Construct a set Eye-popping (and massively strong) arms aren’t as easy as simply going to the gym and doing dumbbell curls until everything hurts. If it were that easy, everyone would have Captain America-level biceps popping out of their t-shirts.
If you really want to grow really big arms, it’s about focusing on the small details. Your goal with each rep is to stimulate the muscles you’re training while not taxing your joints; This will keep you healthy and fresh so you can attack your arm training day after day. You need to choose the right exercises to build your arms. Again, this means more than basic curls and skull crushers. To grow arms, you need to change the position of your arms, the style of resistance (spoiler alert: don’t just use dumbbells!), and the speed of each movement.
The good news: You don’t have to figure this all out alone. Why do I do it together? 90-Day Arm Challenge with Men’s Health, a book that gives you a complete 12 week program focused on building you. This is a set plan that will have you challenge your arms almost every day for three months, with an eye toward serious bicep and tricep growth.
4 arm workout mistakes to avoid
Your arm training is very basic
Curls, pressdowns, and lateral raises are all great exercises—but they can quickly lead you to the dreaded training plateau.
Why? Muscle development comes with consistent improvements in the amount of stress and intensity you can handle in a workout. To build muscle and change your body you need to push hard enough to force your body to adapt. This adaptation, in this case, is muscle growth. And to make that adaptation happen, you need to change your exercises, repetitions, and weights to force your body to constantly adjust and get stronger. This cannot happen if you only do curls, tricep pressdowns and lateral raises in the same way.
How can it be repaired?
Variations don’t have to be complicated. Think about changing the angle of your arms with each exercise – moving your elbows closer or further away from your torso can change how you challenge your biceps or triceps. A standard bicep curl with your elbows close to your torso, for example, challenges our biceps in the middle and end of the motion as you squeeze your biceps. A promoter curl, which has your elbows in front of your torso, is hardest when you start the curl and easiest at the very top of the motion.
You can easily rotate between six arm exercises of your choice (three for biceps and three for triceps) in each workout. Just make sure that each of your elbows is in a different position. Do two to three exercises at least twice a week.
You speed up your reps
“Mechanical tension” may sound like a technically advanced concept, but it’s something every lifter should learn. In its simplest terms, it’s about the force you exert on your muscles through resistance (weight). This energy may be the key to stimulating muscle growth.
In exercise, you will feel tension as you use your muscles to apply force to complete a movement. But often, as you use heavier and heavier weights, you lose this feeling, because your form breaks down and you start using other muscles (and momentum) to complete the movement. To most effectively grow targeted muscles, especially in your arms, you want to focus on creating mechanical tension, no matter how heavy the weight. Yes, “progressive overload” is important. But to really grow muscle, you must overload gradually—and still feel it.
Understand this: You can get stronger without stretching your arms. Over the years, I’ve seen plenty of powerful people who don’t have an aesthetic to match their power. You also see guys curling 15-pound dumbbells with their arms jacked. Why? Because they focus mechanical tension.
How can it be repaired?
Follow a tempo for each rep, regardless of the weight you’re using. Aim to take one to two seconds to raise your weight, pause at the hardest point of the exercise, then lower with control, counting one to two seconds. Doing this practice will help you focus all of your arm exercises on (you guessed it!) your arms.
You stick to the same grip
Curl up, palm up. Triceps, palms up. If you keep the same hand position over and over in your movements, you’re creating a key problem: you’re using your muscles the same way over and over again. While you’re looking to build two groups of muscles in your biceps and triceps, these muscles have different parts—all of which are responsible for different tasks.
This is important for two reasons: your chances of adding Mad and your joint health. If you want superhero-sized arms, adjusting your arm position through exercise changes how your muscles are affected. For example, your biceps will distribute stress differently even if you simply rotate your palms to face each other. This can lead to the development of more balanced arms, which can keep you healthy in the long run—and also complement your jacked-up arms.
How can it be repaired?
Change your arm position by training your biceps and triceps. Play with three different concepts (palms toward the ceiling, palms toward each other, and toward the ground) on all bicep curl variations and skull crushers as well. In each workout, aim to hit at least two of these positions.
You don’t train your arms enough
Bodybuilding splits can be the downfall of your arm training success. Why? Because they often demand that you train each body part once a week. For guys who aren’t in the gym for three hours hitting every curl variation in the book on arm day, that won’t be enough. You need more consistent pressure to master your core arm exercises or to stimulate overall growth.
The good news: Your arms can train more than one day per week. Unlike exercises like the bench press, squat, and deadlift, most arm exercises use relatively light weights. Add to that the fact that they’re rarely challenging your whole body, and you realize that arm exercises can be done a few times a week. Just think about it: No matter how hard you push yourself, two to three sets of curls won’t crush you like two to three sets of squats.
How can it be repaired?
Train your arms on at least two to three different days. Aim to do this on upper body days. For example, on the day you do pullups, you can easily include a few bicep exercises. Are you bench pressing or shoulder pressing a day? Add in a few tricep exercises, since you’re hitting your tris when you bench press. Have a dedicated arm day a week (arm days are fun!); You suddenly push your arm up three times a week.
The truth is, if you’re smart and on target with it, you can train arms almost every day. All you need is the right technique, and you’ll be on your way to bloat.
For more effective tips, exercises and full workout breakdowns, see Men’s Health 90-Day Transformation Challenge: Arms training book
David Otey, CSCS is a fitness writer, NYC-based strength coach, and Men’s Health advisory board member who specializes in strength and hypertrophy protocols as well as athletic performance. Check out more about Otey www.oteyfitness.com.