Virtually every guy that’s ever lifted a weight would like to know how to get big arms. And you can understand why, as when you are wearing a T-shirt a pair of big muscular arms really sets you apart from everyone else. So in this article, I’ll explain how you can build up your arms in the fastest and most effective way possible.
But first, here’s a brief description of the arm musculature. The upper arm consists of three main muscles – the biceps, the triceps and the brachialis. The role of the biceps is to bend the arm at the elbow (elbow flexion) and also to supinate the forearm. The triceps straightens the arm (elbow extension). And the brachialis, which runs under the biceps and is really only visible when viewing the arms from the side, also flexes the elbow.
A lot of people make the mistake of concentrating too much on their biceps when training their arms, but the triceps is a larger muscle, so if you really want to develop your arms to the fullest you need to work these just as hard. So to get big arms, all you need do is follow these four simple steps.
1. Train Your Entire Body
You can’t build big arms on a skinny frame. It just won’t work. You need to add mass to your entire body if you want your arms to be big. So make it a priority to work your chest, back and legs, as these are the areas that can gain the most muscle. And train your shoulders hard too. This will give you a proportionate physique, as well as a solid foundation on which you can build big arms.
2. Do Basic Compound Movements First
If you are a beginner, you actually don’t need to do any direct arm training at all. Your arms will grow just fine as a result of doing rowing, chinning and pressing movements. So, if you are just starting out, do a basic full body workout program that focuses on the big compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts, bench press, bent-over row, overhead press, chin-ups etc. Split these up into two different workouts, and train three times per week, alternating the two routines. Perform 3–4 sets of 5–8 reps of each exercise (after warm-ups), and you’ll build a good, solid physique.
When you are a bit more advanced, however, you’ll probably find you’ll gain better if you split your body up a bit. So you could do either an upper/lower body routine, training three or four times per week, or a push/pull/legs split, or maybe an opposing muscle groups split (chest & back/legs/arms & shoulders).
Either way, it’s at this stage that you really need to include some direct arm training into your routine if you want to maximize their development. And an excellent arm workout will look something like this:
- Close Grip Chin-Ups 3 x 6–8 reps
- Barbell Curl 3 x 8–10 reps
- Dumbbell Hammer Curl 2 x 10–12 reps
- Close Grip Bench Press 3 x 6–8 reps
- Triceps Pressdowns 3 x 8–10 reps
- Overhead Dumbbell Extension 2 x 10–12 reps
You’ll notice that you’ve got a compound exercise first, followed by a couple of isolation exercises. The triceps, in particular, respond best to heavy loads, and the best exercises to build them are close grip bench presses and parallel bar dips. So you could replace the close grip bench with parallel bar dips if you wish. And, although these two exercises will work all three heads of the triceps to a certain extent (as will any triceps exercise), they mostly target the medial head. Pressdowns, on the other hand, put more emphasis onto the lateral head (this is the head that gives the triceps its horseshoe-like appearance from the side). And overhead extensions bring out the long head (which runs down the back of the arm) more fully.
Close grip chin-ups and barbell curls will add size to your biceps more effectively than anything else. But hammer curls bring out the brachialis muscle much more fully, which helps to add further mass and thickness to the upper arm. So these are a worthwhile addition to any arm workout.
3. Use the Right Frequency, Volume, Intensity and Pace
We’ve touched on some of this above. Train your arms every 3–5 days for best results. So that would normally be twice per week, but three times every two weeks is perfectly fine.
The volume (sets and reps) listed above will provide something close to the optimum amount of stimulation for most people, and it’s unlikely you’ll need any more. But everyone is different, and some people do respond well to higher volumes, so after you’ve been training this way for a while, you might want to experiment by increasing it a little to see if this works better for you.
You need to train hard, but you should rarely get to the point where you fail mid-rep. And don’t do those extremely slow, grinding reps either. Training to failure too often only wears down the central nervous system and could easily bring your gains to a complete halt. So stop most of your sets a rep or two short of failure.
And keep your pace fairly brisk. You’ll need to take about 2–3 minutes rest between sets of the compound exercises, but for your isolation movements, about 60–90 seconds is ideal if you want to maximize your gains.
You can train both your biceps and triceps on the same day if you wish, or you can do them on different days. Contrary to what you may have heard elsewhere, it really won’t make much difference.
4. Eat Right
Your training simply provides the stimulus for muscle growth, but your muscles actually grow while you are resting, and proper nutrition is vital if you want to get the best possible results.
So make sure you eat a good muscle building diet that provides you with a slight to moderate calorie surplus and is high in protein (about 0.8–1.0g per pound of body weight per day is ideal). You also need a good amount of complex carbohydrates, some healthy fats, and plenty of fruit and vegetables.
Apart from the above, you also need to ensure you get enough sleep – at least 8 hours per night. And don’t do too much in the way of other strenuous activities. A little cardio is OK, and can actually help with recovery. But if you do too much, it will eat away at your muscle tissue, and that will certainly stop you from getting the results you want.
So now you know how to get big arms. Follow the advice given here and you’ll be able to build your arms up as big as you want. Well, almost anyway 🙂