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.
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.
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!