Many people in the gym are focused on getting a 6-pack or having a big chest but they forget to build up their arms. This can leave the body looking uneven and out of balance. Having big arms can make you the envy of your friends and help you have that look you’ve been striving for any season.
There are a lot or programs out there that focus on high volume training to get the job done but this can take up a lot of time and that is something that many of us don’t have these days. It’s a better idea to build a program around strength with a goal of building bigger arms added it. This will save you a lot of time in the gym.
Here is our guide to help you build bigger arms.
Focus on compound lifts
First let’s explain what compound lifts are
A compound exercise is a lift that uses multiple muscle groups simultaneously to perform a movement or to move a load.
The benefit of lifting this way for building size is that you will be able to put more load on a muscle that will cause the muscle to grow. While doing an isolation program alone may cause you to get mass at the same rate it may lead to overtraining or injury so building a program around compound lifts is a better idea than starting with isolation work.
A big mistake that a lot of people make when their trying to build bigger arms is that they focus on isolation exercises instead of the big compound lifts. Having a strong foundation on the big lifts like barbell squats, deadlifts, rows, bench press and shoulder press will give you the size you’re looking for and some strength. Building a base of strength will not only build bigger muscles it will make the muscle stronger so that it can handle a higher volume of work once you start adding in isolation work.
Doing compound lifts takes less time than doing a program with a lot of isolation work. Would you rather be in the gym for 45-60 minutes or would you rather be in the gym for an hour and a half working on every little muscle. Personally I value my time and prefer getting my workout done in a short amount of time.
If you’re new to lifting try doing a strength program 2-3 times a week with 2 sets of 5 reps on the barbell squat, barbell deadlift, bench press and shoulder press. This provides a baseline of strength needed to move to a muscle building (hypertrophy) program. If you need help with learning of the basic foundational lifts, it’s a good idea to hire a personal trainer. If you can’t afford a personal trainer I highly recommend picking up the book starting strength by Mark Rippetoe.
When doing these big lifts it’s important to focus on strength rather than volume. This is important because doing too much volume with the big lifts may cause an over use injury. When doing compound lifts like the bench press, squat, deadlift or shoulder press your goal should be 3 sets of 5. If you’re more advanced you can do 5 sets of 5.
Big lifts for big arms
Now that we’ve gone over the importance of big lifts we can focus on what big lifts that you should focus on to build bigger arms.
For anyone trying to build size it’s important to focus on the major power lifting movements like the squat, bench press and the deadlift. These are your foundational lifts and should be the primary focus of your program.
Here are the big lifts that we’ve been talking about
Yes, I know that the barbell squat is a leg exercise but it is one of the most important exercises to build size all over the body. Loading up the body and squatting heavy weight provides overall bulk which will crossover to the entire body. On top of that you won’t have huge arms with tiny little legs. Here is a video on how to do the barbell squat.
The deadlift like the squat is an important foundational lift that helps to build size. Every muscle in the body has to put in work to perform this movement. The deadlift works on one part of the arms that is often neglected during an isolation type program and that is the forearms. The forearms have to put in a lot of work during the deadlift and often will be a limiting factor in some of the other arm building lifts. Here is a video on how to do the deadlift.
The shoulder press
The shoulder press is an important exercise for building the top of the arms. Doing the shoulder press will also provide support for doing bench press and other high volume exercises that build size in the shoulder. When it comes to building overall size the shoulder press is important because one of the only basic barbell lifts that loads the entire body during the movement. When we load the whole body with weight it promotes grow all over. Here is a video on how to do the shoulder press.
The bench press
The bench press is probably the favorite exercise of most gym goers. This is because it’s easy to do and having a strong bench press provides bragging rights to friends. The bench press is a great exercise for building the arms and the chest because you can have a very heavy load on the bar while doing the bench press. The bench press will build solid shoulders and triceps with a bonus of a bigger chest. Here is a video on how to do the bench press.
Now that we have go over some of the basic barbell lifts that are important to any strength program we can go over some of the other exercises that will help you build bigger arms.
We’ve gone over all the big foundational lifts that are a must for anyone trying to increase size. Now we are going to explain the importance of doing accessory lifts. These lifts are important for building volume and are important for muscle building. When doing the accessory lifts it’s important to focus on doing 3 sets of 8 vs the 3 sets of 5 for the big foundational lifts.
The Chin up
The chin up is an important exercise for building the arms because of the load it puts on the bicep muscle. It is much harder for someone to curl their body weight for reps than is to do a chin up. Having the back muscles assist with the lift will allow for more overall load on the bicep muscles. The reason why we picked the chin up over the pull up is that the supination (palms up) of the arms allows the bicep to get more work during the movement.
To build bigger muscles it’s a good idea to perform the eccentric part of the movement slowly. The eccentric part of the movement in common terms is called the negative. An example of this would be the down part of the bench press.
Here is a video on how to do a chin up
The dumbbell bench row
The dumbbell bench row is one of those exercises that’s not too intense but it adds needed volume to the workout to help build bigger arms. The range of motion for this exercise isn’t too great and the skill required to do the movement is quite easy. With the bench row it’s important to focus on a slow negative to build bigger muscle fibers. Here is a video on how to do the dumbbell bench row.
The EZ-bar curl
The EZ-bar curl is an important isolation exercise for building the biceps. The reason why we selected the EZ-bar curl vs the straight bar curl is that the straight bar curl can put unwanted pressure on the wrist joint due to the fixed nature of the straight bar. When doing the EZ-bar curl it’s important to do full range of motion for each rep and you can use the pro tip of doing the negative slowly for this exercise as well.
Here is a video on how to do the EZ-bar curl.
The lying triceps extension
The lying triceps extension is a solid exercise for building the back of the arms. The movement will be done with an EZ-bar for the same reason we used the EZ-bar for the bicep curl. The triceps extension will allow you to put a lot of weight on the bar compared to a triceps pulldown or dumbbell triceps extension. Here is a video on how to do the lying triceps extension.
Other tips for building bigger arms
This is our basic guide to build bigger arms. If you’re more advanced you can add exercises like drop sets and extra volume to your workouts. Here are some simple tips if you feel that you need a little more for your arm building program.
A drop set is defined as: “In bodybuilding and weight training, using drop sets (aka dropsets, descending sets, strip sets, the multi-poundage system the stripping method, triple-drops, down the rack, or running the rack) is a technique for continuing an exercise with a lower weight once muscle failure has been achieved at a higher weight. It is most often performed on weight machines because reducing the weight quickly is thought by some to be extremely important, but it can also be performed with dumbbells and other free weights.”
This style of training can be used to add a ton of volume during a set. Drop sets should be used close to the end of your workout and are for intermediate and advanced lifters.
Do your isolation first
This style of lifting can add the change that you need to push past a plateau that you might run into after doing the basic lifting program. Pre-exhausting muscles for mass is a trick that body builders have been using for years. An example of this is to do your curls before you do chin ups. This style of training is advanced so make sure to save it when you feel that you’re not getting results and you’ve mastered some of the big compound lifts.
Our last tip in this guide on how to build bigger arms is to bulk up and eat more calories. Doing a bulk phase is important because without the building blocks for muscle growth you’re basically running backwards.