As people training to make our physiques look better, it could be considered sacrilege that we’d show more favouritism for certain body parts than others. But, to hell with it: we love big muscled arms, and so does the rest of the world. It’s not our fault; it’s just how it is!
In order for complete arm development, so you don’t go around looking funny, you’ll need to hit every major muscle group of the arm there is, starting with the shoulders, the upper arms – comprising the biceps and triceps – and the forearms.
To give the shoulders the broad, and rounded look necessary, you’ll need to incorporate a variety of exercises which hit each of the 3 heads of the deltoids (shoulder muscles). For the medial (side) and anterior (front) heads of the shoulder, I advocate doing military presses. Seated or standing, with a shoulder width grip on a barbell, lower the bar to below your chin, before pressing it above head, keeping your elbows in, your back straight, and facing forward.
Now, you need to hit the posterior (rear) deltoid head. To do this, you can perform the bent over lateral raise. Take a dumbbell in each hand, knees slightly bent, back straight and bent at the hips so your upper body is at around parallel to the floor. Now, holding the dumbbells together in front of you, palms facing inward, with arms slightly bent, lift the dumbbells behind your back, and lower again, in a sort of wide ‘pincer’ motion. When performing the upward portion of the movement, try to rotate the dumbbells so when they reach the top, the rear of the dumbbell is higher than the front. Hold for a split second, and then lower. Keeping your back set in position throughout the movement.
Without doubt the best way to build triceps is the triceps extension, or French curls, as they are sometimes known. There are different variations to this exercise, and can be performed laying flat, sitting or standing bolt upright, or on an incline. Either way, the method is more or less the same. I’ll explain the upright seated version.
Sitting down, with a straight bar, cambered bar, or a specialized triceps bar in hand, lower the weight behind the head, almost to full extension but not quite – you want to keep the weight on the triceps muscles. Upper arms/elbows should be pointing upward and close to the side of your head. Now, keeping the elbows in position, using all triceps strength, lift the bar from the back of your head, until your elbows are locked out and the weight is now above your head. Again, keeping the elbows in position, lower until almost full extension, but being sure to keep the stress on the muscle before repeating.
Everybody’s favourite. Ok, nothing ostentatious here: the best way to build biceps size is quite simply barbell curls performed with a straight barbell. The key is to hold the bar in such a way that you feel comfortable, without pain. But it will feel awkward until you are used to it. Anyway, a grip of shoulder width or slightly wider should suffice. Elbows should be tucked into your sides, and allowed to slide slightly forward during the movement and backward as the movement descends.
Simply curl up the bar until your biceps are at full contraction, give a squeeze, and then slowly lower. Really emphasize the lowering portion of the curl, which is where the most muscle fibres are used and the most growth can be spurred. The most important part of bicep curls is to keep the weight on the muscle. Don’t simply let the bar go slack at the bottom because all you are doing is taking the emphasis from the biceps, and holding the bar with your forearms grip. For this reason, don’t lower fully.
If you’ve performed the above exercises for any length of time, you will notice that your forearms will have already gained in strength and size, because the forearm muscles are involved in gripping constantly. But, if you want to try to take it a bit further, then you should try doing some wrist curls.
Wrist curls are easy to do, and can be done with a barbell with two hands, or dumbbell singularly. I’ll assume you intend to do it singularly with a dumbbell.
Simply take a dumbbell in your hand, with an underhand grip, and rest your forearm on a bench, or on your lap whilst sitting. Your hand and wrist, with the weight, should be hanging off the end of the bench or your knee. Now, keeping the forearm still, using the wrist completely, curl the weight up as far as you can go, and then slowly lower.
Reverse wrist curls, as you may have guessed, is the same movement but with an overhand grip, designed to work the outside muscles of the forearms.
Tip: Perform reverse wrist curls first. You are naturally weaker in the reverse grip position, so by giving priority to the weaker grip whilst your grip is still in good order, you will provide the best workout you can without falling short.
I recommend all exercises be done in sets of 3 – 5, with repetitions of 5 – 12. Any combination should get the job done, but experiment to find what works best for you. (Tip: The forearms certainly seem to respond better to higher repetitions, and can take up to 15 reps rather well.)