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Big-Time Arm Training

An Insider’s Look at Mass-Development Techniques

Most people would agree that arm day is the one workout day above all others that gets them excited about going to the gym. There's nothing like feeling your biceps engorged with blood after you perform a hard set of curls. The problem with so many arm-training routines, however, is that they don't work forever. Unfortunately, gains eventually come to an end. Fortunately, it's not a permanent situation. The fact is that after a while the usual arm routine just doesn't get it done anymore. At that point you need a new training stimulus to jolt further growth. Once you've shaken things up a bit, you can return to your previous program and expect new gains in size and strength. Let's look at several important but often overlooked aspects of a successful arm routine.

The Exercise/ Repetition Link

Although I have yet to see any scientific literature on the topic, plenty of empirical data from coaches and athletes point to the idea that certain exercises seem to work better in specific rep ranges. For example, preacher curls seem to work well when done for eight to 10 reps per set, concentration curls in the 10-to-12 range and standing biceps curls in the three-to-six range. A general rule of thumb is that isolation movements work better with higher reps and compound movements work better with lower reps.

You may have experienced gains using rep ranges that differ from those observations. The main point here is that you need to monitor your training and determine which combinations of exercises and rep ranges produce the best gains for you and spend the majority of your time working within those parameters.

Changing Angles

This is an easy yet very effective way to stimulate new mass gains. Many people incorporate this principle into their training without even realizing it. The logic behind it is quite simple: When you perform an exercise, specific muscle fibers are preferentially recruited within that movement pattern. By varying the angle of motion of an exercise, you can tap into new motor units and promote further gains.

For example, most people perform biceps curls with their elbows tucked in close to the body and forearms straight ahead. Try flaring your forearms out at an angle away from your body and curling the weight up along that plane. It may seem like a minor change, but don't let that deceive you. Sometimes the littlest adjustments make the biggest impact.

Another way to vary the angular pathway of an exercise is by using cable movements. Cables give you unlimited variations on an exercise. For example, by changing the position of the cable handle on the slide rail, you can change the starting point of an exercise. That forces the muscle to adapt to a new training stimulus. At first it may feel a little awkward. Stick with it. As long as you perform the motion safely and you aren't doing anything to harm a muscle or joint structure, the awkwardness is just the normal effects of learning a new movement pattern.

Grip-Width Alterations

Here's another underused method that you can adopt to stimulate muscle growth. The next time you perform a set of standing biceps curls, use a different grip width from the one you normally use. That could mean taking a wider or narrower grip on the barbell. It depends on what your normal spacing is. Play around with both options and see what re'sponse you get. So much of training is individual in nature'what works for one person doesn't always work for someone else.

Different bar types have an effect on how an exercise works for you. Using both straight bars and EZ-curl bars on an exercise is a great way to change things up and shock the muscle. A little trick I like to use is to vary the bar type on each set of a three-set run of barbell curls. For your first set use a straight bar, on the second use an EZ-curl bar, and on the third use a thick bar if you can access one. Your arms will be screaming for mercy after this shock sequence.

Isolation to Compound

This method is popular among bodybuilders, and it goes by different names. The basic idea is to completely wipe out a muscle group by performing an isolation movement for it and then moving immediately to a compound exercise that heavily stresses it. A favorite grouping is a set of lying triceps extensions followed immediately by close-grip bench presses. Be prepared for a deep burn in your triceps.

It's usually best to use a free-weight exercise for the isolation movement and a machine for the compound exercise. You use the free weights first because you're fresh and can better control the weight. Once fatigue sets in, you don't want to be worrying about balancing a free weight, so a machine exercise is the way to go. You want to avoid injury'obviously'and the best way to do that on this type of sequence is to move to a machine for your compound exercise. That should initiate a fierce pump, which triggers a growth response. ALL 21s

No article on arm training would be complete without a look at this old standby. Bodybuilders have been employing 21s for ages, and their popularity is only surpassed by their capacity for inducing growth. Many variations exist, but I'll describe the version I've found to be the most productive.

Try 21s with barbell or cable curls, as follows:

'Reps 1-7: full-range reps
'Reps 8-14: half reps done from the top, full-curl position to the midpoint.
'Reps 15-21: half reps done from the bottom, stretch position to the midpoint.

That's 21 reps: seven full range, seven half reps from the top and seven half reps from the bottom.

Reverse Curls

How many times have you walked into the gym and seen someone performing reverse curls? For many readers the answer is probably never. If you don't know what reverse curls are, you're not alone. They're one of the most avoided arm exercises in existence. It's too bad because they're also one of the best and easiest ways to coax additional growth from your arms.

You do reverse curls with your palms down instead of the normal palms-up grip. That works a different portion of the biceps and also stresses the forearm muscles.

I prefer to use dumbbells instead of a straight bar on these. A straight bar can force the wrist into an unnatural position during the stroke. You may also want to try using lifting straps on this exercise. The palm-down position puts the wrist at a mechanical disadvantage, so the strap may help you avoid excessive joint stress.

Grip Training

Often people don't make progress with their arm training because they have weak grip and forearm muscles. There are lots of remedies for that. One of the best is to incorporate some thick-bar grip training into your routine. Or you can simply perform three sets each of wrist flexion and wrist extension exercises at the end of your arm workout. Do as many reps as possible on each set. Forearms are a stubborn muscle group, so you need to work them very hard to force an adaptation response.

X Reps

If you haven't tried these yet, you're really missing out. After reading the info at, I decided to give it a go on cable curls. I was blown away by the intense, full-blown pump in my arms. Do full reps, and when you reach failure, do partials near the bottom of the stroke. (See page 128 for more on arm training with X Reps.)

If you're serious about building big arms fast, you owe it to yourself to try this effective technique. It just doesn't get any better than this for growth stimulation.

There you have a few new ideas to spice up your arm workouts. With just minor variations to your normal routine you can start experiencing new growth and filling out those shirtsleeves with lots of new big-time arm mass. IM

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