There’s a reason why so many guys are obsessed with arm training: along with a big chest, big arms are one of the most prominent parts of the body. If you’re going to get a compliment from a stranger, it’s probably going to be on your arms.
While arms get a bit too much attention in the overall scheme of things, a physique isn’t complete without big, developed arms. In this article we’ll show you how to get there. If you’re looking for the best arm exercises for big, strong biceps and triceps, look no further!
The Major Arm Muscles in Detail
The biceps or, biceps brachii, is a two-headed muscle, another important muscle, biceps brachialis, lies beneath the biceps brachii. While this muscle isn’t nearly as prominent as the biceps brachii when developed, it plays an important role in the overall look of your arms. It looks like a mere “bump” in between the biceps brachii and triceps, but its level of development impacts the amount of “peak” your biceps appear to have (ultimately peak is mostly determined by genetics but increasing the size of the brachialis can give the appearance of a better peak).
A well-developed biceps brachialis cleanly separates the biceps brachii from the triceps and adds to the overall aesthetics of the arms, so, this program will include work to target the brachialis.
The next muscle group to talk about is the triceps, or triceps brachii, which has three heads combining to form the distinctive “horseshoe” that can become quite pronounced, when properly developed. Many people don’t realize that the triceps account for a lot more of your arm’s size. Small triceps mean small, disproportionate arms, regardless of the size of the biceps.
Last but not least is the forearms, which are comprised of several smaller muscles. Like the calves of the arms–they aren’t the immediate focus, but if they’re underdeveloped, it’s sorely obvious.
Arm Training 101
Exercise choice is also a very important part of proper arm training. Like any other muscle group, the primary goal is to overload the arm muscles (not get a pump), and some exercises are better than others for this.
Ideal rep ranges, optimal training frequency is a hotly debated subject. The bottom line is it boils down to workout intensity and volume. Generally speaking, the lighter the weights and fewer the sets per workout, the more often you can train the muscle group. And, as a corollary, the heavier the weights and greater the sets per workout, the less often you can train the muscle group.
When training with the proper intensity (focusing on lifting heavy weights), optimal frequency seems to be about 40 – 60 reps performed every 5 – 7 days.
Arms are a bit different though because when you’re performing heavy compound movements every week like the Deadlift, Bench Press, and Military Press, they are getting trained. Heavy compound lifting in your back workouts, shoulder workouts, and chest workouts plus 30 – 40 reps of direct training for both the biceps and triceps in your arms workouts, performed every 5 – 7 days, seems to be an optimal frequency and volume.
The Best Arm Exercises
We’ll start with the biceps first and then move to triceps and forearms.
Like with other muscle groups, you get the most growth out of the biceps by focusing on free weights, not machines, and by sticking to compound (esque) movements.
1. Barbell Bicep Curl
This is one of the best biceps builders, and has been a staple in my arms workouts for several years now.
2. E-Z Bar Bicep Curl
I will switch to the E-Z Bar variant from time to time to give my wrists and elbows a break from the stress placed on them by the Straight Bar Curl.
3. Alternating Dumbbell Curl
Like the Barbell Curl, this is a tried-and-true biceps builder.
4. Hammer Dumbbell Curl
The Hammer Curl is particularly useful for building up the biceps brachialis (the smaller muscle that helps give your biceps a visual “boost”).
The Chin-Up a great “functional” movement that targets the biceps. You can add weight with adip belt or weighted vest as you get stronger, which ensures you can keep progressively overloading the muscles.
1. Close-Grip Bench Press
Like the Barbell Curl for the biceps, the Close-Grip Bench Press is one of the best triceps exercises. It’s a compound movement that allows you to safely push heavy weight, and it also gives a little boost to your chest development.
2. Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Press
This is one of my favorite triceps exercises because, like the Close-Grip Bench Press, you’re able to move heavy weights without overly stressing anything. Chances are your elbows will ache for the first few weeks of performing it, but this should go away as the connective tissues adapt.
3. Lying Triceps Press
This is basically a lying, barbell variant of the Dumbbell Overhead Press, and it works well.
4. Triceps Pushdown
I view the Triceps Pushdown as more of a finishing movement, as I like to start my arm workouts with compound movements. I like the V-bar and straight bar attachments more than the rope.
The Dip is a fantastic exercise for building up your triceps, chest, and shoulders.
Great forearm training should be a result of heavy back, chest, and arm training. Directly training the forearm can lead to problems for two reasons. It can lead to elbow tightness and pain, which hinders your triceps training. It’s just not necessary if you’re sticking to heavy, compound lifting for your back, chest, and arms.
If you really want to train them, however, you can do 2 – 3 sets of Reverse Curls at the end of your workout.
Remember–Progression is the Key to Muscle Growth
That’s it for the best arm exercises. The key, however, isn’t just doing the exercises. It’s progressing on them. That is, increasing the amount of weight you can move over time.
If you don’t get stronger, you won’t get bigger. But if you do work on building your strength on these exercises, and you eat enough food to grow, your arms will get bigger and stronger.
The Ultimate Arms Workout
A good arms workout trains both the biceps and triceps and, indirectly, the forearms, and focuses on heavy weights. Just like any other muscle group, arms can benefit from higher rep work, but you have to emphasize the heavy weightlifting if you want them to grow.
Over the next 8 weeks perform the following arms workout once every 5 – 7 days:
Barbell Curl: Warm up and 3 sets of 4 – 6 reps
Close-Grip Bench Press: Warm up and 3 sets of 4 – 6 reps
Dumbbell Hammer Curl: 3 sets of 4 – 6 reps
Dips (Weighted if possible): 3 sets of 4 – 6 reps
Optional (if you have more juice left): Dumbbell Curl: 2 sets of 6 – 8 reps
Optional (if you have more juice left): Dumbbell Overhead Press: 2 sets of 6 – 8 reps
That’s it–just 12 – 16 heavy sets for your entire workout. If you do this type of arm training plus this back workout and chest workout every week, your arms will get bigger and stronger fast.
Once you hit the top of your rep range for one set, you move up in weight. For instance, if do 6 reps on your first set of Barbell Curls, you add 5 pounds to each side of the bar for your next set and work with that weight until you can curl it for 6 reps, and so forth.
Try alternating between biceps and triceps sets to save time like this: biceps exercise 1 set 1, rest 60 seconds, triceps exercise 1 set , rest 60 seconds, biceps exercise 1 set 2, rest 60 seconds, triceps exercise set 2, rest 60 seconds, and so forth.
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