The best way to grow arms
by Harry • 12 minutes read
Last updated: 15 Sep, 2023
Do you dream of having strong and powerful arms that make heads turn? Well, you're in the right place! Building bigger arms doesn't need to be complicated or overly scientific.
In this article, we'll break it down into simple steps and easy-to-understand language. Whether you want bigger biceps or triceps, we've got you covered with straightforward muscle-building tips and a sample workout you can follow.
Before we dive into the exercises, let's understand what we're working with. Your arms are made up of two main muscle groups: biceps and triceps.
The biceps are the muscles on the front of your upper arm, and the triceps are on the back. To get those impressive arms, we need to work on both. Big triceps will really fill out your sleeves, but striking the perfect balance between the two is the real goal.
But don't forget, there's more than just the muscles in your upper arm. One thing that many gym fanatics miss, is working on their forearms. Your forearms will be used during other exercises, but there are plenty of movements specifically designed to train them.
We'll look at the perfect arm exercises soon. But first, let's break down the basic principles you should apply to any strength training session.
Principles of Strength Training
This principle is perhaps the most important aspect of strength training for muscle growth.
To build muscle, you must progressively increase the resistance or intensity of your workouts over time. This can done in many different ways:
Lifting heavier weights
Upping the reps
Upping the sets
Increasing the time under tension
Progressive overload ensures that your muscles are always being challenged, leading to adaptation and growth. If you find that the weight is getting much easier to lift, you need to introduce progressive overload.
If you want a full breakdown for all you need to know about progressive overload, check out our article here.
Time Under Tension
Time under tension (TUT) refers to the amount of time your muscle spends under tension during a lift. More time under tension leads to more microtears in your muscle fibres and therefore more opportunity for growth. This means that lifting slowly is always better than lifting very fast if your goal is hypertrophy.
TUT is largely applied to the eccentric portion of a movement which is the opposite to the concentric. Here's the difference:
The concentric phase occurs when you lift the weight up and muscles shorten. For example, when you feel yourself flexing during the “up” phase of a biceps curl.
The eccentric phase is when you lower the weight down, and the muscles lengthen or stretch.
You should aim for roughly 3-5 seconds of TUT during the eccentric phase. This means more tears in your muscle and therefore more growth with the right nutrition.
Set and Rep Range
The commonly suggested rep range to promote hypertrophy is 6-12 reps. Within that range you should be working to failure in most of your sets. This means you are pushing your muscles to the limit, with some of the heaviest weights you can lift, creating more muscle fibre tears and therefore allowing more opportunities for growth. (2)
You can certainly benefit from lifting lighter weights with sets of 15-20 reps, but this is far more likely to achieve muscular endurance than muscle growth.
Muscles adapt to stress over time, so it's crucial to introduce variety into your workouts to prevent plateaus. In a way, this keeps your muscles guessing and prevents adaptation to the same routine, leading to more significant muscle growth.
Recovery and Rest
Muscle growth occurs during the recovery phase, not during the actual workout. When you rest, your body uses nutrients from your diet to rebuild the tears in your muscles created during your workouts.
So, make sure you get enough sleep, allow muscle groups at least 48 hours of rest between training sessions, and consider active recovery techniques like stretching and foam rolling. Check out our article on the importance of sleep here. (1)
Proper nutrition plays a vital role in muscle growth. Protein provides the building blocks for your muscles. So, make sure you consume an adequate amount of protein for muscle repair and growth. Check out our article on the importance of protein here.
Also, ensure you have sufficient calories to support muscle development, as calorie deficits can hinder muscle growth. Most people will use a calorie surplus to make sure they are providing enough nutrients to their muscles. (3) (4)
While compound movements are good, isolation exercises that target specific muscle groups can help shape and develop those muscles further. Incorporating both compound and isolation exercises into your routine creates a well-rounded approach to muscle growth.
Performing exercises with correct form is crucial for both safety and effectiveness of any lift. Start a new exercise with lighter weights to learn proper form, and gradually increase the weight as your technique improves.
Here are some tips to good form:
Keep your back straight and your core engaged.
Move slowly and control the weight.
Don't use momentum to lift the weights; let your muscles do the work.
If you're unsure about your form, ask a trainer or a knowledgeable friend for help.
Consistency is key to muscle growth. To see significant results, stick to your strength training program over an extended period, with regular, structured workouts.
Warm-Up and Cool-Down
Warm up before your workouts with light cardio or dynamic stretching to increase blood flow and prepare your muscles for exercise. After your workout, cool down with static stretches to improve flexibility and reduce muscle soreness.
Listen to Your Body
Pay attention to your body's signals. If you experience pain beyond normal muscle soreness, it's essential to rest and seek guidance from a healthcare professional if necessary.
Track Your Progress
To see how far you've come, consider keeping a workout journal. Take note of the exercises you do, alongside the sets, reps, and the weight you lift. This can help you track your progress over time and make adjustments to your workout routine. This is especially important for making sure you are progressively overloading in all of your exercises.
Isolated Arm Exercises
Now we know the basic principles of strength training, let's get into specific arm exercise for muscle growth.
You don't need fancy gym equipment to build bigger arms. A pair of dumbbells will do the trick. Here are some easy tricep and bicep exercises you can do with dumbbells:
Biceps Curls: Stand up straight with a dumbbell in each hand. Keep your palms facing forward, and slowly lift the dumbbells towards your shoulders. Lower them back down, and repeat.
Triceps Extensions: Hold a dumbbell with both hands overhead for the starting position. Your palms should be facing upward. Bend your elbows to lower the dumbbell behind your head, then straighten your arms to lift it back up.
Compound Exercises for Arm Workouts
Compound exercises work multiple muscles at once, making them great for building bigger arms, while also training other parts of your body. Here's a simple compound exercise you can try:
Push-Ups: Push ups work both your biceps and your triceps, and with many variations on the tradition push up, you can target different areas of each muscle.
Bench Press: The bench press primarily targets your chest, but it also heavily involves your triceps, helping you build both chest and triceps strength.
Pull-Ups/Chin-Ups: These exercises work your back and biceps. They're fantastic for building strength and size in your arms and back.
Dips: Dips target your chest, shoulders, and triceps. They can be done using parallel bars or a sturdy surface, and are great for arm development.
Sample Arm Workout
Now we know the basic principles and some good exercises, we need to turn that into a good routine that ensures the highest efficiency for those all-important gains. Here's a sample workout you can use that should help you grow your arms:
Start with a 5-10 minute warm-up to get your blood flowing and prepare your muscles for the workout. You can do light cardio, like jumping jacks or jogging in place, followed by arm stretches to reduce the risk of injury.
Bicep Curls (Dumbbells, Barbell or Cable Machine)
3 sets of bicep curls of 8-12 reps
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand or a barbell with palms facing forward.
Keep your elbows close to your sides and curl the weights toward your shoulders, then lower them back down.
3 sets of 8-12 reps
Use parallel bars or a sturdy surface.
Place your hands on the bars with your palms facing down and your feet flat on the ground.
Lower your body by bending your elbows, then push back up.
Hammer Curls (Dumbbells or Cable Machine)
3 sets of 8-12 reps
Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing each other.
Curl the weights toward your shoulders while keeping your palms facing inward, then lower them.
- 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Attach a rope handle to the cable machine. Adjust the position so the handles are hanging down to elbows.
- Bend over slightly, engaging your core to keep your back straight.
- Keep your elbows in a fixed position and pull the weight down. When you have extended your arms, turn your wrists outwards to fully engage your triceps.
Tricep Skull Crushers (Dumbbells or Barbell)
3 sets of 8-12 reps
Lie on a bench with a dumbbell in each hand or use a barbell.
Extend your arms overhead, then bend your elbows to lower the weights toward your forehead, and extend them back up.
Wrist Curls (Dumbbells)
3 sets of 8-12 reps
Sit on a bench or chair, holding a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing up.
Rest your forearms on your thighs.
Curl the dumbbells up by bending your wrists, then lower them back down.
Reverse Wrist Curls (Dumbbells)
3 sets of 8-12 reps
Similar to wrist curls, but this time with your palms facing down.
Curl the dumbbells up by bending your wrists, then lower them.
Finish your arm workout with a 5-10 minute cool-down, which includes static stretches for your biceps, triceps, and forearms. Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds without bouncing to improve flexibility and reduce muscle tension.
Repeat this routine, gradually increasing the weight and reps as you get stronger. Remember to stay consistent and patient, and you'll be on your way to building impressive arm muscles.
So, there you have it!
A complete guide to growing your arms. If you follow the principles and apply them to a well-structured consistent arm routine, alongside a good diet, you should see the results you're looking for.
If you want a more in-depth list of exercises, check out the following articles:
If you want to know more about the science behind building muscle, check out:
- Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine - https://aasm.org/sleep-research-in-the-journal-of-clinical-sleep-medicine-top-studies-of-2021/
- Loading Recommendations for Muscle Strength - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7927075/
- Dietary protein requirements and body protein metabolism - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2745350/
- Daily Calorie Intake Recommendations NHS - https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/food-and-diet/what-should-my-daily-intake-of-calories-be/
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