Everybody wants bigger arms and we get that. But the thing many dedicated bodybuilders tend to forget is that regardless of how great it feels to have greatly developed biceps, you shouldn’t neglect the rest of the muscles in the arm. In fact, if you want to build truly admirable arms, you need to train every muscle in the arm with the same volume and intensity as you do your biceps. Nobody admires guys with ridiculous muscle imbalances, so it’s crucial to create a balanced approach to training arms that won’t leave any muscle behind. Here are our suggestions.
The anatomy lesson
Your upper arm is made up of two major muscle groups: the biceps and the triceps.
The core muscle of the biceps muscle group is the biceps brachii muscle, which is composed of a long (outer) head and a short (inner) head that work as a single muscle. The biceps brachii is responsible for flexing the elbow and rotating the forearm and since its fibers are aligned in a fusiform arrangement (which allows for a great degree of shortening), this muscle is capable of producing a wide range of motion. Deep under the biceps brachii lies the brachialis muscle, which is responsible for flexing the elbow, while the brachioradialis muscle which is found in the forearm is heavily involved in rotating the forearm. It’s important to know that the biceps is mainly composed of fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are able to produce quick and powerful contractions.
The triceps, as the name implies, contain three heads – the long (upper inside), medial (lower inside) and lateral (outside) head – and it makes up 2/3 of the upper arm. Of the three heads, the long one is the meatiest, but for achieving a well-developed look, it’s important to adequately target and train each head. The medial and lateral heads are comprised of a mix of fast and slow-twitch fibers, while the long head is dominated by fast-twitch fibers. The long head attaches above the shoulder joint, which means that it’s stretched only when your arm is raised overhead.
With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of 6 great arm exercises that you probably aren’t doing often enough. These moves will help you train your arms in ways that your regular routine can’t and powerfully hit the biceps and triceps heads that you might have been neglecting so far.
Arm training for maximal growth
#1. Tricep Dips
Enter the king of triceps builders. Tricep dips help you target all three triceps heads at once with a heavy load which translates to a maximal recruitment of muscle fibers and more growth.
Dips are complex in that they require movement of a number of joints and thereby promote the development of multiple muscle groups at the same time. So before even thinking of doing triceps isolation exercises, give your triceps a nice burn with this potent move. Depending on your level of strength, you can perform triceps dips on a bench or using a set of parallel bars, mostly found on an assisted pull-up/dip machine. If you’re a beginner, start with a weight that’s roughly two thirds of your original body weight until you get the hang of it.
- Approach the machine with your arms fully extended on both sides, then wrap your fingers around the outside of the parallel bars with your thumbs on the inside.
- Your wrists should be angled so that they allow the elbows to bend backwards.
- Hold your body at arm’s length with arms nearly locked above the bars.
- Slowly lower yourself down with an upright torso until your biceps touch your forearms and your triceps are fully stretched. The elbows should stay close to your body.
- Press yourself up, squeezing your triceps.
- If you’re a beginner, perform 3 sets of 8-10 reps. As your strength increases, progress to 5 sets of 10 reps.
#2. Rope Triceps Pushdown
The triceps pushdown is a thorough and balanced exercise which should be an essential part of any triceps program. It hits all three heads of the triceps, but emphasizes the lateral and medial heads slightly more than the long one, while also working your shoulders, abs and upper back. If used regularly, this move will help you build stronger and more toned triceps with the much sought-after ‘horse shoe’ shape. While there are many ways do it, performing it with a rope attachment helps isolate the triceps better and achieve optimal contraction.
Additionally, the rope enables you to target fibers that lie deep within the triceps and move through a greater range of motion. In fact, one 2011 study found that the rope triceps pushdown was more effective than the bar pushdown when it comes to recruiting triceps muscle fibers.
- Pick a moderate weight and attach a rope attachment to a high pulley on a cable machine.
- Grab both ends of the rope with a neutral grip (palms facing each other) and stand upright with a straight torso and a very slight inclination forward.
- Bring the upper arms close to your body and have your forearms point up towards the pulley.
- Squeeze the triceps and pull the rope down, bringing each side of the rope away from the other and to the side of your thighs until your arms are fully extended and perpendicular to the floor. Only the forearms should move while the upper arms remain stationary and close to the torso in order to eliminate any momentum.
- Hold for a second then bring the rope to the starting position.
- Perform 5 sets of 12-15 reps.
#3. Preacher Curls
As far as bicep exercises go, preacher curls are somewhere on the top of the list, especially when you’re looking to fully isolate the biceps. They don’t require heavy weights, are immune to cheating and are the single best way to build a mighty biceps’ peak which will make your arms appear much bigger and fuller. You can perform this exercise with dumbbells, a cable pulley, a barbell or EZ curl bar. When using a bar, a wide grip will help you emphasize the short head while a narrow grip will place more stress on the long head.
- Find a preacher bench and rest your upper arms on the preacher bench pad with your chest firmly against it.
- Grab an EZ curl bar (have someone hand you the bar or grab it from the front bar rest) at the close inner handle with your hands slightly tilted inwards
- Keeping the chest and arms firmly in place, hold the bar at shoulder length.
- Slowly lower the bar until your upper arms are fully extended and your biceps are fully stretched.
- Squeeze the biceps and curl the weight up to the starting position, in line with your shoulders. Hold this position for a couple of seconds, then start lowering the bar again.
- Perform 3 sets of 8-12 reps.
Continues on next page …