David is an army-trained biomedical scientific officer, writer, and lifelong health and fitness enthusiast.
How to Get Big Arms
Virtually every guy that’s ever lifted a weight would like to know how to get big arms. And it's easy to understand why, as when you are wearing a T-shirt a pair of big muscular arms really gets noticed, and sets you apart from everyone else. So in this article, I’ll explain how you can build up your arms in the fastest and most effective way possible.
But first, here's a bit of a description of the arm musculature. The upper arm consists of three main muscles: the biceps, the triceps, and the brachialis. The role of the biceps is to bend the arm at the elbow (elbow flexion) and also to supinate the forearm. The triceps straightens the arm (elbow extension). And the brachialis runs under the biceps and is really only visible when viewing the arms from the side.
A lot of people make the mistake of concentrating too much on the biceps when training their arms, but the triceps is a larger muscle, so if you really want to develop your arms to the fullest you need to work these at least as hard. So to get big arms just follow these four simple steps.
1. Train Your Entire Body
You won't be able to build big arms if you don't have much size anywhere else. It just won’t work. You need to add mass to your entire body if you want your arms to be big. So make it a priority to train your chest, back and legs, as these are the areas that can gain the most muscle. And work your shoulders hard too. By building up these areas, you will develop a proportionate physique, as well as a solid foundation on which you can build big arms.
2. Do Basic Compound Movements First
If you are a beginner you actually don’t need to do any direct arm training at all. Your arms will grow just fine as a result of doing rowing, chinning and pressing movements. So if you are just starting out, do a basic full body workout program that focuses on the big compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts, bench press, bent-over rows, overhead press, chin-ups etc. Train three times per week, performing 3 – 4 sets of 5 – 8 reps of each exercise (after warm-ups), and you’ll build a good solid physique.
When you are a bit more advanced, however, you’ll probably find you’ll gain better if you split your body up a bit. So you could do either an upper/lower body routine, training three or four times per week, or a push/pull/legs split, or maybe an opposing muscle groups split (chest & back/legs/arms & shoulders).
Either way, it’s at this stage that you can really start to benefit from training your arms directly, and an excellent arm workout might look something like this:
- Close Grip Chin-Ups 2 X 6 – 8 reps
- Barbell Curl 3 X 8 – 10 reps
- Dumbbell Hammer Curl (optional) 3 X 10 – 12 reps
- Close Grip Bench Press 2 X 6 – 8 reps
- Triceps Pressdowns 3 X 8 – 10 reps
- Overhead Dumbbell Extension (optional) 3 X 10 – 12 reps
You’ll notice that you’ve got a compound exercise first, followed by one or two isolation exercises. The triceps, in particular, respond best to heavy loads, and the best exercises to build them are close grip bench presses and parallel bar dips. So you could replace the close grip bench with parallel bar dips if you wish. And although these two exercises will work all three heads of the triceps to a certain extent (as will any triceps exercise), they mostly target the medial head. Pressdowns, on the other hand, put more emphasis on the lateral head (this is the head that gives the triceps its horseshoe-like appearance from the side). And overhead extensions bring out the long head (which runs down the back of the arm) more fully.
Close grip chin-ups and barbell curls will add size to your biceps more effectively than anything else. But hammer curls bring out the brachialis muscle much more fully, which helps to add further mass and thickness to the upper arm. So these are a worthwhile addition to any arm workout.
3. Use The Right Frequency, Volume, Intensity and Pace
We’ve touched on some of this above. Train your arms twice per week for best results. But three times every two weeks will also work very well.
The volume (sets and reps) listed above will be about right for most people. But after you’ve been training this way for a while you might want to increase a little to see if this works better for you. Some people respond well to higher volumes; some don’t. But you do need a certain amount of volume in order to induce maximal growth.
You need to train hard, but you should rarely go to the point of failing mid-rep. And don't do those really slow grinding reps either. Training to failure too often only wears down the central nervous system and could easily bring your gains to a complete halt.
And keep your pace fairly brisk. You'll need to take about 2 - 3 minutes rest between sets of the compound exercises; but for your isolation movements, 60 – 90 seconds is ideal if you want to maximize muscle growth.
It's also important to perform all your exercises properly and through a full range of motion. Partial reps give partial results, and can also lead to tight muscles and muscle imbalances, which could then result in injury further down the line.
You can train both your biceps and triceps on the same day if you wish, or you can do them on different days. Contrary to what you may have heard elsewhere it really won’t make much difference.
4. Eat Right
Your training simply provides the stimulus for muscle growth, but your muscles actually grow while you are resting, and proper nutrition is vital if you want to maximize your gains.
So ensure you follow a good muscle building diet that provides you with a calorie surplus and is high in protein (about 0.8 – 1.0g per pound of body weight per day is ideal). You also need a good amount of complex carbohydrates, some healthy fats, and plenty of fruit and vegetables.
Apart from the above, you also need to make sure you get enough sleep – at least 8 hours per night. And don't do too much in the way of other strenuous activities. A little cardio is OK, and can actually help with recovery. But if you do too much, it will eat away at your muscle tissue, and that will certainly stop you from getting the results you want.
So now you know how to get big arms. Follow the advice given here and you'll be able to build your arms up as big as you want. Well, almost anyway :)
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 David
David (author) from Birmingham, UK on July 31, 2018:
I think you have probably overdone it a bit Rodgers.
Rodgers on July 31, 2018:
If you are just starting body exercises on a stomach fr developing a six pack (fr th first four days th muscles on th stomach feels like it's being cut with a knife
David (author) from Birmingham, UK on July 15, 2018:
No, probably not Louise.
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on July 14, 2018:
I know it takes a lot of hard work and effort to get big arms. Not sure I could ever get arms like that though!