If you’re looking for an arm workout to build some serious pipes then this is the article for you.
Most guys start going to the gym to get bigger arms and a bigger chest. I’m betting bicep curls where one of the first exercises you ever did!
Am I right?
While arms make up just a small part of a well developed physique, there’s no way around it every guy wants a set of big, well defined arms.
After all your arms are one of the first things that get noticed in your day to day life. Your physique isn’t complete without a set of big arms.
In this article we are going to break down the best ways to build your biceps, triceps and forearms. We’ll go over the best arm exercises and put together a workout that will get you some serious arm gains, fast!
Before we can jump into the workouts it is helpful to have an understanding of how the arm muscles work together so we can get the best results when training them.
A Breakdown of the Arm Muscles
It’s easy to make the common mistake of when you are thinking about bigger arms to think biceps.
I remember thinking big biceps mean big arms.
Well, that’s not actually the case.
The triceps actually make up a lot more of the overall size of the arm than the biceps do.
You can see in a picture like this, where the mass of the arms is held.
So if you’re really wanting to build arms that fill up your shirt sleeves then you need to put a lot of emphasis on the triceps.
The Triceps Brachii or triceps is a three headed muscle group that forms a horseshoe shape and makes up the entire back side of your upper arm.
Sadly, the biceps are usually given the focus in most people’s workouts.
The triceps play an important role in stabilising the shoulder. Underdeveloped triceps can lead to muscle imbalances and overcompensation of other muscles.
Overdeveloped biceps and chest can lead to rounded shoulders and the closed off, semi hunched over look you sometimes see in gym goers that don’t train everything evenly.
The biceps brachii or biceps is a two headed muscle hence the “bi” in the name and looks like this:
The biceps brachii has two heads, the long head and the short head. The long head is found on the outside of the arm and makes up most of the biceps.
The short head is located on the inside of the muscle.
Another muscle you should understand is the biceps brachialis. It’s a muscle that is found deeper than the biceps brachii and although it is less prominent, it does play a role in flexing the elbow. The brachialis also helps to push up the brachii which helps with the overall appearance of your arms.
The forearms are like the calves of the arms. They are easy to overlook in training but if they’re underdeveloped it’s very obvious. Having a good set of forearms really rounds out the arm and enhances the appearance of your bi’s and tri’s.
Not to mention the carryover benefits strong forearms give to your other exercises. A large amount of compound movements require a strong grip. If your forearms aren’t up to scratch you aren’t going to be able to lift as much weight in other exercises which will cost you gains across all of your muscle groups.
The forearms are made up of a number of smaller muscles that run down into your hand.
Arm Training Principles
There are a lot of strategies out there when it comes to training your arms.
Some advise you to focus on high reps to get a pump and really feel the burn.
Others say you need to hit your arms multiple times a week to get real growth.
Then there are the people that say you don’t need to train your arms at all and simply doing a lot of compound movements will indirectly grow your arms.
With all of this confusion out there it can be difficult to really understand what you should be doing in your arm workouts.
What I’ve found works best is a combination of the above. The best way to grow your arms is through heavy compound lifting and directly training them with both high and low rep training. Like all muscle groups heavy weightlifting is key to maximising muscle growth.
When it comes to growing muscle there are two key factors:
- Performing the right exercises.
- Achieving progressive overload on your muscles.
Performing the right arm exercises is very important. Simply because some exercises are better at progressively overloading your muscles than others.
As a general rule of thumb barbell exercises are going to be more effective than machine exercises.
Achieving progressive overload in your workouts is the only way that you are going to see results on your arms.
In order to keep getting bigger and stronger we need to continue to subject our muscles to more and more tension over time.
So put simply:
If you don’t keep getting stronger you won’t get bigger.
You can accomplish this by adding volume (reps) but eventually you will need to add weight to the bar. That’s why the biggest guys in the gym are usually the strongest.
When it comes to arm training getting the right volume is key. This becomes even more important when you are focusing on heavy weightlifting.
As a general rule of thumb the heavier the reps you’re doing the fewer you can perform each week.
Makes sense right!
Heavier weights mean you need to give your muscles more time to recover or you can risk overtraining.
Usually when training with heavy weights the optimal volume is 60 to 70 reps every 5 to 7 days. This is not just for arms but every muscle group in the body as well.
This is where it can get a little tricky for arms. Depending on how you are training the rest of your body will alter the amount of reps per week you will want to complete on your arms.
If you are doing a lot of heavy compound training for your chest and back then you will want to aim for a little less reps of your arms. This is because compound training involves your arms to train your other body parts too.
For example if you are doing heavy rows for your back there is also a lot of bicep involvement too. Heavy benching recruits a lot of tricep involvement etc.
If you are following the other workout plans we have laid out on this blog then you would want to aim for 30 to 40 reps per week on your arms.
Best Arm Exercises
I’ll break these exercises down into movements for biceps, triceps and forearms.
There are dozens of different exercises that you can perform to target your biceps. However some are more effective than others.
Stick to these proven bicep builders in your workouts:
There’s a reason why the barbell curl is a staple in every bodybuilders routine. It’s damn good at building your biceps.
A slight variation on the barbell curl that delivers great results. Single arm exercises don’t allow you to lift as much weight as their barbell counterparts but they do help to make sure you aren’t overly dominant in one arm.
The chin up is a great functional bicep movement that allows you to target your biceps as well as your back. You can progress in this movement by adding weight to a dip belt as you get stronger.
As we talked about earlier in this article, the triceps make up the bulk of the arms mass. So if it’s bigger arms you’re wanting you need to be hitting your triceps hard.
Here are the best tricep exercises to build bigger arms:
Close Grip Bench
Don’t mistake this for just a chest exercise. The close grip bench activates your triceps heavily as well. The close grip bench allows you to safely push heavy amounts of weights and will help your chest a bit too.
When performing the close grip bench grab the bar with a slightly narrower than shoulder width grip.
Scull crushers are a great exercise for activating the triceps. You can perform the movement with the bar coming down to your forehead or down behind your head for a different angle on the arms.
Overhead triceps press (french press)
Another great exercise to really hit the triceps hard. The overhead triceps press allows you to safely press heavy weight and progressively overload the arm.
You’ve probably seen this done a lot by people at the gym. It’s probably one of the most popular triceps exercises out there and it is pretty good for isolating the triceps.
I like to do this at the end of my workouts after I have done some other heavier lifts first. You can try it out with a bar and a rope to see what you like best.
There are two variations of dip that you can do to target the triceps. Both are good exercises and can be interchanged depending on the equipment you have available to you.
The first variation of triceps dips is on a bench:
The second variation of dip requires a dip station like the one in the video below. To keep the focus on your triceps make sure you keep your elbows tucked in to your sides and keep your body relatively upright. The further you lean forward the more emphasis is put on your chest and shoulders in the movement. This is how you do it:
Often your forearms don’t need a lot of direct work.
You see the forearms are used a lot in heavy strength training of your chest, back and arms. Simply having to grip and hold the barbell with a lot of weight on it is probably the best training you can do for your forearms and grip strength.
If you are following a workout program that is made up of mostly heavy compound exercises your forearms should be getting worked enough through your other training.
However if your other training isn’t mostly compound exercises or you feel you need to improve your grip strength the reverse curl is the exercise I would use to bring your forearms up to scratch:
Best Arm Workout
A good arms workout focuses on hitting all three heads of the triceps, the biceps brachii and brachialis as well as the forearms.
You should focus on heavy weightlifting with some higher rep work at the end of the workout.
3 sets of 4-6 reps
3 sets 4-6 reps
Close Grip Bench
3 sets 4-6 reps
3 sets 4-6 reps
Overhead Triceps Press
3 sets 6-8 reps
Allow 2-3 minutes rest between each exercise so your muscles can fully recover. Perform this workout every 5-7 days to see the best results.
Remember progression is key in gaining muscle. Once you hit the top rep range for an exercise you need to increase weight. Then work with the new weight until you can hit the top reps range on a set and increase again.
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