MUSCULAR ARMS – TWO THINGS A REAL TOUGH GUY MUST HAVE-
ADAM ‘JABI’ JABLONSKI
A pair of guns hanging off the shoulders – a dream of every male gym goer. However, you should remember that the arms are not only biceps, but also triceps which account for nearly 2/3 of their size. Why are “big guns” the Holy Grail of every bodybuilder? Everyone wants to have it, but not everyone knows how to get it. And what does the arm workout mean for you? Do you like it and find it necessary? I simply love to exercise this muscle group. Given the experience accumulated over time, today, as a bodybuilder competing in bodybuilding competitions, I must say that my approach to biceps and triceps workout has changed a lot. Below you will find a set of exercises for building guns of steel – powerful and rock-hard arms.
Steel-cord arms, also known as “guns” to gym goers, are a must-have for every bodybuilder. Whether you are wearing a T-shirt, elegant shirt or sleeveless, strong arms will stand out a mile. The arms are the first thing to be noticed by other gym goers and used to judge their fellow bodybuilders in the same manner as models are judges on a casting for a photo shoot. Who wouldn’t like to have powerful biceps and triceps like Arnold Schwarzenegger during his glory days? As far as I am concerned, I don’t aspire to be original and to say that I prefer exercising legs to exercising arms. An “arm” workout day is one of my favourite days during the week.
I am one of the hot heads who love exercising their biceps together with their triceps. That’s why I exercise the arms in one workout session. This gives me greater strength potential and I am able to better target the muscles which work antagonistically. Since the triceps extend the arms, and the biceps curl the arms, then why not combine these movements in one workout session? Of course, my workout plan for the arms changes during the year. I change not only single exercises, number of sets and scope of reps in each set, but also the way to perform them. At one time, I do biceps and triceps exercises alternatively, and at another time I combine them into super sets. Different workout methods help to derive different benefits, depending on the workout cycle. During the mass building period I try to do the weaker muscle group first, and the stronger muscle group second. On the other hand, during the mass reduction period, each set of bicep reps is immediately followed by another set of triceps reps or the other way round so as to intensify the physical work. Sometimes it is undoubtedly worth breaking your routine and include super sets also during the mass building cycle.
Workout is one thing, but sometimes our genetic build-up cannot be beaten. I’ve never had any problems with my triceps, but I’ve always had to work extra hard on my biceps. I struggle all the time to add size and roundness to my biceps, and to achieve their desirable shape. As a result of changes in my workout plan and approach to bicep exercises I can slowly see some progress, and therefore I think I’m on the right track. Unlike other muscle groups, which require as many as up to 20 sets, arm workout can be done really fast. The biceps and triceps are not large muscles compared to e.g. legs or back, thus it’s sufficient to do 3 exercises of 4 sets or 4 exercises of 3 sets. Even if you’re in a hurry, you can have a good arm workout composed of alternative super sets of exercises for the biceps and triceps. This gives a great muscle pump so that it is difficult to put on a T-shirt when leaving the gym, and the only way of preparing a post-workout shake is to make it in a mixer at home. Additionally, you don’t have to be afraid that on your way home you will get a citation for talking on the phone – you won’t be able to keep it up.
1. DUMBBELL SUPINATING BICEPS CURLS
This bicep exercise can be performed both at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of the workout session. I like this exercise very much because – when properly performed – it is perfect for achieving peak concentration in the biceps, taking advantage of the full range of motion. For me, this is a good mass building exercise, and with adequate “muscle feel” – also for roundness of the biceps. This is my favourite bicep exercise with dumbbells.
How to do it:
In the initial phase, keep the dumbbells in extended hands, with the arms at the hips, elbows close to the body and thumbs turned towards each other. Breathing out, make your forearm curl and lift the weight, at the same time doing a wrist half-turn to the outside and trying to tense the bicep. Next, lower the dumbbell to the starting position, while breathing out, and then exercise the other arm.
During the concentric phase do not stick your elbows to the front, and turn the wrists smoothly while lifting the weight. During the eccentric phase try not to extend the arm in the elbow joint so as to maintain the muscle tension of the biceps. One of the most frequent errors with this exercise, which I used to make myself, is using excessive weight and sticking the elbows to the front which limits the range of motion of the biceps.
2. STRAIGHT BAR BICEPS CURLS
This is one of the essential bicep exercises in which you can use slightly greater weights, and therefore it should be started after a warm-up. Barbell forearm curls are perfect as the second exercise during bicep workout. After the muscles are warmed up and pumped up with blood, you can take on a barbell to work them really hard.
How to do it:
While standing with your legs slightly spread, grab the barbell with a slightly wider grip, keeping your elbows close to the torso and arms fully extended. Breathing in, raise slowly the arms until you achieve a peak concentration in the biceps, and then breathing out, lower the barbell, monitoring the movement at all times. The concentric phase should be ended with full extension of the biceps, however, avoiding overextension of the elbow joints.
Of course, as with any other exercise, it is important to have good technique and choose proper weight. Excessive weight may lead to torso swinging. Cheated movements are only acceptable in the last 1–2 reps, but these movements are recommended only during the mass building period, when your muscles need exceptionally strong workout impulses.
3. INCLINE BENCH DUMBBELL BICEPS CURLS
This is a rather unpopular exercise for the biceps as you can’t use large weights to command respect among your fellow gym-goers. However, you should remember that you perform bodybuilding exercises for yourself and sometimes reduced weight combined with a complete isolation of the muscle helps to achieve much better results than struggling with huge dumbbells or barbells. This exercise targets arm muscles located under the biceps which adds visually to the circumference of the arm, and that’s why they should be included in the workout plan both in the mass building and reducing periods.
How to do it:
Sit on a diagonal bench and put its backrest at an angle slightly greater than 40°. Grab the dumbbells with your arms hanging down at your sides, forearms pulled to the sides of the torso which should be kept on the bench at all times. Closely monitoring the movement, raise the dumbbells slowly, while achieving a short peak concentration of the biceps at the end of the concentric phase. Lower the dumbbells very slowly until full extension of the biceps and avoid any overextension.
If you put on too much weight, you won’t be able to do the exercise properly. It’s better to take smaller dumbbells and feel the biceps working, while trying to perform the movement with surgical precision and very slowly.
4. Standing hammer curls
This exercise can be performed by raising the dumbbells or by moving them up and at the same time to the side – try to touch the middle of the right pec with the dumbbell held in the left hand and the other way round. Both exercises target mostly short heads of the biceps, located on the outside of the arm.
How to do it:
Stand upright with the dumbbells hanging down at both sides of the body, holding them with a neutral grip which should be maintained through the full range of motion. Slowly raise the weight with one hand, while monitoring tension of the biceps, and then lower it gradually.
In popular hammer curls, it is important to feel your muscles working and not to jounce the weight upwards. To perform this exercise with a greater weight, e.g. during mass building workout, we can use an exercise bench for support. This prevents cheating your weights up and helps to isolate and perfectly hit the biceps.
1. TRICEPS CABLE PUSH- DOWN
This exercise is a very good warm-up for elbow joints and triceps, and next for working your muscles really hard. It is also perfect for use at the end of your workout because it isolates the triceps, especially their short lateral heads. As a result you can hit all three heads of the triceps with a good peak contraction.
How to do it:
Stand in front of the cable crossover, blocking the lumbo-sacral section of the spine, and stick out the chest. Grab the cable with a neutral grip using both hands, pull it down, while controlling the movement at all times and keeping the elbows in one position close to the body until you achieve full muscle tension. At the end of the movement you can stretch the cable while moving each hand to the side so as to hit and finish off the short heads of the triceps.
Remember to use adequate weight and maintain constant tension of the cable. The cable must move smoothly, without any sudden pulls.
2. TRICEPS DIPS
This exercise can be used as a warm-up at the beginning of your workout or to “finish off” at the end to pump you muscles as much as possible. If you are able to do 3 sets of 15–20 reps without the assistance of a training partner, then it’s a really good result. You may also chain up additional weights to the belt so as to target your triceps with a reduced number of reps. This exercise is suitable throughout the year.
How to do it:
The procedure is simple, but you need to remember a few important details – grab the railings with a neutral grip, do not lean forward as otherwise the workout will mostly target the shoulders and chest muscles. Lower the weight at 90 degrees to the floor, until the triceps in your arm are fully stretched, while your feet should not touch the floor. In the concentric phase lift the weight until the triceps are fully extended and tense.
You should control the full range of motion and avoid swinging your body. This exercise should be performed while wearing gloves or workout grips, e.g. TREC GRIPS.
3. CLOSE GRIP BARBELL BENCH PRESS
This exercise may seem to be simple. You might think it’s enough to get a narrow grip on the barbell and perform some barbell curls. Nothing could be further from the truth. You must remember to control the movement so that your triceps do most of the work. Elbows must be kept narrow and close to the body through the full range of motion. Many bodybuilders fail to follow this rule and keep their elbows in the same manner as during regular chest barbell press, and they are surprised that such workout doesn’t target their triceps.
How to do it:
This exercise is quite similar to barbell chest workout. Lie down on the bench, dismount the bar from the rack which can be put slightly higher this time. Hold it in the starting position with fully extended arms over the middle of your chest and lower it slowly. Remember to keep your elbows close to the body. The motion is in the opposite direction in the concentric phase. You should avoid overextending and blocking the arms in the elbow joint. Thus, the triceps will be tense through the full range of motion.
Remember to properly keep your elbows and control the weight all the time. This is not about breaking a weight-lifting record, but about having good technique and targeting your triceps.
4. EZ BAR FRENCH PRESS
French press is one of the most effective triceps workout exercises, which also involves a serious risk of injury. This is mostly because of the excessive weight compared to our technical potential and strength. Many young bodybuilders start their triceps workout from French press and without proper warm-up, as “you need heavy weights to develop your triceps”. This is true, however, should the same weight be used by beginners and bodybuilders with many years of training experience? I don’t think so! In this exercise the weight should be such that you will be able to do the first set of 12 technical reps without cheating the weights up.
How to do it:
Lay down on the bench with narrow overhand grip on the barbell and pick it up off the rack. With the barbell positioned over the head, lower it slowly to the forehead with arms held fixed at 90 degrees to the floor. You should move only your forearms by bending the elbows. Remember that both the eccentric and concentric phases should be done slowly, and the elbows must not go wide apart.
EZ bar French press is a difficult exercise and as such it should always be performed with a training partner (a spotter). Not only will he help you lift off the bar from the racked position, but he will also provide assistance if you run out of energy and catch the weight to prevent an injury. As a result you will be able to concentrate on doing the exercise correctly.
ADAM ‘JABI’ JABLONSKI