If you want to build some standout arms, it's going to require some focused training that goes beyond push/pull compounds. You need to do supersets and you need to do them in conjunction with body-part splits.
Supersets work simply because they're an efficient way to increase training volume and intensity, particularly for smaller muscle groups like the arms. Supersets work best if you follow a few simple strategies:
- Train biceps and triceps with supersets on their own day while managing fatigue to maximize your results.
- Take no rest between each biceps and triceps exercise, but do take around 120 seconds before doing another superset. Take more rest for compounds like chin-ups and dips to maximize workload.
- Set up each pair close together logistically in the gym for quick transition, good etiquette, and to avoid losing your station when you're on the other side of the gym.
The Superset Big-Arm Program
Scrap your current arm program and try this one for a few weeks.
1 – Chin-Up and Dip
- A1 Chin-Up – 4 sets to near failure
- A2 Dip – 4 sets to near failure
No rest between A1 and A2. Rest approximately 2-3 minutes between supersets.
For newbies, this means to do a set of chin-ups, then immediately do a set of dips without rest. That's one round and you'll do three more, resting a couple of minutes between supersets.
Perform these exercises to near but not absolute failure. Consistent absolute failure on all sets adds disproportionate fatigue to the training effect.
For the chins, choose a partial or fully underhand grip to emphasize biceps recruitment. Fully extend your elbows at the bottom with control and then reverse direction.
Your scapula should move with you and not remain locked in place. Use full available range of motion at the top and bottom under control to avoid needless injury risk. Squeeze at the top and then repeat.
For the dips, use caution as they can put your shoulder in a compromised position and aren't suitable for those with injured shoulders or poor joint mobility. Ensure the ball of the joint doesn't glide forward from the socket in the bottom of your dip, which would result in the ball pushing repeatedly against your biceps and rotator cuff tendons.
Descend to a depth you can control and then extend elbows to lockout. Some trainers emphasize remaining upright for more triceps focus, but more forward torso lean may allow more shoulder comfort and will still smash triceps while engaging more chest.
Remember, classic-era bodybuilders used bodyweight compounds as the foundation of arm training. Though prominent bodybuilders of the '60s and '70s lacked the sheer mass (and abdominal distention) of modern pros, Arnold and his contemporaries never lacked for world-class arms.
2 – Narrow-Grip Smith Machine Press and Barbell Curl
- A1 Narrow-Grip Smith Press – 4 sets of 12-15 reps
- A2 Barbell Curl – 4 sets of 8-12
Rest approximately 90-150 seconds between supersets.
The Smith machine's set path allows you to use a heavy load to overwhelm triceps fibers by removing the fight to maintain stability. Everything you have goes into pushing the weight. You get big training intensity, metabolic stress/pumps, work volume, and mechanical tension.
Place hands at a shoulder-width grip. (A narrower grip needlessly places stress on wrists and elbows without added benefit to triceps.) You may also want to use a false or thumbless grip as it may feel better for your wrists and allow greater triceps focus as you tuck your elbows to your sides.
Avoid creating an aggressive arch of the back. The goal is to maximize the range, not artificially shorten range of motion to show off how much you can lift.
The barbell curls should be done strictly with full elbow extension. It's okay to get some forward elevation of the elbows at the top of the movement because that allows greater squeezing of biceps. Avoid letting front delts take over the curl, though, and don't sway the hips to initiate the curl.
Reset the shoulder blades back and flex your abs at the start of each rep. Maintain constant tension by avoiding end range lockout. You get plenty of mechanical tension from a strictly performed, high-rep set.
Use an EZ bar for less wrist stress, or an Olympic barbell if it doesn't bother them.
3 – Suspension Strap Skull Crusher and Curl
- A1 Suspension Strap Inverted Skull Crusher – 4 sets of 10-12
- A2 Suspension Strap Curl – 4 sets of 10-12
Rest approximately 90-120 seconds between supersets.
Most gyms now come equipped with suspension straps, but rings also work. Choose an angle of moderate difficulty until you've gained proficiency and can increase the challenge.
For the triceps portion, maintain a stable shoulder angle as you control the descent into end-range elbow flexion, mirroring a skull crusher, and then reverse into elbow lockout and repeat.
For the suspension strap curls, maintain neutral body position with arms extended 90 degrees from your torso. The elbows will try to drop as the more powerful lats instinctively try to turn the movement into more of a row. Defend against this by maintaining strict position of the humeri by elevating your elbows. This keeps tension on your biceps, thus delivering an intense stress and burn.
4 – Cable Overhead Extension and Rope Cable Hammer Curl
- A1 Rope Cable Overhead Extension – 4 sets of 12-15
- A2 Rope Cable Hammer Curl – 4 sets of 12-15
Rest approximately 60-90 seconds between supersets.
For overhead extensions, choose a stable foot base and flex your abs to keep a neutral spine. Lean forward at a stable angle, but the exact angle doesn't matter as the movement will follow the path of your straight spine no matter how upright or forward-leaned you are.
Start with the elbows fully locked in extension and then lower the resistance to the end of the range of motion. Reverse direction at the bottom and extend into lockout. Repeat for reps while avoiding momentum from hip or shoulder movement.
Begin the hammer curls with arms straight at your sides. Flex elbows with neutral hands gripping the rope. Try to keep the elbows from being pulled forward excessively; a little at the top is fine. Squeeze your biceps as hard as you can at the peak and control the negative back to a straight arm.
5 – Run The Rack Dumbbell Curl
Okay, this isn't a superset. It doesn't matter, do it anyhow. Finishing off the workout with one massive drop set to failure will add some demonically high volume and a huge pump.
Choose a weight you can curl 8 times with good form. Hit failure and then proceed to the next lightest pair of dumbbells with no rest. Hit every dumbbell increment all the way down to 5's or 10's. Push each drop to failure.
This pump gets painful so push through the discomfort to find your limits. No harm if you miss one increment because the weights are in use. Remember not to be like other boneheads and don't block the rack from other people who might need the dumbbells.