How To Build Big Arms

You want big arms.  How do you get them?

Muscle grows in response to gradually increased loading with progressive resistance.  To build muscular arms you need to increase the loads you move with your arms.  

Build Big Arms With Multi-Joint Movements

Contrary to popular belief, single-joint (SJ) exercises like bicep curls and tricep extensions are not necessary nor necessarily the best for building big arms.  In fact, multi-joint (MJ) exercises like chin ups and dips provide better overall results.

Gentil and colleagues reviewed research on the acute and long-term effects of SJ and MJ exercises and found no difference between the two types of exercises for upper arm development but some evidence for SJ exercise being beneficial for the hamstrings and lumbar muscles [1].  In regards to arm development, the research suggests that MJ exercises produce similar upper arm growth to SJ exercises.

Arthur Jones remarked that "when you get strong enough to perform about ten repetitions of one-armed chins with each arm, your arms will leave very little to be desired" [2].

You can impose much larger demands on your arms with chin ups, pull ups, dips or chest press, and overhead presses or handstand presses than with single-joint exercises.  In this way you can build not only big arms but also big shoulders and a big chest. 

Chin ups for big back and biceps

Dips for big chest and triceps

Get Strong Arms To Build Big Arms

To build big arms, you need to build big strength.

Bodyweight chin ups and dips won't build unusually big arms.  You need to think in terms of gradually building up the ability to do 6-10 chin ups with 100-150 pounds of added external load (barbell plates), or with one arm.   For triceps, think in terms of doing 6-10 dips with double bodyweight (your body plus external load equal to your bodyweight), or 6-10 overhead presses with your bodyweight.

Build Big Legs to Build Big Arms

The body strives to keep everything in proportion.  If your legs are weak and small, it will only permit limited increase in arm size.  If you want to build big arms, you should also build big, strong legs.

Now we are talking building up the ability to squat 5-10 repetitions with 250-300 pounds. 

Big Arms Training Routines

To build a big chest, your training program should include only 10-12 total exercises for the whole body, most of them multi-joint, including:

  • 1-2 squat variations
  • 1-2 hamstring exercises
  • Chin ups
  • Rowing or 90º pull ups
  • Dips, push ups (floor or ring) or chest press
  • Overhead press (or handstand)

You should perform these exercises with limited sets, with a frequency that allows weekly strength gains, over and over until you get very strong.  Your sets should be limited and your frequency adjusted so that you gain strength every week.   

Notes

1.  Gentil, P., Fisher, J., & Steele, J. (2016). A Review of the Acute Effects and Long-Term Adaptations of Single- and Multi-Joint Exercises during Resistance Training. Sports Medicine, 47(5), 843-855.

2. Jones A.  My First Half-Century in the Iron Game, No. 68. http://www.arthurjonesexercise.come/First_Half/68.pdf  

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