Your mission, if you choose to accept it is to lift, scream, and strain your way to the biggest, and most ripped arms imaginable. We’ll warn you ahead of time, building a set of “weapon’s grade” arms is never easy, but you’ve been pre-selected as a reader of HCM to test your will and resolve. When your mission is complete, you’ll have “arms inspectors” everywhere either salivating with desire, or interrogating you for training info. Without any more time wasted, there are a few things you should know before you embark.
One piece of information you should file away is that approximately one-third of your upper arm measurement comes from your biceps and two-thirds comes from your triceps. This means that if your upper arm measures 18 inches in circumference, 12 inches are triceps and only six are biceps. You may ask which muscle group is most important to focus on? The answer is both. But be aware that using curls to build your upper arms will only get you one-third of the way to your goal. You’ve got to pump those triceps to have truly “big guns”. And that’s not all, you’ve also got to remember to fire up those forearms to get great proportion. Use variety and change to shock the full muscle groups of the arms as much as possible to build the kind of quality muscle you want. Your mission is to build the best arms in the business, and in order to accomplish that mission, here are the exercises you will utilize to help you reach that goal. Good Luck.
1. Standing Dumbbell Curl
This exercise gives an intense biceps workout with less stress for the brachialis and forearm muscles. Start by standing erect with your feet about eighteen inches apart. Hold the dumbbells palms-in, with your arms resting at your sides. Keeping your arms close to your sides, your palms should be parallel to the ground by the time they pass your upper thighs. The curl should continue until the dumbbells’ handles are level with your middle deltoid muscles. At the top of the movement, pause for five seconds to focus on a full central biceps contraction. Slowly lower the weights until your wrists pass your upper thighs. Gradually, twist your wrists to bring your palms in as you approach the starting position. Do five sets of five reps.
Tip: Begin the motion by lifting your lower arms while rotating your wrists to a palms-up position.
2. Barbell Preacher Curl
This exercise is a lower and outer biceps mass builder. Take a position at the preacher bench. When you sit, the seat should not be so low that your shoulders are elevated nor so high that you are hunched over the pad. Your hands should be about sixteen to eighteen inches apart on the bar, or four to six inches wider than your shoulders. The preacher stand should be against your upper pectoral muscles. Lift the weight at full arms’ length. Raise the bar in an arc slowly upward until it touches your upper biceps. Don’t cheat! Resist the tendency for your elbows to spread and your upper biceps to move outward. Allow the weight to follow the reverse path back to the starting position. Do three sets of twelve reps. Rest for a minute between sets.
Tip: Give yourself a challenge by using your upper body for leverage; try doing the exercise from a standing position, leaning over the pad with your legs stretched behind you in a straight line.
3. Incline Dumbbell Curl
The special angle of attack for this exercise ensures you will build both mass and biceps peaks. Take a comfortable position on an incline bench with the dumbbells hanging at your sides. It is the partial stretch of this initial position that makes this is a great biceps’ exercise. If the bench has an adjustable incline you can use this feature to modify the focal point of the work on the biceps. Start off with your arms at your side, and your palms facing inward. Keep your arms close to your sides as you rotate past your thighs. Now twist your wrists into the palms-up position. Continue the curl until the weights have reached shoulder level. Focus on letting only your biceps do the lifting work. Do three sets of twelve reps. Allow yourself a minute rest between sets.
Tip: When your elbow is fully flexed, it should only travel forward a few inches allowing your forearm to be no more than perpendicular to the floor to allow for a relative release of tension in the muscles between repetitions.
4. Concentration Curls
These are done with dumbbells in a kneeling or sitting position. Hold a dumbbell in one hand, palm facing upwards. Spread your feet to about shoulder width and slightly bend your knees. Bend over and place your right elbow on your right knee and let the weight hang down by your foot. Using your knee as a pivot point, curl the weight up to your shoulder. Concentrate on only flexing your biceps muscle, and then slowly lower the weight back down. Do three sets of twelve reps. Rest for a minute between sets.
Tip: Be sure to keep your wrist straight throughout the move and keep your abdominal muscles pulled in tight.
5. Seated Dumbbell Curl
Sit at the end of a bench with your feet firmly on the floor. Keep your back straight and head up. Start with the dumbbells at arm’s length and your palms facing in. Curl the weight up and twist your wrists once they pass your thighs. Squeeze your biceps at the top, then slowly lower the weight. Stick to a good form. Don’t cheat! Resist the temptation to swing! Do three sets of twelve reps.
Allow yourself a minute rest between sets.
6. Prone Incline Curls
Begin by lying face down on a 45-degree incline bench. Grasp two dumbbells and allow the weights to hang straight down from your shoulders with your palms facing away from your body. Slowly curl the dumbbells upward toward your shoulders, keeping your upper arms stable throughout the movement. Contract your biceps and then slowly return the weights back to the starting position. Do three sets of twelve reps. Allow yourself a minute rest between sets.
7. Close Grip Bench Press
Lie on a bench and grip the bar and in or so inside your shoulder width using either a regular or reverse grip. Balance can be a bit awkward so you may need a lift from your spotter. Lock your elbows and slowly lower the bar towards your chest. Keep the majority of stress on your triceps by keeping your elbows close to your torso. The bar should make contact with your body right at the bottom of your pecs, lower than a regular bench press. On the lift you should feel the power loading in your triceps. At the bottom, as the bar touches your chest, drive the weight evenly- don’t bounce- back to the top, contract your triceps with a steady power. This exercise works best with a substantial amount of weight. Power it up with five sets of five reps. Don’t pump out light reps and don’t go all out to failure for your first exercises. Rest for one or two, minutes between sets to maximize the effect.
Tips: Have a spotter. You’ll usually be using heavy weights and this exercise requires balance and coordination. Avoid taking risks. Don’t position your hands too close together on the bar. This stresses the wrists. Hands should be about shoulder width, elbows close to the body.
8. Dumbbell Lying Triceps Extensions
Lie on your back on a flat bench. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms extended to eye level, shoulder-width apart. Your palms should be facing each other. Bend your elbows allowing the dumbbells to descend to the sides, and above your head. Your upper arms should slant towards your head. Use fairly heavy weights and do five sets of five reps at a slow pace. Rest for two minutes between sets.
Tip: Try rotating your palms downward as you lower the dumbbells then rotating back to a neutral position on the way back up. This increases the load on the triceps.
9. Reverse Cable Push downs
At the cable machine, grip the bar with both palms up. (This exercise only works with a straight bar). Pull the bar down. When your arms are fully straightened, give your triceps a strong “flex”. Control the lift with a steady motion as you let the bar ease up to the top position. Repeat the motion. Try to do three sets of twelve reps. Don’t cheat! Keep the movements steady and even. Avoid jerking or bouncing the bar or rounding your back. Emphasize the upward motion of the bar, this is the movement that will lead to muscle growth. Give yourself at least a minute rest in between sets.
Tip: Keep your elbows close to your body and ease your wrists back as you tighten your triceps. This will increase the tension in the muscle.
10. Dumbbell Kickbacks
You can do this exercise bending over without a bench but it is much better performed on an exercise bench. Rest your opposite knee and hand of the side of the body you are working, on the bench. Bend over so that your back is flat and parallel with the ground. This will help reduce torque on your shoulder and to concentrate on the triceps muscles. Start with your arm bent down to the side of your body. Using your elbow as a hinge, extend your arm towards your back until it is completely straight. Return to starting position and repeat. Do both sides of your body. Do three sets of twelve reps. Allow yourself a minute rest between sets.
Tip: Be sure to keep your back flat. Keep your movements nice and slow so that you don’t use momentum. Don’t cheat! Make sure you don’t flick your wrist at the top position. Keep your wrist straight to keep the emphasis on your triceps.
11. French Curls
This movement is one of the most popular for working the triceps. Lay flat on your back on the bench with your feet pointed forward. Grab the bar with your hands as close together as possible and your palms facing upwards. In the starting position extend your arms perfectly straight over your body. Begin the exercise by slowly bending your elbows and bringing the bar down to right over your forehead. Extend your arms back to the stating position and continue. Finally, pull your abs in tight while performing this exercise. This will keep your core muscles more stable. You need to be careful when you lower the weight to your forehead. If you feel uncomfortable with the weight being lowered to your head, try lowering it just above your head. As you become more familiar with the movement, concentrate on lowering it to your head. Do three sets of ten reps. Rest for at least a minute between sets.
Tips: Keep your elbows still. This takes concentration as you are bringing the bar down. This exercise can be varied by using a straight bar one week and a curling bar the next week. You can also adjust this exercise by using a wide grip on one workout (hands 8 to 10 inches apart) and a close grip (hands 4 to 5 inches apart) on the next workout.
12. Standing Bent-Over Two-Arm Dumbbell Triceps Extension
Hold two dumbbells, your palms should be facing inwards. Bend over until your upper body is parallel to the floor. Pull your upper arms in close to your sides but keep your lower arms vertical. Press the dumbbells back in a semicircular motion until each entire arm is parallel to the floor. Squeeze your triceps tight at the top. Return to your starting position. Don’t cheat! Your elbows and upper arms should never move. Do three sets of twelve reps. Allow yourself a minute rest between sets.
Tip: This exercise can also be done with one dumbbell at a time.
13. Reverse Barbell Preacher Curls.
Sit on the preacher bench and place the back of your arms on the pad. The seat should be adjusted to allow your armpits to rest near the top of the pad. Grasp the curl bar with a shoulder width overhand grip. Raise the bar until your forearms are perpendicular to the floor, with the back of your upper arm remaining on the pad. Lower the barbell until your arm is fully extended. Do three sets of twelve reps.
14. Reverse Barbell Curl
Grasp the bar with a shoulder width over hand grip. Keeping your elbows by your sides, raise the bar until your forearms are vertical. Lower the bar until your arms are fully extended. Repeat. When your elbows are fully flexed, your elbow should only travel forward a few inches allowing your forearm to be no more than perpendicular to the floor, allowing for a relative release of tension in the muscles between repetitions. Do three sets of twelve reps. Give yourself at least a minute rest between sets.
15. Seated Dumbbell Palms-Down Wrist Curl
Hold dumbbells in both hands and sit at the end of a flat bench with your feet flat on the floor and about 20 inches apart. Lean forward and lay your forearms on your upper thighs, palms down. Place your wrists over your knees. Lower dumbbells as far as possible keeping a tight grip. Curl dumbbells up as high as possible without moving your forearms. Do three sets of twelve reps. Allow yourself a minute rest between sets.
Tip: This exercise can also be done with palms-up or with a barbell.
16. Seated One-Arm Dumbbell Palms-Down Wrist Curl
This exercise works your outer forearm. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand and sit on a flat bench with your feet flat on the floor, about 20 inches apart. Lean forward and place your right forearm on your upper right thigh with your palm down. Place back of wrist on your knee. Lower the dumbbell as far as possible. Keep a tight grip. Curl the dumbbell as high as possible. Switch arms when you’re done with one set. Do three sets of twelve reps. Rest for at least 90 seconds between sets.
Tips: Keep your arm steady. Resist letting your forearm move. This exercise can also be done with two arms at a time, one on each knee.
17. Seated Dumbbell Palms-Up Wrist Curl
This exercise works the inner forearm. Hold two dumbbells and sit at the end of a flat bench with your feet on the floor about 20 inches apart. Lean forward and place forearms on upper thighs, palms up. Place the back of your wrists over your knees. Lower dumbbells as far as possible keeping a tight grip. Curl dumbbell up as high as possible. Do not let forearms move at all. Do three sets of twelve reps. Allow yourself a minute rest between sets.
Tip: This exercise can also be done with a barbell or cable.
18. Seated Palm-Up Barbell Wrist Curl
Hold a barbell with both hands and your palms facing up. Your hands should be about 16 inches apart. Sit at the end of a bench with your feet flat on the floor and about 20 inches apart. Lean forward and place your forearms on your upper arms and the back of your wrists over your knees. Lower bar as far as possible, keeping a tight grip. Curl bar up as high as possible. Don’t cheat. Do not let your forearms move! Do three sets of twelve reps. Allow yourself a minute rest between sets.
Tip: This exercise can also be done with two dumbbells.