Are you a bodybuilder? Let's see a bicep pose!"
How often do you get this response when someone new finds out your passion for lifting iron? People never say, "show me a lat spread," or hit a side chest... Nope, the go to muscle is always the arms.
Walk into every gym and you'll see enthusiastic new lifters spending hours hitting their bi's and tri's for endless sets with more than likely a Ronnie Coleman routine they just pulled out of Flex magazine. As soon as they get the biceps bulging out comes the tight fit Under Armour clothing to further enhance their pipes.
My Genetic Difficulty
In the pro arena when you think of spectacular arms, bodybuilding greats that spring to mind are Mike Matarazzo, Lee Priest and of course Arnold. When I first started training at fifteen I would look to the champs in the magazines and would be in awe of their development.
I made sure I followed a balanced workout, hitting all body parts equally from day one. However, my dreams were filled of getting arms like the pictures of bodybuilders from the early 90's that covered my bedroom walls. The first year was great. I was soaking up the extra calories I was taking in; I added protein shakes to my diet and every month I would take my measurements and without fail my arms would grow progressively bigger.
Then it hit, my first training plateau! No longer would my guns under construction budge a fraction of an inch. Frustrated I kept on banging away but to no avail. It was at this time I started to learn the importance of genetics.
Now I don't mention genetic short-coming as an excuse, I love lifting weights and would do so if I had the worse genetics in the world. But I noticed that unlike the stars in the magazines my biceps had short attachments, basically the insertion point was further up my arm rather than having that full belly going into the crook of the elbow.
As I managed to overcome the stale patch and begin gaining muscle again the weakness of my arms was becoming more apparent. My delts, chest and back were all growing nicely but an imbalance was getting further accentuated.
The goal of this article is to help those who suffer with sub-par arms and also point out the mistakes I made so that others can avoid them and successful training methods I've used to get my stubborn arms growing.
1. Always Training Arms After Major Bodyparts
In the beginning I always trained biceps after my back session, and triceps after I had completed chest and delts. Big mistake - my arms were a weak point and by placing them as a 'tag on' at the end of a workout I was spent of energy when it was the arms turn to get hit.
This led to reduced weights used on my arms, not to mention a decrease in intensity as I had been training about an hour before finally getting to them.
2. Under Training
When I first started training, Dorian Yates had thrust his Blood & Guts training of High Intensity/and Low Volume firmly into the spot light. I made a mistake by following his routine to the letter. I would have been better off using the routines that Dorian had used when he was a novice and just starting off on his road to being a six-time Mr. Olympia rather than the workouts that Dorian used to when at his peak and was weighing in at a monstrous 260 pounds on stage in competition shape.
I didn't appreciate that the amount of intensity and, not too mention poundage's used by Dorian, was in a vastly different league to myself. By only hitting the arms once a week and using only 2-3 work sets my arms weren't getting the frequency or workload needed to really beef them up.
3. Not Finding Out What Worked For Me
When starting out lifting weights just because you get good progress from a certain training style doesn't mean that you've found the holy grail of building muscle mass. The body adapts and constantly changes over time, especially when you're young and new to bodybuilding.
By taking advantage of the huge amount of different training methods out there you can find out how you respond to the varying styles and which ones you prefer. By cycling your training with new strategies, you starve off the monotony of performing the same routine while keeping plateaus at bay.
When I hit a plateau I kept on plugging away with a routine that was no longer giving me positive returns. This is not only a big mistake but also a waste of valuable muscle building time.
4. Not Eating Enough To Support New Muscle Mass Gains
When trying to build new tissue you need a lot of extra quality calories and protein to support the muscle building process. I once read a training article by the great bodybuilding writer Greg Zulak where he stated that in order to add one inch to your arms it would mean that you have to add at least ten pounds in bodyweight and new muscle.
Zulak went on to offer that gaining lean mass alone is a very hard quest and that adding some bodyfat with the new muscle is realistic to expect. This could easily mean that a gain of 12-15 pounds of both muscle and some fat is needed for bumping up your arm measurements.
In retrospect it is easy for me to see that I was not only under eating for lean mass gains, but was also expending far too many calories with other activities of a teenager (bicycling everywhere, playing hours of soccer and tennis) to be truly effective in adding mass.
Not to mention the importance of needing to be in an anabolic state needed to increase muscle size which is hard to accomplish if under eating or spreading your energy over too many pursuits. Just taking in a few protein drinks a day is not enough, a carefully planned bodybuilding nutrition plan is vital to be successful.
1. Train Arms By Themselves
As soon as I started training bi's and tri's together on a separate training day away from back and chest I started to improve my arms. Going into each workout fresh ready to spend the whole session focusing on building my arms made a huge difference compared to when I would train them at the end of a workout and already fatigued from hitting a major body part.
2. Increasing Training Frequency & Workload
No longer do I hit each muscle once a week, I experimented with increase training frequency and am really happy with the progress. I'm currently training on a 3 day on/ 1 day off routine and getting good results. My training routine is outlined below:
Chest (Heavy, reps 6-10) Back (Lighter, reps 10-15) Rear Delts & Traps
Quads (Heavy, reps 8- 12) Hams (Lighter, reps 12-20) Calves
Triceps (Heavy, reps 6-10) Biceps (Lighter, 10-15) Delts (Heavy, reps 6-10)
Back (Heavy, reps 6-10) Chest (Lighter, reps 10-15) Rear Delts & Traps
Hams (Heavy, reps 8- 12) Quads (Lighter, reps 12-20) Calves
Biceps (Heavy, reps 6-10) Triceps (Lighter, 10-15) Delts (Lighter, 10-15)
Abs are trained every 2-3 days.
As I want to avoid overtraining I only train each body part to complete fatigue once every second three day cycle with the body part being trained lighter and not to failure every other cycle. This allows me to train frequently without negatively affecting my central nervous system which is quite possible when training to failure every single session.
The Central Nervous System
The human central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord. These lie in the midline of the body and are protected by the skull and vertebrae respectively.
This collection of billions of neurons is arguably the most complex object known.
The central nervous system along with the peripheral nervous system comprise a primary division of controls that command all physical activities of a human.
Neurons of the central nervous system affect consciousness and mental activity while spinal extensions of central nervous system neuron pathways affect skeletal muscles and organs in the body.
I now do 6 sets both for bi's and tri's compared to 3-4 work sets I did previously. The extra workload has helped fill out my arms. Occasionally, I'll throw in some drop sets as well, but often find that the supersets give me enough intensity alone.
One thing I would point out is that when training frequently it is very important to follow a great nutrition plan, as otherwise symptoms of overtraining could present themselves. Remember you need quality calories to building quality muscle.
3. Using Isolation Exercises Prior To Compound Exercises
I find that by pre-exhausting my arms with isolation exercises (such as preacher curls and pushdowns) I can feel the bi's and tri's much more when I go to heavy compound movements (Barbell Curls and Close Grip Bench Press).
In the past I always started with my strongest movements but would end up feeling the exercise more in my chest and delts instead of triceps, or my back and traps instead of biceps. Now my arms fatigue first and this not only gives me better workouts but superior results as well.
In the classic book Blood & Guts Dorian Yates uses this method as his biceps were much weaker than his forearms and front delts and he would do Concentration Curls or Incline Dumbbell Curls before going on to Barbell Curls.
4. Target The Brachiallis
Each bicep session I make sure I always get an exercise in to target the brachiallis, which is the muscle that when developed is very impressive in making the arms look thicker and more complete. Just look at classic photos of Arnold where you see him flexing his massive biceps from the rear you can see the amazing thickness he attained.
Exercises such as Dumbbell Hammer Curls and Reverse Barbell Curls are excellent in hitting this small muscle. Also, if like me, you have short bicep attachments these exercises also hit the bicep at the insertion point helping to build up that area and help balance out the arm development more.
5. Focusing On The Muscle & Technique Over Just Weights
How many times do you see people doing heavy Barbell Curls; which resembles more of a row-shrug-curl combo, or doing Tricep Pushdowns which looks like a strange lat pulldown?
Often in the quest to grow some guns it is easy to get over enthusiastic and focus on the actual weight used rather than how the muscles feel when doing the movement and properly stimulating the muscle. I used to curl more weight at 16 than I do now, but that's because the form used has major differences.
Now I mentally focus on really targeting the bi's and tri's and keeping the form strict.
Here Is A Copy Of My Current Arm Routines:
Each exercise is done for 2 work sets which results in a total of 6 sets for both bi's and tri's.
Following these strategies I've managed to make progress with my arm development and plan on avoiding past mistakes to ensure that I meet my bodybuilding goals. By keeping an open mind about new training techniques, supplements and dietary methods you can continue on the right track of adding quality mass to your physique.