Have you ever looked at your arm and wondered why you can touch your thumb to your middle finger when you wrap your hand around your arm?
Have you ever wished you didn’t need both hands to carry one shopping bag?
Tell me the truth: have you ever felt like you’d trade a leg for some arm growth?
If you haven’t, you’ve likely been born with big, strong arms. But for those of us who have been told by girls that they know guys with bigger arms than our legs, that question hurts.
Big, strong and muscular arms are one of the first things we imagine when we think of a “real” man.
But what others think of you isn’t important.
What IS important is how confident you feel in your own skin. And if building bigger arms will give you that confidence, I’m all for it, because it will also teach you the value of fitness, hard work, and dedication.
That is why today, you’re going to learn how to build bigger arms of your own.
The class is in session, let’s go!
Arm Yourself With Bigger Arm Knowledge To Prevent Deadly Training Mistakes
Let me ask you a question.
What is more important, knowledge or big biceps?
The most important thing is knowledge. About biceps. And the whole arm.
You see, before we can get to building bigger arms and gaining mass in your biceps and triceps, we have to know a few things about them.
And first, there are a few fundamental mistakes most people make when training their arms and until you fix them, your results will be subpar to non-existent.
Mistake #1: Too Much Focus on Building The Biceps.
While the biceps is what we usually think about when talking arm size, it’s not all that’s important.
Your biceps is actually just 1/3 of your arm size. The other two-thirds come from the triceps, which should get the same, if not a bigger amount of love.
Make sure to train both sides of your arm to get that Hollywood superhero look.
Mistake #2: Swinging Wildly.
Walk into any commercial gym and observe how people do their exercises. How many do you see with slow, controlled movement versus those who swing wildly and do just about anything to get the weight up?
While it may feel better to move a heavier weight, it only counts if you do it properly.
Form first, weight second. Contract that muscle. Squeeeeeeeeze.
Every rep that uses momentum is not only a no-rep, it is also less effective for building muscle and strength. But it is more effective for injuring yourself, so there’s that.
Mistake #3: Being An Isolation Bro.
I know you want big arms, but only doing isolation exercises isn’t going to cut it.
If you want to see serious growth as well as massive strength, you better be doing your bench presses and bent over rows. There’s nothing better for building strength than the big compound movements. But more on that later.
Now that you know the most common mistakes, let’s look at the biceps and the triceps more closely.
The Biceps (AKA The Most Importanter Muscle)
When we talk about the biceps, we usually mean the biceps brachii, a muscle on the front part of the upper arm. You know, the one that gets all the girls.
The bi- prefix means it is made up of two heads: the long head, which is on the outside, and the short head on the inside.
The biceps works across three joints: the elbow, the shoulder, and the upper forearm complex. However, it is only a weak forearm flexor, because the deeper brachialis muscle does the brunt of the work.
It also assists with many functions of the shoulder, but because it has a weak contribution, those movements are not relevant to building and strengthening the biceps.
The two primary functions of the biceps are therefore elbow flexion and forearm supination.
Let’s take a look at each.
The biceps acts as the primary flexor of the elbow when the forearm is in a supinated or turned up, position. Imagine you’re holding your hand as to receive something.
It is a powerful supinator of the forearm due to the distal attachment of the muscle at the radial tuberosity, on the opposite side of the bone from the supinator muscle.
When flexed, the biceps pulls the radius back into its neutral supinated position in tandem with the supinator muscle.
To translate that into regular English: that is why exercises with the forearm supinated – like chin ups, rows and curls with a supinated grip – are superior for building the biceps.
A 2010 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that the biceps is activated more strongly in the chin up, which uses the supinated arm position, compared with the pull-up.
When the forearm is pronated or turned down (like when typing on a computer), the biceps is in a mechanically disadvantageous position.
The other flexors of the forearm – the brachialis and the brachioradialis – take over and do most of the work.
In order to focus specifically on the biceps, you need flexion over the full range of motion with the forearm in a supinated position.
The problem arises in the first part: most exercises do not offer the same resistance over the whole range of motion.
Depending on the angle of the shoulder, the biceps will be stressed differently in different positions. For example, a 2009 study in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that, quote: “the dumbbell preacher curl elicited high muscle activation only for a short range of elbow joint angle”.
An effective solution is to use an exercise that offers equal resistance over the whole range of motion, like the cable curl, which is recommended by Menno Henselmans, founder of Bayesian Bodybuilding and a seriously jacked dude.
Wait, Don’t Forget The…
However, the biceps isn’t the only muscle you need to look at when aiming to increase its size. To do that, you also need to train your brachialis.
The brachialis is a muscle that lies beneath the biceps and as it grows, it actually pushes the biceps out, giving it a taller appearance.
Like the biceps, it is also an elbow flexor, but unlike them, it activates the most when the forearm is in a neutral position – also called a hammer grip.
In addition to using a hammer or neutral grip, the brachialis also responds better to a slower, controlled tempo, especially during the eccentric or negative portion of the movement.
So, if we take all of that into account, what is the best exercise for building size and strength in the biceps?
The American Council for Exercise compared seven biceps exercises and found that when compared to the others, the concentration curl came out on top, eliciting significantly higher muscle activation of the biceps than any other exercise tested.
Another study by Boeckh-Behrens & Buskies discovered that performing a negative eccentric with 20-30 percent more load in the concentration curl increases the activation by as much as 40 percent.
The best exercise to isolate the biceps is, therefore, the concentration curl, which makes sense, because it offers the most isolation of any exercise – most curl variations also activate the anterior deltoid to assist in the movement.
The Triceps (Hint: You Want These To Be Big)
The triceps, or the triceps brachii, is a three-headed muscle on the back of your upper arm.
It connects to your elbow and your shoulder and its primary function is extension of the elbow joint.
The muscle also contributes to shoulder extension, but it likely only acts as a stabilizer (i.e. you don’t need to worry about it to gain serious size and strength).
Before we get into the nitty-gritty details for getting your triceps isolated and pumped, one thing needs to be mentioned.
Compound movements are still your number one priority when it comes to gaining size and strength.
No amount of tricep kickbacks can ever replace the bench and overhead presses.
More specifically, I’m talking about the barbell versions of these, as they have far greater triceps activation compared to the dumbbell version, which tax the chest and the shoulders more.
OK, you probably already knew that the two presses should be a mainstay in your routine.
But beyond that, there’s a ton of exercises to chose from.
You could do barbell variations like close grip bench press, dumbbell versions, one arm dumbbell exercises, bodyweight exercises like pushups and dips, and that’s even before the myriad of triceps isolation movements.
In that huge pool of choice, which exercises are the most effective?
In a study by the American Council on Exercise, they compared several common exercises that are usually used to target the triceps.
Here’s what they found:
According to this research, the diamond pushups, bench dips, and triceps kickbacks are the most effective exercises to target the triceps.
Activation Alone Isn’t Enough
However, muscle activation isn’t the only thing that’s important.
It is well known that the greater the load, the greater effect an exercise will have.
Despite the fact that those three exercises activate the triceps to a greater degree, they are a pain to do with any real weight.
In that regard, the close grip bench press is a much better choice as it allows for the greatest amount of weight to be handled – and it is, in fact, a favorite of many bodybuilders and powerlifters.
While science should not be disregarded, it is clear that the majority of strength and physique athletes don’t get their massive arms due to any triceps kickbacks.
They use the main compound movements (bench and overhead press), supported by exercises like the close grip bench press or dips and to add the finishing, sculpting touches, an isolation exercise like the ones listed in the study.
Putting It All Together
So, now we know everything that we need to know to build seriously BIG impressive arms, both in strength and in size.
Here’s the plan we’ll use to do just that.
We’ll use three exercises to hit each muscle:
- a big, compound exercise to build strength (using 3-5 reps of 3-5 sets),
- an assistance exercise with medium volume (this could be 5-10 reps, 6-12 reps, or anything that falls near, usually for 3 sets)
- and an isolation exercises to really get some blood flowing to your muscle for that sick pump (12, 15 or even up to 25 reps for a maximum of 3 sets).
Your program should revolve around big, compound movements. I suggest you pick 1-2 for each of the muscles we’re targeting: for example, you’d pick the bench press and the overhead press for the triceps.
With the biceps, it works a bit differently.
While chinups and bent over rows do work the biceps (and will build respectable size on their own), they are not as effective as bench press is for the triceps.
That’s why I would recommend using barbell bicep curls as one of your main biceps exercises.
It’s the exercise that allows you to use the most weight and therefore build the most strength – once a week, use it as a strength exercise and do 5-8 reps for 3 sets.
The Big & Massive Arms Race
So, let’s recap what we’ve learned.
You need a mix of different exercises, both compound, and isolation, to get the best results.
For The Bigger Biceps:
- Chinups and rows
- Barbell biceps curls
- Concentration curls
- Hammer curls
And For The Bigger Triceps:
- Bench press and overhead press
- Close grip bench press and dips
- Diamond pushups, triceps kickbacks or another triceps isolation movement
That’s it, folks.
If you follow what is laid out here, your arms will be popping the seams on your T-shirts.
Did you enjoy the article? If you did, please share with your friend and let me know what you think about building bigger arms in the comments below.
Eddie Johnson is an ex-bodybuilder, fitness addict, writer, editor and founder of Anabolic Bodies. Also a proud father of two boys and passionate about bodybuilding, nutrition, and the science behind modern-day supplementation.