ISSUE #50                           



    -“Arm Training: The Exercise Physiology of an Effective Program Design”
-“Arm Training: A Great Biceps Routine”
-“Grip Strength Info”
-“Triceps Training”



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 of force?

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 next time…


Preacher curls
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.

Spider curls
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.

Hammer curls
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.


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 doesn't happen)."

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 and volume.


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 adaptations.

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 results!).

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 effective.

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.


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