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Massive Force: High-Volume Workouts for High-Powered Arms


When I competed in my first strongman contest in 2007, I finished every event, even though I ended up last or next to last in each one. To tell you the truth, I was just happy to get through it without major injury. The next day, though, I felt very different. My lower back and legs were a little sore, but my arms looked and felt like they'd been trampled by Clydesdales. The stone lifts and Conan's wheel had left me with so much pain in my fingers, wrists, forearms, elbows, and biceps that I considered going to the hospital for medication.

It's not that I hadn't trained; I'd done farmer's walks, log presses, Zercher squats, sled drags, and heavy squats and deadlifts — all the lifts you'd expect an aspiring strongman competitor to do. What I didn't do was direct arm work. Big mistake.

The lesson I learned: If you're going to compete in strongman competitions, you'd better train your arms.

big guns

Mariusz Pudzianowski, no stranger to arm training.

There was a time when I wouldn't have had to learn that lesson the hard way. When I started training, developing a big set of arms wasn't just a byproduct of serious training. It was the goal, the reason many of us started working out in the first place. It didn't matter if you were training for sports, pure strength, general fitness, or to look good naked. Big, muscular arms were considered the ultimate indicator of strength and vitality.

So what changed?

Somehow, we got the idea that serious arm training was the province of meathead bodybuilders and overcompensating males. And we forgot that bigger, stronger arms actually help you perform better in a long list of sports, particularly contact sports. In football, for example, linemen use their arms every play to control their opponent. Defensive players must have the arm strength to take the opponent down. No amount of core strength or degree of overall conditioning can make up for weak arms and hands.

big guns


Pump Up the Volume

When I talk about "serious arm training," I don't mean a few sets of curls and extensions at the end of a workout, after you've done presses and rows. The six-week program that follows breaks some of the currently accepted rules for workout volume and duration. You have to be willing to challenge yourself to exceed your previous standards. That's why you'll do more than 20 sets per workout, and you'll train for 60 to 75 minutes.

I've written two different arm routines, which you'll alternate. I recommend a three-day training split in which you train arms in the first workout, legs in the second, and chest and back in the third.

Recommended training schedule:

Sets and reps
Adjust sets and reps based on your work capacity. The goal is to do progressively more work each session, rather than killing yourself the first time you try it.

Also note that I didn't include warm-up sets in the workouts. Add them as you see fit.

Rest intervals
Adjust the rest intervals if you need to; the bigger you are, the more rest you may need. However, don't exceed three minutes between sets.

Small-framed, well-conditioned females can get by with 45 to 60 seconds of rest.

Loading
Choose a load in which you reach muscular failure within the prescribed rep range.

Tempo
The first two exercises of each workout stress functional hypertrophy and maximal strength. Explode on every rep of every set, and try to move the weight as fast as possible through the concentric range. Follow the prescribed tempo and use compensatory acceleration. Always control the eccentric portion of the repetition.

The goal of the remaining exercises, which are assigned a 2010 tempo, is to fatigue as many motor units as possible by maintaining continuous tension on the targeted muscles. The timing doesn't have to be exact, but you do need to establish and maintain a pace. Imagine pedaling a bike up a steep hill; the tension on your legs is continuous. That's what you want to do with a 2010. Don't stop moving during the set.


ARMS #1

A1) Barbell cheat curl, cluster sets, slow eccentric

Use hip action and momentum to complete the lift, then lower the weight slowly to the start position. "Cluster sets" require a brief pause between each repetition (explained below).

Load: Use a weight you think you could lift for just 3 reps with standard form on this exercise. You'll probably have to adjust the weight up or down until you find a load that allows you to get at least 4 "cheat" reps per set, but not more than 6.

Sets/reps: 3 sets of 4 to 6 cluster reps (let the bar rest on your thighs for 2 seconds between repetitions)

Tempo: 42X0 (take 4 seconds to lower the weight, pause 2 seconds, lift explosively, don't pause at the top)

Rest: 90 seconds

A2) Floor EZ-bar triceps extension, cluster sets

Lie on your back on the floor. Rest the bar on the floor behind your head, and pull the bar from a complete stop on each rep — you want to pause three full seconds with the bar on the floor between reps. If you have access to bumper plates, use those so the bar sits up a little higher in the starting position.

Load: Use a weight that would allow you to perform 3 continuous reps using standard form.

Sets/reps: 3 sets of 6 cluster reps

triceps extension

Floor triceps extension

1 | 2

Tempo: 33X1

Rest: 90 seconds

B1) Incline dumbbell curl

Set the bench at a 60-degree incline. Use an underhand (supinated) grip throughout the movement.

Sets/reps: 2 to 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Tempo: 2010

Rest: 10 seconds

B2) EZ-bar preacher curl

Start each rep with your arms fully extended, then come three-quarters of the way up.

Sets/reps: 2 to 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Tempo: 2010

Rest: 10 seconds

B3) Cable curl

Use the EZ-bar attachment with a narrow, underhand grip.

Sets/reps: 2 to 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Tempo: 2010

Rest: 90 seconds, then repeat circuit

C1) Supine dumbbell triceps extension

Use two dumbbells and lie on your back on a flat bench. Keep your elbows pointed at the ceiling throughout the movement. Lower the weights toward your ears, touching your front delts at the bottom. (Think of throwing a dart to get an idea of the range of motion.)

Sets/reps: 2 to 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Tempo: 2010

Rest: 10 seconds

C2) Supine barbell triceps extension

Use a barbell, and lower the bar to your forehead.

Sets/reps: 2 to 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Tempo: 2010

Rest: 10 seconds

C3) Triceps pressdown

Use a straight-bar attachment and an overhand grip.

Sets/reps: 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps

Tempo: 2010

Rest: 90 seconds, then repeat circuit


ARMS #2

A1) Barbell push press, cluster sets

Use a shoulder-width grip, keep your elbows under the bar, and use a quick knee dip to initiate the movement. Press the barbell up and over your head, locking out your arms at the top. Lower the bar slowly, and then pause three seconds with the bar on your upper chest before starting the next rep.

Load: Use a weight you could lift for 3 reps of traditional push presses.

Sets/reps: 3 sets of 4 to 6 cluster reps

Tempo: 33X1

Rest: 120 seconds

A2) Weighted pull-up, rest-pause sets

Strap on some weight and grab the chin-up bar with an overhand, shoulder-width grip. Keep your body as vertical as possible, which forces your biceps to work harder to initiate the movement. Pause 1 second at the top, then lower yourself slowly and immediately begin the next rep. Do 2 or 3 reps, drop off the bar and rest 15 seconds, then jump back up and do 1 or 2 more. Rest 15 seconds, and finish with 1 or 2 more.

Load: Use a weight you could lift for 3 traditional weighted pull-ups.

Sets/reps: 3 sets of 6 rest-pause reps

Tempo: 31X0

Rest: 120 seconds

B1) Low-incline EZ-bar triceps extension

Set the bench to a 15-degree incline, and lower the bar to your forehead.

Sets/reps: 2 to 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Tempo: 2010

Rest: 10 seconds

B2) Dip

Keep your torso as upright as possible to force your triceps to work harder.

Sets/reps: 2 to 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Tempo: 3010

Rest: 10 seconds

B3) Triceps pressdown

Use the rope attachment.

Sets/reps: 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps

Tempo: 2010

Rest: 90 seconds, then repeat circuit

C1) Seated Zottman curl

Curl the dumbbells with an underhand (supinated) grip. At the top, rotate your hands inward to a pronated position and lower them. At the bottom, rotate them outward to a supinated position for the next rep.

Sets/reps: 2 to 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Tempo: 2010

Rest: 10 seconds

C2) Standing EZ-bar reverse curl

Sets/reps: 2 to 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Tempo: 2010

Rest: 10 seconds

C3) Standing hammer curl

Curl both arms at the same time.

Sets/reps: 2 to 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Tempo: 2010

Rest: 90 seconds, then repeat circuit


The Well-Armed Man (or Woman)

Do each of these workouts four times. If you use the split I described, it should take you about 40 days. Push yourself each workout, and you'll discover the payoff for all that hard work — bigger arms that are as strong as they look.

How strong? Following my 2007 thrashing in that strongman contest, I shifted to split routines, including high-volume arm training. My log press, just to pick one event, went from 170 pounds to 215 pounds in nine months, despite the fact I dropped eight pounds of body weight during that time.

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