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Mountain Dog Arm Training

Mountain Dog Armtraining

I think it was Bertil Fox who once mentioned that his upper arms had a circumference of 16 inches (40.6 cm) when he was 16 years old, 17 inches (43.2 cm) when he was 17 years old and 18 inches (45.7 cm) when he was 18 years old. From then on, I can't remember how his growth continued, but I can still remember my growth.

Using Bertil's accomplishments as goals, I was able to duplicate his successes until I too had an arm circumference of 18 inches at age 18 before finally reaching a plateau.

I was somewhat surprised by this plateau.

Up until that point, all I had to do was keep increasing the weight on curls and use progressive resistance. I had worked my way up to 35 kilo dumbbell curls, 85 kilo barbell curls and dips between two benches with seven 20 kilo discs stacked on my lap until my gains finally came to a halt. So how do you turn a well-developed arm into the arm of a real freak? In a strange fit of "luck", my elbows became inflamed due to my continued attempts to increase my training weights. This forced me to train with lighter weights and think about the muscles I wanted to train.

It worked and I eventually reached 19 inches (48.2 cm).

The highest I felt at the time was 20 inches (50.8 cm) of upper arms. I eventually made it, but it took a few more years of using lighter weights and better form, being more creative in my approach. I'm happy to say that my arms eventually reached 21 inches (53.3 cm), which reflects where I am today. Even though I don't train my biceps as often these days, as they are slightly ahead of my triceps in their development, I want to show you some of the things that have helped me take my biceps from 18 to 21 inches. Based on the feedback I've received, I suspect many of you have reached a plateau in your arm development, so I hope the following ideas will be as productive for you as they have been for me.

Key concepts

Arm training is all about the following:

  1. Train biceps and triceps together - maximize the pump
  2. The exercise sequence
  3. Controlled eccentric repetitions and powerful contractions
  4. Short rests between sets

Here are the reasons why each of these points is important:

Train biceps and triceps together

There's just something special about getting the maximum pump your arms are capable of. You won't find a better way to achieve this than by training biceps and triceps together.

  • You can alternate a set for the biceps with a set for the triceps. For example, perform a set of curls followed by a set of tricep presses. Use this type of exercise rotation throughout your training session.
  • You can alternate exercises for the muscle groups, e.g. you can do 4 sets of seated dumbbell curls followed by 4 sets of dips on a bench, etc.
  • You can also do a straight line workout where you do all your bicep training first and then all your tricep training.

I prefer to use a combination of the above, but if I had to pick a favorite variation, it would be alternating one set for biceps and one set for triceps.

Exercise sequence - biceps

Train your brachialis first

Pay respect to the brachialis - the forgotten muscle! Make this often overlooked muscle, located between the biceps and triceps, a priority! I refer to this muscle as the "Lee Priest" muscle because his brachialis was so prominent.

One of the things you learn about bodybuilding is that a lot of it is about creating an illusion. Training your brachialis is a great way to help build a massive arm, as the brachialis, when well developed, will push your biceps and triceps further apart, making your arm appear wider.

There are a number of different exercises you can use to train your brachialis.

  1. Cross body hammer curls (my favorite) (
  2. Regular hammer curls (a close second)
  3. SZ curls or barbell curls with reverse grip (very good)
  4. Hammer curls with a cable grip on the cable pulley (use sparingly)

I want you to start your workouts with one of the above exercises - preferably one of the first two.

Here's another key point: grip the dumbbell as tightly as possible throughout the repetition. I got this tip for arm development from Jim Seitzer back when he was assisting Mike Francois. Jim told me that this is crucial to avoiding a rut in arm training, but as with so many training tips of this nature, he couldn't explain why.

Train your lower biceps second

Imagine someone like Vince Taylor who has full lower biceps that extend to his elbow and I can guarantee you that person's arms look monstrous. I'm not saying that you can isolate the lower biceps from the rest of the biceps during curls. However, I am saying that there are exercises that, if performed correctly, will definitely pump blood to that area and work that area much harder.

Scott curls, for example, have always been one of the favorite exercises of the greatest bodybuilders of all time like Larry Scott, the king of full, long biceps.

Here are some options:

  1. Scott curls with dumbbell, barbell or SZ bar
  2. Any form of hammer curl where you fully extend the arm at the lowest point of the movement
  3. Machine curls with the arms resting on a pad (different angles are possible)

I don't like to start my workouts with these exercises as these are exercises that are designed to be performed with a pumped up arm.

A big part of my program design is sequencing the exercises in a way that allows you to stay healthy so that you can train with weights long term. I don't think it's safe to start with a heavy variation of scott curls (especially with a barbell or SZ bar) if your biceps aren't already at least halfway pumped up. I've seen a few people tear their biceps because they did these exercises at the beginning of their bicep training. It was not a pretty sight. These exercises tie in well with the variations of hammer curls I listed above, as these exercises also engage the lower biceps when using a full range of motion. It simply makes sense to start with hammer curls to focus on the brachialis and warm up the lower biceps before pushing them to the max with the following exercise.

Train basic exercises such as barbell and dumbbell curls last

Basic exercises such as heavy barbell curls are like heavy bench presses for the chest: they are best performed when the muscle is pumped full of blood and less prone to strains and muscle tears. The target muscle will most likely give up first in this sequence - not ligaments or tendons.

Now that your arms are fully pumped from top to bottom, it's time to unleash the power of the basic exercises on them. To make this even harder, you should perform these exercises with 3-second negative repetitions.

Use as heavy weights as you like as long as the form of the exercise execution is flawless.

Exercise sequence - triceps

Train your triceps first with a variation of the cable tricep press.
Trainees often complain that lying tricep presses aka skullcrushers and other exercises of this type ruin their elbows. I know this because it has happened to me too. That's why you should always start your tricep training with a variation of the cable tricep press - tricep presses with a rope grip are best - and pump blood into this area.

By warming up and pumping blood to your triceps and elbows, you should be able to perform exercises such as lying tricep presses later in your training session without the accompanying pain that is so common.

Continue your training with a variation of dips

You can also do these as your first exercise, although I prefer to have some blood in my triceps before I bombard my triceps with different variations of dips. I like to use heavy weights with these exercises, so for safety and injury prevention reasons it's probably a good idea to perform these exercises as the second exercise in the program.

Finish your tricep workout with stretching exercises

Up to this point, all of your exercises have been about contracting hard and moving heavy weights. Now that your arms are shaky, it's time to move on to the knockout. At this point, exercises such as lying tricep presses are ideal. Apart from keeping the joints healthy, it's good to finish the workout with an exercise that stretches the target muscles.

There are many different variations of tricep exercises with a stretch that you could have in your arsenal:

  1. Lying tricep presses / Skullcrushers with a SZ bar on the incline bench
  2. L-extensions (

Controlled eccentric repetitions and powerful contractions

If you've read my previous articles, you'll know that I'm a big fan of three-second negative reps. Let's take a look at how you can incorporate these techniques into your bicep training.

Use three-second negative reps for biceps

Three-second negative reps work better for certain exercises than others, depending on the muscle group. For biceps, they work for almost every exercise. Here are some general guidelines for using this technique in your bicep workout. Don't overdo them! As you know, the eccentric part of the movement is the part during which much of the muscle damage occurs. Combine this with the fact that the biceps are a small muscle group and you have a perfect recipe for overtraining if you use this technique on all sets. I therefore recommend using the three second negative reps on only one exercise (3 to 4 sets) or only one set per exercise (still only 3 to 4 sets). My personal favorite is to use this technique on a basic exercise like barbell or dumbbell curls at the end of the workout when I already have a strong bicep pump. You won't be able to use as much weight as usual in this case, but you'll feel this exercise like never before.

Use heavy negative repetitions on the dips machine for triceps

I love performing this exercise variation. It's a great, safe way to overload your triceps with heavy weights.

Use deliberate, powerful contractions

For some muscle groups and exercises, I like constant tension, rest-pause, etc. When it comes to biceps and triceps, I think a lot of the work done should involve a powerful, deliberate contraction at the end of each repetition. Try to use this technique more at the beginning and middle of your biceps workout and at the beginning of your triceps workout. The hard contraction will pump blood into the muscles and further enhance the effect of the three second negative repetitions or the heavy negative repetitions that will follow later.

Intuitively, I believe this technique works better with repetition ranges of 6 to 8 rather than say 12 to 15 repetitions. This is similar to performing concentration curls with a really light dumbbell - you can feel a contraction, but not a "hard" contraction. It's also important that you don't sacrifice the correct form of the exercise for heavier weights.

For the biceps, incline bench concentration curls ( are a good exercise in which you can consciously contract your biceps to the maximum at the highest point of the movement. For triceps, all variations of the tricep press on the cable pulley work extremely well when it comes to strong, powerful contractions.

Short rest intervals

I really don't see the value in taking long breaks between sets for small muscle groups. If you're completely knackered after 8 reps of barbell curls and threaten to pass out, then your fitness is just a joke. If you do some research, you'll find many studies showing increased hypertrophy from short rest intervals.

Here are some of the benefits of short rest intervals:

  • Increased intensity: shorter rest intervals are an easy way to increase training intensity.
  • Increased blood flow: Shorter rest intervals will help you achieve a stronger pump.

I know this is a controversial topic as many believe that the pump is overrated. I disagree with this. Over the years I have achieved the best arm training results when I have also achieved the best pump. I'm sure that proper nutrition, pre and intra-workout supplementation and other factors also play a very big role, but I'm convinced that short rest intervals in arm training will pump up your arms tremendously if you use good form and a controllable weight.

How long should these intervals be? Here are a few things you should try:

  1. 10 second pauses. Use these occasionally in your arm workouts. For example, perform 4 sets of 8 reps of SZ curls with a 10 second rest between sets. It won't take much weight to completely destroy your biceps. This technique is best for shocking your muscles.
  2. 30 second rests. This is the pause interval I usually use during competition preparation. 30 seconds is enough time to recover for your next set, but it's not so long that you lose focus. If you alternate between biceps and triceps exercises, the timing should work itself out. Simply switch back and forth between the exercises and perform your sets.
  3. 45 second rests. This is the standard time I use between sets for the arms during the off-season. I see no reason to use longer rests in any arm workout.

Note: I don't sit down and stop my rest times and neither should you after you've done a few workouts and gotten used to a tighter pace. It's called autoregulation - and it works.

Training volume

The volume for biceps and triceps is lower than for larger muscle groups such as legs and back. With these intensity techniques, a higher number of sets is simply not necessary. As with all muscle groups, I would gradually increase the volume for the arms, train at this volume for six weeks or so and then reduce the volume again. The intensity doesn't change, but the difference in volume provides a built-in periodization.

My 12 week program for arms looks like this:

  • Phase 1: - Weeks 1-3: Use a medium volume approach. The total number of sets ranges from 6 to 8 for biceps and 8 to 10 for triceps. Concentrate on two or maybe three exercises.
  • Phase 2 - Week 4-9: Use a high volume approach. Now we start to increase the volume each week. Your body will adapt to the intensity with which you challenge it, so over the course of six weeks, we'll throw it off balance by increasing the total volume and total tonnage. The total number of sets will typically range from 9 to 12 for biceps and 12 to 16 for triceps, with more high-intensity sets added each week. Typically we use three to four exercises. You will work very hard for 6 weeks during this phase.
  • Phase 3 - Weeks 10-12: Use a low to moderate volume approach. Sets will range from 4 to 6 sets for biceps and triceps. The overall volume is now lower in terms of the number of sets, but the sets you perform will be the hardest sets you have ever performed in your life. We generally use two exercises during this phase.
  • Unload phase - 2 weeks: As with any hard program, there is an unloading phase that will benefit you in the long run by alleviating the cumulative neural fatigue that accompanies high-intensity training. Everyone is different. I've had people who have scheduled a de-loading phase after just 6 weeks, while others have trained at an insane intensity for over 30 weeks and still made steady progress. In general, I would recommend two weeks of light training after 12 brutal weeks.

Example training sessions

Let's take a look at two example workouts.
Here is a typical arm workout from Phase I of my program.
This phase consists of 8 sets for biceps and 10 sets for triceps. Pause for 30 seconds between sets for all exercises.

  • Cross body hammer curls: 3 sets of 10 repetitions. First perform 2-3 warm-up sets of 10 repetitions. Perform 3 work sets of 10 repetitions and remember to consciously tense your muscles hard with each repetition. Grip the dumbbells with a firm and hard grip. Lower the weight completely on the downward movement to warm up your lower biceps.
  • Scott curls with a SZ bar: 3 sets of 8 repetitions. Again, I want you to consciously tighten your muscles hard at the highest point of the movement. Lower the weight down to 90% but don't fully extend your arms as this is the perfect recipe for injury.
  • Barbell curls or SZ curls with 3 second negative reps: 2 sets of 8 reps. The key is to lower the weight with a 3 second cadence. Try to use the heaviest weight you can move with perfect form.
  • Tricep press on cable pulley with a rope handle: 4 sets of 12 reps. Consciously contract your muscles hard for 1 second at the lowest point of the movement. Keep your elbows close to your body to achieve a better stretch.
  • Dips on a bench: 3 sets until muscle failure. Use extra weights on your lap for each repetition. The goal is to reach the point of muscle failure after 8 to 12 repetitions. You don't need to hyperextend your elbows or consciously tighten your triceps - focus more on maintaining a constant tension as you move up and down with the heavy weight.
  • Tricep presses on the incline bench with a SZ bar: 3 sets of 15 repetitions. Try to lower the weight a little further behind your head with each set. Pause for a second in the stretched position. You won't need much weight for this - trust me.

Here is a typical arm training session from Phase II of my program

This workout consists of 12 sets for the biceps and 16 sets for the triceps. I would consider this high volume for small muscles like biceps and triceps. Rest 45 seconds between sets for all exercises unless otherwise stated.

  • Reverse curls with a SZ bar: 5 sets of 10 reps. After a few warm-up sets, I want you to train hard. Use only 10 seconds rest between sets. So do 10 reps, put the weight down, count to 10 and repeat. Do 5 sets. This might sting a little. Your brachioradialis and brachialis will be crying.
  • Cable tricep press with a rope grip: 5 sets of 10 reps. After a few warm-up sets, you'll do the same here. I want you to rest only 10 seconds between sets. You may have trouble using the same weight for all sets, so it's okay to reduce the weight slightly as the sets progress.
  • Scott curls on the machine: 3 sets of 12 reps. I want you to do these with heavy weights. Choose a weight that is so heavy that you can only do 6 repetitions with this weight and then have your training partner help you with the last 6 repetitions. For the first 6 repetitions, consciously tense your muscles hard at the highest point of the movement and simply move the weight during the last 6 repetitions. Your fatigued brachialis and brachioradialis won't really be heavily involved in this exercise, so your biceps will take the brunt of the load.
  • Dips on the machine: I love this exercise. First perform 3 heavy sets of 8 reps. Use 3 second negative reps and perform the concentric reps powerfully. Perform heavy negative repetitions on the fourth and final set. Use a weight that allows you to do just 6 reps. This machine is probably my favorite exercise for using negative reps. Perform a total of 4 sets.
  • Incline bench concentration curls: 2 sets of 8 reps. Tense your muscles at the highest point of the movement with everything you have to give. Your arms will be pumped full of blood, so you should stretch them for a good 20 to 30 seconds per bicep at this point
  • L-extensions: 4 sets of 15 reps for each arm.
  • Dumbbell curls seated with 3 second negative reps: 2 sets of 8 reps. This will give your biceps the rest.
  • Close bench press with a SZ bar: 4 sets of 8 reps. Slowly lower the weight more towards your chin than your chest. This is kind of a modified version of a Westside basic exercise, the JM Press. You won't be able to use a ton of weight but the isolation and stress your triceps receive will do the trick.


Want to try something that looks weird but gives your biceps a run for their money? Try Bamboo Bar Curls ( I don't know how to put into words how well this exercise works. You won't feel anything in your elbows and when you move the weight up you'll feel a nasty contraction.

Armed and dangerous

Those who have already followed my previous programs will probably notice a trend - namely intensity, volume manipulation, perfect form and creativity. While it's true that the basics are the basics for a good reason (i.e. they work), there comes a time in every bodybuilder's training career when the basics just don't deliver results at the same rate they once did. When this happens, you have a choice: you can either keep doing what you've been doing and expect new and better results, or you can change things up and move to the right side of the adaptation curve.

The decision is yours and you now have all the tools you need to make the most of that decision.

By John Meadows

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