Arms are the one body part most people associate with being strong and muscular, which is why everyone from UFC fighters at weigh-ins to first graders will throw up a half-assed front double biceps pose to communicate power and confidence. Arms also happen to be the muscle group you can show off most often due to the way we as human beings in 2019 dress most of the time. You can’t walk around too many places in shorts, so there go the legs. Unless you’re in a string tank top, which went out of fashion about 25 years ago, no one can normally check out your chest, shoulders, back or abs. You need to be shirtless for that. But you can almost always wear short sleeves, whether it’s a T-shirt or a polo. And once the weather heats up, short sleeves and sleeveless shirts become not only the norm, but fully acceptable. This is the time of year to show off your biceps and triceps in all their glory. And while there are still a couple of summer months left, why not work extra hard on them to make them even more glorious? This calls for a specialization program.
THE GROW YOUR GUNS FAST SPLIT
Until there is a chill in the air and you are forced to start covering up or else look like a douche, here is the split you should follow.
Day 1: Arms
Day 2: Legs
Day 3: Chest, Back, Shoulders
Day 4: OFF, repeat
You’re going to be pulverizing your arms without mercy twice every eight days, after a full day of rest when you should strive to get plenty of actual rest and eat up. On Day 3 when you hit your entire torso, your biceps and triceps will also be getting solid residual work from the heavy presses, rows and chins/lat pulldowns you do for chest, delts and back. This sets your arms up for a phase of accelerated growth. We will be going over the arm workouts in detail, so allow me to offer a tip for Day 3. Do not attempt to train your chest, back and shoulders with the same volume for each that you typically would. If you do that, three bad things will happen. The first is that you’ll be stuck in the gym for two to three hours, which isn’t a tragedy if you’re unemployed or otherwise have ample time on your hands, but most of us have shit to do in life. The second reason not to maintain your usual volume for all those muscle groups is that whatever you train later in the workout will suffer due to your being partially fatigued. You only have a finite amount of energy and mental focus to apply to any one workout. The first body part will be OK, but once you get to the second, you will be starting to drag. By the third body part, you’ll just be going through the motions. The third and final compelling reason you must not try hitting full-volume workouts for all three of those body parts at once is that you will almost surely overtrain. I’m not talking about overtraining the individual muscle groups; I’m referring to systemic overtraining. You will burn out your CNS, or central nervous system, and lower your immune system. One day off the weights, as in the suggested training split above, won’t be enough time to fully recover. Do about half as much for chest, shoulders and back as you normally would. Focus on just a few basic movements for each. You can still train chest, shoulders and back hard and make improvements, but you need to keep those workouts shorter and distilled to just the meat.
The Sun’s Out, Guns Out Routine
If your arms haven’t grown in a while, maybe a very long while, it’s safe to assume that they are totally accustomed to whatever you’ve been doing for them. I’ve concocted two routines to shock your biceps and triceps and have them struggling so hard to keep up that they will have no choice but to adapt and grow. You will alternate them for as long as you choose to follow this routine. Be prepared for some serious lactic acid burn and some insane pumps. Note that warm-ups are not shown. Be sure to do at least two warm-up sets for each new exercise listed. Also, gradually increase the weight set by set, aka pyramid up. You will be keeping the same rep range, meaning the difficulty level will increase as the sets go on, and only the final set is taken to absolute failure. Why? To quote the wise eight-time Mr. Olympia, Lee Haney, our goal here is to “stimulate, not annihilate!”
Cable Pushdown Tri-set
Sets: 3 x 12 + 12 + 12
Attach a short straight bar to the cable pulley. Do 12 reps with an underhand grip, flip your hands over for 12 more, then face away from the weight stack and do a final 12 reps leaning over and extending overhead.
Close-grip Smith Incline Presses: 4 x 10-12
Seated Dip Machine: 4 x 10-12
(Pyramid up in weight)
Machine Curl 21s: 3 x 21
(7 reps from the bottom to halfway up, 7 full reps, then 7 reps from halfway up to peak contraction.)
Standing Barbell Curls: 4 x 10-12
Close-grip Chin-ups*: 4 x 10-12
*Use an underhand grip. Hands completely together is optimal if you can do so without wrist pain, otherwise a couple of inches inside of shoulder width. If you lack the strength for chin-ups, substitute with close-grip lat pulldowns using an underhand grip.
Decline Dumbbell Skull-crushers: 3 x 10-12
Cross-body Dumbbell Hammer Curls: 3 x 10-12
Curl up at a diagonal toward the shoulder opposite the working arm, striving to squeeze the brachialis and outer (long) biceps head at the top of every rep.
Alternate flexing and stretching the biceps and triceps for two minutes.
Incline Dumbbell Curls: 4 x 10-12
Standing Dumbbell Curls: 4 x 10-12
For these, simply rep to failure on the seated curls, being sure to lower under control to a full stretch of the biceps on each rep, then stand up and continue with the set. Curl with both arms at the same time for both halves of the superset. We are looking for good form and a full range of motion here, so forget about swinging up 50s or 60s. Even those of you with decent biceps strength probably wouldn’t need more than a pair of 30s or 35s for these on your final set.
3 x 15, 12, 10 (increasing weight)
2 x 10, 10, 10 (double drop sets)
Bench Dips: Bodyweight, 4 sets to failure
(Note: if you can get more than 20 reps, put a plate or a dumbbell on your lap)
Standing EZ-bar Curls: 4 x 10-12
Seated EZ-bar Curls: 4 x 12
Do these standing in front of a seated bench. Do as many full-range-of-motion reps standing as you can, then sit down and continue, lowering until the bar touches your thighs. These will be partial reps in the top half of the ROM, yet you will find you can grind out more of these than you expected.
Seated Overhead EZ-bar Extensions: 4 x 10-12
EZ-bar Skull-crushers on Flat Bench : 4 x 10-12
The overhead extensions can be done either on a straight-back seated bench, or an adjustable incline bench. Ideally you want to have this next to a flat bench, so you can go directly from the overhead extension to the skull-crushers, using the same bar.
Alternate flexing and stretching the biceps and triceps for two minutes.
GET THOSE GUNS OUT IN THE SUN!
Even if you’re already motivated year-round to build bigger arms, the fleeting nature of summer for most of us should be an added incentive to work them even harder and squeeze out some new gains. Just like in “Game of Thrones,” winter is always coming, so make the most of these brief months of blazing sunshine and blast your guns to sleeve-stretching dimensions— while you can show them off without any sleeves at all!
4 TIPS FOR RAPID ARM GROWTH
- Never Lose the Mind-muscle Connection
I encourage everyone to try and get stronger and gradually use heavier weights in their arms training. However, this increase in resistance must only occur if you are still able to contract the biceps or triceps on every rep and feel that muscle group working. For instance, there is always a point you pass on compound movements for triceps such as close-grip bench presses or various seated dip machines where you lose that connection to the triceps after a certain amount of weight is added. At that point, you’re engaging far more chest and anterior deltoids than you are triceps. The same can be said of any type of curl. Even though your form might not look too bad to the outside observer, you will cease to feel the biceps working to the same degree once you go too heavy. Only you will know when you’ve crossed that line, and the solution is to lighten the load a bit and get back to feeling the biceps or triceps flex and stretch on every rep.
- Know When to Stop the Workout
Even though there are workouts listed here for you to follow, you need to develop an awareness for when your biceps or triceps have been fully expended, and no further work for them that day is either needed or should be done. Usually you can gauge this by your pump. There should come a point in the workout where your pump is maxed out and the skin feels tight. You can continue to chase that pump with more exercises and sets until you’ve completed the full routine that you are following or that you had in mind yourself. If you start losing that pump or worse, losing the ability to even feel the muscle working, you’re done for the day. Nothing more you do will yield any positive result, and it may even make deeper inroads into your recovery ability than you will be able to bounce back from before your next arm session.
- Eat for Gains
“Duh, I knew that.” I’m sure you did, but I want you to apply it specifically to your arm training while you follow this program. The two meals of your day with the highest carbohydrate content should be the one you eat about 90 minutes before your arm workout, and the one you eat 60-90 minutes afterward. As soon as the workout is over, you need to have either essential amino acids (EAAs) or whey protein isolate along with a generous amount of simple carbs. Those carbs can come in the form of a high-tech modern creation such as cyclic dextrin, or you could have a cup of fresh pineapple slices or chunks, or even some candy like jelly beans. If you’re going to have a cheat meal, try to have it the night before you train arms. The whole point is to provide the biceps and triceps with all the nutrients they need to fuel a killer workout, and then fully replenish all the spent amino acid and glycogen stores to support recovery and repair.
- Customize Your Arm Training
One major problem with following prescribed workouts is that we aren’t all built the same. We all have different limb lengths, muscle belly insertions, leverages, and so on. Some exercises will be more suitable than others, and you will be able to figure that out if you pay attention when you perform them. Can you really feel that exercise working your muscle? It often takes a few tries to make a valid decision, but eventually you will recognize some exercises really thrash your biceps and triceps, delivering sick pumps and making them sore, while others don’t seem to do much at all. Keep the ones that work well for you and discard the others. Continue trying new movements and new twists on exercises you’ve been doing for years, because you never know what else is out there that might work well for you. By the same token, don’t waste precious training time and energy doing exercises that aren’t doing shit for you— assuming you have given them a real chance and tweaked the form to see if this or that minor adjustment might make it work for you.