Every guy wants to have big arms. They want their shirts to fit tight, and the ladies to comment on how big they are. First off, let me just warn you the day you get arms that big, it’s actually only the guys that compliment you, not the women. The women don’t care to be honest.
Training arms takes a slightly different approach than the bigger muscles, because it’s already being utilized in the compound exercises. The chest press for example still hits your triceps, and any pulling or rowing movements hits the biceps. This is very important to note, because you shouldn’t necessarily need or even have a 1:1 ratio of as many sets for biceps or triceps as you do for chest or back.
Only Add Sets As Needed
I want you to start thinking of adding arm work as a troubleshooting tool. Don’t just add arm work for the sake of it (especially if you are just starting out and just want overall size). You truly are getting enough stimulation from the chest and back movements to stimulate growth in those areas as well. Just because it may not be as direct, does not mean it isn’t still getting hit.
Think of it as an “as needed” basis. Continue doing your regular workout, hitting the big muscles with 8-10 sets of weekly volume per muscle. If you find after 6-12 months that for some reason your arms just aren’t growing as fast as the rest of your body (lagging body part), or holding you back from getting stronger in a big lift, THEN start adding sets.
Instead of also shooting for 8-10 weekly sets for arms, let’s shoot for 6-8 sets max. Feel free to do less, but let this be the max to start since you are getting the stimulation elsewhere. Also, take note about how you feel as you get to your arm work after you’ve done the bigger compound stuff. If after 1-2 sets they feel sufficiently pumped, and your progress might even be stalling a little, you're done. You don’t need MORE arm work if you are already capping out.
Add enough sets to get blood flow to the muscle, and progress week to week and that’s it. Do that for a couple more months and reassess to see if you need additional sets if you find you plateaued once again trying to grow your arms.
Adding a “Focus” Day
Keep in mind every person is different. One individual may find they need way more sets for their biceps to grow compared to another. Don’t compare your program to other people. If it gets to a point where you are adding more than 2-3 sets, you may want to consider adding a “focus” day. A focus day is when someone takes their normal 2-3 full body workout routine, and adds a 4th day, strictly to hit 1-2 lagging muscle groups.
So in this instance, if you were trying to grow the biceps and triceps, you may find you add a 4th focus day to get extra sets and volume on your arms because you’ve found through experimentation that you need these extra sets to stimulate any growth. This is a great method for bringing up lagging body parts.
Cycle Through Lagging Areas
One caveat is don’t stick with any one muscle for more than 3 cycles of a workout program. Switch a muscle out, or take a break to give the muscle a chance to desensitize to all the volume you’ve no doubt added.
As the sets build and build, our muscle eventually needs a break from all that heavy volume. It’s no longer as responsive as it once was because so much emphasis has been placed on it. By taking 1 or 2 training cycles and bringing it back down to 6-8 sets will allow you to resensitize and allow it to be once again responsive to lower additions of volume.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a good starting point if you need some ideas.
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.
If you’d rather have this all taken care of for you and don’t like creating your own workouts, be sure to check out our MAPS Aesthetic program where the guys have focus days laid out, and explain exactly how it fits into your program.