Building Big Arms
Curls, curls curls. When I first started working out at home my elaborate scheme to build the body of my dreams was based solely around the principle of training biceps every evening, without fail. I soon realized that sheer volume on one exercise wasn’t getting me far. Looking back now I realize that everyone that has built an impressive set of arms knows how to train them correctly – thousands upon thousands of light weight, slow bicep curls won’t get you arms like Sergio’s below.
Are you making the following arm training mistakes?
Arm Training Mistake #1
This is without a doubt the biggest arm training mistake I see. Period.
When it comes to building big arms the triceps are often neglected, with arm day consisting of a variety of different bicep curls and only one or two tricep exercises.
The triceps makes up 2/3 of your arm and has a far bigger overall impact on the size of your arm (especially when viewed side on).
Although the triceps are the secondary muscle group on exercises such as the barbell bench press when training chest in order to build impressive triceps they need to be hit directly with the right exercises such as the close grip bench press, skullcrushers and bodyweight (or weighted) dips.
Arm Training Mistake #2
I have personally found that supersetting bicep and tricep exercises (performing 1 set of a bicep based exercise such as the standing bicep curl, before immediately moving into a tricep exercise such as the overhead triceps extension) to be detrimental to my progress.
Although supersetting arm exercises is common practise the intensity and focus is shifted off of a specific exercise as you know you have to muster the energy to perform a set for the opposing muscle group immediately after.
When supersetting you won’t be able to lift as heavy, and in turn won’t be able to apply progressive overload correctly (as we know constantly overloading our muscles is the proven method of building both arm size and strength).
If you’re used to supersetting your arm exercises, performing all of your triceps exercises first before starting your bicep exercises during your next workout – I guarantee you’ll find that you can lift heavier on each exercise when not supersetting.
Arm Training Mistake #3
Focusing On Light Isolation
‘The 24 hour Arm Blaster’ and the ‘8 Hour Arm Cure’, a couple among a long list of ridiculously excessive arm workouts comprised of an extremely high volume of low weight, high repetition sets will do you no good.
Light isolation exercises will give you an immense pump, the flowing of the blood to the targeted muscle group (in this case, biceps and triceps). However this feel good feeling of the pump does not relate entirely to making progress (neither does DOMS aka. delayed onset muscle soreness which is often experienced the following day after a high volume workout).
In order to grow your arms you need to focus on lifting heavy on the exercises that you can safely lift heavy on. Apply that progressive overload with:
Barbell bicep curls
Dumbbell hammer curls
Close grip bench press
I’m certainly not the first person to advocate lifting heavy for fewer reps…
“If you must use dumbbells for daily training, use heavy ones with fewer repetitions rather than light bells with numerous repetitions” – Arthur Saxon, 1906
If you don’t generally train in the lower rep range I recommend you give it a try, stop lifting in the 10 – 15 rep range for at least a month and focus on heavy, low rep sets. Once you start to see results you won’t want to go back.
Now, you may still think high reps are beneficial, but let me tell you they’re far from it.
High repetitions result in increased stress on your CNS, increase in localized inflammation and increased soreness.
“Movements or exercises that do not give the muscle the required resistance, but are the kind that involve a great number of repetitions, never break down any tissue, to speak of. These movements involve a forcing process that cause the blood to swell up the muscle, and simply pump them up”– George F. Jowett, 1926
Arm Training Mistake #4
Arm Training Frequency Too High
As I mentioned earlier, it didn’t take me long to realize that training my arms every single day wasn’t getting me very far in terms of results given all the effort I was exerting.
The biceps act as the secondary muscle group when we’re training back, and the triceps act as the secondary muscle group when we’re training chest.
Training chest, back and one dedicated arm day per week (or triceps and biceps split up onto seperate days instead) is more than enough to build big, strong arms.
More isn’t always better – if you’re training frequency is any higher than this you may very well be hindering your own progress, like all other muscle groups the biceps and triceps require time to recover.
Arm Training Mistake #5
Flaring Elbows On Triceps Exercises
When performing any tricep exercise, whether it be a dumbbell overhead tricep extension or a rope pushdown it’s imperative you keep your elbows tucked in by your sides.
Flaring your elbows outwards is often a sign that the weight is too heavy (as you’re trying to muscle the shoulders in to assist with moving the weight).
Flaring the elbows on triceps exercise places your shoulders at a high risk of injury not to mention you’re only going to applying a small amount of tension to the triceps as the shoulders are trying to take over and lift the weight.
If you find yourself constantly flaring your elbows lower the weight and consciously practise tucking your elbows in to your side on each repetition until it becomes natural.
Arm Training Mistake #6
Swinging On Biceps Exercises
Every guy in the gym wants to swing around heavy weight on biceps, I get that.
As I said earlier – if you want to build big arms you’re going to have to lift heavy, HOWEVER form always have and always will take priority over the weight being lifted.
The bottom portion of a bicep curl is without a doubt the hardest portion of the movement, and when lifting too heavy many gym-goers attempt to swing backwards or hip thrust to attempt to move the weight.
Using momentum to move the weight takes tension off the bicep, doing you no good.
If you’re swinging and swaying your back on every repetition you’re also placing your lower back at a high risk of injury – not good.
Pick a weight that’s heavy for you to perform with good form, save the cheat curls for Arnold.