How To Get Big Arms, According To A Trainer

The body doesn't want you to have 20-inch arms. Here's how to trick it into growing them anyway.

Building a huge set of pipes is generally the number one goal for any young man entering the weight room. But before we curl our biceps into painful oblivion, let’s quickly brush over some basic muscle mass building rules.

First up: eat enough protein and calories. While you can still build some muscle in a calorie deficit, you are putting yourself at a major disadvantage, and severely limiting your potential gains.

Secondly: Employ the “progressive overload” principle, gradually increasing your weight, reps and sets.

Third: make sure you partake in a full range of motion when completing exercises.

Got those basic principles? Good. Now, let’s apply them to those gangly appendages you call arms. Here are eight training tips designed specifically for building those guns.

Be Smarter With Your Exercise Selection

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In order to achieve maximum results and size in your arms, it is important to hit the full range of motion through different exercises.

To achieve this, try the 45-degree incline DB curl and the EZ bar preacher curl, one with the arm behind the body and one with the arm in front of the body. With these two variations, I like to frequently rotate and manipulate them through a training phase to maximize results and hypertrophy.

As for the triceps: to get the full range of motion you need to get the same contraction and extension, in reverse. A great way to do this is with cable pushdowns—where the elbows stay close to the body, or even slightly behind the body for a full contraction.

Another way to do this is in the stretched position, where you still use the cable, but extend the arms overhead, so your elbows are closer to your head. Before you get carried away though, remember that there is also a place for training in between these fully stretched and contracted positions (the mid-range).

As you can generally lift more load here, we recommend you spend a fair bit of your training here, as more load leads to more muscle growth. But as always: balance is key (i.e. for maximum gains, do both).

Switch Up Your Hand Positioning

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The muscles in the upper arm all need to be stimulated in order to get the best growth out of your arms. How do you do this? By manipulating your hand position.

The three positions of the hand (supinated, pronated, neutral) all must be used throughout a training phase in order to maximize results. I generally like to use two different hand positions throughout a 4-6 week training block, and then switch exercises (and also switch up the hand positions).

Bonus tip: not many people I see use the pronated position—and when I put them onto it, they see a phase of great growth.

Increasing Your Training Frequency

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A higher frequency approach can help in a few different ways:

  • More overall volume throughout the week.
  • Stimulating MPS (muscle protein synthesis) more throughout the week.
  • Repetition of movement—learning the movement better and potentially lift heavier weights. If you do arms one day a week, by the end of the workout they will be pretty exhausted- therefore you won’t be able to lift as heavy. However, if you do only a few sets a few times a week they will be fresher, allowing you to lift heavier loads, which is a big factor in hypertrophy).

Try 30 sets of arms on one day a week, then ten sets of arms three times in a week, and observe the difference.

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Also: make sure you get enough volume via sets and increase it over time. An example of this would be over 12 weeks of training, start with doing 16 sets of arms each week (16 for biceps and 16 for triceps) and by the end of the 12 weeks be doing 24 sets of arms each week. This will ensure your arms need to adapt to the stimulus placed on them and growth.

Vary Your Rep Ranges

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The old saying that you need to train between 8-12 reps to grow has been debunked. I generally vary rep ranges throughout a day, week, phase or even training block, as it has been shown generally reps from as low as four and up to thirty will result in hypertrophy (the process which builds muscle).

Just to be sure not to stick to super low reps for too long of a period—as it can cause strain on joints and tendons, so switching to high reps to rest them whilst still getting growth is a great option.

As for temp: I am not the biggest fan—but a controlled tempo, with sometimes adding things such as pauses can play as an advantageous tool to help your arms grow.

Fine Tune Your Technique

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This will be a huge factor in growing sleeve busting arms. If your technique isn’t in check, you risk injury and start to recruit other muscle groups to perform the movement, both of which slow your progress and result in smaller arms.

And as with anything you do in the gym, your technique should always be a number one priority. A good indicator of this is that your first rep and last rep are completed with the same form.

Progressive Overload

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As we touched on in the beginning, if you don’t do this, your arms won’t grow! You can hit this principle in a number of ways- whether it be through volume, weight, frequency etc. If you keep doing the same thing for your arms, they will adapt and stay the same (this may come as a shock, but your body doesn’t want you to have 20 inch arms).

This is why you need to force your body to grow and adapt to the stimulus placed on it. My favourite way to increase progressive overload for my advanced clients is by increasing the amount of weight lifted each week per exercise, while simultaneously increasing the amount of volume throughout each phase, so within a training block they are getting as much potential to grow as possible.

That’s a fair whack of info to take in. So here are the key takeaways.

  • Throughout your training, remember to rotate exercises and hand positions approximately every 4-6 weeks.
  • Increase the number of sets you train your arms over a training cycle.
  • Make technique a priority, whilst also changing rep ranges to stimulate all muscle fibers.
  • Progressively increase weight, or the number of sets (or both) throughout a training cycle—stress the body in different ways, and force it to adapt.

If you follow these principles, you can expect some sleeve busting arms (whether they arrive in 12 business days or a more leisurely 6-month sea-mail time frame is up to you and your genetics).

Liam Chenery is a coach at Fitness First Bondi Platinum.