Training: The Exercise Physiology of an Effective Program
-“Arm Training: A Great Biceps Routine”
-“Grip Strength Info”
It appears that on average, the muscles of
the upper limbs consist of a higher percentage of type II
(fast twitch) fibers and these fiber types, along with the
total muscle fiber type composition has great implications
on training strategies. Every muscle in the human body is
composed of skeletal muscle fibers. Each fiber is extremely
small (perhaps the same circumference as a single strand
of hair) and inside each fiber is a precisely designed structural
arrangement of contractile proteins.
Through a very complex cycle involving the
nervous and metabolic systems, a muscle contractile "apparatus"
produces force for all movement. The molecular composition
of these contractile proteins determines the speed of contraction
and quite possibly the force of the contraction. The contractile
properties, due to the composition of contractile proteins,
lead to the designation of 2 general muscle fiber types,
type I and type II.
The type I (slow twitch) muscle fiber has
a slower rate of force development (duh!) but also has metabolic
properties that are well adapted for endurance training
(i.e. aerobic metabolism enzyme concentration is high).
Usually the type I fibers are smaller in diameter than the
type II fibers and because the contractile force of each
muscle fiber is most greatly dependent on its muscle fiber
diameter, these type I fibers often produce less absolute
force. But, if I had a type I fiber and a type II fiber
with equal diameters, would they produce the same amount
Some research suggests yes, other research
suggests no, and I want to keep this article brief, so we
will leave that argument for another day (but if anyone
asks, some research has shown that the type II contractile
proteins are stronger than type I contractile proteins).
However, everyone agrees that the type II fibers are much
faster. More on Type II fiber subgroups and other properties
A QUICK, EFFECTIVE
This is an old favorite. Use dumbbells and do one arm at
a time. Perform 1 warm-up set of 10 reps at an extremely
light weight followed by a second warm-up set of 6 reps
at a moderate weight. Do a light stretch for the biceps,
forearm, and shoulder regions. Remember the Ian King weak
side rule, i.e. start with your weak side first! Then, when
you train the strong side, do only the same number of reps
as performed by the weak side.
: 2 sets of double drop
Begin with a weight that can be lifted for 8 reps, then
decrease the load and perform another 8 reps, then decrease
the load again and perform a
final 8 reps.
In its most basic description, these are "reverse preacher
curls". Remove the seat from the preacher curl bench and
hang your arms over the opposite side (seat side) to that
you usually use for preacher curls. This position lengthens
the biceps and increases the stretch on the muscle at the
start of the movement. Do avoid if you have any anterior
deltoid injury or irritation. Again, use dumbbells and train
one arm at a time.
: 2 sets of 6 will be good, then do a third set consisting
of only 3 negatives.
Reload the bar for 3rd set, remembering that you are stronger
in the negative (lowering) phase of the movement than you
are concentric (lifting) phase. Therefore, you should not
do "negatives" with 55-60% of your eccentric 1 RM (--after
a concentric failure--) when you can do 80% of your eccentric
1 RM, simply by reloading the bar.
This exercise develops the forearms in addition to the biceps.
: 2 sets of 6-8 reps
Remember that most upper body muscles are composed of a
higher percent of type-II fibers and therefore they may
respond better to lower rep sets performed with heavier
weights. Heavier weighs result in greater motor unit and
muscle fiber recruitment at the onset of exercise.
When using lighter weights, some of the type II fibers may
not be recruited until fatigue sets in (or may not be recruited
at all). Therefore, recruit your type II fibers earlier
in the set by using heavy weights. By this exercise, you
should be fully warmed up and at a very low risk of injury.
GRIP STRENGTH INFORMATION
One issue that strength trainers often misinterpret
is that forearm training is the best training method to
increase grip. Unfortunately this is not true. Gripping
exercises will contribute somewhat to forearm size, but
just as forearm exercises are not the optimal mode for increased
grip strength, gripping movements are not your best bet
for increasing forearm size. Forearm training is necessary
for bone-crushing grip strength, but it is not sufficient.
Try this for a grip-strength exercise, it
is a recommendation from down south, Robbie Adams, Assistant
Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette,
"Forearm strength is essential for many sports. One of my
favorite training techniques for improving strength is what
I call 'going digging'. Fill a large garbage with sand or
rice and have the athlete use one hand to dig for 30 second
intervals, or until they reach the bottom (which usually
In addition, weightlifting straps are also
a cause of great debate between experts in the strength
and conditioning field and amongst personal trainers. But
really, the whole issue should merely represent a personal
choice based on the training goals of the client.
An athlete would not use straps because these
"training aids" are not permissible in competition. However,
it is a wise choice for the bodybuilder to incorporate straps
into their training, such as back training, so that the
forearms do not become the limiting factor in the amount
of stress that is applied to the lats or rhomboids during
pull-ups or barbell rows.
Without straps, the forearms become pre-exhausted
by the end of the workout and impair the intensity of the
few forearm exercises that most bodybuilders include at
the end of the workouts in their training splits. While
pre-exhaustion is an advanced growth technique that can
be effective in bodybuilding routines, the forearms should
get some training when they are at their strongest, even
if that means training the forearms on a leg day or prior
to an upper body workout. Strategic overload training is
the only way to elicit growth and the forearms, like any
other muscle group, must be trained with proper intensity
Here again we estimate the triceps to be ~60%
type II fibers. In addition, the triceps (3 heads) likely
constitutes a greater portion of the upper arm muscle than
the biceps (2 heads). The general belief is that the triceps
represents 60% of the upper arm mass. How should this influence
your training? Well, it should not be the only consideration
you take into account when developing an arm training routine,
for example, you should not always train triceps first and
triceps should not always constitute 60% of an arm workout.
Again use Ian King's suggestion of priority
training. Determine your weakest spot and train that first
in a workout. So if forearms are lacking and your triceps
are huge, put forearms first in the workout so that you
can train at a higher intensity and volume to get optimal
The triceps assist all your pressing exercises,
so expect a good triceps routine to bring about a stronger
"lockout" in bench pressing. The long head of the triceps
attaches on the scapula, so it may benefit more from exercises
that put the muscle in a position of greater stretch, such
as decline dumbbell extensions.
Remember to train each arm separately for
a more natural movement. You may want to decrease the total
number of sets when you train one arm at a time. That way,
you won't spend forever in the gym, but with single arm
training, you likely will be concentrating more on the muscle,
therefore having a more "intense" workout (and getting better
For general review of the best arm exercises,
we are going to go back to Issue 8 where Target Muscle by
Per Tesch was reviewed. Tesch uses MRI measurements to determine
the best exercises for targeting the muscles of the upper
limbs. For the biceps, most exercises are quite simply equally
For barbell curls, a narrow grip was suggested
to put more stress on the muscles, but this may compromise
shoulder and wrist joint stability, base your choice on
comfort. All types of dumbbell curls are effective provided
you use proper form. Don't cheat by hyperextending the back.
Always use a controlled technique (enhance control by performing
exercises 1 arm at a time).
The triceps are a tad more difficult to train
as thoroughly as the biceps. First of all, you have 3 muscles
and there are different origins and insertions, causing
slightly different functions. Tesch believes that parallel
bar dips are the most effective for training, and also promotes
rope pushdowns and angled bar pushdowns (these also decrease
the stress on the wrists). Whatever you pick, remember that
you need to build a strength and size base first before
expecting to get wicked results from concentrated arm training.
CB ATHLETIC CONSULTING