A lot of people believe that direct arm training doesn't add pounds to your big compound lifts. Not true. Completely neglecting direct biceps and triceps work will hold back your big lifts.
The only problem? Many lifters are completely confused about when and how to implement direct arm training into a power and strength-based program. To remedy that, here are the most effective supersets that combine biceps and triceps work with compound movement patterns.
1 – Chin-Up + Smash Curl
By placing the hands facing back towards you on the pull-ups, more emphasis will be placed on the biceps. We'll also use that same "supinated" position with the biceps curls. We won't actually rotate the hands as they'll stay in the palms facing up and out position.
How to Do It
Starting on the pull-up bar, you'll be using a supinated grip to target the biceps more directly. If you're using a standard straight bar, get your hands in a medium-width grip with your palms facing back towards you. (Many gyms will have transitional handles that place your hands between a supinated and neutral grip, so feel free to use those.)
Avoid jumping up to the bar as your shoulder position and swaying momentum will not only take away from your muscle targeting, but potentially place your shoulders into an injurious position. Set up on a box instead.
Pull straight up, peak the contraction for a split second, and then control your range of motion all the way down. Make sure you don't come into a "dead-hang" as this will limit the constant tension you're shooting for. Do 4-10 strict reps, tapping into the mind-muscle connection on the biceps.
Now move to the prone incline smash curl. Support your chest on an incline bench with your core and glutes engaged. Try and place your sternum on the top of the bench in order to allow your arms to move freely and not be limited by the sides of the bench.
From here, supinate your hands and drive the middle sides of the dumbbells together as hard as you can, squeezing them with loads of tension. Then curl up, keeping the squeeze on the dumbbells, peak the contraction of the curl, and move back down through a full range of motion.
The slight shoulder flexion will increase activation on the biceps, so we'll be utilizing that exact motion in the squeeze curl as well. Do 8-15 reps, really trying to maximize the tension throughout the set. For people who have trouble curling with the volume necessary to achieve a pain-free training effect, this squeeze press is a game changer.
2 – Biceps Curl + Inverted Row
Biceps curls are some of the most butchered exercises in the gym because most people don't understand the anatomy and mechanics of this muscle group.
The biceps aren't just one muscle, but rather two muscle bellies that are located on the front side of the upper arm. But here's where everyone misses the mark – the long head of the triceps is another dual-joint muscle that crosses both the elbow and shoulder joints, meaning you must manipuilate the shoulder position in a biceps curl in order to target the strongest contraction and get the best activation possible.
By combining the biceps curl with a compound movement like a row or pull-up, we can not only achieve high levels of activation on the biceps during the curls, but also overload them with more compound movements in superset schemes.
How to Do It
Grab the dumbbells with both hands and get your body into a strong, athletic stance with the hips slightly hinged back and the torso leaning forward just a bit. From this starting position, tense your glutes, abs, and shoulders before the weight ever starts moving.
From this position, curl the weights up by flexing your elbows, but also accentuating the contraction at the top by bringing the shoulders into slight flexion as well.
A big mistake some people make is over-flexing at the shoulders and getting the forearms into a vertical position to the ground. In this faulty position, the load is perpendicular with the ground, which de-activates the prime mover.
We're going to avoid that by focusing on flexing the biceps hard with both elbow and shoulder movement instead of aimlessly moving the weights from point A to point B. Focus on peaking each contraction and trying to squeeze as hard as you can because the biceps respond best to internal tension.
From here, it's time to move into the compound movement of the superset and hammer home mechanical loading on the biceps. The preferred addition to a concentration-based biceps curl is a row variation like the inverted row on a barbell, rings, or a TRX device. Focus on driving the body up as a stable unit and using a full range of motion. By adding a slight rotation at the hands (if using straps or suspension trainers), we can increase the emphasis placed on the biceps.
Use rep schemes between 8-15, staying tight with your form and accumulating stress over 2-4 total sets at the tail-end of a pull or upper-body day.
3 – Overhead Triceps Extension + Push-Up
Hitting the triceps from a novel shoulder angle stimulates growth while also training the triceps to activate out of a stretched position.
The long head of the triceps has the biggest level of functionality out of any of the upper arm muscles. It acts as a powerful stabilizer of the shoulder joint. It also has great growth potential because it's usually undertrained. That's exactly why training the triceps out of an overhead position is one of the highest yielding direct-arm training movements for any strength athlete.
How to Do It
The seated position works best to avoid heavy torso lean and cheating. Fire your core, turn on the glutes, and drive your feet into the ground.
Using either bands or a cable setup with a rope, hammer out 8-20 slow and controlled extensions, focusing on using a full range of motion to stretch the long head of the triceps at the bottom while maximizing the flex at the top.
You'll likely tire quickly due to the overhead position of the arms as blood flow will leave the arms quicker. This means go lighter and focus on the tempo and quality of the contractions, not the weight being moved.
After completing perfect reps in the overhead position, we'll be matching that slightly flexed shoulder position with a feet-elevated push-up. This will allow the upper chest and triceps to be the primary movers.
Move slowly through a full range of motion, locking out at the top for 8-15 reps with perfect form and alternating between these two movements for 2-4 rounds.
4 – Banded Pushdown + Chain Loaded Push-Up
Since many industrial facilities and garage gyms lack adjustable cable setups commonly used for triceps work, it becomes easy to skip triceps isolation staples like the pushdown while overdoing less joint friendly variations like lying triceps extensions.
Hitting your triceps hard with serious pump work is as easy as using a banded-resistance setup on a pull-up bar or squat rack. For getting a pump, using bands is actually preferable to cables in terms of maximizing the tension of the muscles upon peak contraction while sparing the elbow and shoulder joints.
How to Do It
To place as much emphasis on the triceps as possible without cheating, get into a kneeling position with a strong core and engaged glutes. Think about setting up with a neutral grip at the top of the movement and externally rotating the hands slightly with pinkie fingers out to maximize each rep.
The goal here is to program ultra-high reps (15-30) with slow and constant tension and peak flexes each and every rep. When you can no longer do crisp reps, it's time to move directly into the chain-loaded push-up to finish off your triceps.
Remember, we're programming the push-up here after pre-fatiguing the triceps to maximize the response of the triceps, so position your elbows closer to your sides with full body tension irradiating through your glutes, core, and upper body.
Adding chains to your mid and lower back is the optimal way to load this movement while emphasizing the hard lockout at the top. This isn't the time for sloppy reps, but rather hitting 8-12 perfect push-ups, locking out the triceps at the top to maximize the training response.
Knock out 2-4 sets of these supersets as the last movement of a bench or upper body day and watch your arms grow.