There is a saying that 80 % of trainees who commence bodybuilding do it to get big arms, and the other 20% are liars. Certainly arms seem to have an attraction like no other body part, at least initially (your partner may not agree with this!)
More BS has been written about building big arms than virtually any other body part.
Trainees always think biceps and perform curls ad nauseum in the vain hope of building bigger arms – I know because I started off doing the same thing. What they fail to realise is that virtually two thirds of the upper arm mass is comprised of triceps, so the emphasis should not be on biceps. The second error they generally make is to concentrate on isolation exercises for the arms. The best excercise for increasing bicep mass for example may not be an arm exercise at all.
You cannot build big arms without significantly increasing bodyweight
Here is the lowdown: You can’t build big arms naturally without body weight; you won’t see thin stemmed trees with big branches. You probably need to gain around 14lbs(7kg) of lean mass overall to put an inch on your upper arm. The general consensus remains that the natural genetic limit of upper arm size is around wrist diameter plus ten inches. Now we’ve got that out of the way I will try and help with the problem.
I was naturally skinny so followed the dietary advice of bodybuilders like Larry Scott. I drank three or more quarts of milk a day and performed high repetition squats as part of a very basic workout consisting of big compound moves of presses and pulls. I hated the squats but I gained well over a stone in weight and an inch on my arms within a few months plus significant amounts of muscle elsewhere. There are many who would not advocate this dietary approach and label it as “bulking up” but for an underweight trainee I can attest from personal experience that it works very well.
For the biceps most trainees will concentrate on various forms of curl which isolate the muscle. Curling ad nauseum however, will not build big arms, yet go to a commercial gym and that’s what many are doing – usually in the squat rack too. What these individuals don’t realise is that if they squatted or did some other large compound exercise (deadlift is the right answer) their arms would, alongside the rest of their body, get bigger.
Standing bicep curls if done in a cheat fashion properly will undoubtedly build biceps, as will incline dumbell curls which utilise a greater range of motion. Standing dumbbell hammer curls are also effective and additionally build the brachialis muscle. However in the author’s opinion the best exercise to build bicep mass is not an isolation arm exercise. I advocate a heavy compound movement that recruits the biceps as part of a functional lift. In my opinion neutral grip and supinated weighted chins are the best method to achieve this. Chins will also give you a big wide back. Utilising a neutral grip will, in addition to hitting the bicep also target the brachialis which lies under the bicep and adds to arm thickness.
Isolation movements are generally ineffective for trainees trying to build muscle. You may like to look at yourself curling in the gym, but training the muscles you can’t see in the mirror i.e. the posterior chain is often key to developing overall size and strength. Your arms won’t get bigger until the rest of you does. Isolation movements have their place for bodybuilders and will refine mass already attained, however for trainees attempting to acquire quality muscle mass and strength – compound lifts are a must.
As previously mentioned, trainees seem to think primarily about biceps when they imagine big arms. The mass potential of the upper arm however, can best be attained by building the far larger triceps. The reality is that the biceps are a relatively small muscle, almost two thirds of the upper arm mass consists of triceps, and without big triceps the upper arm remains unimpressive and relatively small. You need to develop the triceps to get that impressive sweep that looks like the underbelly of a giant whale. The belly of the triceps is the rear head which holds most of the mass. This is best developed by utilising compound pressing movements the two best IMO being dips (preferably weighted) and narrow grip bench press or a variation like the JM press. These will develop all the meat your coat hangers can handle, but all pressing moves will stimulate the triceps provided the load is sufficient for adaptation. For hypertrophy I would advocate multiple sets with a medium rep range but individuals’ responses can vary and you will need to find what works best for you. Rank beginners should in any case make rapid progress.
So there you have it. If you want big arms for Christmas follow this advice.