When I was a little kid, I always envied Hulk Hogan’s “24-inch pythons”.
Fast forward 15 years later, and I probably trained my arms harder than anything else in the gym. Truth be told, I got good results but the rest of my body suffered. Rookie mistakes…
Now that I am a little older and a little wiser, I take a more well-rounded approach to building my arms that not only gives me more mass on my biceps and triceps, but improves my overall body mass and strength as well.
Want to make sure your gun show is a hit?
Let’s break down a good strength training approach to building bigger arms.
Top 3 Arm Building Exercises
These are my go-to tricep builders. I usually hit these after a heavy pressing exercise like the bench or overhead press. Knocking out 4 sets of this with 12-16 reps should do the trick. Once you can crush these with regularity using bodyweight, load up some plates on a weight belt or strap some chains around your neck and get to work.
Avoid doing these with your body straddled between 2 benches, feet propped up on one and your hands on another. This style is a recipe for a pec tear and is not good on your shoulders. Go with the classic approach on a dip stand. Make sure your elbows remain tucked in; no flaring out like a chicken.
#2: Curl Variations
Everybody can do curls. These are great bicep builders and an exercise you can do with a relatively high frequency since your bi’s are able to recover so quickly. I tend to favor them with an EZ curl bar. A straight bar is okay if that’s all you got, but they can be hard on your wrists and elbows.
I don’t ever recommend curling heavy. Curl for “the pump” by using high volume and moderate weights. Rep ranges should be in the neighborhood of 8-20 depending on the resistance and keep your rest periods low.
Work the variations into your training. Concentration curls, reverse curls, and dumbbell work are all good. One thing you don’t see much are power curls, but if you need to get some volume in with heavier than normal weights, these are a great way to do it.
#3: Close Grip Bench Press
Aside from dips, this is one of the best tricep exercises you can do. Take a narrow grip on a flat bench, and press a loaded barbell. Obviously, you will be pressing much less weight than a normal bench press, so pick something you can handle for 16-20 reps. Again, you could work these in after a normal pressing exercise. Here I like to keep my tempo pretty fast, almost as if I was doing speed work per Westside methods.
When you are doing direct arm work, those are the 3 exercises that I would emphasize. Others, like skull-crushers or dumbbell presses are fine, but listen to your body. If you are experiencing elbow or shoulder pain, ditch them. Injury simply isn’t worth it, and the 3 I laid out above work. No need to re-invent the wheel.
Arm Building Principles to Live By
#1: Focus on volume
Getting big guns is all about volume. Volume may be the most important factor to gaining mass in your arms; more so than it is in other parts of your body. So don’t waste your time trying to train too heavy with curls or dips. Gradually build your strength but maintain high rep ranges.
Your arms are quick to recover too. Hit them with a higher frequency during the week, capitalizing on a day or two of rest instead of 4 or 5.
#2: Triceps > Biceps
Big arms are based around big triceps. A nice peak to your guns looks nice and all, but arm size and strength is mostly concentrated on your tri’s. So if you want bigger arms, what you are really saying is that you want bigger triceps.
Plus, the bigger and stronger your triceps are, the more success you will have in your other big pressing lifts like the bench and overhead. In fact, I train my triceps strictly to get better at those lifts, rather than just trying to get bigger arms. If you want bigger arms, I’m guessing you want mass everywhere else too, so the more you can press, the better off you will be.
#3: Build Your Arms with Indirect Arm Work
This is by far the most important principle to remember. If you take nothing else from this post, please at least take this.
Spend less time doing direct arm work and hit them indirectly instead. This will free up a ton of time for you to build more total body mass by focusing on compound lifts like the bench, overhead press, row variations, pull-ups, pushups, etc.
Even though you aren’t isolating your arms, pull-ups and row variations will build your biceps, and presses will crush your triceps. You will be hitting your arms far more than you realize and then you can supplement this work with curls and dips, albeit spending far less time isolating just one part of your body.
Trust me, your arms won’t shrink if you don’t do 20 sets of bicep curls a week.
I didn’t touch my arms for 6 months, meaning I only did indirect arm work, and they still grew. Since then, I’ve added curls and dips once a week in addition to standard pressing exercises on my 2 upper body days, and the gun show is in full effect.
So by following this principle, not only will your arms get bigger, the rest of your body will too. If your guns aren’t growing as fast as you’d like, spend an extra 20 minutes a week getting in more volume but try not to sacrifice the other critical parts of your training.
So there ya go.
3 exercises and 3 principles that will get you bigger arms in a hurry.
If you missed the other parts of this series, check them out here:
NASM Certified Personal Trainer
Underground Strength Coach