Here’s one for the guys! So you want to build bigger arms? Sounds simple but in reality there’s a whole host of nuances which are ready to trip you up.
First things first.. anatomy. The arms are made up of the bicep (two headed elbow flexor) and the tricep (three headed elbow extensor) allowing flexion and extension of the elbow. In terms of mass, the ratio of bicep to tricep is 2:3 meaning that your triceps actually make up ⅔ of your arm.. that means in the quest for bigger arms, the first port of call is ensuring you have adequate volume in your tricep training.
When it comes to programming your workouts, your focus areas should always take pride of place in your workouts. For maximum arm growth I’d implement an arm training day as well as including some less intense sets as accessories on upper body days. Aim to train your biceps and triceps twice per week, giving adequate rest between workouts.
Time Under Tension
In order to stimulate muscle growth (or hypertrophy) we must provide a stimulus to which that muscle must adapt. We should be aiming for 12-15 reps (or 8-12 slow reps) for each set giving your muscles rough 45 seconds under tension. The weight used must be heavy enough to feel a deep burn in the muscle belly as well as nearing complete fatigue in the muscle.. but not so heavy that you can’t reach the required reps with perfect form! Which brings me on to the next tip.
The quality of muscular contractions will be a major player in how quickly you can grow your arms. If you’re just moving the weight up and down without much thought for technique or which muscles are working, you stand very little chance of actually engaging the entire muscle properly through a full range of movement with good form. However, by reducing the weight and taking more time on each rep, specifically on the eccentric (lengthening) phase, we can focus much more on contracting the working muscles fully. This brain to muscle communication is called the neuromuscular connection and is vital for faster hypertrophy. When you forcefully squeeze the muscle through each rep you’re contracting the fibres to shorten the muscle.
Essentially, the more muscle fibres we can activate, the greater the growth potential. In basic terms, growing muscles without full activation will be a slow and painful process. Luckily for us, the biceps and triceps are pretty easy to contract through the full range of motion so as long as you’re focussing on squeezing the biceps and triceps through each set, you’ll get good engagement of these muscles!
One of the main components of hypertrophy is progressive overload, meaning your workouts should be getting progressively heavier. I find that strength increases in a hypertrophy programme come much slower than on an all out strength programme due to the care that’s taken on technique, time under tension and mind-muscle connection but that doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels. You should be really fatigued at the end of each of your sets with the muscle burning nicely.
If you’re worried about what weight to use, aim for a weight where you’re really struggling for the last 2-3 reps (try to keep good form still) and build on this, taking note as you progress. You should be aiming for around 30-60 seconds rest between exercises, giving your muscles enough time to recover for the next set but not enough time to recover completely, further encouraging metabolic stress on the muscle.
Don’t forget your compounds! Although these exercises won’t stimulate your biceps and triceps as much from a mechanical point of view, they will enhance the effects of your arm routine. Big movements like squats, deadlifts, presses and rows are vital to your programme. When performed correctly with adequate loading, these exercises will cause a cascade of muscle building hormones which in turn will help your arms grow bigger and stronger!
If you’re nailing all the other aspects of arm training but still not seeing any growth you might be under eating. In order for muscles to become bigger and stronger the body requires energy. This energy must be surplus to the body's basic needs, so if you’re not eating enough Calories then your body will prioritise more vital functions to use the energy. Eating more Calories than you burn is essential for hypertrophy with a larger focus on low gi carbohydrates, healthy fats and lean protein.
So you know the principles to build bigger arms, now all you need is the exercises..
DB Curl- One of the classic moves you'll see people doing in the gym. Be sure not to swing the weight!
Hammer Curl- This variation of the DB Curl targets more of the outer head of the bicep and forearm to give a thicker looking arm.
Concentration Curl- Sometimes called the prison curl, this exercise targets the bicep peak to produce a wider looking and more defined arm.
Rope Extension- Another classic arm exercise you'll see in the gym. Keep your elbows locked in to your sides and avoid swing the weight!
Tricep Kickback- A brilliant isolation exercise to target all 3 tricep heads
Band Extension- If you're stuck at home with nothing more than a band, here's a great variation on using cables.
Overhead Extension- Last but not least, the overhead extension is a great exercise to start moving some heavier weights with your triceps.
If you want a solid arm day routine, you can simply use all these exercises together in your next bicep & tricep workout.
Aim for 10-15 reps on each exercise with 30-60 seconds rest in between each set, ensuring you keep all the information above in mind!
You can also add in a few of these exercises on your push and pull days to finish off your arms after doing your bigger compounds. Again, stick to the same intensity, rep ranges and rest for maximum gains.
Good luck on your quest and feel free to ask us any questions you have!