The best exercises for building bigger arms

Whether you are a bodybuilder, an athlete, or just a guy or girl wanting to look your best in short-sleeves, bigger arms are often what you need. Okay, so that might not be always true for women but most guys really want bigger arms and a few women do too!

 

When it comes to arm training, I often see people doing endless sets of the most unproductive exercises imaginable in pursuit of something called “the pump”. The pump is when your muscles become engorged (or pumped up) with blood and get bigger as a result. However, as cool as the pump is, it’s very short-lived.

 

Pumping exercises are definitely useful but should only be used to ice the cake of your main arm workout – one that should be built around more effective, demanding exercises like the ones I’m going to describe in this article.

 

But, before we get down to the nitty-gritty of arm training, it’s important to understand that if you want bigger arms, you MUST work the rest of your body too. Nature likes balance and training your arms in isolation of the rest of your body will significantly reduce the effectiveness of your workouts.

 

That’s why I always focus on exercises that work the whole of your body rather than just one or two muscles in isolation. If your squat goes up (in terms of weight lifted or reps performed) your lean bodyweight will increase too and while most of this muscle gain will be in your body, your arms will grow too.

 

Exercises like squats, deadlifts, barbell rows, pull-ups, bench presses and all those other great exercises trigger a big increase in anabolic or muscle building hormone levels which will have a knock on effect to the rest of your body. So, as good as the exercises are that I’m going to tell you about next, remember that you need to include them as part of a balanced, progressive, periodised programme if you want the best results.

 

Triceps  

Making up around two thirds of your upper arm mass, it is essential you work your triceps as much if not more than your biceps if you want to maximise your arm size..

 

Parallel bar dips

 

While dips are also an excellent lower chest exercise, with a few tweaks it’s possible to make this great pec builder into an even better triceps thrasher.

Grab the handles using a shoulder-width grip and hold yourself on straight arms. Try to keep your body as vertical as possible to work your triceps more and your chest less. Bend your arms and descend until your forearms and biceps touch. Push back up and repeat. If you can do more than 12-reps, add some weight by wearing a weighted vest or using a chin/dip belt. Can’t do many reps? Keep working at it! Can’t do any reps? Use an assisted dip machine or place a resistance band over the handles and kneel/stand in it. Add weight in between knees or or add via weight belt.

Close grip bench press

 

Don’t be afraid to go heavy on this powerlifting favourite. Grasp the bar with an overhand, slightly narrower than shoulder-width grip. Don’t do the whole thumbs touching super-narrow grip – that’s a great way to mess up your elbows and wrists. Un-rack the bar, bend your arms and lower the bar to your chest. Keep your elbows tucked in. Drive it back up and repeat. This exercise can also be performed using a neutral grip “football bar” which makes it easier on your shoulders.

 

Skull crushers

 

This exercise is so-called because, if you get it wrong, you may well end up smacking yourself in the head! Make sure you always have a spotter on hand for safety. Using a barbell, EZ bar or triceps bar, lie on your back and hold the weight directly over your chest using a shoulder-width grip. Keep your upper arms vertical and bend your elbows to lower the bar to your forehead. Extend your arms and repeat. Once you have finished your set, move straight into a set of narrow grip bench presses for an excellent triceps finisher.

 

Biceps

 

If you want to get the girls you have to do the curls and as biceps are arguably the most well-known muscle in the body, it makes sense that many people want bigger biceps!

 

Narrow grip chin-ups

 

Chin-ups are known as a brilliant back builder but did you know that they are also an even better biceps exercise? Grab the bar with an underhand, less-than shoulder-width grip and hang with your arms straight. Next, bend your arms and pull your chin up and over the bar. Lower yourself slowly back down and repeat. No kicking or jerking your legs – you’ll get better results if you are strict with your form. Once you can do 12 or more reps, add some weight by strapping a dumbbell around your waist or wearing a weighted vest. If you can’t do any reps, use an assisted chin/dip machine or use the same resistance band trick I mentioned before.   

 

Barbell power curls

 

Did you know you are stronger lowering a weight than when you are lifting it? Barbell power curls make the most of this phenomenon and are a great way to overload your biceps with more weight than you’d normally be able to lift. Using a barbell or EZ bar, hold the bar with an underhand grip. Keeping your chest up and lower back tightly arched, hinge forward at the hips and lower the bar down the front of your legs to around mid-thigh. Explosively stand up and use this momentum to help you curl the weight up to your shoulders. Lower the weight under control taking three or four seconds to do so and then hinge forward and repeat. Yes – this looks like a cheat curl but so long as you lower the bar under strict control, it’s not a cheat curl but a power curl and a great way to bulk up your arms. Note: If you have any lower back or shoulder issues, this exercise is probably best avoided so that you avoid making them worse or causing an injury.

Alternating incline seated dumbbell curls

 

Where power curls allow you to hoist heavy weights because of a bit of strategic cheating, seated dumbbell curls are super-strict. Also, by performing them in an alternating arm fashion, you can really concentrate on one arm at a time to maximize muscle activation and recruitment. Finally, setting your exercise bench to an incline means that you start each repetition from a stretched position which adds even more to this already great biceps exercise. Set your bench to a slight incline and then sit down with your dumbbells in your hands. Let your arms hang down and slightly back. Keeping one arm stationary, curl the other dumbbell up toward your shoulder – rotate your wrist so your palm is uppermost as you break 90-degrees at your elbow. Lower the weight and then do a rep on the opposite side. Continue alternating arms for the duration of your set.

 

There are lots of fancy-looking arm exercises to choose from as well as numerous cable and machine exercises that promise great results with minimal effort. Guess what – they don’t live up to their promises. Instead, stick with basic but effective free weight and bodyweight exercises and, providing your diet and the rest of your training are sorted, you’ll develop the arms you always wanted.  
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AUTHOR

Hi, my name is Dinny Morris. I’m a personal trainer and in sunny Sydney, Australia.

I work with men and women at all levels of their physical development, from overweight couch potatoes who want to get in shape, to professional athletes and natural bodybuilders who want to beef up strength and body mass.

* Testimonials found on Dinny Morris Fitness have been sent to me by past and present customers and may not reflect the typical customer’s experience and are not intended to represent or guarantee that anyone will achieve the same or similar results. The testimonials are meant to be a showcase of the best results personal training with me can produce, and should not be taken as the results a typical user will get.