The Complete Guide to Building Bigger Arms

angled arm flex

The Complete Guide to Building Bigger Arms

By: Julio Hannibal Canario

side reverse arm poseWant to know the real reason why you can’t seem to build strong and muscular arms?

Well, if I tell you, there’s a slight chance you won’t believe me. In fact, you might end up calling me a liar, throw your laptop/cellphone across the room, and storm off in anger.

But you know what, screw it. We’re friends now and I know how important it is to build three-dimensional arms that you’re actually proud of. You know… The kind of arms that cause heads to turn the moment you step into any room.

Well, here you go: the real reason why you’re having so much trouble adding slabs of muscle to your arms is…

You’re doing too much.

Like way too much.

Let me explain.

Within the past few years gym culture has taken a turn. Not necessarily for the worse, but, it has surely changed the way we train.

Back then everyone did body part splits which helped to bring up lagging areas. But over time, upper/lower and full body training started to gain popularity. Unfortunately, this change has led many to believe that dedicated training is a thing of the past; that there’s absolutely no reason to train your arms directly. The argument being: why train smaller muscles separately when you can do presses, rows, raises and target a combination of muscles – including your arms – all at the same time.

And, quite honestly, there’s nothing inherently wrong with compound multi-joint movements.

However, this doesn’t mean that you should scratch off dedicated arm work from your fitness regimen just yet, especially if your goal is to build world conquering arms.

Don’t believe me? Well, just look at the lifters of the past such as Arnold, Lou, and Franco.

arnold franco pose

Those guns didn’t just magically appear by doing a few presses and rows. No, arms like those were built by adding dedicated arm training into their fitness regimen. And in this article, we will re-examine body part splits – specifically direct arm training – and show you how it can help you to build the arms of your dreams.

Lion-O, Muscle Damage, and Metabolic Stress

For years big arms have been a true representation of power and strength. In fact, if I were to ask you to show me how strong you are, chances are you’d hit me with a double bicep pose.

Big and well-defined arms are most likely the reason why you started lifting weights in the first place. And ladies, we know how much you admire that toned look that well developed arms produce, so this information applies to you as well.

You see, bigger arms help to fill out any shirt, they help to elevate confidence, and most importantly they let people know that you lift. Plus, if you ever end up in the wrong part of town and your only means of survival depends on winning an arm wrestling match, well, bigger arms can guarantee your safety. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

lion-O arm wrestling

Fun fact: It was this episode of Thundercats back in the 80’s that inspired seven-years-old me to pursue the goal of one day having strong and powerful arms. Sorry Arnold, but Lion-O beat you to it.

So how exactly do you grow them big guns?

Well, for starters, building muscle mass on a specific area requires that you isolate the muscle completely. This is a proven bodybuilding technique. A technique which has helped many world class lifters to build mass quickly.

But, I know what you’re thinking: I’ve been able to grow my arms by doing multi-joint movements. Why bother with isolation work?

Well, that all depends on your goals. Do you want “ok” arms, or, do you want “Damn! What are you concealing under those sleeves” arms?

Chances are you want to build arms that impress. And by specifically targeting them without the help of any other muscles will allow for the right of amount of metabolic stress that’s needed for maximum growth.

Metabolic stress is associated with a higher volume of training, intensity, and shorter rest periods, which all play a key role in increasing muscle mass. While lifting more weight (progressive overload) is important for building muscle, maximizing the hypertrophic response via metabolic stress is just as important.

Along with Metabolic Stress, Muscle Damage – which refers to the quality of the left – also plays a major role.

This means paying close attention to the way you performed each movement. For example: if you’re doing dumbbell curls, make sure that you aren’t flailing your arms around. Your elbows should remain close to your body with your bicep doing all the work. This requires that you set the right amount of volume, intensity, and rest. The moment you begin to use the help of your shoulders then you know it’s time to drop the weights and rest up for your next set.

Isolation + right amount of metabolic stress + muscle damage = two tickets to the gun show.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. To grow your arms you also need to know how to train them and what exercises work best. So let’s go ahead and see how to attack both the bicep and tricep from all sides.

The Long and Short of It

When targeting your arms, you want to make sure that both your biceps and triceps get equal attention. Far too often do I see trainees doing way too much bicep work while treating their triceps like the unwanted redheaded stepchild. But, the fact of the matter is that the tricep is the largest muscle in the arm, like 60% larger. In turn, it should be worked the hardest.

arnold side tricep

Better think twice about skipping out on your triceps

But we’ll talk more about the tris shortly. Let’s first get to what you came for: How to make your biceps grow.

The Double Headed Beast

The bicep, also known as the brachii muscle, is composed of a long head (outer head) and a short head (inner head).

bicep heads

While the long head is the largest of the two, the fact that both heads cross at the elbow and the shoulder means that they both work in tandem to serve similar functions (flexing at the elbow and rotating the forearm).

Attacking the Bicep From All Sides

Knowing the specific exercises that target each head allows you to bring up those lagging areas. In fact, you can target each head based on the angle of your arm.

Conditions where the position of the upper arm is behind the torso target the long head. Such exercises that target the long head include: incline curls, drag curls, supinates curls, hammer curls. In these positions, the long head is being stretched further thus allowing it to produce more force.

In contrast, targeting of the short head takes place when the upper arm is placed in front of the torso. Exercises that target the short head include preacher curls, concentration curls. And if you extend the arm higher, the short head contracts even harder, like when doing overhead cable curls.

Traditional dumbbell and barbell curls where the upper arm is placed on the sides targets the long and short head equally.

But that’s just the start. You see, we’re not in the business of building “ok” biceps, we’re in the business of building “fan-freakin-tastic” biceps. Adding maximum size requires you to focus on more than just the biceps brachii. So up next, we’ll take a look at how to work the brachialis and brachioradialis (forearm) muscles.

brachialis brachioradialis heads

While the brachialis resides deeper than the brachii, it assists the biceps brachii with elbow flexion. In fact, the brachialis is responsible for generating 50% more power than the biceps brachii. So while it isn’t as eye-catching as the brachii (bicep), the importance of a well-developed brachialis should not go unnoticed. In fact, if you really want to make that double bicep pose strike fear into the hearts of your enemies, then make sure to target the brachialis. The brachialis pushes the bicep further up when flexing.

Pronated-grip exercises such as reverse curls help to target this muscle.

But wait, what about my forearms? Make my forearms grow.

forearm pose

Have no fear. As I mentioned before, we’re going to attack the arm from all angles. Which brings us to the last of the group: the brachioradialis muscle.

The brachioradialis is a large forearm muscle that handles the rotation of the forearm as well as elbow flexion. A well-built forearm will also give your arms a more complete and defined look.

Neutral-grip exercises such as hammer curls target the brachioradialis.

Conquering the Tricep

If Rodney Dangerfield were still alive he would probably tell you that the triceps get no respect, “no respect at all.” Unfortunately, he would be correct as the triceps are usually an afterthought. However, if you’re looking to build big, noticeable arms, then you would be doing yourself a big disservice by neglecting tricep training.

As the name implies, triceps are composed of 3 muscle heads while the biceps are only composed of 2. Being the largest of the arm muscles, the tricep requires just as much, if not more attention than it’s little brother – the bicep.

Three heads are better than one

The three heads that make up the triceps include the long, lateral, and medial head.

tricep heads

Just as with the biceps, selecting the right exercise is important for developing the triceps brachii.

The main function of the tricep is to extend the elbow or straighten the arm; think of when you perform a pushdown. However, there’s more than meets the eye, or tricep head. In fact, another role that the triceps play is adduction or bringing the arm down towards the body. This function is handled by the long head along with other movements such as when moving your elbows in front of your body. An example of this would be overhead tricep extensions. The long head is also the only tricep head that crosses the shoulder.

To work the lateral head, place your hands by your sides with palms facing each other in a neutral grip. As just mentioned, exercises such as push downs work the lateral head.

And last but not least, to work the medial head, place your hands by your side using an underhand grip. Exercises such as reverse-grip pulldowns target the medial head.

Recommended Rep/Set Scheme For Maximum Arm Growth

There are many ways to skin a cat, just as there are many ways to grow your arms. So many that it can get confusing.

Should you only train your arms directly?

What about compound movements?

What’s better, heavy weights or light weights?

And exactly how many days should you train?

So what exactly is the best way to train your arms? Well, easy. Do a combination of all of the above.

Training with compound movements, hitting your arms directly, and working with different volume is required for maximum growth. But the most important factor is how often you train your them.

Compared to your lats and pectoral muscles, your biceps and triceps are much smaller in size. As a result, they don’t need as much training as larger muscle groups.

So when doing multi-joint compound movements, you have to keep in mind that your arms have already received a good amount of work. Which means, you can go easier on them since you’re already hitting them with compound exercises. With that said, one or two days of direct arm training is typically all that is needed if you are working other muscle groups during the week.

How many sets and reps should you do?

While multi-joint compound movements should fall within the lower rep range, dedicated arm work should be done in the moderate to high range. Not only will this create a good amount of metabolic stress, but it also helps in targeting both types of muscle fibers with a greater emphasis applied to the strength related type II muscle fibers. The sweet spot is 8-15 reps.

As for the total number of sets – try to stay below 9 (two to four per exercise). Those with a higher fitness level should aim for the higher end.

How many exercises should you do?

If you’re not going to be working any other muscle groups during your training day, then it’s best to select 4-5 different arm movements. If you are planning to hit other muscle groups during your “arm day” then keep it down to three arm exercises.

Muscle Building Arm Workout

angled arm flex

Now it’s time to put it all together. Perform the following workout every 5-7 days for the next 8 weeks.

A1) Close Grip Barbell Bench Press – 4×6-8

A2) Underhanded Horizontal row – 4×6-8

B1) Supinated Dumbbell Curls 3 x 8-10 (twist wrist as hard as possible)

B2) Incline Skull Crushers 3×15 (elbows line up with forehead at starting position)

C1) Standing Barbell Curl 10×10 (elbows pinned to body)

C2) Bench Dips 10×10

Rest 60-second between sets and 90-120 seconds between circuits.

Closing Thoughts

If you’re trying to build bigger arms, then dedicated arm training should definitely be part of your fitness regimen. Give the above workout a try and let us know what you think in the comments below.

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Julio Hannibal Canario
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Julio Hannibal Canario

Web Programmer by day, fitness vigilante by night and lover of all things geek. When I'm not helping others to restart their bodies and health through proper fitness strategies, you can find me obsessing over 80's films, time travel, and superheroes, all while saving a puppy's life.
Julio Hannibal Canario
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