Arm workouts

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There’s a simple answer to the question of how to get bigger arms: follow our four-week training plan below and our top ten tips. The only slightly more complicated version can be broken down into four key points, and here they are.

1. Increase your weekly volume of training

Research shows that muscle protein synthesis is rebooted every 48 to 72 hours, which means you will need to work a muscle two to three times a week to achieve optimal growth. Once every seven days just doesn’t cut it.

2. Use tempo training

Weight training isn’t as simple as lifting an object from A to B. The tempo with which you lift is integral to building bigger arms. Ensure you stick to a four-digit tempo code (detailed in our training plan below). In seconds, the first digit refers to how long you take to lower the weight, the second digit how long to pause at the bottom of the lift, the third how long taken to lift the weight, and finally the fourth digit refers to how long you pause at the top of the movement.

3. Consume plenty of protein

In order to increase the size of any muscle, you should be getting sufficient protein in your diet. The American College of Sports Medicine advises anywhere between 1.4 to 2 grams of protein per kilo of bodyweight each day. The amino acids that make up the building blocks of protein contribute to repairing muscle tissue after training, which then corresponds to increased growth.

4. Stretch to grow

We’re not talking about tying yourself to the front of a car like Stretch Armstrong (who admittedly had sizeable guns). Stretching and flexing your biceps and triceps is key to signalling growth. Increased biceps training, coupled with a desk-heavy job, needs to be combined with sufficient stretching, otherwise the biceps tendon may become too tight and shortened, which can rotate your shoulders internally and create the illusion your arms aren’t as big as they really are. Alleviate the issue by standing side-on to a solid wall, about an arm’s width away. With the nearest arm, place your palm flat on the wall while keeping the arm outstretched – you’ll feel the pinch. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.

How This Arms Training Plan Works

This four-week workout is made up of four sessions a week.

  • Workout one targets your chest and triceps.
  • Workout two targets your back and biceps.
  • Workout three targets your legs and shoulders.
  • Workout four targets your biceps and triceps.

This approach means you directly train your arm muscles twice a week. If you previously worked your biceps and triceps once a week, this strategy will double the amount of training time these muscles get, and it is this significant increase in training volume that will result in bigger and stronger arms.

Each workout is made up of five lifts, which you will perform as straight sets. This means you do all the sets of the first lift, rest as indicated, then move on to the second lift and so on. Simply do the workouts in order, sticking to the sets, reps, tempo and rest periods detailed.

For the first three workouts the sets, reps and rest periods are the same, but in the final session of each week (the biceps and triceps session) the sets and reps are changed to place as much tension as possible on these muscles and elicit the desired growth response. Each week, try to lift slightly heavier than before – but form comes first.

Tempo Training Explained

To get the full effect from these workouts, you need to stick to the four-digit tempo code for each exercise. The first digit indicates how long in seconds you take to lower the weight, the second how long you pause at the bottom of the move, the third how long you take to lift the weight, and the final digit how long you pause at the top.

The accumulated time under tension increases your heart rate to burn body fat and break down muscle tissue so it’s rebuilt bigger and stronger. Keep each rep smooth and controlled so your muscles – not momentum – do the work, and move through a full range of motion.

Workout 1: Chest And Triceps

1 Incline bench press

Sets 5 Reps 8 Tempo 2110 Rest 60sec

Lie on an incline bench, holding a bar with an overhand grip with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and arms straight. Brace your core and press your feet into the ground, then lower the bar towards your chest. Press it back up to the start.

2 Triceps dip

Sets 5 Reps 8 Tempo 2010 Rest 60sec

Grip rings or parallel bars with your arms straight. Keeping your chest up, bend your elbows to lower your body as far as your shoulders allow. Press back up powerfully to return to the start.

3 Hammer-grip dumbbell bench press

Sets 4 Reps 12-15 Tempo 2010 Rest 45sec

Lie on a flat bench, holding dumbbells by your shoulders with palms facing. Drive your feet into the floor and press the weights straight up, then lower them slowly back to the start.

4 Dumbbell triceps extension

Dumbbell triceps extension

Sets 4 Reps 12-15 Tempo 2010 Rest 45sec

Stand tall holding a dumbbell in each hand over your head, with arms straight. Keeping your chest up, core braced and elbows pointing up, lower the weights behind your head, then raise them back to the start.

5 Diamond press-up

Diamond press-up

Sets 4 Reps 12-15 Tempo 2010 Rest 45sec

Start in a press-up position but with your thumbs and index fingers touching to form a diamond. Keeping your hips up and core braced, bend your elbows to lower your chest towards the floor. Push down through your hands to return to the start.

Workout 2: Back And Biceps

1 Pull-up

Superset workout one: 1B Pull-up

Sets 5 Reps 8 Tempo 2011 Rest 60sec

Hold a pull-up bar using an overhand grip with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Brace your core, then pull yourself up until your chest touches the bar. Lower until your arms are straight again.

2 Chin-up

Chin-up

Sets 5 Reps 8 Tempo 2011 Rest 60sec

Hold a chin-up bar using an underhand grip, hands shoulder-width apart. Brace your core, then pull yourself up until your chin is higher than the bar, keeping your elbows tucked in to your body. Lower until your arms are straight again.

3 Barbell biceps curl

Barbell biceps curl

Sets 4 Reps 12 Tempo 2011 Rest 45sec

Hold a barbell with an underhand grip with your hands shoulder-width apart. Keeping your chest up, core braced and elbows tucked in to your sides, curl the bar up to your chest, squeezing your biceps as you go. Lower it back to the start.

4 Reverse-grip bent-over row

Reverse-grip bent-over row

Sets 4 Reps 12 Tempo 2011 Rest 45sec

Hold a bar using a shoulder-width underhand grip just outside of your legs. Bend your knees slightly then bend forwards, hingeing at the hips and keeping your shoulder blades back. Pull the bar up towards your abs, leading with your elbows, then lower it back to the start.

5 Dumbbell biceps curl

Dumbbell biceps curl

Sets 4 Reps 12-15 Tempo 2011 Rest 45sec

Hold dumbbells by your sides with straight arms, palms facing forwards. Keeping your chest up, core braced and elbows tucked in to your sides, curl the weights up, squeezing your biceps as you go, then lower them back to the start.

Workout 3: Legs And Shoulders

1 Back squat

Barbell back squat

Sets 5 Reps 8 Tempo 2010 Rest 60sec

Stand tall with your feet just wider than shoulder-width apart, holding a barbell across the back of your shoulders. Keeping your chest up and core braced, squat down until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. Drive back up through your heels to return to the start.

2 Overhead Press

Overhead press

Sets 5 Reps 8 Tempo 2010 Rest 60sec

Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a barbell across the top of your chest with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Keeping your chest up and core braced, press the bar overhead until your arms are straight, then lower it back to the start.

3 Barbell split squat

Barbell split squat

Sets 4 Reps 6-8 each side Tempo 2010 Rest 45sec

Stand tall with feet just wider than shoulder-width apart, holding a bar across the back of your shoulders. Keeping your chest up, take a big step forwards with your right foot, then lower until both knees are bent at 90°. Drive back through your right foot to return to the start. Repeat for six to eight reps, then switch legs and do another six reps with your left foot forward.

4 Barbell high pull

Barbell high pull

Sets 4 Reps 12-15 Tempo 1010 Rest 45sec

Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a barbell in front of your thighs with an overhand grip and straight arms. Keeping your chest up and core braced, pull the bar up, leading with your elbows, until it reaches chin height. Lower it back to the start.

5 Lateral raise

Dumbbell lateral raise

Sets 4 Reps 12-15 Tempo 2011 Rest 45sec

Stand tall, holding a light dumbbell in each hand by your sides, palms facing each other. Keeping your chest up, your core braced and a slight bend in your elbows, raise the weights out to the sides until they’re at shoulder height. Turn your thumbs down at the top and lower them back to the start.

Workout 4: Biceps And Triceps

1 Triceps dip

Sets 8 Reps 8 Tempo 2011 Rest 60sec

Grip rings or parallel bars with your arms straight. Keeping your chest up, bend your elbows to lower your body as far as your shoulders allow. Press back up powerfully to return to the start.

2 Chin-up

Chin-up

Sets 8 Reps 8 Tempo 2011 Rest 60sec

Hold a chin-up bar using an underhand grip, hands shoulder-width apart. Brace your core, then pull yourself up until your chin is higher than the bar, keeping your elbows tucked in to your body. Lower until your arms are straight again.

3 Barbell biceps curl

Barbell biceps curl

Sets 3 Reps 15 Tempo 2011 Rest 60sec

Hold a barbell with an underhand grip with your hands shoulder-width apart. Keeping your chest up, core braced and elbows tucked in to your sides, curl the bar up to your chest, squeezing your biceps as you go. Lower it back to the start.

4 Dumbbell triceps extension

Dumbbell triceps extension

Sets 3 Reps 15 Tempo 2011 Rest 60sec

Stand tall holding a dumbbell in each hand over your head, with arms straight. Keeping your chest up, core braced and elbows pointing up, lower the weights behind your head, then raise them back to the start.

5 Dumbbell biceps curl

Dumbbell biceps curl

Sets 3 Reps 15 Tempo 2011 Rest 60sec

Hold dumbbells by your sides with straight arms, palms facing forwards. Keeping your chest up, core braced and elbows tucked in to your sides, curl the weights up, squeezing your biceps as you go, then lower them back to the start.

How to Get Bigger Arms: 14 Top Tips

Want T-shirt-filling arms? We thought so. That’s why we asked the world’s leading trainers and coaches for their proven knowledge on the very best ways to build better arms. So for bigger biceps and thicker triceps, all you need to do is follow their advice and make some small changes to your workout – big improvements guaranteed.

1. Contract the antagonist

That’s the muscle that’s working against the movement you’re doing. “If you flex your triceps at the bottom of a curl, the biceps will fully lengthen, and vice versa during any triceps extension work – meaning that you’re hitting full ROM [range of movement],” says trainer Joel Dowey. “It also stops you from cheating and cutting the movement short, and ensures a pause at the end of the eccentric phase.”

2. Don’t let your wrists move

“Something I notice in a lot of novice trainees is they tend to ‘break’ at the wrists when things start to get hard,” says Dowey. “Don’t let this happen. For extension movements, push the cable attachment away from your body with the edge of your hand. For curling movements, keep them locked in place and don’t let them move. As the wrist breaks, you’re taking tension away from the desired muscle group.”

3. Fix your dips

“Dips are, or at least should be a staple of any upper-body pushing programme,” says Dowey. “To target your triceps more, keep your elbows super-close to the body and your torso upright. Any variation from this and more and more emphasis will shift towards the anterior deltoids and pecs. Be relentless in your execution here – nothing but perfection for pure triceps tension.”

4. Vary your shoulder position

“Both biceps heads and the long head of the triceps originate on the shoulder, so shoulder position plays a pivotal role in both biceps and triceps activation and contraction,” says Dowey. “To hit every head, do a variety of movements in front of you (preachers and machine extensions), below you (curls and cable extensions) and behind you (incline bench curls and cable kick-backs).”

5. Prioritise the pump

When training your arms, your aim should be getting the biggest pump possible through sensible weight selection and perfect form. “If the weight is too heavy you’ll end up using momentum, but too light and there won’t be sufficient tension on the muscle, which is the key to growth,” says experienced bodybuilder John Meadows (mountaindogdiet.com). “You need to select a manageable weight that you can lift and control with perfect form to create and keep tension on the muscles. That gets the blood flowing for the most insane pump possible.”

6. Keep rest short

When you’re lifting for increases in muscular strength, you need to get enough rest between sets for your muscles and central nervous system to recover sufficiently to go again. But when training for increased arm size, especially if you’ve been lifting for a while, you can cut down your inter-set recovery time. “Short and sweet rest breaks are what you want – you don’t need to wait three minutes between sets, not when lifting more manageable weights when you’re wanting to get a pump,” says Meadows. “Keep rest intervals to 45 seconds to drive more blood into your muscles.”

7. Lighten the load

“Trying to curl a really heavy dumbbell by swinging it up places little tension on the muscle and is the fastest route to elbow problems,” says Meadows. “All I ever got from heavy cheat curls and triceps extensions was elbows so beat up I couldn’t even bench 60kg. Your triceps and biceps get a workout when you train your chest and back, so if you train your arms separately you don’t need to hammer them again.”

8. Do supersets

Doing a set of a biceps move followed immediately by a triceps move – an antagonistic superset – is a great way to work both muscles more efficiently. “I love antagonistic supersets because it makes you think about how your biceps and triceps work together to bend and straighten the arm,” says Meadows. “But the beauty of direct arms training is that you can do whatever workout order suits you. Do all your biceps moves first, then triceps, or vice versa, it honestly doesn’t matter. Just focus on getting an intense pump with as much blood into the muscles as you can.”

9. Flex and stretch

Instead of sitting down between sets to check Instagram you should stretch your working muscles to stimulate growth. “As soon as your set is over, set down the weights and start flexing the muscle you’ve just been working to increase blood flow into the muscle and improve your mind-to-muscle connection, which are crucial for maximising growth,” says Nick Mitchell, founder of Ultimate Performance (upfitness.co.uk). “If you’ve just finished a set of biceps curls, squeeze the muscle for a second or two, then relax it by straightening your arm and flexing your triceps.” Repeat this for your rest period, then go again.

10. Mix up the reps

Most muscle-building plans use six to 12 reps per set, but to maximise arm size try counting to 30. “In the classic six-to-12 rep range your slow-twitch muscles fibres never get fully worked because your fast-twitch ones reach fatigue first,” says exercise scientist Brad Schoenfeld (lookgoodnaked.com). “But when you’re doing longer, lighter sets the slow-twitch fibres do get fully fatigued and my research suggests this has a profound effect on hypertrophy.” Choose a light weight and the first ten to 15 reps should feel easier, but your muscles should be on fire as you get into the high 20s.

11. Take it slow

If you’re rushing your reps, you’re just taking the fastest route to disappointment. “Most guys train their arms too heavy, so they can’t control the weight and it controls them,” says renowned strength coach Charles Poliquin (strengthsensei.com). “Many people have experienced renewed growth simply by slowing down their movements. Keep the set between 40 and 60 seconds for the optimal time under tension to stimulate hypertrophy.” Slow down each rep by taking at least two seconds to lower the weight – your muscles are stronger during the eccentric portion of a rep – then lift it explosively to recruit more fast-twitch muscle fibres.

12. Learn to fail

If you want bigger-arm success then you need to learn to fail. Training to muscular failure – the point at which you can’t perform a single additional rep – leads to greater muscle mass gains than staying in your comfort zone. “Training closer to muscular failure seems very likely to be more effective than training further from muscular failure for hypertrophy,” says exercise scientist Chris Beardsley. “We think it might happen because the fatigue causes more motor units to be recruited and there might be a beneficial effect of greater fatigue causing more metabolic stress.” Try a biceps curl drop set with three sets of dumbbells: do eight to 12 hard reps with the heaviest pair, then drop the weight and lift to failure, then drop again to the lightest pair and lift until your muscles wave the white flag.

13. Embrace isolation

Barbell curls and EZ-bar triceps extensions have their place, but to really fill out your T-shirt sleeves you need to do single-arm work. “Isolation lifts like single-arm dumbbell biceps curls are hugely important because they allow you to go to another level of intensity to hit the muscles fibres as much as is possible,” says Meadows. “The better you can isolate a muscle, the bigger it can grow.”

14. Fire up your forearms

“The role of the forearms in achieving maximum arm size is tragically unappreciated,” says Poliquin. “Any kinesiologist will tell you that forearm action contributes to elbow flexion, so increased forearm strength will allow you to use heavier weights for moves that cause bending at your elbows, which increases the tension you put upon your biceps and triceps, leading to greater muscle growth, and better grip strength.”

“Forearm training can be a little tedious at times but if you only train the upper arms, it is the equivalent of having big quads and tiny calves,” says Dowey. “Grip work – including farmer’s walks, holds, fat plate holds and pinch grip practice – along with some rotational training sledgehammer twists will give you Popeye forearms in no time.”