The key to choosing the right exercise selection is finding the exercises you personally feel hit that muscle the best. For instance, when I started out, my friend’s triceps would KILL on skullcrushers and I didn’t feel a thing. When we moved onto tricep pushdowns, then my triceps would be fried. That doesn’t mean to forever dismiss skullcrushers. It just means my time would be better spent focusing on pushdowns if I had to choose. What I ended up doing was throughout my lifting career I’d sprinkle skullcrushers back in to see if my connection to the exercise got better and eventually it did. The key however, is maximizing your time in the gym.
How to Choose The Right Exercises
Throughout your lifting career, it is a good idea to cycle through different exercises based on the angle they are hitting a given muscle, and the part of the muscle they lend themselves more to. For instance, an overhead tricep extension is going to hit the inner head of the tricep whereas a pushdown might hit the outer head more. No exercise will ever completely neglect the entire muscle, it is just favoring one aspect of it over the other.
So to start, more isn’t better. Choose the top 3-4 exercises for each muscle group that best targets and connects to that muscle for YOU. Take time experimenting if you need to. A muscle that fires properly will grow better.
Also keep in mind, because it’s already a secondary mover in a lot of big compound lifts, you do NOT need nearly as many exercises as you would for the chest, legs, and back. You are still getting a stimulus on them when they assist bigger movements. I say this because arms are probably the most “overworked” muscle. By that, I mean novice lifters will put loads and loads of volume hitting the arms on TOP of all the bigger compound work. They don’t pay attention to the fact that their numbers on isolation movements aren’t going up, and assume the next move is to add even more. Do LESS! Maybe 8-10 total weekly sets per muscle to start. Unless you are severely lagging in either muscle you probably won’t need much more.
Biceps Exercises: barbell curl, dumbbell curl, preacher curl, concentration curl, cable curl, hammer curl, EZ bar curl, reverse grip curl, etc.
Triceps Exercises: Rope pushdown, close grip bench, straight bar pushdown, overhead extension, skullcrushers, dips, kickbacks, etc.
How Often Should I Hit My Arms?
2-3 times a week, with 8-10 total weekly sets, to keep maximizing the muscle building signal that a weightlifting exercise creates on that particular muscle (signal drops after 24-48 hours so you need to recreate that signal every time which explains the increase in frequency vs traditional body part split). Every 4-6 weeks, you could change up the exercise if you find you are no longer making progress, not feeling it work the muscle, or need to mix it up.
Every 3-4 weeks you should be changing the rep scheme or going up in weight, to create a newer stimulus that’ll help further progression as you get more comfortable with a lift and weights start increasing less and less per week.
Weeks 1-4 - 6-8 reps (more of an intensity phase focused on strength)
Note: You can go higher rep for the more isolated movements as they probably don’t need to be in such a low rep range and could cause a bigger injury risk.
Weeks 5-8 - 10-12 reps
Weeks 9-12 - 12-15 reps (more of an accumulative phase focused on volume)
I can’t stress enough the importance of the mind muscle connection. Don’t be the guy that just loads up his barbell curls and is swinging his arms around. You should feel a deep burn in the bicep for curls. You should also be slowly controlling the eccentric (lowering) part of the lift. If you can’t control the lift both ways, it is too heavy.
Focus on being able to hit a peak contraction on each exercise. Play around with SLIGHT changes to the angle to see if you feel a better contraction more in different areas. Being a smaller muscle group you can take these exercises and reps to failure. It is not as taxing on the nervous system, so as long as you find you are recovering and making progress week to week you should be at least only leaving 1-2 reps left in the tank.