5 Reasons You Need to Jack Up Your Guns


casey viator cheat curls

Don't think you need to train your arms? Guess again.

Many "EXPERTS" state the arms are worked adequately from upper body compound lifts.

And before we get into the physical aspect of training arms, think about this:

- Athletes CARE about how they LOOK.

- Bigger Arms builds an athlete's confidence.

- Greater Confidence produces More Success

An athlete who has more confidence in himself is going to Win More. Confidence is 1 of the biggest and most important traits that ANY training program can build.

You NEED to build powerful arms, and, this means that sometimes you gotta specialize and WORK them directly. All this talk of people saying you don't need direct arm work because all the upper body pushing and pulling will suffice are dead wrong.

The "Experts" out there who are claiming that "training arms isn't functional" are WRONG.

Now, don't be an extremist and avoid rope climbs, pull ups, heavy rowing, etc. You STILL need those movements, but, direct arm work will boost your performance in those compound lifts as well.

Here's how to make it happen.

5 Tips to Jack up Your Guns aka Biceps & Triceps

1) Heavy Cheat Curls, as shown above by Casey Viator, will develop a powerful upper back, a stronger grip, strong shoulders as well as improve your full body lifting power.

These are essentially a hang clean with an underhand grip.

RIP the bar up with some aggressive hip action, lower the bar with control, avoid dropping the bar on the way down. I began using cheat curls many years ago after reading how Dave Draper & Arnold used these often to help add strength and mass to not only their biceps, but the upper back / traps, shoulders and forearms.

Perhaps you've heard of the crazy ex shot put thrower, Ricky Bruch, who would perform cheat curls in the same fashion as a hang clean as it felt better on his wrists. Rumor has it, he would do these with 315 plus pounds.

George DeFranco, the ORIGINAL warehouse gym owner and father of Joe DeFranco, would perform cross body DB Hammer curls using 90 lbs dumbbells. It helped him become one of the best AND most feared arm wrestlers in the world.

By the way, did you know George D. turned down a role in Sylvester Stallone's movie, 'Over the Top'? George D has integrity and didn't want to lose on film unless it was the REAL deal. INTEGRITY!



2) Strong biceps will improve your pulling strength in BIG lifts AND Bodyweight Pulling Movements.

I've seen LOTS of people struggle with pull ups. And, there are only so many pull ups, recline rows and other pulling movements one can do before it becomes too much for them.

If they have weak, skinny arms, you can expect weak bodyweight pulling power/strength. So, we attack the weak areas and make their biceps stronger to aid their pull ups, get their triceps stronger to aid their push ups and dips.

Being weak sucks. It just ain't cool and there are TOO many weak people roaming around these days. If there's a weak muscle, attack it until it becomes strong(er).

We finish each training session with basic DB hammer curls. 2 or 3 sets.

3) Strong triceps will improve pressing strength. They also help support your shoulders. Everything is connected.

Can't crank push ups or bench heavy? Triceps fatigue as the reps get high on push ups? Time to jack up the triceps. Dips, close grip benching and skull crushers are amongst my favorites and they deliver the results.

Tate presses and lying triceps extensions with Russian Kettlebells are also pretty darn good! They have always produced the best results time and again. Pushdowns pale in comparison to the results of the basic triceps movements. Don't be scared to go heavy and hit sets of 6 - 8 reps on these BIG lifts.

Pushdowns and leaning triceps extensions with a band or cable apparatus are great for a warm up with high reps and lighter weights before upper body work. We will perform 50-100 reps of band triceps to potentiate the triceps and prep the elbows before an upper body day.

When I was young, I could barely perform 1 pull up or 1 parallel bar dip. I would do 1 or 2 reps at a time until completing 20 total reps. The next workout I went for 22 total, then 25, then 30, 40 and 50 total reps. This is called The Total Rep Method and I love it for calisthenics. If you're struggling with calisthenics or simply want to use calisthenics to help alleviate soreness, you can sneak in reps throughout your day.

My struggle with pull ups inspired me to work them hard and consistently. I ate pull ups for breakfast! I remember doing 26 pull ups my sophomore year in high school during wrestling season while weighing 145 lbs. I can do 26 pull ups today, while weighing 215 lbs. But guess what, I'm NOT impressed with myself. 30 reps needs to be done!

Dips were impressed upon me at an early age as well, reading plenty of books by Arnold he always showed powerful looking bodybuilders performing dips, often times with added weight. Most teenagers struggle on dips as they are tough on their sternum as their body is developing so keep that in mind and lay low on dips for the high school athlete.

Back in my early years at The Metuchen Y, Big George used to crank countless sets of dips with heavy weights strapped around his waist. He did set after set for what seemed to take 20 or 30 minutes! His arms stretched through his shirt sleeves and he also had a POWERFUL upper body and could bench the house.

I'm sure his powerful arms helped him grip the heavy barbells he used for deadlifts, rows and pressing. They'll do the same for you if you attack your guns SERIOUSLY.

kevin tolbert anvil curl4) Strongman training puts tremendous strain on the biceps.

Before you become a tire flippin' freak, you better make sure your biceps can handle the stress that comes from ripping through 500 + lb tire flips.

You do NOT want to use biceps for tire flips but your body must be prepared for the rigors of strongman / odd object training.

Remember, if you want to reduce chances of injury, don't be weak. This is why girls often times tear their ACLs. The lack of stability and strength in the supporting musculature and tissue / ligaments are NOT prepared for sprints, jumps, change of direction, etc. so in turn, we see LOTS of female Basketball players & Soccer players tearing ACLs.

Jack up your guns and better prepare yourself for the rigors of strongman training.

Heavy Farmer Walks of all types are great for developing the forearms and biceps. There is often quite a lot of time under tension and / or isometric work that will build size on the biceps and forearms.


NEVER curl before tire flips. Save those curls for the END of a training session. Usually after a strongman day with tire flips, we only perform very light hammer or ez bar curls as a recovery method. The high reps builds tendon strength so light, pump up weights are used here.

5. A pair or thick, rugged looking arms looks BadAss. Period.

Some closing thoughts on jacking up your GUNS:

- You don't need to perform a million sets or spend incredible amounts of time training your arms. If you're hitting the heavy upper body pushing and pulling with free weights and bodyweight exercises then pick one exercise for biceps and triceps and hit em' hard for 2 - 4 quality sets.

- Mix up the movements for your arms and mix up the reps as well. You can train heavy in the 6 - 8 range or light to moderate for 15-25 reps.

- If you find that certain movements hurt the elbows when performed heavy, be smart, try them with lighter weight and higher reps or eliminate them altogether. Some exercises simply do NOT agree with YOU. Don't copy others, learn what works best for you.

- Don't neglect the gun show just because the internet gurus have touted direct arm work as being "non-functional".

Go ahead, tear into the gun show work and start stretching your shirt sleeves!



The Gladiator Project

36 Responses

  1. Good points. Haven’t done curls since I started CrossFit, but your article makes complete sense, especially when you consider most of the pullups in CrossFit land are done with a kip, further reducing recruitment of the arms.

    Keep up the strong work!


  2. Hey Zach! Got a question. I have heard of doing cheat curls and a whole lot of goood things about them (such as it carries over to throwing and such), but the only thing I fear about cheat curls is tearing a bicep. Is there a guideline to doing cheat curls (apart from going hard and heavy) so to lessen the chance of tearing biceps?


  3. The hell with guns. I want a set of bazookas.

  4. Suns out GUNS OUT!!!!!!!!!

  5. @SK – we r not likely at all to tear a bicep from cheat curls

    tire flips are the riskiest, and, b/c so many do the tire flip and incorrectly at that, it is a risky lift when performed incorrectly

    rip the weight up, down under control

    if the technique you’re using would cause you to make a double take if some1 else did it, you’re out of control!

    be in charge of the weight!

  6. I will throw some arm work in there about every other week with my athletes. It’s funny how biceps and triceps work will pump up the intensity of athletes in the weight room. I agree these should not be neglected!

  7. I do see a lot of guys with big arms and scrawny legs…. most people seem to favor their arms anyways…….

  8. ROCK on bro! I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s unfortunate to see that “all this talk” from self-serving ‘experts’ about isolation exercises being a waste of time, has gotten into the heads of a great number of people. It’s misleading. Compound exercises should always be the primary focus, but isolation exercises absolute ROCK on so many levels.

    A little while back I wrote an article called Long Live Isolation Exercises http://fatlossquickie.com/blog/long-live-isolation-exercises/ to clear up some of the confusion around isolation exercises and why you need to incorporate them in your training. My points were based on a finished and polished look and now I have your article to reference for doing isolation exercises to get stronger and bigger.

    I love my guns and I owe it to isolation exercises!

    Keep ROCK’n bro!

    Scotty T

  9. Thick bar(2.5 inches) reverse curls! Heavy!

    MMMM! Love it!

    You should have put a youTube clip from Arnold “The Pump”! I still laugh me arse off when I see it!

    Keep up the good work!

    It’s not the gun you can see that you should be affraid of, it is the one you can’t see! Keep them concealed until you need to unleash the show! Nothing better than having someone question what you have and then their eyes widening while your arm expands. “Holy S?!T!”
    Ya that’s the ticket!

  10. Good points indeed, but I see the fallacy. “Experts” say you don’t need to work your arms if you want to maintain musculoskeletal strength and incorporate it into an overall wellness routine that encompasses both cardiovascular fitness and musculoskeletal strength. ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine), which is one of the international leaders in physical training and maintaining health, recommends 8-10 exercises that target the major muscle groups of the body.

    Since the primary role in the biceps is elbow flexion, that is covered when you do any kind of lat pull or row or pull up. Likewise, the primary movement of the triceps is elbow extension, which is done in a chest press or push up. I am not including the movements on the shoulder these two muscles have.

    If you are training for specific strength gains and size, then yes, you tailor a program that is specific to the client’s needs. In this case, you would definitely isolate arms. But otherwise, it is not necessary just to maintain musculoskeletal health.

    One other thing about cheat curls; these are identical to performing an exercise with a prolonged eccentric period. That is, a prolonged period where the muscles lengthen back to their original state. This can be done with any exercise and has been time and time again studied and shown to be one of the most effective ways for gaining strength. It’s difficult and usually requires help to get the weight up, but can be done. Other examples are putting about 20% more weight on a bar and lowering it slowly to do a “negative” set on the chest press. Throwing your hips into it to get the weight up is dangerous and better suited for people who have rock solid muscles that will protect their lower backs and hip misalignments. Adding extra muscles to get the weight up = decreasing the intensity of the exercise you originally increased the weight on. In other words, in the lifting phase, you would get the same gains from curling 50lbs properly and from curling 80lbs using accessory muscles. Only difference is that with the latter, you’ll also strengthen the accessory muscles, whereas in the first you’ll strengthen the stabilizer and prime agonist movers.

    1. When done correctly in the way practiced by Arnold etc cheating does not reduce the intensity or work done by the muscle but increases it…but to do this you have to be a somewhat experienced lifter in tune with your body.

      An inexperienced person uses the accessory muscles all the way through the movement which as you correctly say reduces the work done by the arms. To cheat correctly however you should begin the lift using only the arms and at the point when you reach the sticking point when you can no longer raise the weight then you begin to cheat and use other muscles to help. In this way the total work done by the muscle is greater not less.

  11. I’m TRYING to . . . but at age 56, mass comes slowly !

  12. Don’t train arms???? What the crap! What do they think they are doing every time they bench, curl, or dip or any other upper body exercise for that matter. While I don’t care much for isolation exercises myself they are deadly useful. The big moves will hit everything pretty well but isolation is still needed everyone’s got weak links and if the chain link is bad anywhere snap and pop the chain breaks great article Zach.

  13. That picture at the top… Casey Victor leaning back with the curls is AWESOME! Throw that shit around!

    I tore my biceps back in April so I’m just getting back to heavy curls and stuff.

    Great post Z

  14. Peppermintoj says:

    Loves me some heavy ass cheat curls, arm blasters and power curls!
    Can poet curls heavy as hell and keep low back strain out with clients.
    Alot of times they don’t listen to what proper form really is

  15. Good post Zach. I actually used to be of the mindset that arm isolation work was unnecessary if time was an issue… but I learned my lesson the hard way. In one of the last strongman competitions I entered I partially tore my bicep tendon during the tire flip. I am a strong tire-flipper, and never had issues flipping tires in training, but I believe if I had been doing more bicep isolation work I could have avoided this injury. Live and learn.

  16. Trevor Lea-Smith says:

    Spend any time doing tire flips and you will recognize the need for strong arms. Even if you are doing them right they put a lot of strain on.

    I have a 250kg tire in my back yard for conditioning workouts, it does the job. I don’t know about any one else here, but I love heavy (add weight!) low rep chins for building my arms.

  17. Zach, the nail… you hit it on the head, again. I am VERY much a proponent of functional fitness training (hence why I frequent your site) and you’re right, in this “circle” we find a lot of people trashing arm work. I try not to waste too much time isolating bi’s and tri’s but there are a handful of movements I just wont do without when it comes to giving the arms some much deserved attention and it makes a difference. One of them is one-arm kettlebell curls OPEN PALM. Palming the bell itself (not the handle), letting your arm hang dead, and curling that puppy up to your shoulder tight is pump magic. Keep up the good work. 😉

  18. Zach, this is great article. I am 67 and been lifting weight for over 50 year. This does not make me an expert, but it does give me a little insight. I have a lot of reservation about Cheat Curls, or any server cheat movement for that matter. These movements can be extremely dangerous. The picture of Casey Viator is a good example, if he bends any farther back he most likely will be on the floor with the bar on top of him. And yes a cheat curling with what appears to be 225 pounds is impressive. Strict or good form in any barbell or dumbbell movement is a lot more important than the total weight you use, and it minimizes injury. John Grimek used to do 200 pound barbell curls as a warm-up for bodybuilding contests with excellent form. This is a lot more impressive than Casey Viator cheat curls. If anyone is not familiar with John Grimek, he is not only a legendary bodybuilder wining every bodybuilding contest he competed in which includes the Mr. USA, Mr. America (twice) and Mr. Universe, but he was also an Olympic Weight Lifting Champion placing either second or third in the Heavy Weight Division of the 1936 Olympics. By the way he was a light heavy weight at the time competing against heavyweights. The point is do not sacrifice form for poundage. Extreme cheating movements are dangerous. You may get by with them while you are young, but as you age they will come back to haunt you. As I recall Joe Weider really gave the push to cheating movements. Do remember Weider was never an elite bodybuilder or weight lifter. His claim to be the trainer of champion is false. Joe Weider was the employer or promoter of champions not their trainer. He was an entrepreneur and a damn good one. One last comment if anyone wants to lift really heavy weights train well, include Olympic lifts, learn to move under the weight, and limit the assist (cheating movement).

  19. Get a pair of Fat Grips and use them when doing barbell curls, amazing difference in the pump.
    I recently started doing high volume (15-25 reps) sets, adding a small amount of weight as I progress. Not a main exercise in my routine but fun to do when I am training my clients.

  20. Jack – TRUE my friend. When I use cheat curls I use a forward lean and my hips are slightly back like near the top of a KB swing.

    Leaning back I am not a fan of, BUT, that Casey Viator pic is awesome!

    I prefer being up right at the top of a cheat curl

    We can’t deny Casey’s intensity though!

  21. The only isolation I recommend is biceps and that’s a maybe. The reason being, by looking closer at what happens inside a human body while doing isolation and compound exercises you notice this thing called synovial fluid. What da heck is it? Here’s a quote from wiki:

    “During movement, the synovial fluid held in the cartilage is squeezed out mechanically to maintain a layer of fluid on the cartilage surface (so-called weeping lubrication). The functions of the synovial fluid include:

    * reduction of friction – synovial fluid lubricates the articulating joints
    * shock absorption – as a dilatant fluid, synovial fluid is characterized by the rare quality of becoming more viscous under applied pressure; the synovial fluid in diarthrotic joints becomes thick the moment shear is applied in order to protect the joint and subsequently thins to normal viscosity instantaneously to resume its lubricating function between shocks
    * nutrient and waste transportation – the fluid supplies oxygen and nutrients and removes carbon dioxide and metabolic wastes from the chondrocytes within the surrounding cartilage”

    the thing is, this won’t happen with isolation exercises, not enough pressure. Now especially with strength training it’s really risky (ligaments) doing curls or anything open chained. There are better options as “Nillson curls” and ring isolation curls which are both bodyweight and close chained, but imagine lifting your BW up on biceps!

    I respect DeFranco and BIG ZEE big time, but this is just my thoughts and logic and I won’t say I agree if I don’t 🙂 Peace!

  22. I dare people to find a performing strongman that doesn’t prepare for their feats by doing some kind of curl

  23. Strong arms vs. skinny arms is a no-contest. It’s time to jack-up those guns, and look the part of a strongman.

  24. Great post – I think that many get carried away with the idea that training has to be functional and they’re so focused on it that they go overboard.

    In the end, one of the reasons we train is to look good, right!

    — Kevin

    1. I don’t fully agree. What’s the use of looking strong but not being strong, at all, or only being strong in the gym? That’s worthless if you ask me.

      1. Jesse nowhere in this article or in the responses are people touting this as a ‘hey, let’s look strong and not be strong”

        Undergrounders KNOW that we train to develop an advantage in the physical and spiritual sense

        Strong arms are critical to someone’s strength potential.

  25. Dustin Maynard says:

    Thank you, Z!

    I do not know why so many people overlook this. The arms are the limbs that ALLOW us all to press or pull. Yeah, you can get bigger arms from deadlifting, rowing, benching, and pressing. Or even the time tested sleeve buster: dips and chins!

    But c’monn! Train the arms, all your other lifts will go up. And c’monn!! How can we NOT like training arms? We gotta jack up the guns, son! For real, though—name ONE time you looked at a dude that sported a big pair of arms and said “plfft, useless.” We all know its badass. Dont denyyyy. 🙂

    A new favorite of mine to jack up my guns, HEAVY thick bar zercher holds for time. But old fashioned cheat curls never gets OLD! Ohhhhh yeah!

  26. Direct arm work is a waste of time until you’ve been training for at least 2-3 years. Work the big muscles with compound exercises like squats, deads, military press, and bench. Once you gain your first 20-30 lbs….then you can add some direct work at the end of the training session, after the big lift.

    1. Dwayne, I work w/tons of weak, beginners…. they need direct arm work like band push downs and dumbbell curls

      It builds their push ups and pull ups

      When they are weak in BW exercises, we gotta build the weak areas up….

  27. IMO starting out….compound exercises working the big muscles which cause more growth horomone to be released. Plus, its true the arms will get a good workout in the process. There are enough guys out there with huge arms..and a decent chest. Big deal.Most of the time these same guys have chicken legs, no back, weak shoulders and a pencil neck. I have a cousin who’s a gymnast. He has huge arms,yet he does NO direct arm work. Instead, they do mostly compound body weight exercises, and holds.

  28. Cheat curls are definitely a forgotten or oft-neglected exercise. My grandfather, who is a hall of fame wrestling coach told me a story about former University of Illinois wrestling coach Mark Johnson, and how he used to do cheat curls with anywhere from 225-300. Most outside of wrestling wouldn’t know him, but he was an Olympian at 198 lbs in 1980, but couldn’t compete because of the boycott.

    Also, we use light arm work as prehab for biceps tendons, because elbows and arms get beat up pretty bad from flipping tires, banging out loads of pullups, and heaving stones around. Going light for 15-20 minutes is a great way to flush blood into the muscles and work the kinks out so you can continue to train injury free.


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