He may be known as "The Quad Guy," but Julian Smith knows just as much about building massive arms as he does about carving a perfect quad sweep.
This Optimum Nutrition athlete joined us at the Bodybuilding.com headquarters to share his muscle-building tips and show you what you need to do to get a better arm workout.
Smith only works arms one day a week, but does everything he can to make that day count.
"A lot of people think, 'Oh, my arms aren't growing, I'm going to double my workout,'" says Smith, "but in reality, you might not be getting a good workout in the first place. So why double the frequency of bad workouts?"
Seated Dumbbell Curl
The key to building any one muscle group is isolation, which is why Smith opts for seated curls over standing.
"I'm a pretty lower-body dominant guy," he explains, "so I feel like I have better form when I'm seated. It's like putting my arms on a preacher bench."
Sit on the edge of the bench holding the dumbbells. Before you begin, roll your arms back, retract your shoulder blades, and straighten your spine. Doing so immediately positions you to work your biceps. Curl with both arms simultaneously. Begin with a lighter weight as a warm-up for the first set. Go heavier for the remaining three.
Failure, as it turns out, is not only an option, it's Smith's main objective.
"When I say going to failure, that's exactly what I mean," says Smith. "Failure doesn't mean having a spotter help you with the last 4 reps. I do as many reps as I can with good form. As soon as I can't complete a rep, I've reached failure."
Focus on the negatives with slow and controlled movement. Keeping your upper arms stable so all the work stays in the biceps. Don't be afraid to drop the weight back down if you're struggling to maintain proper form.
"I'll go down in weight if I misjudge a set," Smith explains. "It doesn't mean it's a bad workout. Weight isn't everything. Your body doesn't know what weight you're lifting—it just knows failure."
Complete 4 total sets, starting at 12 reps. Increase the weight as you drop down to 10 reps, 8, and 8.
Wide-Grip Triceps Push-down
According to Smith, the key to developing triceps is to use a wider grip and keep your elbows tucked in to target the long head of the muscle. If you've followed Smith on Instagram or read his article "You're Not Doing Slow Negatives On These Moves," you know little tweaks in your form can make a huge difference in what muscle gets worked and how you feel an exercise.
Using a lat pull-down bar on a cable machine, start with your hands wider than shoulder width and bring your elbows in to your torso. Keeping your upper arms stable, press down the bar. Extend through your elbows. Focus on your triceps as you squeeze at the bottom. Slowly raise the bar back up, taking time to draw out that eccentric contraction.
Smith likes to end many exercises with several dropsets, especially when working with cables. He likes to use these added sets as an opportunity to change his grip, allowing him to hit different parts of the muscle with each set.
"A lot of people think you can only do one thing at a time," says Smith, "but you can work multiple things into one exercise."
Complete 4 sets of 8-10 reps. On the two additional dropsets, bring your grip in slightly each time, first to shoulder width, then to a narrow grip. This will target and fatigue the entire muscle group.
Wide-Grip Cable Curl
After you finish the push-down, switch to wide-grip curls. As with the push-downs, keep your elbows in and don't let your upper arms move at all—almost like you have a pad behind them.
"Keep everything stationary so you are only hinging at the elbow," says Smith.
Complete 4 sets of 8-10 reps, adding the same dropsets and modified grips in at the end.
"The skullcrusher is as basic as it gets for triceps work," says Smith.
Again, you'll use a wide grip on the bar. Keep your elbows in and stabilize your upper arms while you move the bar. Control your movement as you bend the bar back and touch your forehead. Then, contract the triceps and extend back up.
Pro tip: Retract your shoulder blades.
"I can't think of a single exercise where you'd want your shoulders rolled forward," says Smith.
Retracting the shoulder blades takes the pressure off the shoulder joint, forcing your triceps to do the work.
Another tip from Smith is to put the bar on your knee before you lay back on the bench, then tip it up to your starting point as you get in position. This is much safer than holding the bar across your chest as you lie back.
Complete 4 sets of 8-10 reps. Smith rarely does dropsets on compound free-weight movements, preferring to do them on cable machines.
Triset: Barbell Curl, Double-Arm Triceps Kick-back, and Wrist Curl
Smith is known for his intensity and attention to detail, and this triset proves it! He finishes his arm workout with heavier volume on the biceps and triceps, throwing in wrist curls so you can't even hold a pencil by the end of the workout.
Use a straight barbell for the curls, keeping your hands wide and your elbows in.
For the kick-backs, keep your elbows in and stable as you contract the triceps and press the weights back. Use a weight you're comfortable with.
"I feel like kick-backs are something most people go too heavy on" says Smith. "Remember, you have to support the weight throughout the movement."
Once you finish the kick-backs, find a bench and use a straight barbell for the forearm curls. Keep your forearms, elbows, and upper arms aligned to minimize wrist strain. Tuck your thumb next to your hand and hold a pause at the top of each curl before lowering back down.
Smith's final piece of advice is to do what works best for you
"I'm never going to knock anybody's training," Smith says. "I know a lot of people that train super weird—I train super weird—and if that's what works for them, keep doing it. Just listen to your body and you'll get way better results."
Do 12 reps of each exercise in succession without resting. That's one triset. Rest a bit, then do another triset. Continue until you have completed four, at which point your arms will be totally smoked.
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