In Part 1 of my talk with Mark Perry about arm training, we focused on the biceps, the glamour muscle of the upper body [March ’09]. While it’s true that the ability to produce a cannonball on your upper arm on demand is a neat parlor trick, true bodybuilding practitioners understand that the key to building a truly great set of guns is to develop the triceps.
That makes perfect sense if you think about it. After all, the triceps make up two-thirds of upper-arm mass. Ignore training them at your peril. A failure to build an impressive set of horseshoes is a failure to build a truly great pair of arms.
Like most bodybuilders Mark started his arm training by emulating the routines of bodybuilders that he found in magazines like this one. Reading about such greats as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lee Haney and Lee Labrada inspired him to learn more about training and to master the discipline necessary to build championship-quality arms.
It wasn’t until he met bodybuilding great Vince Taylor, however, that Mark unlocked the training secret that led his arms to explode.
“I met Vince at a show in Illinois where he was guest posing,” Mark says. He asked how Vince had developed his championship arms, and the answer surprised him. “He told me all he does is rope extensions and pushdowns.”
For Mark, hearing someone like Vince Taylor tell him that skull-crushers and close-grip bench presses weren’t necessary was a dream come true. “They hurt my elbows,” Perry admits.
Around five years ago Mark’s arms were lagging. “My lower body was miles ahead of my upper body,” hesays. “It wasn’t until I really started paying attention to my upper body that growth happened.”
In other words, focus was the key. If you don’t work to build your arms, you’re going to end up with an underdeveloped bodypart—a weakness, not a strength— and no amount of wishing will change that for you.
Train Tri’s With Chest
Like many competitors, Mark couples triceps and chest training, working his chest first. The reason is that the triceps get a lot of residual work during chest exercises. Amazingly, he doesn’t spend a lot of time focusing on triceps any more than he does on biceps, but the time he does devote is intense—each and every fiber is stimulated, and the muscles are engorged with blood.
Mark’s approach to training stresses keeping an open mind. “My philosophy is that if it’s working for someone, I’ll try it,” he says. “If it works, keep doing it; if it doesn’t, chalk it up as a learning experience and move on. Don’t dwell on your failures, concentrate on your successes.”
Now for the exercises.
Cambered-bar pushdowns. To perform these, Mark attaches a cambered bar to a high pulley and does four sets with ascending weight: 10 x 100, 120, 140 and 160 pounds. Because he’s already trained chest, his triceps are preexhausted, so he needs less work to bring them to failure. While it’s okay to cheat on these sets, Mark preaches control. “I’m not doing huge, swinging cheats, just a little bit of back arch to complete the set.” For the most part you want to focus on moving the bar up with your triceps, keeping your back out of play.
Rope pushdowns. Mark recommends setting up on a high pulley, facing the apparatus and bringing your lower arms to parallel to the floor to start. The key here is to bring your hands out as you reach the bottom of the movement; it not only ensures a full range of motion but also gives you a strong muscle squeeze at the bottom.
Superset: Dumbbell kickbacks and bench dips. Now that his triceps are really feeling it, Mark thrashes them to the fullest extent by alternating sets of the two exercises, with no rest in between. He shoots for three sets of 10 to 12 on the kickbacks, but on the dips he performs each set to absolute failure, usually 20 to 25 reps. It’s important to note that Mark doesn’t add weight on the dips, mainly because his bodyweight is sufficient to bring him to failure in a reasonable time.
High-pulley concentration extensions. These are an unusual finishing movement that he loves because of the high level of focus they bring to the table. He attaches a rope extension to a high pulley, grabs both ends in one hand and then pulls the handle across his body either diagonally or horizontally, depending on how he feels. He’ll complete three to four sets to failure, adding power partials at the end to increase the amount of blood volume he can get into the muscle.
“The important thing to remember is that the first two exercises are all about the squeeze; the last two are about the pump,” Mark explains. His training philosophy is to toast the muscle early and then extend the pump as long as possible by moving large amounts of blood into the targeted area.
The One Key
After all of the workouts, all of the squeeze and all of the blood volume he’s pumped, Mark vows that the single greatest key to growth isn’t how you work out, but how you fuel your body. “I was at a seminar taught by Lee Labrada some years back, and he quieted the room by promising to reveal the most anabolic substance in the world. When he said, ‘Good, nutritious food,’ you could have heard a pin drop.”
Even so, Mark took Lee’s advice to heart. “It’s not enough to work out, eat pizza and have an occasional protein shake,” he warns. “You need to eat well and cover your nutritional bases, and then you can have a slice of pizza or something if you want it. Bodybuilding is a lifestyle; you can’t live it halfway. If you want the best gains possible, then you have to be willing to go all the way.”
Going all the way with bodybuilding doesn’t mean giving up the rest of your life, according to Mark. Having big arms and having fun aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s possible to be a bodybuilder and be socially well-adjusted.
There are the guys who isolate themselves in a corner of the gym and never live life, and there are competitors like Mark Perry, who live full lives while working every day to build their physiques to their peak potential.
Editor’s note: To contact Mark Perry for serious sponsorship and guest-posing inquiries, write to [email protected]. IM