-“Arm Training: Put an Inch on your Arms with this Routine?”



The Pulse fitness facility at McMaster University has lots of great equipment (power racks, power platforms, and heavy dumbbells), hard working student-athletes, a nationally competitive bodybuilder, and a former WWF wrestler. But one thing that is not necessary is the small individuals that walk around with their sleeves rolled up as if they were sporting 20-inch guns. Well this article is dedicated to them, in hopes that it might help them bring their arms up to what is more likely 15-inches.


After all, one of a bodybuilder’s goals is big uns/arms/pipes/whatever you call them, but does anyone really know what is the best manner to develop your best biceps and triceps? To get a picture of how difficult it is to add an inch onto your arms, consider this quote from noted Canadian strength coach Charles Poliquin, “To add an inch on your arms you must gain ~ 10 lbs.”.


Now obviously that will vary among individuals based primarily on their present size, but you must realize that big guns are not built on triceps kickbacks and concentration curls alone. In fact, scrap those pathetic light-weight exercises for a while and get with this program. No wait a minute, there is one other option: Use only those exercises for a month and see how much muscle you lose on your arms, then try this program. It will only make the CB ATHLETIC program look that much better.


First off, you must re-examine your training schedule. If you are on a 5-day per week program training 1 body part per day, stop and change things up. If gaining size on your arms is the number 1 goal, get ready to drop back to a 4-day, and preferably a 3-day per week program. Don’t worry, you won’t get fat and you won’t shrivel up. What you will do is rest, recover, and grow. So your 3-day split will be as follows (resting 1 day between each workout)…


Week 1

Day 1 = Chest + Back + Abs

Day 2 = Legs + Arms

Day 3 = Arms + Shoulders


Week 2

                Day 1 = Chest + Back

                Day 2 = Legs + Abs

                Day 3 = Arms + Shoulders


Week 3

                Day 1 = Chest + Arms

                Day 2 = Legs + Abs

                Day 3 = Back + Arms


Week 4

                Day 1 = Chest + Back + Abs

                Day 2 = Legs + Arms

                Day 3 = Arms + Abs


After the 4-week assault on your upper limbs you need to cut back on your arm specific training to ensure that all possible adaptation (growth) can occur. If you regularly include low-volume workout weeks, take it here, if not, perform only 1 arm workout. By the end of this 5th week the results should be strikingly obvious (i.e. tight sleeves, fitness chicks hanging off you, calls from Mr. Olympia for training tips, etc.).


More training details: You cannot neglect the proper workout parameters. This refers to the optimal number of sets, reps, and exercises, the tempo of the lift, and the actual exercises to perform. First, we will set a limit of 2 exercises each for the biceps and triceps. Next, perform no more than 4 sets, preferably only 2-3 all-out intense efforts to failure.


Now the tricky part, determining the number of repetitions.  Fortunately at McMaster there is a lot of great research and professors including Dr. Digby Sale who tested untrained students that performed biceps curls for sets of 12 with one arm and for sets of 3 with the other arm.


By the end of the training program there was very little difference in muscle growth between arms and suggests that the repetition spectrum for growth is highly variable. While this may go against the suggestions of other trainers and strength coaches, there are certainly great benefits to be had by training with both high and low repetition sets. 


So here is the best recommendation: Whenever the arm training follows another body part, perform 1-2 exercises for 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions. When the arm training is the focus of that training day, perform 4 sets of 4-8 repetitions for 2 exercises. The best of both worlds as both size and strength should increase.


Finally, here is a brief recommendation for exercise tempo. Perform the concentric (i.e. up part of a curl) movement explosively and lower the weight (eccentrically) under great control (3 second count). Both of these tempos will recruit type II motor units and will stimulate the type II fibers to grow (as most research show these can grow to a greater extent than the type I fibers). Always perform a sufficient warm-up prior to your explosive movements.


There you have a surefire program foundation for growth with almost any body part and all that is remaining are some suggestions for specific exercises. While there are plenty of mainstay arm exercises to keep us happy, have you ever gone to a busy gym and realized the phrase “necessity is the mother of invention” could never be more true? How can you get a solid workout in when the machines you want are packed? Well, this first triceps exercise was created from this type of situation (and the other exercises are just ones with proven effectiveness).




Close-grip Dumbbell bench press

 Almost identical to the regular dumbbell bench press but a slight change in hand position and exercise technique makes for the triceps emphasis. 

Lie on a bench and hold the dumbbells at chest level and at shoulder-width with your palms facing one another. When you perform the chest press, emphasize the elbow extension (triceps movement) by pushing straight up, rather than by using the chest to push up and in. Lower the dumbbells to chest level and always keep the dumbbells very close to the body, do not let them move out to the sides as you would in a normal dumbbell press.


Other effective triceps exercises

(according to Per Tesch in “Target Bodybuilding”)



      [straight-bar, narrow-grip]: stresses the long and lateral heads

      [rope]: stresses all 3 muscles if palms are turned down at bottom of the movement

      [angled bar]: stresses all 3 muscles




Hammer curl + “Palms-up” DB curl superset

The key here is to fatigue your forearms first with the hammer curl and then do a modified version of the biceps curl for maximal tension to be applied to the biceps muscle. By keeping your palm up in the biceps curl you maintain constant tension on the muscle (because the biceps functions to turn the palm up).


Hammer curl: Hold dumbbells at sides, palms facing in to the body, curl the weight to shoulders bending only at elbow. Slowly lower to the starting position.

Palms-up biceps curl: Choose a light weight as your grip should be exhausted by now.  Turn your palms-up and curl the weight to shoulder level.


Incline DB curls

The incline of the bench should be between 45 and 75 degrees. Sit with the head and entire back resting against the pad and hold dumbbells (DB) at the sides with the arms fully extended. Curl the DB’s up to shoulder level BUT/ keep the elbows stationary and the palms supinated (turned up). After curling the weight up, lower the DB’s at the desired tempo (speed of movement) and repeat for the given number of repetitions.




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