by Ramsey Rodriguez CSCS CISSN. Building big arms has been a fascination and/or an obsession for those of us who lift weights. My bodybuilding and personal training career spans over three decades and I can truly say I learned the most about building big arms while working with Professor Angel Spassov who is one of the best Strength Coaches in the World! He told me, “I have conquered every sport in the world and Bodybuilding is no different.” I don’t want to bore you with describing more of the same exercises you have done for your arms. But, what I will do is offer you some insight that may be new to you and that will help you build your arms. Before you can build the arms you want; you need to understand what stimulates your arms for growth. The secret is in knowing that the muscle fiber types in the arms, which are composed mostly of slow twitch muscles, are stimulated best with higher reps and lower weights. They do assist in strength exercises like the bench press or power exercises such as the Power Clean; however, when performing an isolation arm exercise such as tricep extensions or bicep curls they function as endurance muscles; therefore, higher reps should be used.
3 Tips to Build Big Arms
- Use High Rep Sets ((20-25 reps)
(12-15 rep sets if you are new to using higher rep sets)
- 6-8total sets (per muscle group) in order to prevent over-training.
NOTE: Only 1-2 exercises should be used.
- Use Heavy Bench Press work followed by Tricep work for a greater effect (not supersets). The combination of the two provides for greater stimulation and recovery.
3 Mistakes People Make
- Going Too Heavy! We have all seen the picture of a bodybuilder performing a 225 lb curl – this is just for show and it is definitely not part of his workout-besides it’s not realistic because they are probably using lots of steroids.
- Too Much Arm Work– Overload the muscles too much and you will not recover!
- Not Including enough Strength Exercises like pull ups, chin ups, bench press, and dips into your workout.
***Quick Note: How do you know if its time to change your exercise or sets/reps? The arms are no longer getting the “pump sensation” while doing your workout.
Now that I have made my opinion based on the education and experience from working closely with one of the smartest Coaches in the World of strength- we need to address the Power of Program design. People talk a lot about exercises however little seems to be discussed about how it is implemented in a workout program. To do this we need to create a specialized training program for the arms. In order to do this we need to carefully implement acute training variables necessary to create a program of at least 6 weeks (Meso-Cycle).
Program Design- here is some guidelines in designing a workout program.
Beginner- (0-6 months of serious lifting)
Exercise- Barbell Curls – 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Incline Dumbbell Curls – 3 sets of 12-15 reps
(use only a slight incline-most people create too much angle).
Exercises Lying Triceps Extensions – 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Seated Triceps Dumbbell Extensions – 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Rest Interval: 60-90 seconds between sets.
Frequency- once a week
Intermediate- 6 months/1 yr. of serious lifting
Exercises- Barbell Curls 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps
Dumbbell Incline Curls – 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps
Exercises- Lying Triceps Extension – 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps
Seated Dumbbell Extension – 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps
Rest Interval:: 1.5-2 minutes between sets.
Frequency: 2 times/week
Note- AA lot of people fall into the category of intermediate training. Keep. K in mind while performing these protocols you will need to use lighter weight and rest between sets (rest intervals) of 1.5 minutes (90 sec.) up to 2 minutes for proper recovery. These higher reps create an increase of “workload“”; therefore requiring more rest between sets! Only 85% of the ATP energy source is restored in this time, however intensity work of 65-75% is very possible w/ this rest interval.
Advanced- at this stage of training, the program can be more complex; therefore, more “Ingenuity” is required. Two Important Required Factors:
- If you want to increase arm size, you must be on a weight gain program, the body will NOT grow the arms, if you are not gaining any body weight.
- More development can be gained in building the arms by increasing the weight in upper body exercises such as the bench/incline press/s (get stronger) training intensity of 80-90% of a max and high rep Pull ups ( I perform up to 100 pull ups per workout).
(NOTE: if you have consistently been using a bicep exercise for more than 3-4 weeks then change the bicep exercise to another basic one for another cycle of 3-4 weeks w/ these protocols):):
Exercises- Standing Dumbbell Curls – 6-8 sets of 25 reps
(Note- if you are following a heavy bench press routine of 5-6 sets you will only need 1 tricep exercise of 4-6 sets).
Perform 6-8 sets with 15-20 Reps each set, if you are training your arms in a split routine.
Frequency 2-3 times a week
Exercises- Reverse Triceps Dips – 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps (One of my personal favorites)
(If you are unable to perform this exercise, then I would recommend you do bench dips)
Lying Dumbbell Tricep Extension – 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps
I know a lot of you will still question whether or not these ““higher rep routines” will develop the arms. Keep this in mind:
3sets x 8rep each set (95lb) bicep curls= 24 reps x 95 lbs= 2,280 lbs “total work load” vs
A high rep set of 3 sets x 25 reps (65lb) = 75 reps x 65 lbs= 4,875 lbs “total work load”
This is almost 2,600 lbs of greater workload using the higher rep set, now do you get my point! You’re Growing Bigger Guns Faster!
I’ll give you a good testimony of strength using the high rep method, since I have been doing these ‘high rep’ exercises for arms most of my career. I have been challenged in the gym a couple of times. Someone once bet me I could not curl the 65lb dumbbells- I accepted the challenge and curled the 65’s for 6 reps. In another challenge, I curled the 75 lb dumbbells for 6 reps. Honestly, I surprised myself of having this strength (I could not have performed this heavy weight consistently for 6 reps without having trained using this “High Rep” System.) And, just in case you were wondering…in the off season, my arms measure out naturally at 18”. Yours can to – so get to it!
In summary, when it comes to building the arms don’t limit your workouts with doing the same old reps. Reach out of your comfort zone and go for the High Reps! You will feel your arms BURN and get a major PUMP. I am not the first person to offer this rep range, Jeff Everson former editor of Muscle & Fitness has written articles offering higher reps for the arms especially for bicep training. Good Luck with your workouts.
About the Author: Ramsey Rodriguez is a Sports Fitness Consultant with 25 years of professional experience in fitness training, sports nutrition and natural alternatives for health and wellness. He has also created sport-specific training and nutrition programs for various professional and collegiate athletes in the areas of football, sprinting, swimming, weightlifting and powerlifting. His
Mission Statement: I am 100% committed to the passion and pursuit of improving human performance.
Ramsey Rodriguez was born and raised in Texas, earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Education and a minor in Health from The University of Texas at San Antonio. He is a nationally certified sports trainer credentialed as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). He also carries a CISSN certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Ramsey is a disciple of Dr. Angel Spassov ( a world-renowned Bulgarian strength and conditioning specialist and former 7 time Olympic Coach), who taught him Periodization Training methods based on Eastern Bloc theory and whose inspiration led to the creation and development of “Tribustol” some years later. In 1994, Ramsey, alongside several other notable names in the sports industry, conducted the first Creatine Monohydrate studies for weightlifters. Over the past 15 years, Ramsey Rodriguez has made appearances on several televised sports/fitness programs, including, “The Larry North Fitness Show”. He has also published articles for various health and fitness magazines and has collaborated with and been featured in several internet articles by Jon Benson, including the popular book, “Fit Over 40”.
In addition to his accomplishments, Ramsey founded two successful companies: Pinnicle Fitness, Inc. and Nutritional Ergogenic Systems (NES). NES is dedicated to developing safe and effective nutritional supplements designed as an alternative to anabolic steroids. NES was formed around the creation and development of “Tribustol”- an all natural proprietary blend that is solely intended to enhance performance, build lean muscle mass, improve strength and quicken recovery time.
Currently, Ramsey resides in Dallas, Texas. He is a competitive natural bodybuilder and former NPC Bodybuilding Judge. He also takes an active interest in powerlifting via his affiliation with 100% RAW Powerlifting.
Ramsey Rodriguez is the Founder of the Nutritional Ergogenic Systems Inc.; www.tribustol.com