If you enjoy training in the gym and having the ability to build, sculpt, and carve away at your body, you probably love working arms. It is the one body part that stands out for everybody else to see. No matter where you are, people are going to notice a well-developed set of arms bulging out of your sleeves. So how can you not be ecstatic come arm day, even if it is pure vanity that makes you lift?
With images of Kevin Levrone and Lee Priest as early influences during my bodybuilding career, I too have a deep-rooted passion for thick, striated horseshoe triceps and round, softball-sized biceps. Sadly my arms have never been one of my better body parts and I've had to put in long, hard work to put on every inch that you see today. I also know that in order to force further growth out of them, I'll have to work even harder. Want to know how I did it? Read on and find out.
Biceps, triceps, and the forearm flexors and extensors are all rather small muscles. Exhausting them to failure during an intense training session doesn't require nearly as much energy, mental focus, and oxygen as the quadriceps or upper back muscles would. A set of dumbbell curls will hardly have you out of breath, even if you're really pushing the intensity. So why sit around and wait for time to pass by, when this rest isn't even necessary?
When I’m training, I like to spend my time as efficiently and effectively as possible. For this reason I always superset my arm exercises, pairing up a movement for biceps and triceps. One of the many benefits from this style of training is that constantly pushing blood from one side of the arm to the other leads to a crazy pump. After a couple sets I can literally feel my upper arms pulsing along to the beat of my heart.
I pick four movements and I'll perform five working sets of each, staying with the same working weight after warming up. As you can see, I am a big proponent of the rest/pause training principle since it forces the target muscle to execute more repetitions than it normally would be able to with a given workload. I feel that this is a great way of making a muscle bigger and stronger.
I almost always start with a cable movement to pre-exhaust the biceps before any heavier free weight exercises. I take advantage of the constant tension provided by the pulley by moving through the greatest range of motion and squeezing hard into the peak contraction. The main goal here is to isolate the biceps while minimizing forearm involvement. From there, I choose between a standing barbell and dumbbell curl. A small amount of swinging is allowed and even warranted to reach the repetition goal and take the muscle beyond failure.
Next on the list is the preacher curl. Rarely do I use anything other than a short straight bar on this movement. Moving two dumbbell simultaneously in this position is way too awkward, and an EZ curl bar just doesn't give me the same stretch at the bottom of the rep. This painful stretch at the bottom is exactly what I’m looking for when doing preachers, and for, it’s the straight bar that delivers.
My final exercise is hammer curls – any type will do the trick. For this particular workout, I used a 45lb plate and squeezed out each and every rep with a thumbless grip. The key is to focus the tension on the golf ball-shaped brachialis muscle that lies in between the triceps and biceps on the outer side of the upper arm. A thick brachialis will give your arms a wider look when viewed from the front and it will also boost your peak in a bicep pose.
In order to reach all three of the triceps' heads, you have to work your arm in different planes of motion. That's how I feel a complete triceps workout should be designed. As I explained before, I superset each bicep and tricep exercise together and perform five working sets.
When designing the tricep half of my arm day, my opinion is that you should always pick one movement that has you pushing down towards the ground. The second movement should be where your arms are extended at a 90 degree angle in front of your body, while lying face up on a bench. And finally, you should incorporate one movement where your arms are held above your head.
These three angles will ensure that all of your triceps' heads will receive proper stimulation. Factors such as the order, or specific tools used to perform these exercises are of secondary importance. On top of those three isolation movements, I always add a compound exercise such as close-grip barbell presses or dips.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about here: rope pushdowns (pushing towards the ground), EZ bar skull crushers (90 degree in front of your body), overhead dumbbell extensions (above the head), and bodyweight dips (compound movement).
Honestly, there is nothing really scientific about training forearms. I always train them to finish off any arm session. I usually pick two exercises – a wrist curl and a wrist extension movement – and do 5 sets of 12 reps (each supersetted with the other of course). That’s it. Nothing fancy, nothing complicated. Focus on the movement and worry less about the weight you use. Until next time, train hard.