I’ve been writing articles about how to build bigger arms for 15 years. Besides abs, a better biceps workout is typically a weekly request, which is why I have a big confession to make: I was wrong.
For years, I was sucked into the idea of “you don’t need curls to build bigger arms.” That meant my workout plans cut out all direct biceps work. Big mistake. After my anti-curl era, everything about my workout plans became obsessed with progressive overload. That is, I only concerned myself with using heavier weights on all exercises—curls included. Don’t misunderstand: progressive overload is very important, but it’s not everything, especially with your arms.
If you are learning how to gain more muscle, you want some specialization. The non-stop heavy loads in my biceps workouts led to non-stop elbow issues and more time rehabbing than growing.
A few cheat reps are fine on any exercise, but your arms will grow by volume and tension.
Today, things are different. My biceps workouts blend the best of science with real life transformations I’ve seen with hundreds of clients. I know the exercises, rep ranges, and frequency that help build an impressive set of biceps and triceps. Avoid my mistakes from the past and follow my tips for the future, and you will know exactly how to get bigger arms.
How to Get Bigger Arms: 5 Biceps Workout Strategies
1) Go for the Pump
As much as I love heavy weights, your arms respond incredibly well to volume. And the reason is simple: when you go very heavy, you start cheating more than you want. A few cheat reps are fine on any exercise, but your arms will grow by volume and tension. If the weight is too heavy, you start to use your traps, shoulders and momentum, which removes the tension from where you want it — your biceps and triceps. Rule of thumb for your biceps workout: stick to sets of 8 to 15 reps, and even sometimes finish with sets of 20 reps.
2) Keep It Simple
There are approximately 800 exercises that could be used for the ultimate biceps workout, and most are a waste. Hammer curls, EZ bar curls, and dumbbell variations (standing, seated, and incline) are all your biceps need. For your triceps, think big movements like ring dips, close grip bench presses, and pushups. This creates overload, which will force your muscles to grow. Finish them off with movements that create a greater stretch throughout the movement, such as cable extension or skull crushers.
3) Arm Day on Leg Day
Here’s something you don’t hear too often: if you want big arms, train your legs. This isn’t a ploy. You see, your body likes to grow in proportion. So while there are plenty of guys that skip leg day and still have some big arms because they make time for 3 biceps workouts during the week, you will rarely find a guy with a big squat and deadlift with pencil arms. It just doesn’t happen.
But here’s the trick: because your biceps are a smaller muscle group, they respond to high frequency. You want to train them at least 2-3 times per week for optimal growth. A way to make this happen: add direct arm work on your leg days (Actually, begin your workouts with the arm training.) This is something former Mr. Olympia, Dorian Yates, did early in his career, and it works.
4) Target Your Training
Just like any other goal—fat loss, muscle growth, or strength gains—science has proven over and over again the benefits of having a specified, short time period for any specific goal. I could literally list 100 studies that show why you must periodize—or cycle—your training. If you want big arms or understand how to gain more muscle, don’t train arms like crazy year-round.
Instead, pick a 8- to 12-week period where you focus on training your arms 2-4 times per week. Make them a priority and they will grow, and then back off for another 12-20 weeks, before focusing on them again.
5) Stretch and Grow
If you’re like most guys, you treat stretching like hair conditioner: great in theory, but not worth your time. But if you want sleeve-expanding arms, a good stretch is invaluable. You won’t see much research on it, so this is about observation from some of the best in the business.
After a few sets, your arms are pumped and full of blood. A good stretch can help increase blood flow, which means more potential growth. You can wait for the science, or you can do it and experience the results for yourself.
Adam Bornstein is a New York Times bestselling author and the author of You Can’t Screw This Up. He is the founder of Born Fitness, and the co-founder of Arnold’s Pump Club (with Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Pen Name Consulting. An award-winning writer and editor, Bornstein was previously the Chief Nutrition Officer for Ladder, the Fitness and Nutrition editor for Men’s Health, Editorial Director at LIVESTRONG.com, and a columnist for SHAPE, Men’s Fitness, and Muscle & Fitness. He’s also a nutrition and fitness advisor for LeBron James, Cindy Crawford, Lindsey Vonn, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. According to The Huffington Post, Bornstein is “one of the most inspiring sources in all of health and fitness.” His work has been featured in dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Fast Company, ESPN, and GQ, and he’s appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, and E! News.