Do you ask the question “how do I get bigger arms”… then follow much of the ensuing advice on blogs and bodybuilding videos… only to find yourself once again asking “how do I get bigger arms?”
It’s kind of a vicious cycle, isn’t it? Worse, the cycle seems to be fed by semi-fraudulence within an industry. When you watch online bodybuilding videos, you don’t know if the shirtless guy with arms that are only outgunned by his oversized ego just has great genetics for building arms. You don’t know if he’s ever used steroids to build his arms. You don’t know if the lighting and his pre-video-shoot pumping routine just make his arms appear more impressive than they are. You don’t know if he built his arms in a way other than with the routine he’s showing you and just needs to show you this one to push out another video. All you know is you’re asking “how do I get bigger arms” and the guy in the video or article picture appears to have bigger ones than you.
I’m going to answer the “how do I get bigger arms” question differently. I’m going to tell you what I think really works. Moreover, I’m going to eliminate a lot of wasted time and heartache for you by informing you of all the garbage I think doesn’t work.
Won’t that be refreshing?
‘How Do I Get Bigger Arms?’ Use a bodybuilding workout – not a fitness routine
First of all, if a guy’s attempting to answer your “how do I get bigger arms” question by showing you his exotic dive-bomber pushup routine combined with his nifty kettlebell extension protocol, don’t buy it. If you want to build bigger arms, you need a bodybuilding workout – not a light-weight fitness routine. That means you need a respectable amount of resistance weight and the ability to easily add more workout weight in order to make progress. Bodyweight exercises just don’t cut it in this respect. Neither do kettlebells; they’re more an exotic fitness toy with unnecessary handles than a serious bodybuilding tool.
If you disagree with my assertion about kettlebells, consider this: If it weren’t the case, pro bodybuilders would be replacing their traditional weight workouts with kettlebell routines; after all, their primary objective is to build bigger muscles than their competitors. But they stick with traditional bodybuilding equipment – the tools that build strength and size most effectively and efficiently.
To most reliably build bigger arms, you need barbells, dumbbells, pulleys and weight stacks. Your arms need to be worked hard within the reps ranges of 6 to 8 with relentless increases in workout weight whenever it’s possible to make them. You need to work the biceps, triceps, and forearms with enough intensity of effort to stimulate growth, but not so much and so often as to stymie it.
That last point is something we’ll cover in more detail right off the bat.
‘How Do I Get Bigger Arms?’ Avoid the overtraining tendency
Many an aspiring arms builder runs into frustration in attempting to build bigger arms due to overtraining these muscles. The arms muscles are especially susceptible to overtraining because they’re worked indirectly when performing workouts for the chest, shoulders, and back. When you bench press for chest-building, your triceps are worked. And no matter how strictly you manage to isolate your lats on pull-down exercises, your biceps take some of the brunt. This means we often need to back off from using too many sets while performing workouts that directly hit the arms.
When someone asks me “how do I get bigger arms” and I my first answer is “stop working your arms so much”, they often abreact to the counterintuitive nature of the advice. After all, it flies in the face of what will be effective for many of our desires; if we fail an academic test, it’s likely we need to study more; when having trouble securing a job, it’s often a “numbers game” that calls for applying to more of them.
But building strength and muscle size is a balancing act. It requires as much sensory acuity to muscle recuperation between workouts as it does to the stimulatory effect of the workouts themselves. If you’re working your arms with good form, striving to increase your workout weights, and applying respectable intensity-of-effort to your workouts, but bigger arms aren’t forthcoming – it’s very likely you need to work your arms less often and/or with fewer sets in order to get them growing.
‘How Do I Get Bigger Arms’: The best Exercises?
Through years of trial and error, I’ve found that there are some exercises that are much better than others for the natural bodybuilder to build bigger arms. We’re often told that “basic movements” are the way to go (i.e.: standing barbell curls for biceps), but I’ve discovered that’s not always the case. Consider the possibility that a basic movement often only became labeled as such because nobody had created machinery for an alternate movement at the time when the basic one was the only choice (that point seemed circular : - )
'Getting Bigger Arms': Here I am displaying my latest progress... posing in front of a M50 Super Sherman tank at the Cavanaugh Flight Museum at Addison Airport in Dallas, Texas
For example, I’ve found that the biceps muscles respond extremely well to equipment and techniques that put continuous tension on those muscles throughout the range of a repetition. Lying flat on a bench beneath a triceps pushdown pulley (facing outward/weight stack behind head) and curling an attached bar from the nearly extended position, all the way to where the bar touches the chin, is a great way to provide continuous tension on the biceps.
I’ve experienced much more biceps development from doing the above than I ever did with standing barbell curls. That doesn’t mean standing barbell curls won’t work for you; only that they’re not required and might not be as effective as some alternatives.
Here’s a list of the best movements (in my opinion) for building the biceps:
- Supine low pulley/weight stack curls on floor rowing machine (half reps)
- Preacher curls (pulley machine/weight stack) in middle area of range-of-motion
- Seated dumbbell curls (non-alternating)
- Seated incline bench dumbbell curls (simultaneous/non-alternating)
- Standing barbell curls/middle one-third of range-of-motion (if back’s against wall to prevent “cheat reps”)
The “how do I get bigger arms” question is most importantly answered from the standpoint of bigger triceps; this muscle makes up two-thirds of upper arms size potential. Moreover, bigger triceps provide “bigger hanging arms.”
Here are the movements I’ve noticed are best for overall triceps size:
- Seated overhead triceps extension (with rope/pulley/weight stack)
- Overhead triceps extension over right angled floor bench (rope/pulley/weight stack)
- Seated overhead dumbbell triceps extensions (right and left arm separately)
- Triceps press-downs (with rope)
- Triceps press-downs (with bar)
- Reverse triceps pushdowns
‘How do I get Bigger Arms?’ Notes on exercises
I’ve never done alternating dumbbell curls in my life. “Why”… you ask? Because they make absolutely no sense at all. When they’re done, they basically create a rest/pause effect for each arm’s respective curl. To back my contention, I often cite the fact that nobody does alternating leg presses, alternating leg extensions, alternating dumbbell presses, alternating triceps extensions, alternating… well, you get the point.
When working triceps, it’s important to work all three heads of the muscle for full development. These three heads are referred to as the long head, medial head, and lateral head, respectively. All the triceps exercises listed will work all three heads, along with other movements not listed. Some exercises, however, (such as triceps kickbacks), only work two of the heads (lateral head and long head).
I’ve found the best way to avoid elbow pain from doing triceps exercises is to avoid triceps extension machines and stick with barbells, dumbbells, and ropes/pulleys/weight stacks. The rigidity of machines leaves little play for the elbows and often results in tendonitis. I’ve discovered the best way to avoid such inflamed elbow joints it to stick mostly with the rope/pulley extensions.
I recommend always using strict form on all exercises. Cheat reps will often obscure progress using the powerfully effective method of progression I outline in HardBody Success. To build huge arms, you need to constantly monitor unambiguous feedback.
If you’re asking the “how do I get bigger arms” question and still feel unsure about the exercises (or anything) I’ve mentioned, don’t hesitate to shoot me a question in the comment section.
Or go ahead and email me: firstname.lastname@example.org