How to build bigger arms
Always wanted bigger biceps and triceps? Discover the best way to build bigger arms with our expert guide to everything you need to know to finally get the bigger, stronger and more defined arms you want!
If you asked most guys what body part they’d like to improve, there’s a good chance that the majority would say that they’d like to add size to their arms.
The trouble is, despite it being such a significant training goal, so few guys ever manage to realise their T-shirt filling dreams.
The reason most guys fail to make progress is that they fall into the trap of making a couple of classic errors while overlooking the simple but effective tactics that can fast-track your way to impressive muscle growth.
Our in-depth guide will give you the training tools you need to get the guns you want and deserve.
How often should I train to build bigger arms?
Muscle size and strength increases are linked to training volume, which is the total amount of work you do. The more volume you do, the better your chances of making progress, provided you can recover adequately.
That’s because it is while you recover post-workout that your muscle fibres repair and regrow to become bigger and stronger. If you interrupt this process by training your arms every day you won’t make the progress you’re looking for. Training your arms a couple of times a week is probably the sweet spot.
That’s partly because you also work your arms when you perform all “pressing” exercises, which are those that work the chest and shoulders, including the barbell bench press and overhead shoulder press, as well as during all “pushing” exercises that work the back, such as the lat pulldown and the seated cable row.
What exercises are best for building bigger arms?
This is a debate that rages within the training community. Some people think that just doing isolation (single-joint) exercises, such as biceps curls and triceps extensions is best because it focuses all of the effort on the target muscle. Others say that compound (multi-joint) moves, such as chin-ups and dips, are the way to go because you lift heavier loads.
The truth is that a mixture of the two is best. Basically, there’s no perfect ratio. But a roughly even split between compound and isolation work is going to be a good place to start for most guys.
How many reps are best to build big arms?
That’s not to say you should only ever use that rep range. Using fewer reps will help to build strength which, in turn, makes it easier to add size. Higher reps are useful for fully fatiguing muscles safely. It doesn’t make much sense to use a very low rep range with direct arms work. You don’t need to know your one-rep-max biceps curl, for example.
A good approach is to use a lower rep range with compound moves and a higher one with isolation exercises. As a final word, mixing it up is always useful, so don’t be afraid to go as high as 25 reps for some isolation exercises.
How many sets should I do to get big arms?
Sets and reps generally have an inverse relationship. The more reps you do, the fewer sets you do and vice-versa. So if you’re doing sets of 5 chin-ups, you might do 5 sets. But if you’re doing sets of 12 biceps curls, you’d probably only need three sets. Again, mixing it up is useful, but stay away from the margins. Unless there’s a very specific reason, there’s not a lot of point in doing one set of 5 reps or six sets of 20 reps.
What’s the best tempo for big arms?
Tempo is one of the seven main weight-training variables and refers to the speed of the rep. It is expressed as a four digit number, such as 2010. The first number refers to the time in seconds it takes to lower the weight. The second number is the time in seconds of the pause. The third number is the time in seconds to lift the weight and the fourth is the time in seconds of the pause between reps.
Generally speaking, a 4010 tempo, where you take four seconds to lower the weight, is great for building bigger arms. Lowering the weight slowly does make each rep harder so you may find that you need to reduce the weight you lift but the results will be worth it.
When should I train my arms in a workout?
As a rule of thumb, it’s best to leave isolation work to the end of your workout. If you do it at the start of your workout, you may fatigue smaller muscles. That can drastically reduce the weight you lift in big compound exercises. So, do your compound moves at the start of your session and leave the isolation work to the end.
Common arms training mistakes and how to avoid them
Training Mistake #1: Rushing your reps
Time under tension is key to muscle growth. If you rush your reps and you complete your set of ten in, say, 20 seconds, you’ll get less out of the set than someone who takes 40 seconds. It’s tempting to rush through reps because it feels purposeful, but it is actually counterproductive.
Training Mistake #2: Swinging the weights
This is probably the most common biceps training mistake you’ll see. So many guys are guilty of swinging their reps rather than lifting under control. When you swing a weight you use momentum to power the move and you reduce the tension placed on the target muscle. And when you do that, you reduce the effectiveness of the rep. So, be disciplined and make an effort to use muscle tension rather than momentum to move the load.
Training Mistake #3: Doing too many biceps exercises and not enough triceps moves
Arms training should be a roughly equal split between biceps and triceps exercises. For most guys, however, there’s a bias towards biceps exercises. That means they’re missing out on a huge opportunity to grow the size of their arms.
Advanced training tips for building bigger arms
Arms training tip #1: Use supersets to supersize your arms
Supersets are a training method that involves doing two exercises back-to-back with little or no rest between moves. They’re a great way to train your arms because they are time-efficient and effective.
A simple way to use them is to pair a biceps move with a triceps one. If you’re more experienced, you could do two biceps or two triceps exercises back-to-back.
Arms training tip #2: Use trisets and giant sets to build bigger arms
Trisets are three exercises back-to-back. Giant sets are four or more exercises done back-to-back. They are both an advanced way to train but they allow you to hit the muscles from a range of angles.
An example of a biceps triset is an incline biceps curl on a bench, a standing dumbbell hammer curl and a preacher curl. In each of those three exercises your upper arm is in a different position, which poses a different challenge. This isn’t what you do when you first pick up a dumbbell but it is something to work towards.
Arms training tip #3: Take a rest to power forward
Using a rest-pause technique is a good way of getting a bit more out of your muscles. On the final set of an exercise, go to failure, take a short rest then see if you can crank out a few more reps. A good strategy to use is taking three deep breaths before going again. You don’t need to do this as a beginner but it is a useful tactic to throw in as you get more advanced.
Best exercises for building bigger biceps
Dumbbell biceps curl
The classic biceps-builder is an effective way to build bigger arms with dumbbells. Keep your upper arms still, squeeze the biceps at the top of the rep. Make sure you lower under control and squeeze the triceps at the bottom before starting the next reps.
This is a tough compound move but it is incredibly effective. If you don’t have the strength to complete a rep, jump up to the top and lower as slowly as you can. Practise that until you can complete one full rep.
Dumbbell hammer curl
This is, quite literally, a twist on the biceps curl, in that you rotate your wrists so your palms are facing each other to perform a rep. It’s a bit kinder on your elbow joint and works well with a standard biceps curl as a superset to build bigger arms with dumbbells.
This is a very effective move for isolating the biceps muscles and building bigger arms. That’s because your upper arms are held in position by the preacher bench. It also works really well in a superset or tri-set.
Best exercises for building bigger triceps
Narrow-grip bench press
This is like a normal bench press but your hands are closer together. They should be no wider than shoulder-width apart and they can be as close as a fist-width apart. The closer your hands are, the more you emphasise your triceps and de-emphasise your chest.
Like the chin-up for the biceps, this is a tough compound move because you need to shift your entire body weight. If you can’t do a full rep, lower as slowly as you can until your elbows are at 90 degrees, reset then go again.
Overhead triceps extension
This is a beginner-friendly move that you can do with either one dumbbell or two (or on a cable machine). You start with your arms straight above your head then bend your elbows until they are at 90 degrees. Aim to keep your elbows as close to your ears as possible. Don’t let them flare out to the sides.
Cable triceps pushdown
Cables machines are great for building bigger triceps because they keep constant tension on the muscle. The cable triceps pushdown, where you start with your elbows bent and your hands at chest height before straightening your arms, give you a really nice triceps contraction.
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