Big Arms – The Goal Of Every Gym-Goer
When a newcomer joins the gym you’ll very rarely see them place focus on squatting and training legs, it’s simply not a priority.
99% of guys in the gym want big arms, unfortunately the vast majority of guys in the gym swinging dumbbells around as they perform set after set of curls day in day out aren’t going to build the big arms they want.
Before I joined my first gym and started performing StrongLifts 5×5 I spent about a year performing dumbbell biceps curls and dumbbell hammer curls with a cheap set of adjustable dumbbells in my bedroom. My arms measured 12.5″ in diameter before I started, after literally a year of curling daily they were around 12.8″.
I was expecting far more, I was expecting quick results due to the ‘newbie gains’ I’d read so much about…
Looking back at those days now I had ZERO idea of how to train arms correctly.
Genetically I have long biceps insertions (meaning I do not have a giant ‘peak’ on my biceps) yet these days my arms are sitting around the 17.5″ mark in diameter.
I figured out how to build big arms correctly… this article will detail the exercises and training techniques I used.
The Top 4 Big Arms Exercises
Barbell Biceps Curl
The barbell bicep curl is the ultimate mass builder for the biceps, hands down.
The stress and progressive overload we can apply with a heavy barbell bicep curl cannot be replicated with dumbbells, preacher curls or any other machines.
Get your form dialled in then start your arm day with several sets of barbell bicep curl and watch your arms grow!
Optional: Arm Blaster
Stand up straight while grasping a barbell with a shoulder width grip, elbows tucked in and palms facing away from you.
Curl the barbell up by contracting your biceps and moving your forearms, your upper arm should not move at all.
Curl until the barbell is at shoulder height.
Squeeze and hold this contraction for one second.
Slowly lower the bar back down until your arms are extended in front of you.
Dumbbell Hammer Curl
When it comes to building big biceps no gym-goer needs an introduction to the bicep curl.
Most guys alternate between the three version they’re most familiar with – the regular dumbbell curl, the barbell curl and the over the knee concentration curl.
There’s no doubt that provided you’re hitting your biceps with progressive overload by increasing the weight, reps or time under tension for each set they’ll grow.
If you want to build monumental biceps, if you want to avoid the plateaus that often come as a result of sticking to one or two versions of the regular bicep curl you need to work on the hammer curl.
The Hammer Curl
The hammer curl is a very similar movement to the regular bicep curl, however the weight is continually held in a neutral grip, without the typical twist performed when curling a dumbbell up.
Optional: Arm Blaster
Stand up straight with a dumbbell in each hand, rotate your palms until they’re facing inward (towards your torso) and tuck your elbows into your sides.
Curl the dumbbells up one at a time by contracting your biceps and moving your forearm, your upper arm should not move at all.
Curl until the dumbbell is at shoulder height.
Squeeze and hold this contraction for one second.
Slowly lower the dumbbell back down until your arm is extended in front of you.
Repeat with alternate arm.
The dip is one of the best size and strength builders for the triceps.
I recommend starting off your arm workout with dips and as soon as you’re hitting the double digit rep range start considering to add additional resistance in the form of a dumbbell or 45lb weight plate to continue to overload the muscle.
You’ll find strong triceps equate to solid progress on your chest exercises too e.g. the flat bench press.
Required: Parallel Bars
Optional: Weight Belt
Raise your body on a pair of parallel bars until your arms are almost at full extension.
As you breath in begin to lower yourself down by flexing the elbow, your torso should stay upright and your elbows should remain tucked in to your side to ensure you’re focusing on the triceps as opposed to the chest.
Lower yourself down until there’s at least a 90 degree angle between your upper and lower arm.
Flex and drive through your triceps to power yourself back up until your arms are almost at full extension.
Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Barbell Skull Crushers
The skull crusher is the ultimate isolation exercise for the triceps, if I had to pick 2 exercises to perform for my triceps without a doubt the skull crusher would be one of them!
Ensure your form is strict (elbows in, only moving your forearm) and proceed to overload the muscle, continually increasing the weight when possible and you’ll see your triceps start to blow up in size and strength!
I recommend trying both the dumbbell, barbell and unilateral versions of the skull crusher.
Required: Barbell & Flat Bench
Grip a barbell with a shoulder width overhand grip, lay down on a flat bench and fully extend your arms.
Without moving your upper arms proceed to lower the barbell by moving your forearms downward toward your head.
Pause for 1 second as the barbell almost touches your forehead.
Extend your elbows to drive the barbell back up until your arms are fully extended, hold this contraction for 1 second.
Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
4 Arm Training Principles To Build Big Arms
Focus on Your Form First
When it comes to training arms, be it skull crushers or barbell biceps curls our ego always gets involved.
We want to be seem curling a barbell with 135lbs loaded on it, this is fine provided you’re able to curl that barbell with good form… if you spend your time swinging around dumbbells and barbells that you cannot lift correctly with good form you won’t see any results at all.
Swinging and jerking the weight, particularly when we’re discussing biceps curls essentially takes ALL tension of them muscle, you start to use momentum to get the weight from point A to point B, not the contraction of your biceps muscles.
When it comes to training arms you MUST leave your ego at the door.
I’m all for lifting the heaviest weight you can WITH correct form for the prescribed number of repetitions, not doubling the weight and swinging for the fences to get the weight up.
No flaring of elbows, no half reps, no swinging or jerking the weight. Focus on the textbook form I’ve described above.
Work on the Mind Muscle Connection
The primary reason for improving your mind muscle connection is to increase the number of muscle fibers recruited while lifting and increasing the contraction of the muscle on each repetition.
Increased recruitment and contraction will result in increased muscle mass and strength, this involves being able to control, fire and relax the muscle in question on demand. Can you bounce your pecs up and down? This takes a degree of established mind muscle connection to perform properly (without twitching your shoulders!).
Tense the muscle prior to each set
Before each set flex and hold for a count of two seconds before picking up the dumbbells/barbell and lifting. I find this techniques helps me maintain a strong mind muscle connection when performing pull-ups – by taking a moment to bring my shoulder blades together and contract my lats I’m able to hone in on the muscle better and ensure I’m pulling through my lats as opposed to my biceps as fatigue sets in.
Perform several lighter weight perfect form war-up sets
A huge mistake guys make when they get to the gym is warming up incorrectly. Not only will you not feel an optimal mind muscle connection but you’re also at a much higher risk of injury if you neglect your warm-up or don’t perform one at all.
Instead of performing a few basic static stretches (which have actually been proven to decrease your performance when it comes to explosive strength based exercises) I recommend you follow a slightly more dynamic warm-up.
Before you lay on that bench and get under the barbell take a moment to mentally ‘check in’ and envision the set you’re about to perform. Imagine lowering the barbell in a controlled manner to your chest while feeling the stretch across your pectorals before exploding upwards and squeezing your chest together to get that contraction at the top of your repetition.
I’ve found when I don’t take a moment to envision honing in on the muscle I’m training I often end up unconsciously recruiting secondary muscle groups (such as the shoulders since we’re discussing the flat barbell bench press).
Now that you’ve already mentally played out your set you’ll feel a far greater level of control and contraction throughout your set.
These days I often superset my biceps and triceps exercises during my arm workouts, BUT as a newcomer I do not recommend you do this.
Once you’ve built big arms feel free to superset however you see fit but when you’ve got spaghetti arms and you’re trying to pack some size onto them for the first time I recommend performing all of your biceps sets and exercises before placing focus on hitting your triceps.
After a few years in the gym your cardio conditioning and recovery ability will drastically increase between sets and exercises, but for now place your entire focus on performing 1 exercise at a time as heavy as possible with good form, use 60 seconds or so to recover and then hit your next set, don’t worry about running from a biceps exercise straight to a triceps exercise for now.
Apply Progressive Overload On Every Workout
The term progressive overload simply means to constantly ensure your muscles fibers are being subject to a larger load or an increase in tension on the muscle, essentially placing more stress on the muscle resulting in an increase in both muscular size and strength.
You should be applying progressive overload in every single workout you’re performing.
Increase the weight
The most basic method of applying progressive overload to your muscles for size and strength gains is to increase the weight you’re lifting. As an example, if you’re aiming for the 4- 6 rep range for 3 sets and you’ve been consistently hitting 6, 6, 5 for your last 3 sets increasing the weight, even though you’re reps will more than likely drop down to 5, 5, 4 is a sufficient form of progressive overload to keep your strength and size on the rise.
Alter your rep range
The thing I repeat the most on Ignore Limits is without a doubt the importance of training in the lower rep ranges. If you’ve been spending day after day performing 10 repetitions by default on each and all of your sets then you’re going to be doing your muscles a massive favour by decreasing your rep range down to 4 – 6. Lifting a suitable weight for 4 – 6 repetitions (which should be 80 – 85%) of your 1 rep maximum will blast your strength and size to new levels.
Alter your number of sets
Several years ago when I hit a plateau on my shoulder press I tried everything I could think of to get past it, it seemed as if I’d never get past the 55lb mark on those dumbbells.
The solution? Because I didn’t have a spotter I couldn’t lift any heavier so I opted to increase my volume my reducing the rep range slightly while increasing the number of sets (resulting in an increased number of heavy reps per workout).
3 sets of 8 reps was adjusted to 5 sets of 6 reps.
The Best Workout Routine For Big Arms
Hit the workout below once or twice a week.
Yes, that’s right you’re going to be focusing on 2 exercises for biceps and 2 exercises for triceps… these are fantastic mass-building exercises. Once you’ve built the foundation using these exercises we can introduce more isolation based exercises such as the concentration curl and the triceps kickback, for now however these exercises have no place in your mass building arm routine.
Barbell Bicep Curls – 5 sets – 6 to 8 reps per set
Dumbbell Hammer Curls 5 sets – 8 to 10 reps per set
Triceps Dips – 5 sets – 10 reps per set
Barbell Skull Crushers – 5 sets – 8 to 10 reps per set