10 Tips on How to Get Big Arms
Plus 4 Sample Arm Workouts
So you want to get big arms?
Everyone into bodybuilding and most people into weightlifting want big arms … or at least bigger arms … or at least more toned and defined arms. Which leads to the first point to discuss, and that is, what are your arm development goals?
Big arms aren’t the be-all and end-all. I’d rather have muscular and defined arms than just flat-out monster kettlebell-looking arms. Maybe you’re different.
The starting point with getting big arms is …
Determining your CURRENT arm goal.
Don’t worry, your arm goal will change repeatedly. The following are several arm goals to shoot for:
- Adding mass/size
- Adding definition
- Bigger biceps
- Bigger triceps
- Refining a particular part of the triceps and/or biceps
- Getting stronger arms
- Getting rid of arm-fat (especially the triceps area / under the arm)
- Developing a particular appearance on your arms such as the tricep horseshoe, bicep vein, bicep bulge, upper bicep definition, etc.
For example, at the time I’m writing this article, I’m in a cutting cycle. This means I’m dropping some fat and working on adding some definition to my arms.
What do you want to achieve RIGHT NOW?
Once you have your objective, you can design an arm workout to achieve that goal.
Since this article’s title starts with “how to get big arms” I’ll start with addressing that issue.
How to Get Big Arms
By big arms, I’m referring to adding mass and size to the entire upper arm – both biceps and triceps.
The following are techniques followed by a couple suggested workouts for both biceps and triceps to achieve bigger arms.
Key Techniques for Getting Bigger Arms
1. Working out all parts of the biceps and triceps
One mistake many weightlifters make is failing to workout all parts of a muscle. One reason compound lifts are popular is they work several muscles and are very effective. However, I’m a believer in incorporating isolation lifts/exercises in most workout programs so that you can also workout particular parts of muscles.
Yes, there is probably no better bicep exercise than the barbell curl. Yes, close-grip bench presses and dips are outstanding for building big triceps. But, you can improve your arm development by incorporating some isolation exercises.
For arms, I love incorporating cable exercises. Why? Because cable exercises maintain tension and resistance throughout the entire movement. Moreover, you can target different parts of your biceps and triceps very well with cable exercises.
- My favorite cable bicep exercise: Cable preacher curls
- My favorite cable tricep exercise: Behind the head flat-bar cable extensions (like DB behind the head lifts, except you use the cable with a straight bar).
Unless you’re doing a powerlifting routine or a compound-only exercise routine, create arm workouts that hit all parts of your arms.
See below for some sample bicep and tricep exercises that hit all parts of both muscles.
2. Compound Exercises
Compound exercises are those that use multiple muscles to perform a lift via stabilization effort and directly in order to lift the weight.
There aren’t compound exercises for arms to the degree that there are for chest (i.e. bench press) and legs (i.e. squats). No bicep curl or tricep extension is going to to workout as many muscles as hard as a bench press or squat or deadlift.
The best compound exercise for biceps is the barbell curl. It targets much of your bicep … but that’s about it.
Tricep exercises offer bigger compound options such as close-grip bench press (I like extending my elbows wide) and dips. Both of these muscles require the use of several muscles to stabilize the lift and to actually perform the lift. After all, a close-grip bench press isn’t too far off of a regular bench press. Dips workout triceps, chest, shoulders and back.
It’s good to include one compound exercise in a bicep and tricep workout.
3. Isolation Exercises
Isolation exercises don’t tire you out nearly as much as compound lifts. However, they’re excellent for micro-targeting muscles.
It’s hard to beat a cable preacher curl for bicep burn. There are 2 reasons for this:
- The cable aspect maintains tension throughout the curl; and
- It’s really hard to cheat.
If you want defined biceps and triceps, you need to incorporate isolation exercises that target specific parts of each muscle.
4. Arm Blasts
Arm blasts, or muscle blasts, are second workouts for a particular muscle during a workout routine split.
If your biceps and/or triceps are lagging compared to other muscles, consider including arm blast workouts to the split.
The “blasts” workouts are slightly lighter than the main workouts by containing slightly fewer sets (usually 8 to 10 sets instead of 9 to 15 sets).
Incorporating blasts only really works if you’re doing a 4, 5 or 6 day split. The reason for this is you must have more than enough days within your workout cycle to fit in the second workout without working the muscles out 2 days in a row.
A sample bicep blast scheduling could be as follows:
Day 1: Chest / Hamstrings
Day 2: Shoulders / Biceps
Day 3: Quads / Calves / Abs
Day 4: Back / Triceps
Day 5: Chest Blast / Biceps Blast / Abs
5. Proper Lifting Form (even if it means less weight)
I remember when I started weightlifting that I wanted to look like a tough guy in the gym. I was 5′ 6″ and 160 pounds. I was a skinny 15 year old among hulks. What I didn’t realize is that even loading the weights and cheating with my lifts I still lifted nothing compared to the hulks.
My ego cost me in arm size. Fortunately I grew wiser rather quickly and switched to focusing on proper form, which meant lifting less weight. In some cases, lifting much less weight.
Bicep curls are one of those exercises where you can cheat a lot. You can swing arch your back and swing your arms which results in momentum and your back lifting the weight; not your biceps. What’s the point? There is no point. It’s a waste of time.
You’re better off curling 30 pound barbells with correct form than swinging 80 pound barbells up and down.
Be sure on curl moves to bring the weight all the way down so your arm is straight.
6. Proper lifting tips:
Do full range of motion. For example, for bicep curls, bring your arm to the straight-position. Many people cheat by not letting the weight down fully. Some exercises are designed to move the weight partially; however, this is the exception rather than the rule.
That said, if you’re at the end of the set, it’s good to squeeze off a cheat-rep than stopping. It does work out your muscle, just not as much as lifting the full movement.
Don’t rest in between reps. Obviously if you’re at the end of a set, you might pause before that last rep; however, as much as you can avoid rest in between reps. You want to maintain load as much as possible.
Don’t drop the weight. Retain control while returning the weight after the lifting portion. this maintains resistance on the non-lift/push part of the movement.
Maintain a consistent speed while lifting and returning the weight. An exception is if you’re doing different-cadence reps such as negative reps, explosive reps, etc.
7. Focus on your targeted muscle during the entire lift
Bodybuilding and weight training is as much of a head game as a physical pursuit. If you develop focus and are able to mentally focus on the muscles you’re working out, you’ll work out those muscles better. When you mentally focus on the muscles you’re targeting, you’ll work out those muscles much better. Arms are no exception. In fact, for biceps, it’s critically important due to the easy-cheat factor.
Seriously, if you’re having trouble building up your arms, it could be as simple as you’re trying to lift too much weight. Drop the weight, focus on your arms, and lift with correct form.
8. Don’t ignore other muscles
Don’t be one of those lifters who works out your biceps and chest only. We’ve all skipped a quad workout and maybe a back workout now and then. However, it’s a bad habit and one you don’t want to get into.
It’s imperative in the long run that you work out all of your muscles equally. Sure, you’ll incorporate specific muscle blasts to accelerate under-developed muscles; however, in the long run you want to work out all of your muscles.
The fact is if you over-develop a muscle or two excessively, you’ll not only have a skewed appearance, but you’ll overcompensate for your lifts. For example, I have strong triceps. If I’m not careful (i.e. not focusing on my chest), I can use too much of my triceps for chest press movements.
You don’t want to have 2 or 3 muscles that end up doing the bulk of the lifting. You’ll aggravate your skewed appearance and overcompensation while lifting.
9. Progressive Loading
Progressive loading isn’t adding more weight with each set during a workout.
Instead, it’s adding weight to the same set during future workouts. It’s progressively adding weight over weeks and months. You won’t necessarily add weight every week, but you do want to increase the load over time so that you continue maximizing load to your muscles.
Most people workout with progressive loading naturally. After all, we naturally want to push / pull more weight so we increase the weight when we can. I did this automatically ever before I knew there was a term for it.
That said, some people go to the gym week-in and week-out doing the same exercises, the same number of sets, the same reps and the same weight for months and perhaps years. When there’s no growth or progress, they wonder why. Well, it’s not hard to figure out that they’re muscles stopped working a long time ago.
10. Eating Right
I’m not going to beat this dead horse, but it’s worth mentioning. Eat right or you won’t build big muscles. Period.
Here’s the deal. Some people are amazing at sticking with difficult-to-follow diets. Some people are terrible. It’s not easy eating 6 meals a day with 30 to 40 grams of protein at each meal. I don’t manage that every day. It’s tough.
So, aim for perfection, but if good is what you achieve, that’s better than not bothering at all. If you can manage eating perfectly for bodybuilding, you’ll achieve gains and desired results that much faster. My point is don’t ignore eating right just because you don’t think you can do it perfectly according to the bodybuilding nutrition literature you read. It’s tough. In many cases in life, good enough is better than nothing. Perfection is the enemy of the good.
I don’t eat perfectly, yet I do pretty well … well enough that I make solid gains and make the entire enterprise worth doing.
Arm Workout FAQ
How often should you work out your arms each week?
It depends on the type of workout you’re doing.
If you’re doing full body workouts or 2-day splits where you do 4 to 6 sets per muscle, you can work out your arms 2 to 3 times per week.
If you’re doing split routines where you hit each muscle with 9 to 15 sets per workout, 1 to 2 times per week … and that second workout should be a little lighter (i.e. a muscle blast).
Is it okay to work out biceps and triceps on the same day?
You bet. I like working out both biceps and triceps on the same day. But you don’t have have.
Generally, I pair chest with biceps and back with triceps. Or I pair legs with biceps or triceps.
The reason for this is chest works out triceps, so I prefer separating them. Same thing with back … it works out biceps.
That said, pairing chest with triceps and back with biceps can be a strategic workout pairing that can work well also.
At the end of the day, there are no real rules with pairing arms for workout splits.
Your Resources Dictate Your Arm Workouts
If you do bodyweight exercises only, you’re at a disadvantage for building big arms compared to someone who goes to a gym.
You can increase arm size and define your arms with bodyweight exercises, but you are limited. You simply aren’t going to gain in size and definition that you can using weights.
Moreover, if you have a limited home gym, you’re somewhat at a disadvantage. That said, one barbell and some dumbbells will do the job. I love incorporating cable exercises, but it’s not absolutely necessary.
Two Sample Bicep Workouts (1 regular and 1 bicep blast)
1. Regular (Main) Bicep Workout
- BB Curls (Normal Grip): 2 x 12, 2 x 10
- Seated DB Curls (palms facing forward and hands wider than elbows): 3 x 10
- Preacher Cable Curls (narrow grip): 2 x 12, 2 x 8
2. Bicep Blast
- Alternating DB Curls: 2 x 12, 1 x 10
- Incline Seated DB Curls (palms facing forward): 3 x 10
- Face-Down Incline Bench Hanging Arm DB Curls: 3 x 10
Two Sample Tricep Workouts (1 regular and 1 tricep blast)
1. Regular (Main) Tricep Workout
- Reverse Grip Cable Press Downs: 2 x 12, 2 x 10
- Close Grip Bench Press with Elbows Extended Out: 3 x 10
- Behind-the-Head Cable Tricep Extensions: 2 x 12, 2 x 8
2. Tricep Blast
- Lying Down BB Tricep Extensions (Skull Crushers): 3 x 10
- Regular Cable Press Downs (narrow grip): 3 x 10
- Kickbacks: 3 x 10
Note: Only incorporate the blasts if you’re doing a 4, 5 or 6 day split. Be sure to space the main and blast workouts by 3 days.
For more information checkout Old School Arm Building Secrets.