Regardless of what your goals are with training, odds are that one of your dreams is knowing how to get bigger massive arms that pop in a shirt.
Perhaps that is because of the desire of man to look, feel and be dominant.
The horseshoe triceps along with a bulgy, peaky bicep is one of the most masculine traits you can have.
Well, there isn’t a magical pill that will help you avoid having to bust your ass in the gym to reach that goal.
However, in this article, we’ll discuss this topic and give you actionable steps, which you can take when your goal is to either bring up your arms a bit more or simply make them bigger.
Rest assured, it may take some time until you reach the levels of development that Arnold had… 😉
Now jokes aside, let’s move on to the actual steps we can take towards that goal.
This one is probably more than obvious, but it is as a matter of fact, an often-misunderstood concept.
Now, to make things clearer, let’s break down the process of muscle growth.
There are a couple requirements for the growth of ANY muscle group
- Progressive overload
The body adapts the musculature by preparing it for a bigger workload in the future, when there is a new kind of stress.
This is why we need to progressively introduce more and newer stress to the body, so that it has something to adapt to and hence, grow.
- Positive caloric intake
In order to support your muscle building journey, you need sustainable sources of energy to fuel those heavy workouts.
This is exactly why we need a good amount of carbohydrates, as well as sufficient protein to stimulate muscle protein synthesis
- Recovery times
Last but not least, we need to make sure that we give ourselves enough time for recovery in-between the separate workouts.
This is a key component to achieving a successful adaptation.
Why progressively overload for getting bigger arms?
Progressive overload is pretty much the most basic and simple, yet effective concept for muscle growth.
As we mentioned, the idea behind this principle is simply exposing the musculature to new, previously unexperienced stress.
Of course, once exposed to such new stress, the musculature and other bodily systems adapt to the stress and also prepare for more in the future.
Progressive overload is important, simply because you can’t grow a big chest by always benching an empty bar.
This principle can be realized through a manipulation of the training parameters.
It is important to point out here that the ratio between volume and intensity must be optimal.
To achieve that, you simply must make sure that you train in the 70-85% of your maximum strength capabilities, above the 6-rep range.
This approach implies doing intense, short-burst movements that take no more than 20 seconds to complete in a set.
Right around the 10th-15th second, we have depleted our immediate energy reserves (ATP & CP), and we start utilizing the glycogen in the musculature.
If you don’t know, glycogen is the stored form of glucose, which is the easiest, most sustainable energy source for the body, especially when it comes to training activity.
Now, in doing those intense, short-burst exercises, we primarily engage the fast-twitch muscle fibers, which have the biggest hypertrophy (growth) potential.
Sprinters vs. Marathon runners
I’d usually put a citing from an authority website here, but let’s just compare a sprinter and a marathon runner.
Sprinters are the prime example of an aesthetically developed physique.
And guess what – They do intense, short burst movements.
Marathoners on the other hand are nothing alike. Most marathoners have little to no muscle mass and are rather skinny compared to sprinters.
Nevertheless, that is because the body doesn’t need to carry muscle mass when its main task is being able to run for hours.
Instead, the body of a marathon runner adapts by optimizing the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
How to apply progressive overload?
We hinted at this earlier, but progressively overloading is done by simply increasing the demand on the musculature, by manipulating one of the three main parameters of the training load.
Those are namely the intensity, volume and density of a workout. Let’s take a look.
Intensity, as you should know if you’ve read our article on training parameters, is a characteristic of the workload, that defines how close we get to our maximum strength capabilities.
That is to say that the heavier we lift, the higher the intensity and it tops out at 100% intensity, which represents the weight we can lift for one single repetition until failure.
And so, increasing the intensity would mean increasing the working weight, and as a matter of fact that is probably the most effective stimulus for muscle growth.
Perhaps that is due to the fact that a heavier weight simply puts a bigger strain on the central nervous system.
A big strain is a big stimulus and if we have the other factors like nutrition, sleep and recovery, we will successfully achieve a positive adaptation.
Generally, if the goal at hand is building muscle, like in this case, we must remain in the 70~85% of our maximum strength capabilities (One rep max).
Beginners must not reach failure too often, while advanced trainees can focus on bringing their musculature to a controlled failure.
And so, if you have been benching 80 kg for some time and it got easier, go up to 85 kg and work your way up on the rep range.
Now, increasing intensity must be done in moderation, as you don’t want to get into a situation where your primary training is oriented towards powerlifting (1-5 reps)
If your goal is developing an aesthetic, pleasing to look at physique, then this type of stimulus is simply not optimal.
However, increasing the intensity in most cases leads to lower volume.
If you bench 100 kg in one set of 5 reps, that would be a total of 500 kg volume for that set (100 kg * 5 reps = 500 kg)
If however you bench 70 kg in one set of 10 reps, that would be a total volume of 700 kg.
In essence, what we’re trying to say here again is that you should find a balance between the volume and intensity.
That is ultimately, staying in the 6+ rep range and working your way up to 10+ repetitions.
As you may or may not know, the density of the workout represents the total volume, referred to the total time needed for completion, including rest times.
Increasing the density is done by decreasing rest times, but also working weight, along with an increase in repetitions.
In doing so, we lift more total weight for less time and thus, the density increases.
Generally, increasing the density is one of the least prioritized way of implementing the progressive overload principle, if the goal is gaining muscle mass.
However, the rest times can be taken down to 60 seconds between the separate sets.
Furthermore, increasing the density is one of the best things to do when you’re in a caloric deficit, while getting leaner.
That is simply because more density means less strain on the nervous system (no heavy weights and failure).
Along with that, more total volume also means more blood (bigger pumps), which is essential during a fat shredding phase, due to the fact we also have to retain the muscle mass in that period.
Why is a caloric surplus important?
One of the main rules of nutrition when the goal at hand is gaining quality muscle mass, is simply consuming food in a slight excess. (1)
To do that, we simply consume a tad bit more calories than we require daily to maintain our weight.
This number of calories is called the “Total daily energy expenditure (TDEE)”.
The TDEE depends on an array of factors, such as gender, age, height, weight, daily routine, level of physical activities, as well as exercise activities.
Now of course, obsessing about weighing every single bit of food is no good.
We recommend you to use the TDEE to just get an idea of how much food you’d need.
Then again, the TDEE calculators give just an approximate number.
That means that the best way to manage this, is by weighing yourself and making sure you are not gaining drastically.
Are carbohydrates important for muscle building?
As we mentioned earlier, if we work in the ~20 seconds range per set, we will allow the body to deplete the primal energy reserves (ATP & CP) and tap into the muscle’s glycogen storages.
Note that this approach won’t really deplete glycogen, but rather use some of it. (2)
Glycogen as you should know by now, is the end product of carbohydrate metabolism.
Essentially, when we ingest and absorb carbs, the body uses some of them for whatever functions needed.
The rest, which is not needed currently, is stored in the muscles and liver, in the form of glycogen.
Note that workouts that are pointed at muscle building are sub-optimal at the absence of carbohydrates.
We recommend the following sources of carbohydrates:
- Plant products
- Whole grains
Is protein important?
Of course, fueling the workout with carbs is one thing, but then we have to consider the post-workout recovery.
Well, essentially the entire body is made out of protein and we require proteins fro outer sources, which is exactly why, sufficient daily intake is key.
We need to make sure that we are consuming whole foods rich in protein, that have a high biological value.
The biological value essentially represents the quality and efficiency of the proteins we get from food.
Here are some protein rich foods that have the highest biological value:
- Dairy products
Plant products like legumes and rice can be combined to get some of that good plant protein, along with quality carbs.
Check out our article on Biological value of proteins.
Alright, I think that was enough for our #1 Bulking point.
#2 Stick to the basics
When it comes to building massive arms, concentration curls and skull crushers are nice, but we need to know that the biceps and triceps are involved as synergistic and stabilizing groups in many exercises.
- Chest & shoulder movements
Many chest & shoulder movements, especially the pushing ones, involve the triceps.
- Back movements
All back movements involve the biceps and forearms as secondary pulling groups.
And so, do you think that benching 120 kilograms for reps and having small triceps are compatible?
Being able to push that much weight for 6+ repetitions will definitely help you increase the mass of all your pushing muscle groups – Chest, triceps and shoulders.
The same thing can be said for another compound movement, namely the deadlift.
If you are able to deadlift some heavy ass weights, your forearm department will blow up.
Many people just isolate biceps and triceps, but they forget about the forearms’ ability to make the arms look big.
The takeaway here is – Focusing on compound movements that involve more than one muscle group.
These exercises allow us to reach higher levels of intensity.
That is because we are simply using more muscle groups at once.
And that is not the case with isolated exercises, where you use just one group.
This is especially important because as we mentioned, increasing the intensity (working weight) is one of the best stimuli for growth.
Compound exercises for arms
Here are some exercises that target the triceps secondarily and primarily.
- Flat/Incline presses
- Overhead presses
- Close grip flat bench press
- Parallel bar dips with head looking up
- Bench triceps dips
Exercises that target biceps and forearms
- Lat pull downs
- Rowing movements
- Close underhand grip pull-ups
- Straight bar curls
- Preacher curls
Then again, we are not telling you to completely neglect isolated arm work like cable curls and pushdowns.
Instead, focus on exercises where you can lift some heavy ass weight.
#3 Constant tension
Keeping as much tension as possible on the working musculature is one of the most important rules that will boost muscle growth.
Of course, this ain’t no magic, as constant tension simply shows how long the muscle stays under tension during an exercise.
The whole idea here is avoiding distractions and inertial movements, that would otherwise make you go through the motion, without paying attention to how the muscle contracts and stretches.
Establish that vital mind-muscle connection and trust us, this will change your whole game.
#4 Balance and diversity
If you don’t make your arms do more work – They won’t grow.
If you make them work too much, they won’t recover and grow optimally.
Find the golden environment and the balance in your workouts, without reaching extremes.
The body is highly adaptive and in being so, it requires diversity in the training stress.
Again, it is not just about increasing and manipulating the training parameters – Intensity, volume and density.
There are many other things that you can do, such as changing up exercises, training split or simply paying more attention to the working muscle group.
Whether it is about your arms, chest, legs, back or whatever, the main principle is the same – Increasing the demand upon the musculature, in order for it to adapt and grow.
#5 Go beyond failure
If you are a more advanced trainee, odds are that you are now getting used to putting in more effort in your day to day workouts.
If you reach failure more often by now, you can take it a step further and go beyond failure with the help of a spotter.
Essentially, once you do let’s say 6-8 repetitions and fail to do a 7th or 9th one respectively, your spotter can help you squeeze out a couple reps more.
Of course, your gym bud must not make the extra reps easy for you, but instead, he just has to get you out of the so-called “dead point”.
Another way to go beyond failure is using the cheating method, which implies using inertial movements to help yourself on the way up.
Usually, when you see someone doing barbell curls with swings, that is considered a “poorly executed exercise”.
As a matter of fact, this swinging can be used once you’ve done a number of repetitions until failure.
Essentially, using strict form for the first 6-8 repetitions and then use inertial movements to bust out a couple extra reps, is one of the best high-intensity stimuli for arm growth.
Needless to say, cheating can’t be applied on every single exercise.
Note that cheating can even be dangerous and damaging if done on many fixed machine movements, as well as free weight exercises like squats.
I.E- Don’t bounce at the bottom of a squat to create inertia.
Here are our top picks for exercises where cheating can be implemented:
- Barbell/dumbbell curls, hammer curls, barbell rows (controlled)
Last but not least…
#6 Flex those guns!
You may think of the guy flexing at the gym as a douchebag, but as a matter of fact, flexing can be beneficial for muscle shaping.
Furthermore, flexing is actually called “Isometric tension” meaning that you simply tense the musculature under no load/exercise.
Flexing your arms and striking a front double biceps won’t necessarily skyrocket your growth.
However, it will help you develop more details in the muscle, as well as establish that so important mind-muscle connection.
Mind muscle connection is one of the key elements of prominent movement control.
That simply means more mechanical tension, progressive overload and hence, growth.
Besides these benefits, flexing and posing will improve your posture.
Also, it will help you actually be able to artistically show the musculature you have worked hard on.
Isometric contractions will also help you build that essential mind-muscle connection.
That connection is one of the key elements of controlling the movement, whether it’s a curling or pressing exercise.
We hope to have given you valuable information, which you will be able to apply in your everyday workouts and ultimately reach the goal of having big guns.