Big arms is what a lot of people start weight training with (particularly the men). We think if we just get some nice guns going we’ll be ready for beach season and have the look we want. Who doesn’t want big arms?!
When it comes to arm training, we want to treat it like any other muscle. It needs progressive overload. You need to be doing better week to week. What I’d like to go over within this article, is the little tips along the way that help make sure you get the most out of those sessions.
Mind Muscle Connection
One of the most important things I can recommend out of the gate is making sure you actually feel the muscle working. People don’t realize how important this is for hypertrophy. If you want a muscle to grow, it needs to be put under stress. Take the biceps for example. I’ve seen a ton of guys at the gym putting on a ton of weight on the bar, and doing bicep curls but swinging their arms up. This is momentum, and taking the direct bicep work out of the picture. By swinging too much on any arm exercise, you end up throwing stabilizing or smaller other muscles into the picture which take the brunt of the work. You are now not getting the most out of your bicep work, and will either get less growth, or will require more sets to elicit the same results.
Tip: Work slower! Really feel the muscle working the ENTIRETY of the set. In the case of a bicep curl, from when you're curling it up and especially when lowering it back down go nice and slow and feel the muscle stretch and contract. Take a 2 second pause at the peak contraction to really hammer down the connection.
Another common mistake amongst weightlifters is that we think muscles need their own single day to be worked with a ton of volume and that’s it. The research shows the contrary. We can get the same, if not better muscle growth taking that same volume and spreading it over 2-3 days. This allows us more frequency to stimulate the muscle building signal, as well as being able to hit the exercise with more intensity since we will be coming at them more fresh than doing it all in one day.
Tip: Start off with 10-12 weekly sets per muscle, spread over 2-3 days. 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)
This advice can actually go for all of your lifting. Think of adding sets and volume as an AS NEEDED basis. Instead of thinking about how much MORE you can do in the gym, instead look at it from the idea of
“What is the least amount of sets it takes for more to totally stimulate that given muscle?”
This puts the emphasis where it needs to be which is on quality sets vs junk sets.
Attack the Angles
Different parts of the muscle can be stimulated at different angles. For example, when you do an overhead tricep extension, you will target the inner head more, whereas if you do pushdowns, you will target the outer tricep head more. Angles play a small but important role. Make sure you choose exercises for each muscle that are in front of (preacher curl / skullcrusher) your body, next to your body (dumbbell curl/ tricep pushdowns), and overhead (extensions for triceps) or behind (seated incline curls for biceps).
For more help on growing arms check out my article on How to Get Big Biceps if You are a Skinny Guy and Best Resistance Training Exercises If You Want to Grow Your Arms.