Listen up ladies and gentlemen–
Summertime will be here before we know it and soon it will be time to show off the guns (arms for those who don’t speak the lingo).
If you want to look your best and turn some heads then pay attention closely.
In this article, I’m going to cover 7 ways you can improve your arm training to make sure you’re ready when it counts.
I’ve even provided two workouts at the end that will help you get those arms in tip-top shape in time for summer.
Quick Anatomy Overview
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of arm training and how to improve the size, strength and look of your arms, let’s go over a quick anatomy lesson.
Let’s first break down our discussion into muscles on the front (anterior) and muscles on the back (posterior).
There are 4 muscles of the arm. Interestingly enough, 3 of those are on the front of the arm, with 1 muscle on the back. However, the triceps on the backside makes up about 2/3 of arm size.
On the anterior part of our arm, we have 3 muscles: the biceps, brachialis, and coracobrachialis.
The biceps brachii is responsible for supinating the forearm (or turning your palm upwards) and also flexes the arm at the elbow and shoulder (think curl motion). The biceps brachii consists of two heads, the long head and short head, which combine to form the belly of the biceps muscle.
The brachialis is the main flexor of the elbow and is most activated with a neutral hand position.
The coracobrachialis is nestled deep to the biceps brachii and is a flexor of the arm at the shoulder.
The triceps is made up of the long head, lateral head, and medial head.
The primary purpose of the triceps is to extend your elbow. Training all three is the key to developing the triceps fully.
Enough of the school lesson, let’s get into how to take your arms to the next level.
1) Compounds Only Won’t Cut It
Some people complain that their arms don’t seem to change in size or appearance. I’ll ask them what kind of workouts they do and they mention the compound exercises.
Now, I love the basic barbell lifts and compound movements. I think they’re phenomenal for gaining size, strength, and improving ones appearance.
But, you’re likely missing out on some good arm development if you only stick to the compounds lifts.
If you want to fully develop your arms then you need isolation work as well.
For example, if a bodybuilder could maximize quad development by squatting only, don’t you think he/she would?
The same goes for you and I that want to get the pipes looking good for summer (and year round).
If improving the look of your arms is a priority, then make sure you’re doing more than just compound exercises like bench presses and rows.
*Note-curling in the squat rack does not count as a compound exercise just because you’re inside the squat rack.
2) Frequency is Your Friend
If you want better-looking arms then you probably need to train them more frequently.
It can be that simple.
Because the muscles are smaller there isn’t nearly as much time required to recover from training. This means your arms can be trained more frequently for the best potential growth possible.
Most people fall within the 2-3x/week range while some could train their arms 4x per week if volume and intensity is managed properly.
There are plenty of options to help you get in more volume, whether it’s sneaking in a few extra sets at the end of a total body workout, or placing an emphasis on arm training while maintaining the rest of your body.
If your arms are the primary focus, then it’s a good idea to give them more attention and really make the most out of your training.
3) Expand Your Exercise Toolbox
Most people tend to think of curls and pushdowns as main exercises for arm training.
While these are possible options, there are so many more exercises that can and should be utilized to develop the kind of arms you want.
Hand placement, grip width, rep speed, and tension all affect how your arms will respond.
Don’t be afraid to dip into a wide variety of exercises to properly train your arms.
Sometimes all it takes is a certain variation of an exercise to help you make some really great progress.
4) Lighten Up a Bit
For most people, if you have to lean back aggressively when doing curls, the weight’s probably too heavy.
Progressive overload is generally an overarching goal of lifting. You should theoretically be using heavier weights over time.
But, when it comes to training the arms, sometimes you don’t want to use heavier weights.
There are certain arm exercises where more weight should be used while others should be much lighter. A close grip bench press or dip, for example, should be trained a bit heavier than a cable pushdown.
I’ve noticed from personal experience as well that my triceps tend to be more responsive to heavier loads while the biceps feel much better with ‘lighter’ weights.
So consider varying up the loads being used and don’t worry if you’re not hitting a 1RM on a barbell curl.
You shouldn’t be.
5) More Love for the Tris
Many people tend to do more biceps work because they’re easier to see in the mirror.
But, I’d argue many people should do a bit more triceps work because they’ve probably been a bit neglected.
Obviously, you’ve got to train your biceps for better-looking arms, but the triceps make up a larger portion of your arms, so it only makes sense to put in a ton of work for them.
When you work your triceps, make sure to include overhead variations in addition to your heavier pressing movements and pushdown exercises as well.
6) Dial In Your Form
Arm training is not like training for strength or a powerlifting meet. The goal is to stimulate the muscles, not just move weight from point A to point B.
Therefore, when training your arms, your rep speed, tempo, and ability to feel the muscle doing the work is very important.
Limit your use of momentum so that, you know, you’re actually using your arms to lift the weight, not looking like you’re having a spastic attack when doing bicep curls.
There is something to be said about getting that “pumped” feeling when you isolate your arms.
Put more focus on ‘feeling’ your biceps and triceps doing the work and you’ll surely notice a big difference in the appearance of your arms.
7) Make Your Arms a Priority
If you’re serious about shaping up your arms, then make them a priority.
This means the rest of your body should be trained to maintain for the most part. If you’re trying to improve your quads, chest, back, shoulders all at once, you likely won’t experience much progress in the way of your arms.
Focus on the arms for 4-6 weeks at a time, and possibly one other major muscle group, while the rest of your body is trained just enough to maintain but not necessarily grow a ton.
By doing this, the calories and food you consume will go towards building your arms and repairing that tissue rather than being distributed to your entire body.
Because arms can be a bit stubborn to respond, blast them hard for 4-6 weeks at a time and really place the emphasis on them.
Give This a Go
Now that you know what not to do, let me show you what you should be doing if getting better-looking arms is something you’re into.
I want you to start out with 2x per week with direct arm training.
The sample workouts below should be done on their own days. If you did this 2x per week, you could still train the rest of your body 1-3x per week to ensure you’re still getting in your compound exercises.
Workout A– Consists of 2 tri sets, starting with the biceps.
A1) Reverse Grip EZ curl 3×8-10- done as a warm up before your biceps tri set
B1) Standing Barbell Curl 3x 10-12
B2) Seated Incline DB Curl 3x 12-15
B3) Machine Preacher Curl 3×15
C1) Rope Pushdowns 3×12- done as a warm up before triceps tri set
D1) Close Grip Bench Press or DB neutral grip press 4×8
D2) Overhead Triceps Extension with EZ bar 3×12
D3) V-handle Pushdown 3x 15-20
A1) Standing DB curl-light to warm up 2-3×12
A2) Rope Pushdowns-light to increase blood flow 3×15
B1) Hammer Curl 4×6
B2) Dips 4×6-8
C1) Wide Grip Barbell Curl 3×12
C2) Skullcrushers 3×10-12
D1) 1 Arm Cable Curl- make sure hand starts slightly behind the midline of your body 3×15
D2) Overhead Cable Extension with Rope or EZ bar 4×15
Weekly working sets: Biceps 19, Triceps 21
Each week add 1 set for biceps, and 1 set for triceps PER workout. This will allow you to accumulate good volume. Slowly increase your weights, or keep the weights constant throughout the 4-6 week period.
Focus on feeling your arms doing the work and always use good technique.
You’ll be surprised how much better your arms look and feel after doing some specialized training.