The Intelligent & Relentless Pursuit of Muscle™

Mountain Dog Arms

Bench Press

Thank you to all my TNation friends for the feedback on my previous training articles. We now come to the last bodypart in this series: arms!

I believe it was Bertil Fox who mentioned his arms measured 16 inches when he was 16 years old, 17 inches when he was 17, and 18 inches when he was the ripe old age of 18. From there, I can't quite remember how his growth accelerated, but I can certainly remember mine.

Using Bertil's accomplishments as targets, I was able to duplicate his success all the way to 18 inches at age 18 before finally getting stuck.

I was a bit stumped by this plateau.

Up to that point, all I needed to do was keep increasing the weight I was curling and pushing by way of progressive resistance. I'd worked my way up to 80-pound dumbbell curls, 190-pound barbell curls, and dips between benches with seven 45-pound plates stacked on my lap before the gains fizzled out. 

So how do you take a good arm and make it a freaky arm? In a curious stroke of "luck," my elbows began to get really irritated, inflamed, and beat up from constantly trying to increase my poundages. This forced me to lighten up and start thinking about the muscles I was supposed to be training.

It worked, and I finally hit 19 inches.

Now, back in the day, the "be all, end all" was to have 20-inch arms. I would get there eventually, but it would take me another couple years of using less weight and better form, and generally being more creative in my approach. I'm pleased to say my arms finally got to 21 inches, which is where they sit today.

Although I don't really train biceps too much nowadays as they're a bit ahead of my triceps, allow me to show you some of the things that helped me get my arms from 18 to 21 inches.

Based on the messages I've been getting, I suspect many of you may have hit a sticking point with arms, so I'm hopeful you'll find the following ideas as productive for you as they were for me.


Key Concepts

Bench Press

For arm training, it's all about the following:

Here's why each is important:


Train biceps and triceps together.

There's just something about achieving the maximum pump your arms are capable of. You'll find no better way of doing this than by training biceps and triceps together.

I prefer to use a combination of the above, although if I had to pick a favorite, it would be alternating a set for biceps with a set for triceps.


Exercise Sequence – Biceps

Pay respect to the brachialis, the forgotten muscle!

One of the things you learn about bodybuilding is that a lot of it is creating an illusion. Training your brachialis is a great way to help "project" a massive arm because as the brachialis develops, it actually pushes your biceps and triceps further away from one another, making for a wider-appearing arm.

There are a number of different exercises you can use to hit your brachialis:

I want you to start your workouts with one of the above, preferably one of the first two listed.

Here's another key: Grip the dumbbell as hard as you can throughout the rep. I got this arm development tip from Jim Seitzer back when he was assisting Mike Francois. Jim told me this was key to getting past arm training ruts, but like so many training tips from the trenches he couldn't explain why.

See the video below for execution of the cross body hammer curl:

For instance, preacher curls have always been the favorite of all time greats like Larry Scott, the king of full, long, biceps.

Here are some options:

I never like to start with these, as this is an exercise that's simply "meant" to be done with a pumped arm.

A big part of my program design is sequencing exercises in a way that allows you to stay healthy so you can battle with the weights for the long haul. I don't think it is safe to start with a heavy preacher curl-type movement (especially a barbell or EZ bar) when your biceps aren't at least semi-pumped. I've seen a few people tear their biceps from doing this first. It's not a pretty sight.

These movements tie in nicely with the hammer curls listed above, as those movements also engage the lower biceps when using a full range of motion. It just makes sense to start with hammer curls to focus on the brachialis, thereby warming up the lower biceps in the process before proceeding to crush them.

I've included video below of the machine preacher curls for reference, although my favorite preacher curl is the standard EZ bar version.

Now that your arms are fully pumped from top to bottom, it's time to unleash the power of the "basics" on them. To make this even harder, do these with three-second descents.

Feel free to go as heavy as you want, as long as your form is impeccable.


Exercise Sequence – Triceps

Lifters often complain that lying triceps extension/skull crushers and other extension movements shred their elbows. I agree, as it's happened to me, too, so always begin your triceps training with a pushdown – rope pushdowns are the best – and get blood into the area.

By getting your triceps and elbows warm and full of blood, you should be able to do lying extensions later in the routine, without the accompanying pain that's so prevalent.


Controlled Eccentrics and Forceful Contractions

If you've read my previous articles, you'll know that I'm a big fan of three-second negatives. Let's discuss how to work both of these techniques into your biceps workout.

Don't overdo these! As you know, the eccentric portion of the lift is where a lot of the muscle damage is created. Couple that with the fact that biceps are a small muscle group and you have a recipe for overtraining if you perform this on all sets. I'd suggest using three-second descents on one exercise (3-4 sets), or on one set of each exercise (still only 3-4 sets).

My personal favorite method is with a basic exercise like barbell or dumbbell curls at the end of a workout, when I already have a great biceps pump. You won't be able to use as much weight, but you'll feel the exercise like never before.

Watch the video below to see how I do these with EZ Bar curls:

See the video below for how I do dip machine negatives:

Try to use this technique more in the beginning to middle of your biceps workout and the beginning of your triceps workout. The hard flex will drive blood into the muscle, further enhancing the three-second descents or heavy negatives you'll do down the road.

Intuitively, I think this technique works better with rep ranges of 6-8, as opposed to say, 12-15. It's similar to performing a concentration curl with a really light dumbbell – you can feel a contraction, but not a "hard" one. That said, don't compromise form for weight.

Here's an exercise called an incline concentration curl that's really good for hard contractions:

Push the dumbbells together as shown in the upcoming video below and squeeze the heck out of them.

Watch the video of the incline concentration curl to get an idea of the form.

For triceps, as mentioned earlier, all pushdown variations work extremely well for strong, forceful contractions.


Short rest periods

I really don't see the value in taking long breaks with small muscle groups. Seriously, if you're winded and ready to pass out after a set of 8 reps on barbell curls, your cardiovascular conditioning is a joke. If you do some Googling you'll find many studies that demonstrate increased hypertrophy from shorter rest periods. I'll let you do that on your own time, as this article is more about "street knowledge."

So how long should your breaks be? Here are a few things you should try:

Note: I don't sit and actually time myself, nor should you once you've gone through a few workouts and become accustomed to a brisker pace. Autoregulation, right? It works.


Training Volume

Volume for biceps and triceps training is lower than with larger body parts such as legs and back. With these techniques for intensity, a high number of sets simply isn't necessary.

Like all body parts, I like to gradually increase arm volume, train hard for six weeks or so at that volume, and then bring the volume back down. Intensity doesn't change, but the difference in volume provides built in periodization.

My 12-week program for arms looks like this:


Sample Workouts

Let's take a look at two sample workouts.

Here's a typical arm workout from Phase I of my program. It's 8 sets for biceps and 10 sets for triceps. Rest 30 seconds between sets on all exercises.

Here's a typical arm workout from Phase II of my program. It's 12 sets for biceps and 16 sets for triceps. I consider this high volume for small muscle like the biceps and triceps. Rest 45 seconds between sets on all exercises unless otherwise stated.

(This one is brutal. Please do this and let me know what you think!)


Bonus!

You want to try something that looks weird but KILLS your biceps? Check out these bamboo bar curls in the video below.

I don't even know how to explain how well these work. You don't feel anything in your elbows, and when you get the weight up, you feel a nasty contraction. This is Mr. Ohio Superheavyweight winner John Quint repping out on these:



Armed and Dangerous

Bench Press

Those of you who've been following my programs since they first appeared on TNation are likely noticing a trend, namely intensity, volume manipulation, perfect form, and creativity.

While it's true that the basics are the basics for a reason (i.e. they work), there comes a time in every bodybuilder's career when the basics simply quit delivering results at the same rate they once did.

When this happens, you have a choice: keep doing the same thing and expect new and improved results (what's that the definition of again?) or change things up and get on the right side of the adaptation curve.

The choice is yours, and you have all the tools you need to make the most of that decision.

Until next time!



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