Skip to content

Are you aiming to build up large arm muscles?

Hast Du das Ziel große Armmuskeln aufzubauen?

Are you aiming to build big arm muscles? These 5 arm training techniques are backed by science. Try these workouts on your own body!

Having muscular and defined arms is the primary goal of many exercisers, but it can sadly be a never-ending quest for many individuals.

The reason it's so hard to develop an impressive pair of upper arms is because many people don't understand that the muscles of the arms don't respond to the same training principles that you use for your legs or back.

Factors such as mechanical and metabolic stress or simply training frequency are essential for growth, but are not applied in the same way you would apply them to other muscle groups.

Within this article, we'll look at the science behind different advanced arm training techniques and look at some example workouts you can use to instantly increase the size of your arms.

The basics of building muscle

It's important to keep in mind that the arm muscles (such as the different muscle heads of the biceps and triceps alongside the forearms and shoulders) are smaller muscle groups than the muscles of the chest, back and legs.

It is often recommended to train the arms with lighter weights to take this into account, but this is not the whole truth. Although your arm training may benefit from slightly different training styles, these muscles will still respond to the same principles of overload and therefore require a sufficient amount of tension just like any other muscle group.

Progressive overload is basically a theory that says you need to increase the stress you put on a muscle over time in order to achieve consistent growth of that muscle. (1, 2)

Basically, this means that your arms will never grow unless you consistently increase the weight you use, the number of repetitions or the number of sets - or in a perfect world, all three. To use this method, you need to make sure that you consistently increase the stress you place on those muscles if you want them to grow.

Mechanical stress, metabolic stress & exercise variation

Next, it's important that you consistently increase the amount of mechanical stress you place on the muscle. Mechanical stress is basically the physical force applied to the muscle when you try to contract it against a weight.

When your muscle cells are physically stretched and contracted (by flexing and extending your limbs), many different responses are initiated within the muscle cells. These responses promote growth of the muscle to ensure that future strains of similar strength no longer pose as much of a threat. Typically, mechanical stress becomes relevant when the weight increases or the sets are performed to very close to muscle failure (3, 4, 5).

The third factor to consider is metabolic stress. Metabolic stress is basically the accumulation of metabolic by-products produced during constant muscle contractions.

Current research suggests that metabolic stress and related factors such as cellular swelling may play a central role in the increase in muscle size over time. While we know that mechanical stress is important, it is also possible that metabolic stress is also important (6, 7, 8).

Lastly, we need to consider exercise variation. Especially with the arms, many exercisers will use the same exercises day after day and then wonder why they haven't made any progress for a long time.

Just as you can get used to a specific weight, you can also get used to a specific exercise. In fact, recent research suggests that regular variation of exercises, even when these changes are minor and merely alter variables such as bar placement, grip width, foot spacing, etc., can provide a new stimulus for continued growth (9).

You can be sure that we will use each of these pillars of muscle growth in the following workouts to ensure that your arms grow in a timely and efficient manner.

Training session 1: Rest-pause

In training session 1, we will use a technique known as rest-pause. Rest-pause is an advanced training method that incorporates large amounts of mechanical and metabolic stress that allow for an amazing muscle pump while using high amounts of weight for repetition ranges you're probably not used to (10, 11).

Here's how the process works. You choose a weight on an exercise that will allow you to reach the point of muscle failure after 6 to 8 repetitions. Perform the first round until about one repetition before reaching muscle failure. Then pause for 30 seconds, take 10 deep breaths and repeat. Then repeat the whole process one more time.

Basically, you use a weight with which you would typically reach muscle failure after 6 to 8 repetitions and perform more than 12 to 15 repetitions with this weight.

The training session

Exercise

Sets

1. barbell curls

3-4

6-8*

2. tricep presses on cable pulley

3-4

10-12*

3. biceps cable curls overhead

4

12-15

4. classic biceps cable curls

4

12-15

5. barbell triceps press overhead

4

12-15

6. tricep presses on the cable with a rope grip

4

15-20

*Choose your weight. Perform the repetitions and pause for 10 deep breaths. Continue training until one repetition before reaching muscle failure & pause for another 10 deep breaths. Continue training until one repetition before reaching muscle failure. This is a rest-pause set.

Training session 2: Descending sets - done the right way

Descending sets are a technique that typically delivers large amounts of metabolic stress due to the non-existent pauses and high volume. However, traditional descending sets are a waste of time in my eyes.

The reason I believe this is because mechanical stress drops dramatically after the first set is completed. In this case, the benefits of this method can be pretty worthless as long as the reps are not brought way up with a lighter weight. (12)

Rather than starting with the normal weight and reducing the weight from there, I prefer to start with a much heavier weight and a lower repetition range for descending sets and then move to a higher volume. Although this may look like a typical descending set at first glance, here is a better explanation.

In a typical descending set, you start with an 8RM weight, perform 8 reps with it and then immediately reduce the weight to perform more reps. But what if you finished your last set with that 8RM weight?

Considering that mechanical and metabolic stress are essential, this method allows you to maximize both instead of sacrificing mechanical stress for metabolic stress.

The training session

Exercise

Sets

1. scott curls with a SZ bar

1

4-12*

2. close bench press

1

4-12*

3. tricep press on the machine

4

15-20

4. dumbbell concentration curls

4

8-10

5. alternating dumbbell curls

4

15

*Start with a 4RM weight and finish the set one repetition before reaching muscle failure, reduce the weight to a 6RM weight and perform further repetitions until one repetition before reaching muscle failure. Reduce the weight to an 8RM weight and perform further repetitions until one repetition before reaching muscle failure. Reduce the weight to a 10RM weight and perform further repetitions until one repetition before reaching muscle failure. Reduce the weight to a 12RM weight and perform further repetitions until one repetition before reaching muscle failure.

As you can see in the example above, by shifting the initial starting weight you can work in traditional weight and repetition ranges while using descending sets - this has the potential to stimulate your muscle growth to a much greater extent than a typical descending set, which would already start relatively light.

Training session 3: Restricting blood flow

Blood flow restriction (BFR) is a fairly new and popular technique that is backed by solid science. (7, 8).

Basically, depending on the movement and the body part being trained, you tie off one of your limbs at the top with a tourniquet. If you want to use blood flow restriction for biceps or triceps training, for example, you tie the tourniquet around the upper arm between the shoulder muscle and the biceps/triceps.

Restricting blood flow is an interesting technique that basically allows you to achieve a similar response to what you would see with a very heavy weight, even though you are only using 40% of your 1RM weight.

Typically, when using such a weight, you need to perform 20 to 40 repetitions or more to really stimulate muscle growth. Restricting blood flow, on the other hand, allows this response to occur more quickly.

By tying off one of your limbs, you call for a congestion of your blood in that muscle by preventing venous return or the backflow of blood to your heart. Scientific research suggests that the accumulation of metabolic products achieved by this method produces a muscle building response typically seen with much heavier training.

The training session

Note: If you are using blood flow restriction, you should band your arm at a strength of 7/10, where 10 is the pressure at which your arm falls asleep. If you lose feeling in your arm, then you have tied it too tightly. In this case, remove the pressure bandage immediately! Also make sure that you remove the pressure bandage immediately after completing the exercise. It is not advisable to leave the pressure bandage on your arm or leg for the entire duration of your training session!

Exercise

Sets

1. alternating dumbbell hammer curls

4

12

2. dips

4

Until shortly before reaching muscle failure

3 Scott curls on the machine

3

Until muscle failure*

4 Tricep presses on the cable pulley

3

To muscle failure*

*Perform this set with about 40% of your 1RM weight until muscle failure, which should occur at about 30 repetitions. Pause for 15 to 20 seconds. Perform another set with the same weight until muscle failure. Pause for 15 to 20 seconds. Perform another set with the same weight until muscle failure. Rest for 2 minutes and repeat the cycle two more times.

It is important to note that I have placed the sets with blood flow restriction further back in the training session. This is because blood flow restriction sets are extremely demanding and will fatigue the trained muscles to the maximum. I would suggest that if you plan to perform other exercises, you perform them before the sets with blood flow restriction.

Training session 4: Mega sets

Mega sets are an advanced training technique that allows for variety in training and high amounts of metabolic stress and cell swelling. The reason for this is that mega sets consist of three exercises with minimal rest.

Megasets are similar to supersets in that you perform exercises one after the other without rest, but megasets consist of 3 or more exercises instead of just 2. By performing such a high volume with minimal rest, you can generate extremely high amounts of metabolic stress, which can potentially increase your muscle mass (7, 8, 13).

The training session

Exercise

Sets

1a. Bench press with close grip

3-4

15

1b. Scullcrusher (lying tricep press) with a SZ bar

3-4

12

1c. Tricep press on cable pulley with a rope grip

3-4

20

2a. Barbell curls

3-4

8-10

2b. Alternating dumbbell curls

3-4

15-20

2c. Scott curls on the machine

3-4

12-15

3. alternating dumbbell hammer curls

4

15

4. classic biceps cable curls

4

12

5. tricep presses on the cable pulley

4

12

6. barbell tricep press overhead

4

12

Training session 5: Antagonistic sets

In traditional training, many people perform several exercises for the same muscle group one after the other. Although this may lead to a good pump, it could also mean that you are training at a lower intensity than if you were using antagonistic exercises. (14).

Antagonistic exercises involve training the opposite muscle group every other set. Basically, you will train your biceps on exercise one and your triceps on exercise two.

When using this method, one muscle group is working while the other is resting. Basically, you will be able to train each muscle group at a higher intensity than would be possible if you fatigued them with consecutive sets for the same muscle group.

The training session

Exercise

Sets

1. dips

4

Until muscle failure

2. barbell curls

4

12

3 Tricep presses on the cable

4

12

4. scott curls on the machine

4

15

5. tricep presses on the machine

4

15

6. cable curls

4

15

7. tricep presses on cable with rope grip

4

15

Summary

As you can see, there are some unique considerations for arm training that can accelerate your arm growth, such as a higher training frequency. However, other fundamental factors such as progressive overload and metabolic stress are also important and need to be considered!

If you want to put this theory into practice, give these 5 brutal workouts a shot and watch the insane progress you'll make.

References

  1. Hass, C. J., Feigenbaum, M. S., & Franklin, B. A. (2001). Prescription of resistance training for healthy populations. Sports medicine, 31(14), 953-964.
  2. Kraemer, W. J., Ratamess, N. A., & French, D. N. (2002). Resistance training for health and performance. Current sports medicine reports, 1(3), 165-171.
  3. Martineau, L. C., & Gardiner, P. F. (2001). Insight into skeletal muscle mechanotransduction: MAPK activation is quantitatively related to tension. Journal of Applied Physiology, 91(2), 693-702.
  4. Li, C., & Xu, Q. (2000). Mechanical stress-initiated signal transductions in vascular smooth muscle cells. Cellular signaling, 12(7), 435-445.
  5. Vandenburgh, H., & Kaufman, S. (1979). In vitro model for stretch-induced hypertrophy of skeletal muscle. Science, 203(4377), 265-268.
  6. Schoenfeld, B. J. (2013). Potential mechanisms for a role of metabolic stress in hypertrophic adaptations to resistance training. Sports medicine, 43(3), 179-194.
  7. Suga, T., Okita, K., Morita, N., Yokota, T., Hirabayashi, K., Horiuchi, M., ... & Tsutsui, H. (2010). Dose effect on intramuscular metabolic stress during low-intensity resistance exercise with blood flow restriction. Journal of applied physiology, 108(6), 1563-1567.
  8. Loenneke, J. P., Fahs, C. A., Rossow, L. M., Abe, T., & Bemben, M. G. (2012). The anabolic benefits of venous blood flow restriction training may be induced by muscle cell swelling. Medical hypotheses, 78(1), 151-154.
  9. Fonseca, R. M., Roschel, H., Tricoli, V., de Souza, E. O., Wilson, J. M., Laurentino, G. C., ... & Ugrinowitsch, C. (2014). Changes in exercises are more effective than in loading schemes to improve muscle strength. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 28(11), 3085-3092.
  10. Marshall, Paul WM, et al. "Acute neuromuscular and fatigue responses to the rest-pause method." Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport 15.2 (2012): 153-158.
  11. Prestes J., et al. "Strength and muscular adaptations following 6 weeks of rest pause versus traditional multiple-sets resistance training in trained subjects". Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Published Ahead of Print DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001923.
  12. Schoenfeld, B. J., Contreras, B., Vigotsky, A. D., & Peterson, M. (2016). Differential Effects of Heavy Versus Moderate Loads on Measures of Strength and Hypertrophy in Resistance-Trained Men. Journal of sports science & medicine, 15(4), 715.
  13. Schoenfeld, B. (2011). The use of specialized training techniques to maximize muscle hypertrophy. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 33(4), 60-65.
  14. Baker, D., & Newton, R. U. (2005). Acute effect on power output of alternating an agonist and antagonist muscle exercise during complex training. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 19(1), 202.

Source: https://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/5-advanced-arm-workouts-using-scientific-techniques

Previous article The definitive guide to preventing muscle loss