Thick, colossal arms complete the upper body trifecta of pecs and deltoids—the areas of your body that most signal dominance and strength.
Big arms equal strong arms, and I bet you’ve never seen a guy with a huge chest or shoulders who has little twig arms, have you?
Just not gonna happen.
But ask any stick-armed gym rat what the best, most badass arm-busting exercise on the planet is, and he’s probably going to shout…
(As he’s pumping out reps well over the century mark with light dumbbells).
And yet, why is it that whenever I set foot in the gym, all those same guys doing rapid-fire dumbbell curls until the cows come home rarely have big arms?
It’s incredibly counter-intuitive. If you do a lot of bicep curls, shouldn’t your arms turn into massive hunks of raw power and manliness?
Well, not always.
Look, your biceps are SMALL. And I don’t mean relative to my biceps or your favorite bodybuilder’s biceps. I mean small relative to your other muscles.
Think about how much real estate your biceps take up compared to your pecs, or God forbid, your quads. Your quads laugh at your biceps’ tiny studio apartment from their lavish, sprawling estate.
We can forgive ignorance, but not outright fraud. I’m referring to the source of these misguided attempts at the Great Arms Race—modern bodybuilding magazines and online publications.
Most fitness mags aren’t fit to wipe the sweat off your ass after 5 sets of heavy squats, let alone preach to the average Joe about getting swole limbs.
That’s because roughly 105% of the routines these magazines and websites preach as gospel are designed for and by roided-out freaks of nature.
You wouldn’t force a kindergartener to cram for a spelling bee for ten hours straight, and you’re not going to force a natural lifter to conjure colossal arms with 100 sets of preacher curls, 50 sets of hammer curls and 40 peanut butter sandwiches every MWF.
It’s dishonesty, plain and simple.
Do these routines work? Of course!
If you’re on a bleeding-edge steroid and supplement program.
You know, the one Ivan Drago was on in Rocky IV.
Sorry, but that’s not good enough for most of us, including me. Steroids are like easy mode for lifting weights—you have much, much more leeway in terms of volume and weight while still getting decent results.
You simply can’t work out like a steroid-using bodybuilder or athlete and expect similar results.
Not now, not ever, will this high-rep crap work for a natural lifter. I’ve tried these kinds of programs before. Yeah, you might get a little bigger—but nowhere near what these juiced up mofos are achieving, and not anywhere close to the gains you could see with a better routine.
And that leaves us with the question of the day…
First of all, let me be absolutely clear:
Your arms are much more than biceps!
Just looking at your upper arms, biceps account for roughly 1/3 of your muscle mass. The lion’s share goes to your triceps.
Consider your lower arms, and all of a sudden those thousand and one bicep isolation moves are looking pretty useless.
Let that sink into your brain, and now it should be clear exactly how we’re going to get thick, intimidating arms.
A scorched earth approach where we need to stimulate and obliterate our biceps, triceps AND forearms;
A paradigm shift from machine-gun high reps to heavy-ass weight and low reps;
And, NATURAL progression. No more “increase your weight 5% every week” BS—you increase the weight when you can do too many reps.
As for exactly how many reps and sets to use, that’s another idea you have to purge from your head. These 5×5 or 3×10 or 100×1 programs are too rigid.
Ideally, you want to choose a weight where you can hit at least 3 reps, and no more than 8. Sets, pick a number between 3 and 5. Or 6, even. Just don’t do too many more, or you’re getting into the thousand-rep territory we just left.
Point is, bodybuilding isn’t an exact science like physics.
There’s no perfect answer to plug in to the mass-gaining equation and spit out 25-inch arms. ( just like there is no perfect answer for the optimal level of testosterone) Our goal is to keep lifting heavier and heavier, getting bigger and bigger, and looking meaner, badder and more awesome every day.
This isn’t NEW information—in fact, it’s old, old news. You think ass-kicking Spartan soldiers or the old-time strongmen had a steroid regimen and spent 2 hours every day on bicep isolation exercises?
Hell no. They grabbed heavy shit like tires and boulders and cows and lifted them until they got huge. A long time ago, this was just called “logic.”
I mean, doesn’t that just make sense?
But that leaves us with another conundrum; since it’s frowned upon to haul your pet ox through town, what are the best exercises natural guys like us can use to get manly arms?
Just like your great-granddad did to get jacked, we’re going to keep it simple and skip all the unnecessary bullshit and distractions.
That means no using a stopwatch to make sure your rests are EXACTLY 30 seconds, no ultra high-speed pocket immersion blender to keep your anabolic-nitro-levo-whey-isolate-ginseng-jojoba shake perfectly mixed, and no dishonest steroid-driven malarkey.
I want to go over a handful of exercises—the only exercises you need—so that next time you show up to the gun show, you’re packing heat.
First up, let’s talk about your triceps—the under-appreciated sleeping giant of your upper arms.
By god, dips are an amazing exercise for your triceps. Hell, dips are one of the best exercises for building big shoulders and for upper body strength, period.
Just about the only problem I can think of is that you’re gonna need extra equipment to effectively perform dips—eventually you’re going to blow past 8 reps at body weight, and you’ll need a dip belt to take you to the top of the mountain.
Dip belts do exactly what you think they do, letting you attach plates to your waist like a massive, swinging pair of iron balls as you blast your triceps.
Every time you max out on reps at a certain weight, make a mental note and remember to strap on a few extra plates next time. There’s no weight stack to max out here—keep slapping on plates and watch your triceps blow up.
Close-Grip Bench Press
Ladies and gentleman, tricep-blaster number 2, the close-grip bench press.
Now, I know what you’re thinking—nearly any kind of press involving a bench is going to work your chest too, right? What the hell is the point if we’re trying to build big triceps?
Well, you’re absolutely right. But your body doesn’t work in a vacuum, no matter how many isolation exercises you can think of.
Simply put, close-grip bench is an amazing exercise for emphasizing your triceps. It’s also good for getting rid of man boobs naturally.
Just like with dips, shoot for 8 reps. Add more weight. Rinse and repeat. Get swole.
Now, let’s move on to the biceps.
Same story as close-grip bench, chin-ups are an awesome exercise for another area of your body (your back). But beware, doing chin-ups will also cause spontaneous bicep growth!
I mean, think about the basic movement at work here. What’s really going on? Your using your arms and back to pull yourself up vertically. Now, look at your arms! What are they doing?
That’s right, they’re contracting just like they do when you execute 50 reps of dumbbell curls—except better.
Slap on some weight (using your trusty dip belt from earlier) and watch your gains skyrocket.
You know the drill. Hit 8 reps, add more weight, never stop believing in your dreams and all that jazz. Oh, and your arms will get huge.
Wait, what? I thought bicep curls were the devil?
Well, yes and no. I gave curls a bad rap earlier mainly because of how they’re portrayed by the mainstream—in quantity, not quality.
Your biceps aren’t going anywhere using high reps and low weight. The missing ingredient here isn’t time or willpower, but steroids. We have to change the equation, and that means LOW REPS and HIGH WEIGHT.
What, did you think I was going to say low weight? You should know me by now.
Oh and before I forget:
ALL of the exercises I listed so far will help bulk up your forearms. Anytime you grip heavy weights, whether that’s curling or benching, your forearms are on the front lines taking fire from all sides. So don’t worry about isolating them.
Bonus Round: One More Exercise for Building Massive Arms (That You Won’t Believe)
Sorry for the sales-y headline, but you really might not believe me. Wanna know my secret formula for building big arms?
What! You’re definitely full of shit now!
Full of shit I am not, my friend. There’s a reason deadlifts are considered one of the kings of lifts, and that’s because they beat the hell out of almost every muscle in your body.
Titanic compound lifts like squats and deadlifts also trigger a surge or HGH and testosterone to release in your body, and guess where some of that is going?
Yup, right to your arms.
Am I going to make you sign a pledge to deadlift at the end of every arm day? No. But hey, it seems to be working out for me.
Welcome to the Gun Show
Men have been crafting statuesque arms since, well…the dawn of man. And I’m no historian, but I’m pretty sure that was before the invention of gear and preacher curl machines.
And how did they do it?
You know the answer:
Lifting heavier and heavier stuff.
Getting big arms means making steady progress. You might hit a few snags here and there, but stick to these principles—incrementally adding more weight whenever things get a little too easy—and you WILL get big arms, guaranteed.