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Secrets to Building BIG Arms

Updated on September 17, 2012


For men it’s “curls for the girls.” Although a cheesy statement, most women love a man with big arms.

The contrary is true when it comes to females. What guy doesn’t like a woman with toned arms?

Even people that have little to no workout knowledge could probably figure out the kinetics of performing standing arm curls. I am sure people of the novice fitness level have the knowhow to breakdown some muscle tissue and get blood pumping but do they have knowledge to build BIG ARMS?

Big arms and arm strength is such an important aspect to any training regimen. Arms are secondary movers to primary movers like the chest, back, and shoulders. When training primary upper body movers, stress stems from a person’s hands because the hands are usually what holds the weight. In order for the exercise to stimulate the targeted primary mover, stress must travel from a person’s hands and through the arms before it reaches the intended primary muscles. This means most exercises that include primary movers usually incorporate the arms as well. When someone has weak arms, they usually are going to have poor primary strength.

With the way recent fashion trends are headed, less is more. This means it is sexy to show off some skin. Above the waist, showing skin means showing arms and shoulders for men and shoulders, arms, and sometimes the mid-section for women. Either way, arms will be revealed by both genders.

But who wants to reveal arms with a layer of sagging skin and no lines of definition? Better yet, who wants to see that? With summer vastly approaching, now is the time to get the arms pumping. So go ahead, read on and feel good about breaking out your tube tops, halter tops, tank tops, and wife beaters this season.

Know what YOU are working with


In order to get big arms, one must know what they are working with. When referring to training arms, think of three primary muscle groups. They are the triceps, biceps, and forearm muscle groups. Both the biceps and triceps run from a person’s shoulders and attach to the elbow joint, however, both are vastly opposite in their function. In order for ultimately big arms, one must split the training of their triceps, biceps, and forearms specifically.

The biceps muscles run along the upper portion of a person’s humorous bone. The biceps are responsible for the flexion (or bending) of a person’s arms at the elbow. Each arm incorporates two bicep muscle heads, thus the root word “bi”, which means two. The biceps is one-third of the upper arm.

The triceps muscles run along the lower portion of a person’s humorous bone. The triceps are responsible for the extension (or straightening) of a person’s arms at the elbow. Each arm incorporates three tricep muscles heads, thus the root word “tri”, which means three. Because the triceps have three muscles heads, the triceps muscle group is larger than the biceps muscle group. The triceps make up two-thirds of the upper arm.

The forearms are the area of the arms that stems below the elbow joint and above the wrist. The forearms muscles are responsible for the flexion and extension of the digits. The stronger a person’s forearm flexor and extensor muscles, the stronger grip-strength a person will have. The forearm also contains the flexor of the elbow (brachioradialis), and pronators and supinators that turn the hand to face down or upwards, respectively. [I]

Intensity, Reps, and Volume


It’s probably inevitable that to achieve big arms, one must lift heavy weight for low reps. If you have ever witnessed bodybuilding movies like “Pumping Iron”, you will know that the cliché of being a meathead is true. In movies such as this, it is inspiring to watch these giants hoist weight around that most people can barely squat. All joking aside, it is crucial for anyone trying to achieve maximum girth and strength in their arms to go heavy.

Going heavy means a weight that a person can lift for only six to eight reps while continuing to maintain good posture and form. If lifting within this intensity and rep range, a person will be at approximately 80 to 90 percent of their 1 rep maximum. Although a lot of sweat and pain, this is exactly what is required to grow the arms to maximum ability.

Your big arm training regimen must contain volume. Arms can be stubborn muscles to train so you need to hit them with everything including the kitchen sink. The volume of sets should be between 12-15 sets. I recommend choosing three to four exercises and then doing four sets of each exercise.

Get full Range of Motion


I am constantly surprised on how many people I see train their arms with only half or three quarters the full range of motion. Range of motion is the normal amount a joint can be moved in a certain direction. It would be silly to see someone bench pressing a barbell only half the way up (although I’ve witnessed this as well but not as often as arms), so why only train half the way on arms?

By not training any muscle through its full range of motion prevents people from unlocking their true strength, power, and potential. If only training the arm muscles half the way, the arms will respond by being stronger through only half the range of motion.

Often neglected is the position where the muscles are fully stretched. This is the start position and the beginning portion of any lift. By training through the full range of motion, people will have better momentum to carry the weight through the entire range of motion. This in return will give the person better muscular strength, stamina, and aesthetics. Range of motion exercises reduce stiffness, prevent deformities, and help keep your joints flexible as well. [II]

Resistance from a high position
Resistance from a high position
Resistance from a neutral position (arms abducted)
Resistance from a neutral position (arms abducted)
Resistance from a low position
Resistance from a low position

Resistance from all Angels


In continued pursuit for obtaining big arms, it is important to attack the arms with resistance from high, low, and neutral positions. Arnold always believed that since the arms can be seen from all poses and from every conceivable angle, they should be trained from all angles. [III]

Because arms are connected to the shoulder joint, the angles of resistance for training arms are consistent with the wide range of motion that the shoulder joint provides.

Just to give you an idea of how versatile the human shoulder is, it can flex up 170 to 180 degrees, extend 50 to 60 degrees, externally rotate 90 to 100 degrees and internally rotate 90 to 100 degrees. [IV] This, combined with a slight amount of fitness knowledge and applied to general arm lifting concepts, can create thousands of exercises available for the arms.

To give you a better idea of what is meant by attacking the arms with resistance from high, low, and neutral positions, refer to the pictures I have posted to the right. Switch positions of resistance every time you complete an exercise.

In one arm training session, I recommend at least one exercise with resistance from a high position, one exercise with resistance from a low position, and one exercise with resistance from a neutral position. If doing four sets of each exercise, you will already be within your intended range of volume (12 sets).

Example of Grips

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Standard grip (for a curl)Reverse grip (for a curl)Hammer grip (for a curl)
Standard grip (for a curl)
Standard grip (for a curl)
Reverse grip (for a curl)
Reverse grip (for a curl)
Hammer grip (for a curl)
Hammer grip (for a curl)

Change your Grip

Change your hand position. If you take any arm exercise and switch up the arm position, you will stimulate all surface area of the intended training muscle. Positions available are wide grips, narrow grips, reverse grips, and hammer grips. Try to switch your grip up as often as possible. Although it is comfortable to do a regular barbell or dumbbell curl, switching to a reverse grip (for example) will put more stress on the outer muscle fibers of the bicep and the forearms. Try not to fall into a routine. If you did narrow grip barbell curls last week, it will behoove you to switch to something like a hammer grip the following week. If your body is made to lift things with your hand facing up, down, or neutral, it only makes sense to stress the muscles in the same manner for maximum efficiency.

Example of Dropset Barbell Curls

Superset Bicep Curls into Tricep Pushdowns

Adding in Dropsets and Antagonist Supersets


Finally, for maximum pump and big arms, use dropsets and antagonist supersets. Although these techniques have been around for years, not many people either know what these techniques are or people simply do not use them when it comes to training arms. These techniques work to shock the muscles by compounding the stress the entire muscle grouping receive therefore forcing as much blood as is humanly possible into target area for superior growth. [V]

Dropsets work on the premise of taking a weight, performing a full set (of 6 to 8 reps) of an arm exercise, dropping down the weight, and immediately performing another set (of 6 to 8 reps) of the same exercise, with no rest in between. If doing a dropset for arms, I recommend dropping down twice, so that a total of three sets are performed with no rest in between. Make sure you are able to stay within the 6-8 rep range for all three sets.

There are many types of supersets. The best types of superset for arms are antagonist supersets. This simply means performing a full triceps exercise, and immediately jumping into a full biceps exercise, with no rest. Because the biceps muscle performs the exact opposite function of the tricep muscle group, the triceps are an antagonist muscle group to the biceps. This will increase the amount of blood flow to your arms and leave you with an ultimate pump.

Resources:

[I] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forearm

[II] http://www.family-friendly-fun.com/therapy/range-of-motion.htm

[III] http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/arnold_arm_secrets.htm

[IV] http://www.livestrong.com/article/131986-the-range-motion-shoulder/

[V] http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/arnold_arm_secrets.htm

What do you think is the most import aspect of the ARM?

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    • kjrzeek1 profile image

      kjrzeek1 5 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Nice, I have been lifting forever, but just can't get big arms. I am going to try some of the tips here. Thanks!

    • jaybird22 profile image
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      jaybird22 5 years ago from New York

      kjrzeek1: Thanks for the comment. Hope these help.

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