You've probably seen the bros that manage to have arm day every time you see them. They have chicken legs, invisible lat syndrome, and one scraggly vein in each of their oddly shaped biceps.
They grunt and scream as they cheat curl and leave their dumbbells scattered throughout the gym.
Related - The Best Arm Workout for Gains
You really don't want to be like them, but your current workout routine doesn't seem to give your arms enough volume... So what do you do?
Some people (including me) believe that you can build arms without spending hours training them. Your bench press blasts your triceps, your deadlifts and squats help build overall mass, and your rows and back work hit your biceps.
While this may not be enough for some people, spending time on isolation movements may not always be the best thing. The hard part is figuring out the sweet spot between compound movements and isolation.
Increasing volume without intensity makes for minimal strength gains and too little volume won't provide the needed stimulus the muscles need to grow.
So here are four simple tips that will help you program the right amount of arm training.
Improving Your Arm Workouts
#1 - Compound Movements Are King
Skipping out on your compound movements in lieu of your compound movements is not efficient. Plenty of compound movements directly affect arm growth:
- Bench Press
- Close Grip Bench
- Heavy Dips
- Overhead Press
- Any Pressing Movement
- Barbell Rows
- Any Pulling Movement
Squats and deadlifts also elicit such a large hormonal response that you should not skip those, either.
Complete a well-rounded selection of compound movements and add in isolation movements after these lifts.
#2 - Use Isolation Movements Sparingly
So you've put in the work on your compound movements. You've hit a couple new personal records and you're ready for some lighter work. Now is the time to use isolation movements to "finish" the muscle off.
The issue with many people is they use isolation movements instead of pairing them with compound movements. Remember, isolation movements are accessory movements; they compliment compound movements.
Two Ways to Choose the Best Accessory Movements
Choosing Complementary Movements - Choosing accessory movements that work muscles you've already trained is a great way to finish off the muscle and stimulate it enough to elicit growth. If you are training your back, choosing bicep and rowing movements will work muscles already trained for the day, pushing your potential for growth.
Choosing Antagonistic Movements - A new technique I've found somewhat enjoyable, choosing antagonistic accessory movements make for an interesting training day. Instead of choosing movements that use the same muscles as your compound lifts, you choose movements that train the opposite.
For example, it's deadlift day which means you are hitting your back, posterior chain, and biceps. Try choosing accessory movements that target your chest and triceps. The antagonistic training helps keep a balanced physique and allows you to put more intensity on the muscles that were not trained during your workout.
#3 - Increase Intensity With Shorter Rest Times
Many articles throw out a hard number for how long you should rest. This makes no sense. How much you should rest between sets is different for every person. Your conditioning level, overall fitness levels, and strength levels determine how long you should rest.
Being mindful of how long you spend between sets is key. Learn to read your body and learn when you are ready for more... Even when you aren't.
You want to keep your intensity high enough so that your heart stays elevated and you cause enough muscle damage to stimulate growth.
Having trouble finding the right amount of time between sets? Start off with a longer rest time; 60 to 90 seconds for compound lifts and 30 to 45 seconds for accessory movements.
You should feel recovered enough to safely complete another set. If you start to cool off and the intensity isn't there, take 5 seconds of rest off between sets and see how that works.
Eventually, you're going to find what works best for you and run with it.
4.) Be Mindful of How Many Exercises You Complete
Depending on your goals, choosing the right amount of exercises will determine how quickly you reach them.
Looking for hypertrophy?
Choosing the right movements make a difference here. You could utilize anywhere between 5 to 8 movements per muscle group per week.
- Try one or two heavy movements such as close-grip bench press or heavy dips.
- Try a couple extension movements such as skull crushers, cable press-downs, or kick-backs.
- Try a couple overhead triceps extension movements.
- Try one or two heavy movements such as a pull-up, chin-up, or pull-down.
- Try a couple curl movements with your arms positioned behind the body such as a lying incline curl.
- Try a couple curl movements with your arms next to or in front of your body such as preacher curls or hammer curls.
Looking for strength?
Building strength means pounding your nervous system, not your muscles. Choosing the right weight and using good form matters most here.
- Try one heavy movement such as close-grip bench press or heavy dips.
- Follow up with one extension movement such as rope triceps extensions.
- Finish off with a lighter isolation movement such as a 1 arm overhead triceps extension.
- Try one heavy movement such as a pull-up, chin-up, or pull-down.
- Follow up with curls with a barbell or EZ Curl bar.
- Finish off with heavy hammer curls or preacher curls.
Wrapping it Up
When your body grows, so do your arms. You don't need to spend hours in the gym hitting those precious biceps to get what you want; intensity and exercise selection matters.
Next time you are in the gym, watch how other people train. Find the person you want to look like and see what they do. I bet they don't stand there all day doing curls and triceps extensions to get that body.