraordinarily well on the negative work load.
3 sets, 8, 8, 12 reps
Load a bar with weight you can easily strip. Start with a weight you can hit for 12 reps. Then take off some weight and do as many reps as you can. Take off more weight, and do it again and again. By the end of this set, your biceps should be pretty much dead.
1 set, Dropset to failure
This is a staple in every triceps workout I do. Keep the body up straight and bend from the elbow only. Allow the arm to come up slightly past perpendicular. This exercise should be done as heavy as possible, including two dropsets.
4 sets, 12, 8, 8, 8 reps
Seated Triceps Press
This is a serious mass builder for the long head of the triceps. Go as heavy as you can. Don’t let your elbows flare. Keep them tucked in tight.
3 sets, 10, 8, 8 reps
Low Cable Triceps Extension
This exercise is similar to a standard dumbbell kick-back, but it keeps the tension on the triceps the entire movement. Be sure to keep the elbow up and to fully extend the arm back. Control the weight back to starting position.
3 sets, 12, 12, 15 reps
Lying Dumbbell Tricep Extension
Use a dumbbell in each hand and press them simultaneously.
3 sets, 15, 15, 20 reps
Seated Palms-Down Barbell Wrist Curl
Lay your forearms flat on the end of a bench so your hands are hanging off. Let the bar roll all the way down to the last finger tip and squeeze everything back up until your wrist is fully contracted.
4 sets, 25 reps
Standing Palms-Up Barbell Behind The Back Wrist Curl
Use the straight bar. Place it behind you, just below your glutes. Let it roll down your hand and squeeze back up, fully contracting your wrists.
3 sets, 15 reps
Reverse Barbell Curl
This movement hits my forearms hard. Keep it strict so you don’t use your shoulders to lift the weight. Curl only from the elbow.
3 sets, 15 reps
If your body allows it, try them. You can be less strict with the form—throw weight around and just burn out those last fibers.
1-2 sets, to failure
This workout provides more than sufficient arm work. Make sure to keep the intensity high and the pace quick. Hit them hard, hit them fast, and watch ’em grow!