3 Rules For Building Bigger Arms

Your arms are too small. Or at least you probably feel that way. But chances are it’s not because you’re neglecting those muscles. It’s usually more of what you’re not doing, instead of what you could be doing to make them look better.

Those were the opening lines of an article I edited several years ago while working at Men’s Health. Looking back now, it’s funny because not much has changed.

Guys still feel their arms are too small. Women, on the other hand, tend to want their arms to be smaller, but “long and lean.” In fact, I answer the “how to get better arms” question all the time. And no matter what information has been passed on, biceps and triceps always will receive more attention than they probably require. 

If it seems like your arms won’t grow no matter what, I can assure you that’s not the case. I’m no stranger to small arms. There’s a picture floating around somewhere of a picture when I was 18 and flexing. The image was, well, pathetic. Pipecleaners had bigger biceps than me. Eventually I learned a few things, put them to good use and grew bigger biceps.

If you want bigger arms, you need to give them the right type of love. To help you find the right type of TLC, I spoke with Dan Trink, C.S.C.S, founder of Trink Fitness and the Director of Training at Peak Performance—one of the top gyms in the US.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Dan several times, and when he created a guide to building bigger arms To no surprise, Dan put together exactly what I expected: A program specifically designed to squeeze as much growth as possible. Here are a few of his tips to help you win the arms race. -AB

3 Rules for Building Bigger Arms

By: Dan Trink, CSCS

Heading to the gym with the goal of developing bigger arms is somewhat absurd.

Almost all of us would be better served by trying to increase our strength on the squat, developing better mobility in our hips, driving up work capacity on the Prowler or even sharpening our pick-up skills with new fitness model who works the membership desk.

Yet, it’s hard to beat that moment on the first Spring day warm enough to wear your “Arnold in Numero Uno” t-shirt, when you catch that slight reflection in the parked car window of a dude with seriously jacked arms and, after a brief second, realize, “Holy crap, that’s me!”

Having two USDA Prime slabs of beef hanging down from your shoulder sockets can be a reality for anyone. You just have to be smart about it. So, with that in mind, here are my ‘rules’ for building bigger arms.

Follow these and I can’t guarantee you’ll need to hire a tailor to let out your shirtsleeves but it will give you the confidence to tackle an arm specialization program (and, hopefully, that girl at the membership desk).

Rule 1: You Have To Specialize

Everyone’s first year or so of training should be spent learning movement patterns and developing a base level of strength. But once you get past these beginning stages, if you want to reach a specific goal, you have to get very specific about your training. This goes for growing bigger arms, pulling a 500-pound deadlift or getting on stage in a Speedo and a deep tan. Be a generalist and you’ll get mediocre results. Spend your hours in the gym working towards one main goal, however, will yield results much more quickly than you might expect. So, if you want freaky-deaky pipes, don’t be afraid to lay off the Olympic lifts and improving your mile time for a while and focus on the task at hand.

Rule 2: Volume Is The Name Of The Game

You should feel ridiculous spending your workout banging out tons of reps of every curl variation known to man. You should feel even more ridiculous when your arms are so sore the next day that you can’t properly wash your face in the shower. But, guess what? That’s what it takes.

For hypertrophy (mass building) to take place efficiently, you need to keep your volume (amount of work being done) fairly high as this causes the most muscle damage and, ultimately, growth. Plus once you’re in better shape you’ll find tons of girls who want to shower with you and they can wash your face. Problem solved.

[Editor’s note: I considered removing this line because I questioned whether it was factually accurate. After all, this has never happened to me. But then I realized my arms weren’t as big as Dan’s, and that it did happen to the author, so I felt it had to remain.]

Rule 3: Don’t Forget About Time Under Tension

Time under tension is just a fancy way of saying the how long your muscles are moving a load during any given set. From what I see, most sets are just too short to deliver the maximum muscle building effects.

The sweet spot seems to be between 30 and 50 seconds per set and there are two ways to hit this mark.

The first would be to set a timer for, say, 40 seconds and rep out until the alarm goes off. The second is to dictate the tempo of each rep (for example, lower the bar for 4 seconds, lift for 1). This way you’ll know that each rep lasts 5 seconds.

Knock out 8 reps and you are right in that 40-second sweet spot (5 seconds x 8 reps = 40 seconds). If you’ve never trained with tempo in this manner, be warned. It’s much tougher than just pumping out reps so you’ll have to keep your ego in check and lighten the loads that you’d normally use.

Are there more secrets to getting bigger arms? Yes. But trying to incorporate too many strategies at once can end up slowing your progress.

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