If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you want to know how to get bigger arms as quickly and effectively as possible.
And I bet this isn’t the first article you’ve read on the subject.
Nah, something tells me you’ve already been searching the internet for the best arm workouts and biceps and triceps exercises and all of that fun stuff.
Right? I thought so.
And that means you’ve probably seen the two most common points of view…
Two Approaches For Building Bigger Arms
You see, articles about arm workouts usually involve one of two VERY different approaches…
- “The Bodybuilder Approach”
This approach is all about stereotypical “bodybuilder training.” That entails using a body part split which trains every muscle group once per week. This is typically done with an “arm day,” but sometimes also with a chest/triceps day and back/biceps day (or something similar). From there, a shitload of volume will be used. That means doing a variety of biceps and triceps isolation exercises utilizing a variety of equipment (free weights, machines, cables, etc.) to blast each “part” of the biceps/triceps from every angle and get a pump so crazy you can’t even bend your elbows. Methods like dropsets, supersets, burnout sets and so on may also be used, as well as higher rep ranges and training to failure.
- “The Anti-Bodybuilder Approach”
This is the complete opposite of that. The proponents of this approach HATE bodybuilding routines and laugh at the idea of an “arm day” filled with biceps curls, triceps extensions and other silly isolation nonsense. Rather, they believe building bigger arms is all about NOT training your arms directly at all, but instead focusing 100% on getting stronger at big free weight compound exercises like bench press, shoulder press, pull-ups, rows and so on, with an extra special focus on squats and deadlifts because they will add more mass to your arms than curls and extensions ever will. A higher frequency split (e.g. full body split), lower reps and lower volume workouts would be used.
Sound familiar? Yeah, I kinda figured. The only question is, which approach is best?
Wanna know the truth? They both suck.
Both Approaches Suck! (Here’s Why)
Even though the two approaches described above are what you’re most likely to see in articles like this, the truth is that neither one is best for getting bigger arms.
Why “The Bodybuilder Approach” Sucks
For starters, it fails to take into account the fact that most of the bodybuilders who train using these types of workouts – and who do well with them – aren’t actually natural.
Yeah, even the ones who claim to be natural.
Why is this important? Because when various drugs/steroids enter the equation, things change quite a bit. Suddenly, workouts that don’t work very well (or even at all) for natural trainees begin to work really well. Suddenly, things that would be waaaay too much for the average natural trainee to recover from becomes capable of recovering from. Suddenly, an ineffective approach to training becomes an effective approach to training.
That’s just… well… the magic of steroids. Full details here: Steroids vs Natural
In addition, most bodybuilders also have fantastic muscle building genetics.
So… how about you? Do you have fantastic genetics? No? What about a ton of drugs? No to that too?
In that case, this stereotypical bodybuilding approach is going to SUCK for you.
From its sub-optimal body part split, training frequency and laughably excessive amount of volume, to its unnecessary training methods, excessive elbow-injury-causing selection of isolation exercises and primary focus on getting a massive pump/crazy soreness, this just isn’t something that works well (or at all) for us natural, genetically average trainees.
Why “The Anti-Bodybuilder Approach” Sucks, Too
Now for the other extreme.
The proponents of this approach understand and agree with all of the points I just finished making, which is why they took things in the complete opposite direction.
So much so that the act of directly training your biceps and triceps is deemed unnecessary, useless, stupid and/or flat out counterproductive to the goal of getting bigger arms. Instead, they claim, compound exercises are all anyone truly needs and are all anyone should ever do.
While this advice sounds “cool” and “hardcore” and whatnot, it does has one tiny flaw: it’s wrong.
Are Compound Exercises Really All The Biceps/Triceps Need?
It is indeed true that getting stronger at compound exercises will HELP with building bigger arms. As you’ll see in a minute, it’s a big part of what I recommend.
This is because the biceps are heavily involved in all back compound exercises (rows, pull-ups, chin-ups, lat pull-downs, etc.), and the triceps are heavily involved in all chest and shoulder compound exercises (bench presses, overhead presses, etc.).
So yes, getting stronger at these exercises will certainly make your arms grow. But is that alone the best way to make your arms grow? Absolutely not.
The obvious truth is, if you want a muscle group to become bigger, and you want it to happen as quickly as realistically possible, you’d be an idiot to purposely avoid directly training that muscle group. There’s not a smart and (legitimately) natural bodybuilder, fitness model, coach or trainer that would disagree with this. Hell, even powerlifters who train specifically for strength include plenty of isolation “assistance work” for their arms.
So… yeah. If you want bigger arms, you need to directly train your fucking arms. It ain’t rocket science.
Do Squats And Deadlifts Really Make Your Arms Grow?
The second claim the anti-bodybuilder people love to make is that squats and deadlifts will make your biceps and triceps grow better than any amount of arm exercises ever could.
But wait, what’s that you say?
How can exercises that don’t involve ANY elbow flexion or elbow extension and therefore DON’T dynamically train the biceps or triceps AT ALL somehow make the biceps and triceps grow?
Good question. And the answer is: they don’t.
The Magical Growth Hormone Myth
The silly claim that training your legs somehow makes your upper body bigger is based entirely on the idea that intense lower body training leads to a larger post-workout release of growth hormone (GH), insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) and testosterone in your body (all of which play a huge role in the muscle building process) compared to something like doing isolation exercises for smaller upper body muscle groups.
This part is actually true, and there are a handful of studies that support it.
What’s not true, however, is the claim that this makes any meaningful difference whatsoever. Because it doesn’t.
The truth is, these training-induced hormonal spikes are temporary, and I’ve never seen a single study that has ever shown it to produce any meaningful long-term benefit to muscle growth in the context we’re talking about.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do squats or deadlifts or train your legs hard. It just means that if you’re doing these things (or whatever else) for the purpose of creating a post-workout hormonal boost that magically makes your biceps and triceps bigger… you’re probably wasting your time.
The Third Approach: The Best Of Both Worlds
So, if both of these approaches are less-than-ideal for maximizing arm growth, what exactly IS ideal?
Well, the answer to this question – like so many other questions in the diet and fitness world – lies somewhere in the middle of the two stupid extremes.
- You should definitely train your arms directly, just not in the idiotically excessive way often seen in the bodybuilding world.
- You should definitely focus on getting stronger at compound exercises, but just don’t make this the only thing you do for your biceps and triceps.
Or, to put that another way…
For maximizing arm growth, a combination of putting most of your focus on getting stronger at various compound pulling and pushing exercises AND a smaller secondary focus on doing some direct biceps/triceps isolation work will produce the best results possible.
Now let’s get a little more specific.
My 8 Workout Recommendations
Here’s what you need to do…
- Train your biceps and triceps (and every other muscle group) 2-3 times per week. This is the frequency that has been proven to work best for building muscle (source). Once per week can work, but it’s the least effective approach.
- Use a workout split that allows for this ideal frequency to be met. For beginners, full body is my recommendation. For intermediate and advanced trainees, upper/lower and push/pull/legs are my favorites.
- Fill the majority of your workouts with compound exercises done in low-moderate rep ranges. This means various chest presses, shoulder presses, rows, pull-ups/pull-downs, squats, deadlifts and so on done within the 5-10 rep range most of the time.
- Make progressive overload happen on those compound exercises. Gradually getting stronger over time is THE key stimulus of muscle growth (fatigue and damage are the others… I cover all of this in Superior Muscle Growth), and making it happen on compound pushing/pulling exercises will play a very significant role in making your arms bigger. This should be the #1 goal of your training.
- Do 2-4 sets each of direct biceps and triceps isolation work in moderate-higher rep ranges. The specifics will vary depending on what split you’re using and how the rest of the workout is designed, but in most cases, 2-4 sets of direct biceps work and 2-4 sets of direct triceps work – in the 10-15 rep range most of the time, and always after the compound work – will be ideal. Why not more? Because after the heavy progressive tension stimulus your arms received during the compound exercises that came earlier in the workout, you’ll only need a few higher rep fatigue-oriented sets of isolation work to maximize the overall growth stimulus without exceeding recovery.
- Do whatever arm isolation exercises you like best (and pick ones that don’t bother your elbows or wrists). Everyone wants to know what the “best” exercise is for a body part, but there really is no such thing. Any exercise that allows you to safely provide the intended training stimulus to the intended muscle group(s) is potentially “the best.” So, whether you do dumbbell curls or EZ bar curls, or triceps pushdowns with a bar attachment or a rope… it’s really not going to matter much with all else being equal. So, pick whatever you like best and is mostly elbow-friendly for you, and feel free to change your isolation exercises every 4-12 weeks.
- Make sure your diet is designed to support muscle growth. The best arm workout in the world isn’t going to do a damn thing for you if your diet plan isn’t designed to support muscle growth. Above all else, this means making sure you’re eating a sufficient amount of calories per day and a sufficient amount of protein, fat and carbs (in that order of importance).
- Be consistent and give it time, because muscle growth is slow as hell. The average intermediate man doing everything perfectly might gain 1lb of muscle PER MONTH across his entire body. The average woman might gain half that. So if you’re expecting to put an inch onto your arms in a few weeks (probably because the shittiest people in the fitness industry have tricked you into believing this type of thing is possible so they can sell you their useless garbage), you’re going to be mighty disappointed. It’s going to be a long, slow process. Know that in advance so you have realistic expectations.
For some additional details about arm workouts, exercises and building muscle in general, check out these…
- The Triceps Guide
- How To Do Skull Crushers Without Hurting Your Elbows
- EZ Curl Bar vs Straight Bar Curls
- 17 Ways To Prevent Elbow Injuries
- How To Build Muscle Fast
A Sample Workout Routine That Puts It All Together
And finally, if you’d like to see a (FREE) proven workout routine that puts all of these arm training guidelines together for you using the upper/lower split, check out…
And if you want see ALL of my proven workouts that do this using a variety of different splits (including push/pull/legs), check out: Superior Muscle Growth