A Call To Arms

Besides how much weight someone can bench press, the size of ones biceps is usually used by guys to judge strength. However, most people don't work their arms as efficiently as they could. Most people focus all their time on biceps without realizing that the triceps is a larger muscle that can increase an arms overall size much faster. Although working both groups of muscles is important for proper development and a well-balanced look, the triceps can add a lot of size to the upper arm.

Remember to focus on the action of the muscle when doing any exercise. This will help you limit your risk of injury and place emphasis on the muscle you're working. Always start a new exercise with a lighter weight until you're comfortable that you're performing the movement correctly. To limit your risk of injury, it's also a good idea to use a spotter for exercises requiring you to lift weights over your head. Be sure to increase your weights periodically and incorporate different exercises to keep your muscles stimulated and encourage them to grow.

Upper Arm (front of the arm)

Primary Muscle: biceps
Attachment: the biceps start at the shoulder blade and attach to the bones of the forearm
Action: flexing the elbow (shortening the distance between the upper and lower arm) and supination (rotation of the hand and forearm).

Secondary Muscles: brachialis and brachioradialis
Attachment: both muscles start on the humerus (in the upper arm) and attach to the bones in the forearm
Action: both muscles flex the elbow.

Exercises:

  • Biceps curls: there are many variations to this exercise: barbells (an EZ bar limits strain and puts your hands in a more natural position), dumbbells, incline bench, low cable pulley, etc. Your knees should be slightly bent and keep the rest of your body still. Slowly curl the weight up, pause and return to the starting position. Don't lean back or jerk the weight up, slow controlled movements are best for isolating the muscle. When using a straight barbell your hands should grip the bar a little wider than shoulder width, which is your body's natural carrying position. When using dumbbells or an EZ bar, you should keep your elbows close to your body. A great variation to this can be done on an incline bench. Adjust the seat to a medium incline, sit back and keep your head against the pad and curl using dumbbells.
  • Supinating Biceps curls: the motion is the same as above but this exercise is done with dumbbells. Start with your palms facing your legs and turn (or supinate) the weight as you're lifting so that your palms are facing your body when you finish.
  • Hammer curls: another variation, this exercise limits strain on the wrists when lifting heavier weights and provides a slightly different stimulation. Start holding dumbbells with your palms facing your legs. Lift the weight without turning your palms then return to the starting position. The action and the way you hold the weight should simulate using a hammer.
  • Reverse Biceps curls: the action is similar to regular biceps curls except your grip is reversed. These can be done with dumbbells or an EZ bar. Grip the bar with an overhand grip (palms facing back) and curl the weight up towards your shoulders.
  • Preacher curl: these can be performed with barbells (again, an EZ bar limits strain and puts your hands in a more natural position), dumbbells or a cable pulley. Sitting in a Preacher chair or machine, adjust the seat height so that the top of the arm pad is close to your armpits. Keep your back as straight as possible and keep your shoulder blades in a natural position. This exercise helps to isolate the biceps and keeps you from using other muscles to jerk the weight up.
  • Concentration curl: gripping a dumbbell in one hand, bend forward at the waist and keep your back straight. Rest the back of your arm on the inside of your thigh and curl the weight up, pause and return to the starting position. Repeat with the opposite arm after completing a set. This exercise can be done using palms up grip, a hammer grip or supinating.

Upper Arm (back of the arm)

Muscle: triceps (1 muscle with 3 heads originating at different points)
Attachment: the longest head starts at the shoulder blade and the other 2 heads start on the humerus (in the upper arm); all three heads attach to the bones of the forearm
Action: extension of the elbow (increasing the distance between the upper and lower arm)

Exercises:

  • Triceps Pushdown: this exercise can be done using a rope or one of many handle attachments. Standing in front of a high cable pulley, grip the rope or handle and pull it down until your arms are at your side. Keep your upper arms and your elbows close to your side. Push the weight down until your arms are straight without locking your elbows. Keep your forearms perpendicular to your body (especially if using a rope) to limit strain on your elbows and isolate the muscle.
  • Triceps Kickbacks: this exercise can be done standing and leaning over on the back of a bench, or kneeling on a flat bench. Holding a light dumbbell in your right hand kneel your right knee on a flat bench and use left arm to support your body and your other leg for balance. Hold your upper arm parallel to your body and your elbow bent at a 90-degree angle. Keeping your elbow close to your body, push the weight back and up until your arm is straight without locking your elbow. Slowly lower the weight to the starting position. Repeat with the other arm after you've completed a set. Be careful to keep your back straight; you can adjust your balancing leg to keep your pelvis in alignment with your spine.
  • French Press: this can be done standing or seated, using a barbell, single dumbbell or a low cable pulley. If using a barbell: stand or sit and lift a barbell over your head until your arms are straight without locking your elbows. Keeping your elbows close to your head and your upper arms from moving, lower the weight down to your head and then push the weight back up. If standing keep your knees slightly bent and be careful not to arch your back. If using a single dumbbell, cup your hands around one of the plates with the dumbbell handle between your hands. Lift the dumbbell over your head and complete the same movement as described above.
  • Skull Crushers: this can be done using an EZ barbell or dumbbells. Lie on a flat bench, holding the weight above you like you were going to do a bench press without locking your elbows. Keeping your upper arms perpendicular to your body and your elbows in place, bend your elbows and lower the weight towards your forehead. Push the weight back to the starting position without locking your elbows. If you're using dumbbells, keep your palms facing each other. Remember to limit movement in your upper arms to isolate the triceps and use a spotter.

Lower Arm

Many people don't exercise the muscles of the forearm because these muscles usually get a good workout just from gripping weights during other exercises. Some people benefit from wrist curls and reverse-grip wrist curls because it can increase your grip strength and help when you're lifting heavier weights and sport-specific movements.

Exercises:

  • Wrist Curls: grab a light barbell with a palms up or palms down (reverse grip) grip. Sit on the end of a flat bench and rest your elbows and lower arms on you thighs so that your wrists extend beyond your legs. Extend your wrists to lower the weight and the lift it back to the starting position. Use caution not to over work these muscles and cause strain to your wrist joint.

Alternating these exercises into your normal routine can help you build arms that Arnold would be proud of. Remember to change your workout routine occasionally and increase your weights to stimulate growth. Even if your goal is to build "big guns," it's also important to do a full body workout for a well-developed look and to prevent muscle imbalances. Don't forget to allow 48 hours rest between workouts to give your muscles time to recover.


This information and other information on this site is intended for general reference purposes only and is not intended to address specific medical conditions. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice or a medical exam. Prior to participating in any exercise program or activity, you should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional. No information on this site should be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition.