Next Level Arms
Updated: Jun 11, 2018
Whether fancied or real, the size and composition of men's (and women's) arms is society's way of quickly determining one's strength, power, and physical prowess. Most of my heroes growing up had big, strong arms. From pro athletes to comic book superheroes. When someone wants to gauge another's muscularity or strength they usually say, "Flex!" And anyone that has ever lifted a dumbbell knows that's the green light to roll up your shirt sleeve and display your best single arm biceps pose (usually the bigger, stronger one).
By the time I reached adolescence, I saw the attention and admiration strong arms received and I was certain I wanted a pair. What I was not certain of was how to go about acquiring them. I began lifting weights in high school as part of our team sport's curriculum. I joined a local gym to outdo the competition. I didn't excel in the team sports but the hard work in the gym started paying off with a muscular physique and occasional compliments on my arms. As you know, once the slightest evidence of progress is made, it's nearly impossible to stop and we want to achieve that next level. I wanted to achieve that next level in arm's development, and I still do!
I modify or amend my workout program for all body parts based on numerous variables (e.g., progress slowing or coming to a halt, occasional deloading to allow aches & pains to subside or as a preventitive measure after pushing my body consistently for a period of time, change in exercises to provide new physical & mental stimulation).
Before we start building & sculpting it's worth mentioning that I've come to rely on the primary compound movements to set the strength & size foundation for my arms. Chest & Shoulder presses hit my Triceps frequently while Pull-ups, Pull-downs, and various types of rows tax the Biceps. So I'll usually complete a Push workout with a couple Triceps exercises to finish the job. Same goes for a couple Biceps exercises to wrap up a Pull workout. Occasionally when my arms are begging for attention I'll give them some Direct Focus. I prefer alternating between bis & tris every set to keep the pump and pace going. However, you can do all sets of biceps exercise before moving on to a triceps and alternating in this fashion. Or complete all bicep exercises before moving onto triceps or vice versa. Countless ways to modify any training session and just as many roads to solid arms.
That being said, I've created a general blueprint for what stimulates my arms most effectively. Take a dose or the whole shebang of my ideal arm workout. If I could only do one arm workout for the rest of my days it would look something like this...
1) Mass Builders:
A) Biceps- Standing Barbell or Cable Curls, 4 or 5 sets of 8 - 12 reps
(Squeeze hard at peak contraction, like you're striking a flex pose! Keep momentum to a minimum other than getting a few bonus reps in towards the end of the last couple sets).
B) Triceps- Close Grip Barbell Bench Press or Weighted Dips, 4 to 5 sets of 10 - 12 reps (Compound movements but too good not to mention for building triceps strength & size).
2) Strength & Size Movements:
A) Biceps- Seated or Standing Dumbbell Hammer Curls, 4 sets 8 - 12 reps
(Stimulates the brachialis which pushes the biceps up and adds thickness to the overall arm circumference. Curl simultaneously or alternate. My favorite is Standing Alternate across the body Hammer Curls).
B) Triceps- Seated Overhead Triceps Extensions with a heavy dumbbell or inner grip of an EZ-Bar, or EZ-Bar Skullcrushers. 4 sets of 8 - 12 reps
(keep the elbows in close to the sides of your head, not flared out, and stationary through the movement. The only movement is the forearms. I like getting a deep stretch with these but come to a complete stop after each rep instead of "bouncing" it back up).
3) Isolation, Finishing Movements:
A) Biceps- Incline Seated Dumbbell Curls or Single Arm BARBELL Curls (Standing or Preacher), 3 or 4 sets of 10 - 15 reps
(Get a nice stretch for the seated incline curls and flex as hard as possible before even beginning to lift the weight. I find stimulating the biceps in the stretched, loaded position extremely beneficial and forces the mind >> muscle connection).
(The Single Arm Barbell (not dumbbell) curl increases the need for stabilization and increases biceps activation. Keep the barbell perfectly horizontal throughout the movement). One of my recently added favorites!
B) Triceps- Standing Cable Pushdown or Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extensions with neutral grip/palms facing each other, 3 or 4 sets of 10 - 15 reps
(What I like about the cable pushdown is the constant tension placed on the triceps. For similar reasons on any lying triceps movement, angle the elbows so they're pointed approximately 45 degrees away from the body, not 90 degrees or perpendicular to your body/floor. Not only does this prevent resting in the otherwise 90 degree flexed position but it also alleviates focusing pressure onto the elbow joints and onto the muscle).
There you have it! One way to strong, admirable arms. Get creative using the above exercises and substituting some of your favorite movements for mine. I've always responded best to a higher volume of training (4 to 5 sets of 10 to 15 reps). Your arms might respond differently than mine and I occasionally lower the volume when my joints need a rest.
Sure wish I had this arm workout when I first started trying to fill my sleeves. It's one of my favorite body parts to train probably due to it being the most visible and practically used on a daily basis.
I hope this helps get you closer to your athletic, physique goals. At the least, one step closer and to that next level. And remember, there is ALWAYS a Next Level!