If an award was given for the most commonly asked question in bodybuilding, the winner would be “how can I get bigger arms?” I’m asked this on a very regular basis. By applying the correct training protocols consistently, anyone can achieve impressive arm growth. In this article, I provide eight tactics aimed at impressive arm development, particularly if you’ve hit a plateau.
Expert hypertrophy coaches focus on the biomechanics involved in any exercise and how it impacts your ability to recruit muscle fibers. Ultimately, the ability to recruit the target muscle fibers dictates the level of muscle stimulation achieved, which is the stimulus for hypertrophy. Biceps and triceps training can be enhanced dramatically by paying close attention to where your shoulder is positioned during the working set.
When doing biceps curls, the shoulders need to be pushed back, ensuring they aren’t moving forward and internally rotating, as this can drastically suppress the muscle tension achieved across the bicep. Naturally, your shoulder will try and come forward as the set becomes harder, in an effort to support the bicep. You need to fight this tendency and ensure you continue to keep the work in the biceps.
For triceps, it is also preferable to keep the shoulders pressed back. Otherwise, the angle at which you’re engaging the triceps is compromised for maximal stimulation.
The angle of the wrist is an important factor for bicep and triceps stimulation. Interestingly, this may change over the course of your training life due to scar tissue you can develop around the forearm, which limits the range of movement. There have been cases whereby soft tissue work was performed to release scar tissue, and the athlete gained additional movement at the wrist. This change allowed them to place more tension on the muscle under load.
When performing any form of biceps curl, you want to maximize external rotation. To do so, grip the dumbbell off-center with your little finger pushed against the dumbbell.
A common triceps exercise is a cable press down using a straight bar. However, if you have poor wrist mobility, the elbows can flare outwards which is not desirable for optimal triceps activation. Using a cambered bar is the perfect solution to this, as it slightly alters the angle of the wrist, allowing your elbows to maintain in contact with the sides of your torso at all times.
Expanding on the above point, having the elbows tucked against your sides is the most optimal position for the majority of biceps and triceps exercises. Obviously, exercises like preacher curls and overhead extensions are examples where this isn’t relevant, so a degree of common sense is required.
Keeping your elbows in this position enhances arm growth as it isolates the target muscles. It prevents external force from being created with the help of ancillary muscle groups, or any changes in the range of motion, which makes the exercise easier but less impactful. It is likely that you’ll need to reduce the weight you’re lifting when you become focused on keeping the elbows tucked in. Embrace this because it will have a significant impact on arm stimulation and growth, which is what you’re looking for.
Any muscle group which requires additional development should be prioritized. As such, your training split needs to be intelligently planned to ignite arm growth. There is a chance of overtraining the biceps and triceps because of all the upper body movements they are involved in. For example, chest and shoulder presses involve the triceps, and on back day, the biceps are heavily engaged.
It is advisable to try and split the body parts across the week so each muscle group can recover sufficiently. If you train chest and triceps on Monday, hit the antagonistic muscle groups the next day (back and biceps) before taking a day off, or switching to a lower body workout. When you return to hitting shoulders again later in the week, the arms have had an opportunity to recover.
This training strategy ties into the last point which involves building a training split optimized for arm growth. It can pay dividends to lightly stimulate the biceps and triceps a second time during the week, as this will activate muscle protein synthesis again, increasing the potential to experience growth in the target muscles.
Sticking with the suggested training split above, you could superset biceps and triceps after shoulders later in the week for 5 - 7 sets. This will encourage muscle protein synthesis, improve the mind-muscle connection with the muscles, encourage blood flow.
High Repetition Annihilation
For years I have been vocal about the benefits of high repetition training as it unlocks a potential for growth which many people fail to realize. Everybody has a unique ratio of slow and fast twitch muscle fibers. If, for example, 40% of your arm mass is type 1 slow twitch muscle fibers and you’re not including higher repetition ranges, that’s a significant amount of potential lost. In my experience, arms are a muscle group which is hyper-responsive to higher rep ranges, which is why I recommend trying my DTPXtreme training. This approach has the athlete super-setting biceps and triceps together with the following structure:
Cable EZ-bar Curls & Overhead Cable Extensions
Set 1 - 35 repetitions
Set 2 - 30 repetitions
Set 3 - 25 repetitions
Set 4 - 20 repetitions
Set 5 - 15 repetitions
Set 6 - 10 repetitions
Seated Hammer Curls & Straight-bar Pushdowns
Set 1 - 10 repetitions
Set 2 - 15 repetitions
Set 3 - 20 repetitions
Set 4 - 25 repetitions
Set 5 - 30 repetitions
Set 6 - 35 repetitions
Using Kaged Muscle PRE-KAGED® before all arm workouts will enhance your performance. Another significant benefit PRE-KAGED will deliver for arm growth is a massive pump, causing the muscles to swell with nutrient-rich blood during training.
Unilateral exercises deliver the ability to isolate a muscle with precision, and biceps and triceps are two examples which benefit particularly well from this. Referring back to the physiology behind maximizing muscle growth, it is imperative that the central nervous system can forge a deep connection with the biceps and triceps. Unilateral exercises performed with slow, controlled repetition tempo is potentially the best way to achieve this as there is more mental focus emphasized on each arm. Unilateral exercises also have the added benefit of a broader range of motion, therefore, you’re able to be more creative with ways to stimulate both the biceps and triceps.
Single-arm cable preacher curls are a great option for biceps because of the tension and isolation this exercise causes. Single-arm overhead cable extensions are the perfect unilateral choice for triceps because they will stimulate the long head and simultaneously deliver improved isolation.
Pause repetitions make every repetition more challenging which engages a higher number of muscle fibers – which is why I recommend them for arm training. Pauses should be used with bicep training at the peak contraction because it will drastically enhance the muscle tension, pump, and mind-muscle connection you experience. For triceps, I like to do the opposite, stopping before the concentric phase because it means there is no momentum, and I find the explosive nature of this muscle group responds well to this protocol.
Applying each of these principles will inevitably improve your ability to build bigger biceps and triceps and overcome any plateaus which have hampered your progress. Take all of this information, apply it consistently, and watch your arms grow rapidly over the next 12 weeks!