While curling and pressing heavy weights can be a huge boost to the ego, barbells and skullcrushers aren't the only way to build muscle in your arms.
Now, I'm not knocking free-weight movements. Dumbbell curls, close-grip bench presses, and skullcrushers all have their place in a solid arm-building routine. But, if you are relatively new to the iron game, or you're an experienced lifter looking for a change, machines can give you the sleeve-splitting size you're looking for.
What benefits do machines offer over free weights? For one thing, machines offer both leverage and a fixed range of motion. One helps you lift more weight, while the other helps isolate the targeted muscle. Both are beneficial for helping you build strength and size; after all, you can be absolutely sure you're working the right muscle and easily leverage heavier weight.
Add these four moves to your repertoire now so you can reap the rewards later!
Preacher Curl Machine
Preacher curls were made famous by the first Mr. Olympia, Larry Scott. The premise behind this iconic move is that bracing your upper arms prevents you from cheating by using momentum to lift the weight up. If you use a preacher curl, your biceps must do the work, leading to stronger muscles and massive growth.
Nowadays, many preacher curl variations allow you to train arms individually or simultaneously, although you could always drop the weight on an older version and just use one arm.
Pro tip: Sit sideways in the seat when you perform single-arm preacher curls. This will help further stretch the biceps at the bottom because your upper body can't come forward.
Seated Cable Row
I know what you're thinking—the cable row is a back movement! You're correct, but it can blast the biceps as well. To isolate your arms on this machine, grab a handle you're comfortable with and lie back on the bench with your arms extended by your sides.
Remain horizontal as you curl the weight up, just as you would if you were doing a standing cable curl. You'll get the benefits of the standing variation without being able to cheat by swinging your body on each rep. Just be careful as you lower the stack—letting the weight drop too quickly risks injury. Stay slow on the negatives, which is what you should be doing on every lift!
Pro tip: If your gym doesn't have a cable row station, opt for a low cable pulley at a universal station and just lie on the floor instead. Either way, this exercise is a great finisher for any arm workout.
Triceps Dip Machine
Let's clear up a little confusion: The triceps dip machine is not the assisted dip machine that you also use for assisted pull-ups. The dip machine has handles you can load up with weights and push down, and a seatbelt or leg pads to make sure you don't lift up out of the seat as you do the exercise. It's basically the reverse of a dip. You stay put and the bars move down.
The huge advantage of the triceps dip machine is it allows you to go heavy without as much risk, so don't be afraid to load up on the plates. If you're having trouble staying in your seat, or if the machine you're using does not have a belt, have a partner hold you down while you work by stepping on your feet or holding your traps.
Pro tip: Seriously, set the pin low on the stack or pack on the plates—you want as much weight as you can move on this exercise. Heavy reps force all three heads of your triceps to do serious work, making them stronger and bigger.
Triceps Extension Machine
Overhead extensions are great for isolating the triceps and even better when performed seated. Dumbbells are great, but to lift significant weight, you usually need a spotter just to get into position, and often sacrifice range of motion to maintain such a tricky position.
This is where the triceps extension machine can really make a difference in your routine. The handle and stack is behind you, allowing you to safely lower your hands as far behind your head as possible before pressing back up. Plus, you don't need a spotter to move heavy weight. If your gym doesn't have this machine, not to worry. You can use a bench and a low cable pulley instead.
Pro tip: Like the lying cable curls for biceps, this machine is a great workout finisher. Use a rope so you can separate the handles and get a better contraction at the top, and use lighter weight and higher reps to completely torch the triceps.