Skip to content

Arm training for natural bodybuilders

Armtraining für natural Bodybuilder

Some people can build huge arms regardless of how they train. They simply have the perfect genetic predispositions for massive arms...or they use tons of performance-enhancing substances and build muscle just by brushing their teeth. The steroid-free, genetically average exerciser, on the other hand, has to work a little harder and smarter to build their arms. Does this sound familiar? Then this is the guide for you.

The basics of muscle building

As part of his groundbreaking research, Brad Schoenfeld described the primary mechanisms for muscle growth. You need to understand all three of these to build really big arms.

1 - Mechanical tension

Mechanical tension is achieved by using substantial weights and performing the exercises through the full range of motion for a period of time. The time your muscles spend under tension generates mechanical tension in the muscle. The longer the time under tension, the more significant the mechanical tension.

So train heavy, use slow eccentric repetitions (negative repetitions) and get strong like a bull. The stronger you are, the greater your ability to recruit muscle fibers. And the more muscle fibers you recruit, the more muscle fibers you can fatigue and force to grow again.

2 - Metabolic stress

At this point we are talking about the pump. When you train with longer duration sets, short rests between sets and moderately heavy weights, lactic acid (lactate), hydrogen ions, creatinine and other metabolic products and waste products of muscle contractions accumulate in your muscles. As your muscles are under constant attack, the accumulated blood cannot drain away, resulting in occlusion (an accumulation of blood in the muscle).

3 - Muscle damage

You know that intense and deep-seated muscle soreness you feel when you've done squats for the first time in ages? This is muscle damage, which is often the result of a breakdown of muscle fibers and a subsequent inflammatory reaction. This can signal adaptation and stimulate the supply of regenerative resources to repair and rebuild the damaged tissue.

How do you use this information to build more muscular arms? Well, training that only focuses on mechanical tension will make you brutally strong, but won't maximize your muscle growth. This is the reason why elite level weightlifters are not as muscular as bodybuilders. If you only train for metabolic stress and/or muscle damage, then you might look 10 kilos heavier when you come out of the gym, but without a sufficient strength base you won't really get more muscular.

10 things you need to do to build big arms

1 - Build a sufficient strength base

You don't have to train like a powerlifter and always chase your max weights, but a decent strength base will help you generate enough tension and make pump training with high reps more effective. Here are a few strength levels you should aim for:

  • Bench press: 1.5 x bodyweight
  • Squats: 2 x bodyweight or front squats 1.75 x bodyweight
  • Deadlift: 2 x bodyweight
  • Pull-ups: 12 repetitions through full range of motion. (This will help you estimate your relative strength)

Also practice close grip bench presses, dips, dips on rings and overhead presses with heavy weights. Keep the close grip at around 35 centimeters or further to avoid too much stress on your wrists and elbows.

2 - Train for the pump

The ideal range for building muscle is 8 to 12 repetitions when using moderate weights. This combines mechanical tension and metabolic stress. In addition, you should occasionally intersperse sets with even higher repetitions - 15 repetitions or more. Occasionally go to absolute muscle failure to exhaust every last muscle fiber. Add unfamiliar exercises or training methods to your workouts. The goal is to cause moderate muscle damage - not to destroy your arms so badly that you can't open the car door after the workout.

3 - Vary your grip

Sticking with the same grip session after session, month after month is a mistake. This is a problem if you want to build muscular arms. Without variety, you overuse the same movements and recruitment patterns. Your arms adapt to this consistent load. A lack of variety can lead to desensitization to training stress, elbow overload syndromes and unbalanced development.

Even if you can't completely isolate a muscle within a muscle group, you can give your elbows a break from redundant movement patterns and stimulate stagnant muscle fibers. Here is a brief overview of different hand positions and how they will affect your training response.

Wide grip

A wide grip - a grip that is at least 5 centimeters wider than shoulder width - places slightly more demand on the short head (inner area) of the biceps. The short head works harder with the arms in front of your body - as is the case with Scott curls, for example.

Tight grip

A close grip - anything narrower than shoulder width - puts more strain on the long head of the biceps. As far as the grip position on a barbell is concerned, you should choose a grip that is about 5 centimeters narrower than a shoulder-width grip. Anything narrower could put undue strain on your wrists.

The long head is the primary supinator responsible for rotating your palms away from you and the key to a high biceps peak. Dumbbell incline bench curls work well as the elbows drift behind the body and put the long head of the biceps under maximum tension.

Shoulder wide grip

A shoulder wide grip puts equal stress on the short and long head of the biceps. If you always train in this range, then you would be better advised to add tighter and wider grip positions to your training for a few weeks.

Neutral grip

A neutral grip (thumbs up, palms facing each other) will work the brachialis harder, which is located underneath the biceps, contributes to the thickness of the arms and pushes the biceps upwards, making them appear larger. Exercises such as hammer curls or pinwheel curls (hammer curls across the body https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21eLS5ZNBxQ) at a slow pace work well.

Pronated grip

An overhand grip will put more stress on the brachioradialis and pack some mass onto your forearms. Training with reverse curls will stimulate growth in the forearms, which will lead to better development of the arms as a whole.

4 - Challenge your triceps hard

Quickly tighten the first muscle you think of when you hear the term arm workout. You tensed the biceps, right? Well, the biceps really only play second fiddle when it comes to pure mass. One of the best steps to building bigger arms is to spend more time training your triceps. Your triceps are made up of three separate muscle heads:

  1. Long triceps head: this is the largest of the triceps muscles, which responds well to seated French presses with a SZ bar(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yeg3nrxt22A)
  2. Lateral head of triceps: the lateral head of triceps is worked hard by exercises such as cable tricep presses or dips where your arms are on the side of your body.
  3. Middle head of the triceps: The middle head of the triceps is trained in most triceps exercises. You can specifically train the middle head of the triceps by using an underhand grip (palms facing upwards), as with cable tricep pulls.

With the anatomy of your triceps in mind, it's best to train with a selection of different exercises. Use close bench presses and dips as your basic exercises.

5 - Long limbs? Perform more isolation exercises

Longer-limbed exercisers often struggle to move heavier weights than shorter-limbed exercisers due to a greater range of motion - a mechanical disadvantage. Being tall has its advantages, but moving heavy weights is rarely one of them.

It boils down to longer lever arms. Compared to stubby-limbed exercisers, the lever arm of long-limbed exercisers is further away from the torso. Performing additional isolation training such as incline bench curls and overhead tricep presses on the cable pulley can lead to better muscle growth.

6 - Perform a horizontal pull exercise every day

Adding a horizontal pull exercise (a variation of rowing) to every training session will improve your ratio of pulling to pushing exercises and your shoulder health. It will also help you build a strong neck and add a lot of extra volume to your forearms and biceps.

You can add a rowing variation like inverse rowing to your workout to warm up your shoulders before an upper body session. On lower body days, you can add a rowing variation for extra volume at the end of the workout.

This is good practice for two reasons. First, almost everyone can use some extra horizontal pulling volume to compensate for the chronic bad posture of a rounded back that is so prevalent in our modern society. Secondly, more horizontal pulling leads to a stronger training stimulus for your biceps, brachialis and brachioradialis. Even though these muscles are only secondary muscles in rowing, the increased volume will contribute to growth in your arms - not to mention your posterior shoulder muscles, trapezius and rhomboids.

The only caveat? Keep the intensity low and vary the rowing exercise. Your body won't be happy if you're doing heavy rowing bent over to muscle failure four days a week.

7 - Control the negative repetition

One of the most common pain points among exercisers is a sore elbow. For many, this is because they approach curls as they would a deadlift max attempt and lose control of the weight on the downward movement, putting more strain on their tendons than their biceps.

Keep the actual goal in mind. When it comes to isolation training, your goal is to maximize the mind-muscle connection, get a pump and stimulate the muscles - not perform contorted biceps curls with maximum weight for a dozen Instagram followers.

Slow down the negative repetition and you'll strengthen the connective tissue that supports your sore elbows. This will protect the joints, while a slower eccentric tempo will simultaneously increase micro-traumas in the muscle fibers, stimulating new growth. Take 3 to 5 seconds for the eccentric phase and pause at the lowest point of the movement when your muscles are stretched (maintaining tension in the muscle).

8 - Make a REAL effort to grow

We all know those 60 kilo guys (or those 45 kilo gals) who work out tirelessly in the gym, but despite regular arm training can't even fill out the sleeves of a size S t-shirt.

The reason for this? These exercisers need to become more muscular overall. If you want to grow any muscle, you need to focus on building muscle from head to toe and increasing your body weight. You need to maintain a caloric surplus and overload all large muscles. This will stimulate the muscle growth you want on your arms and everywhere else.

9 - Use brutal compound sets

If your growth is stagnating, then add compound sets to your training. Compound sets (which should not be confused with supersets, which train opposite muscle groups), pair two exercises together that work the same muscles and are performed without rest between exercises.

Here's an example:

  • Pull-ups with close grip: 6-8 repetitions
  • Dumbbell incline bench curls: 10-12 repetitions
  • 60 seconds rest and then two more reps

Compound sets generate an intense amount of metabolic stress. Because there are only short rests, the muscle does not have enough time to remove all the lactate, which stimulates the release of growth hormones and other anabolic growth factors. The second exercise of the compound set recruits muscle fibers that were not recruited during the first set. By recruiting more muscle fibers, you will stimulate another growth stimulus as long as your recovery is sufficient.

10 - Add more variety

When it comes to isolation training, adding more variety to your workouts may be just what your doctor ordered for rapid growth of stubborn muscles. If your body is not used to an exercise, then your muscles will be more ineffective and fatigue faster. This leads to more metabolic stress, which will result in the recruitment of dormant muscle fibers and an increased training response. Here are two options:

Isometric training

When it comes to hypertrophy, isometric training recruits the largest motor units and improves neural drive, which will help you feel maximum tension in the muscle. This will not only increase your strength at the angle at which you perform the isometric hold, but also improve your mind-muscle connection based on the maximal conscious contraction.

Descending sets

Descending sets work by first recruiting as many muscle fibers as possible and then challenging them with a high volume until they swell, giving you a huge pump and the stimulation you need for new growth. To do this, reduce the weight by 20 to 30% after a heavier set and perform as many repetitions as possible. If you are a real masochist, reduce the weight again by 20 to 30% and perform as many repetitions as possible.

Bonus: Give yourself a break!

Have you been training your arms several times a week for months or years without a break and without making any real progress? Remember that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Try this instead: Do no direct arm training for 4 to 6 weeks and then annihilate your arms for 4 to 6 weeks with a higher volume approach while reducing volume in other muscle groups.

If you're training non-stop but still not getting results, then your body has been desensitized to the stimulus you're exposing it to or you're not allowing yourself enough time to recover.

Source: https://www.t-nation.com/training/arm-training-for-natural-lifters

By Eric Bach

Previous article The definitive guide to preventing muscle loss