Pumped Strength: The Arm Workout

Get the Pump, Keep the Size

An Arm Workout for Size and Strength

Most lifters train their arms like their abs: light weight, high reps. But the heavier, more demanding exercises have the loudest muscle-building signal. Actually, both heavy compound exercises and isolation exercises have value, and both should be part of your arm workout.

High reps lend themselves to a great pump, but heavy arm training will thicken your biceps and triceps (even after the pump is gone) and support strength gains for major lifts. Both approaches to hypertrophy are essential to maximal arm development, and you'll see them in these supersets.

When you superset dips and chins, go heavy. Try for 4 reps of each and make sure you're emphasizing your arms. Here's how:

Dip Tips:

  • Position your torso upright and head neutral (not forward).
  • Use a more narrow grip.
  • Keep your legs further back.
  • Extend your elbows all the way at the top.

Chin-Up Tips:

  • Use a narrow, supinated (palms facing you) grip.
  • Focus less on retracting through the shoulder blades and more on loading up the biceps as you pull your chin above the bar.
  • Control your weight on the lowering phase and fully extend your elbows before pulling yourself up again.

Pair a heavy compound lift with an isolation exercise. Do 4-6 reps of the bench press and 20-30 full range of motion curls. To emphasize your triceps on the bench press, use a pronated close grip or neutral close grip for greater mechanical tension.

You can even use fat-grips to place a greater demand on the forearms, giving your entire arm a stronger, thicker look. (Big arms with tiny forearms is a strange look.)

Triceps-Focused Bench Press Tips:

  • Get a narrow grip on the bar, around 4-8 inches closer than your typical grip. Be careful, though. Going too close often places more stress on the wrists and reduces loading potential.
  • Own the weight on the lowering phase, driving through the ceiling as you lock out.
  • Focus on keeping your elbows tucked to prevent unwanted flaring.

Dumbbell Curl Tips:

  • Place your hands in a palms-up position throughout the entire range of motion.
  • Focus on squeezing the biceps at the top, keeping blood in the muscle throughout the entire set.
  • Chase the burn and stop at mechanical failure.

Use a barbell for heavy direct biceps work and follow it up with banded curls. For the former, go heavy and do 4-6 strict reps. The high-volume band work is all about the pump, so go for higher reps.

Barbell Curl Tips:

  • Load the bar heavy (80-85% 1RM).
  • Curl up with strict form; no swinging or cheating.
  • Keep tension directly on the biceps throughout the set.

Banded Curl Tips:

  • Use the lightest band you have.
  • Stand on the lengthened band, gripping it evenly on both sides with palms up.
  • Hammer out 10-20 fast but controlled reps, aiming to keep constant tension on the biceps.
  • Try cutting the rep 10-20% short of full elbow extension to restrict blood flow and accumulate a nasty pump.

For the first three weeks, choose just two of these supersets and add them to your training. Rotate through three supersets a couple of days a week.

After three weeks, add the left-out superset into the rotation and replace one of the others with it.

Not only are your arms going to grow, but they're going to become stronger too, leading to a bigger bench press, a stronger overhead press, and an improved pull-up game.

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Brandon Rynka is a strength and performance coach, owner of BR365 Strength Lab training facility, and a record-setting strength and endurance athlete. Follow on Instagram