Functional Arm Strength: 11 Tips to Get BIGGER & STRONGER Arms


Let me slap the haters in the face before we get GOING.

BIG, STRONG arms are critical to aiding your upper body strength. They also help keep your shoulders healthy when you train your arms properly.

Want to improve your bench press, military press, pull ups, push ups, dips, etc?

Then get those arms stronger.

If you've got skinny, weak arms, it's likely your upper body pushing and pulling strength sucks as well. Do NOT fear doing direct arm work.

When I train arms and when I use arm work for training my athletes, I THINK about how these arm exercises will have a carry over to their sport.

In the video above, the Cheat Curl / Power Curl is for MORE than biceps. It is is grip and upper back work. The heavy eccentric helps with building biceps size.

One of the most misunderstood and overlooked "transfers of training" is CONFIDENCE.

Athletes get excited to train arms. They FEEL better when they pump up the arms. They also have More confidence when they are better built.

I want their arms to BE STRONG, not just LOOK Strong. Call it "functional strength" or whatever you may call it but the bottom line is I want their arms to impose their will on their opponents.

That means we will use the "Not So Normal" movements and techniques to get those arms stronger AND bigger.

Here's 11 Quick Tips for Jacking Up Your Guns.....

1) After your upper body workout, pick 1 or 2 exercises for biceps and another 1 or 2 exercises for triceps. Hit each exercise HARD for 2 - 3 sets each.

Usually we just go hard with one exercise each for biceps and triceps but don't be afraid to hit some extra volume if you're feeling it.

Go heavy on one exercise for 6 - 8 reps, then high reps on the next exercise, 12-20 reps.

Here are a few favorite exercises we like to use at The Underground Strength Gym:

Favorite Biceps Exercises:

- Various Thick Bar Curls

- Thick Rope Curls (looped through Kettlebell)

- Hammer Curls

- Barbell / Dumbbell Power Curls aka Cheat Curls

- Hammer Cheat Curls

- Hand Over Hand Pulls with a 50 ft. Rope

Exercises such as farmer walks will also help your biceps and grip develop immense strength.

Favorite Triceps Exercises:

- Tate Press

- Lying DB or KB Extensions (Also DB Roll Backs)

- Dips (high reps and weighted)

- Band Pushdowns / Extensions from Various Angles

- Close Grip Push Ups

- Close Grip Bench Press

2) I have found that triceps respond well to slightly higher reps, usually in the 12 - 15 rep range while biceps respond well in the 6 - 12 rep range.

This doesn't mean that I NEVER stray from those rep ranges, I often times switch it up.

3) Utilize pull up variations during each back workout. Get good at underhand pull ups FIRST. Once you can get 10 underhand reps, move to overhand and neutral grip pull ups. Once you can crush the various pull ups using traditional handles use ropes and towels to make your pull ups tougher.

Start mixing the grips every set. Perform high rep pull ups one week, the next week, attach weight and perform weighted pull ups in the 3 - 6 rep range.

4) Use parallel bar dips if your shoulders don't get bothered from them. Don't go to failure on these, leave a few reps in the tank. Use high reps with bodyweight as well as weighted dips for lower reps.

5) Use weighted push ups with chains / weight vests using a neutral grip.

6) If your triceps are weak use bands and crank 3 high rep sets of triceps work after EVERY upper body workout. Vary the angle of the band exercise each set. These will NOT fatigue your arms or interfere with your other workouts, so do NOT worry. I did this one summer after every upper body workout and my arms got bigger AND my upper body got stronger.

Lesson learned.

7) Stray from the normal arm exercises. Use the hand over hand sled pull with a 50' rope for 2 or 3 hard sets and you'll feel what REAL arm work should feel like. Don't own a sled? Make a sled? Or... attach a rope to your car or a snow sleigh. Figure it out, NO excuses.

8) Don't let the naysayers tell you cheat curls will hurt your back. Sitting in front of your computer with your shoulders hunched and your chest caved in, arguing with you tube trolls who have 13 inch arms will hurt your back also.

9) Row Heavy.... Can you row HEAVY dumbbells for sets of 20? When you start pushing the envelope and rowing heavy those arms will get jacked as will the strength of your back. If you see someone with a strong back you can be damn sure they've got strong arms.

10) Build your strength up to rope climbing. As you begin kicking ass on pull ups and your arms get stronger, it's time to utilize rope climbs (unassisted - NO legs). If you hit a few hard sets of rope climbs 1 - 2 x week prepare to take a week off after 2 - 3 weeks to give your elbows and bicep tendons a break.

Your biceps will get strong as hell from rope climbs. If you can't perform rope climbs, perform the recline rope climb.

11) Don't bench with a wide grip. Wide grip benching kills the shoulders.... Use a moderate and close grip when benching as well as using varied barbells such as T Handle Bars.

Notice in this video with footage from The Underground & DeFranco's Gym that we have our athletes pulling and pushing some HEAVY poundages. Focus on upping your strength in these BIG lifts and your arms will grow like a weed.

Live The Code 365


 Train Online with Zach

24 Responses

  1. Mike Kellner says:

    Excellent Article!!!!!

  2. Great article-just joking with you about using my dog as a strength training tool (you will do some serious pulling/pushing though)-for me, strong arms make a deadlier weapon for striking. Appealing to women, doing all that you mentioned above makes for better looking arms-having nice looking shoulders are usally what I hear when women have come to train with me-it takes some serious effort that really pays off.

    1. @Joy: Joy, ha ha, I KNOW the feeling of dogs pulling though!!!

      Yep, these exercises and tips listed DO work the arms but make for a helluva upper body work!

  3. Dustin M. says:

    Who the hell doesn’t love Gun Work?!

    Thanks Z for posting this up. Seriously, sometimes i run across guys that say they do not do any arm work because they’re “old-school”. You’ve gotta be shitting me?! Old-School my ass! Where the hell did they get this idea from? Ok first of all, if you have 13-15 inch arms and you call yourself old-school—you need to check into Zach’s website or and behold what true old-school arms look like, my friend. Hell, most of the old-school iron legends forearms are 2x bigger than those punks 13-15inch arms.

    Direct arm work is a fantastic way to add in volume and a faster ticket to busting the sleeves off your shirt, The Incredible Hulk Style, and face it—Big Guns are just downright impressive.

    Gun Work Rules. My favorite–cheat barbell curls and Chin-ups.
    Thanks Zach—

    1. @Dustin M.: “Old School” lifters did more arm work than peeps of today. The confusion of WHAT to do nowadays is endless, back in the day you had a 1 or 2 magazines and they focused on balance.

      Today everyone thinks you’ll get arrested if you train the arms and you’re an athlete.

      Gun Show ALL Day, Baby!!!

  4. Killer Z I have been throwing in a lot of extra work for lacking body parts and parts I want extra. Like calves as I need those, then the biceps/triceps, forearms, neck work, you name it!!

  5. Ben Hoben says:

    Thanks for the post. It seems like most will tell you that you should only focus on the big lifts and you will get big arms. It seems as if you are saying a little extra work will help too.

    Will arms respond to high frequency training? I work out in the mornings 4 days a week (5/3/1). If I did some curls and tri work at home at night for a few sets would that be overkill?

    1. @Ben Hoben: Ben I’d try and crank them immediately after training so you don’t have fatigued arms from night into the morning.

      More recovery from doing them immediately after your training.

      Do 2 – 3 sets of biceps / triceps my man!

  6. Zach currently I’m in the middle of phase 2 of bodyweight bodybuilding and have taken your advice on GTG. I was wondering about the extra arm work after the workouts provided will this be overworking? Or am I good with adding a couple sets of biceps and triceps work? Gotta tell you I have never felt better in my life. I really think the bodyweight stuff is my calling. Other than convict conditioning is there any other must haves? Thanks for all you do for us bro!

    1. @marc: Go for 2 sets of biceps / triceps. All the bodyweight exercises are plenty of arm work…..

      If anything, I’d rather see you hit Kettlebell farmer walks for some full body work!

  7. David Walker says:

    ha – just made my own sled yesterday. i live in Switzerland and affordable equipment is hard to find. i got tired of putting off the work while waiting to find something, so i grabbed a bunch of scrap and made my own. it’s butt-ugly, but the dragging and rope pull sets after i finished were an awesome workout.

  8. Njama Jones says:

    This helps to show that you dont need to dump iso moves totally to get the body you want. I dont have a thick bar at my gym or fat gripz (yet) so a towel will suffice for now, I also do curls with a rope and Kettlebells, and extentions as well. Keep the info coming Zach!!

    1. @Njama Jones: we use the towels and ropes a ton, nothing wrong with isolating, OR, as you see in the article, these movements hammer the bis and tris but also work the upper body intensely as well.

  9. Great post Z.

    One thing we started doing a ton of with our athletes at the facility that has worked wonders, is forcing all arm movements to be done with a towel.

    Either looping a towel through a KB for some curls like a rope, or wrapping db handles with a towel to force you to squeeze a fatter grip the entire time, or they run the risk of having the dumbbell slide out.

    For triceps we loop the towel through the band making it even harder to grip and stabilize. It just seems to kick up the training a notch.

    I guess it’s like a poor mans more functional version of those Grip Force things.


  10. Great article.. couldn’t agree more. We don’t have any fat bars yet, but we’ve got a few pairs of FAT GRIPZ and we use them tons with dumbbells and barbells with our MMA guys.. along with lots of rope climbing, rope pull-ups, and various other chin-up/pull-up variations.

    Our newest addition, 19 year old Julien Leblanc is now 2-0 with us!

    Thanks Zach! I owe you huge!

  11. Oh yeah.. one other thing.. the comment about cheat curls vs. hunched over a computer… hahahahah … sooo true!

    love it!


  12. Excellent work man. Keep em coming.

    Cant wait to rock my underground strength tshirt round Ireland

  13. I got a question about sleds, If I were to take a wheelbarrow and take off the wheel and then drill a hole in it for rope, would it be the same as a sled that you would buy?

    1. @Ryan: I was just wondering the same thing! Also, have an old wheelbarrow that might work, I hope the metal is thick enough to last a while. One thing though, that thick rope is pretty expensive, from what I have seen so far. Anyone know where it can be had affordably?

  14. from all this list my favorite is rope climbing!

  15. Can you make bidyweight only version of arm wirkout.

    1. I would do high volume pull ups / dips / push ups. Read the BONUS of Bodyweight Bodybuilding, see the volume those guys do and you’ll see why they have BIG arms.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related Posts

"Zach Even - Esh is the Charles Atlas of Powerlifting / Weightlifting / Athletic Training. He is a walking inspiration. A kick in the ass for all of us."
- Steven Pressfield, World Renown Author
War of Art & Turning Pro

Get Zach’s Best Bodyweight & Strength Training Programs for FREE!

Become an Underground Strength Insider

I HATE spam as much as you