It has happened to most of us; when we first started lifting in the gym the first exercise we knew how to do (and wanted to do with the heaviest weight possible) was a bicep curl! LDNM are here to offer the voice of reason, and provide you with 5 Top Tips for Bigger Arms!
This article is aimed at the beginner and intermediate lifter, to try and wean you off the gun show every session. Back, traps, shoulders and legs are all commonly neglected by gym goers, so below are a few mistakes and solutions to allow the newer lifter to train arms less and reap more gains- freeing up more time for the neglected muscle groups!
1.) Training biceps, and purely biceps:
Biceps make up a smaller percentage of the upper arm (around 1/3), so killing your biceps and neglecting the triceps is an all too common mistake in the quest for big, girthy arms.
Triceps make up (roughly) 2/3 of the upper arm, so both the triceps and biceps should be trained evenly- if not triceps slightly more so!
2.) Lifting too heavy, too soon:
Maybe it’s a case of ego, but witnessing (a usually) male gym user stroll in and attempt to curl or skull crush a huge weight- then tweaking their back, injuring their elbow joints or doing 3 bad reps and rubbing their shoulder rather than their bicep is not a rarity, unfortunately.
Never forget to warm up your biceps, triceps and shoulders as you would with any other muscle group you’re training before the session. Then use 1-2 warm up sets, which are detailed in importance here.
3.) All swing and no isolation (for biceps mainly):
Standing barbell curls, followed by standing dumbbell curls, followed by standing hammer bar curls- all with a heavy weight involving a swing and slight squat. Here momentum is lifting the weight, and also your leg muscles and frontal delts that should not be the assistor muscles in this move! There is a line between even ‘blunt force trauma’ (which i think is a terrible, terrible training technique) and god-awful, inexplicable technique!
Preacher curl (narrow and wide grip), incline bench curls, spider curls and seated dumbbell curls are great isolation exercises to really hit the biceps with some quality contractions.
4.) Controlled concentric, isometric and eccentric phases:
For both biceps and triceps people tend to use a weight that is too heavy. This causes them to throw it up, briefly pause holding a portion of the weight with their abdominals or lower back muscles, and let it fall down- or be pulled back up- due to gravity very violently, using far less target muscle fibres on the equally important eccentric (lengthening of the muscle) phase of the exercise.
Eccentric phases of 2-3 seconds work well for arm hypertrophy– these are the easiest muscles (in my opinion) to isolate, and therefor slowing down the movement and really good quality contraction of the muscles is key for growth and eliminating momentum from your lifts. Once you are a more experienced lifter with greater skill, tempo can be increased as you can still maintain good form!
5.) Training arms every day:
A common problem, not helped by those who suggest training your lagging muscle groups every day! The biceps and triceps need rest, as any other muscle group needs time to recover, allowing hypertrophy to occur rather than injury setting in. The arm muscles are activated on all upper body days to differing extents, and overtraining on top of this will not be good for the muscles, ligaments and tendons of even the most well conditioned natural trainer. The elbows are used in almost all upper body movements, so do not need taxing flexing and extending every single day on top of other lifting!
2-3 sessions a week is plenty for biceps, triceps, forearms or shoulders! Aim for around 50-60 reps per muscle group, 2-3 times per week, with around 48-72 hours between training the same muscle group twice.