In 1951, when I first began bodybuilding, I used to go to
Today’s stars are practically unapproachable, but the atmosphere was totally different in those days. The champs and
There will never be another era like that in bodybuilding. From 1950 to 1980 I met almost every great bodybuilder in the world. I had the opportunity to interview them and discuss their training and nutrition secrets, and I even had the opportunity to train with several of those great superstars. It helped me to build 20 inch arms at a bodyweight of 220 pounds and bench press 455 in strict form.
In 1956, I bought the Pasadena Gym from Farbotnik, who held the titles of Mr.
One of the greatest physique athletes of the presteroid era was John McWilliams. It’s believed that McWilliams and Bud Counts were the first bodybuilders to have arms that measured more than 20 inches cold. John was also one of the first men in the world to bench press 500 pounds. I met him at a powerlifting meet in
McWilliams was more than 40 years old at the time, and he’s trimmed down to a bodyweight of 186 pounds. Bill Pearl’s mentor, the immortal Leo Stern, measured John’s arm at 19 ¼ inches cold, his chest at 52 ½ inches and his waist at 31 inches. These are phenomenal numbers for someone who weighs 186 pounds, and he got them without steroids or the benefit of today’s nutritional supplements.
John and I became friends, and he described one of his favorite routines for building more massive upper arms. Not only did I use this workout myself, but I put 37 members of my gym on it. The average gain was 1 ¼ inches in six weeks.
The following program is designed for those who’ve been training steadily for at least six months. Beginners should stay with a much simpler routine consisting of basic exercises. Here’s how McWilliams described his arm training.
“Muscular arms are growing larger every year. They’re stretching the tape to dimensions thought impossible a few years ago, and the drive behind this extra size has been the development of more triceps specialization. The triceps forms the greatest bulk of the arm and gives that rich and massive look to the backs of the upper arms, especially when they’re relaxed. When they’re flexed, the triceps give them that dramatic horseshoe-shaped look of power. It’s no surprise that the best bench pressers all have huge triceps.
“I know that a few years ago the average bodybuilder concentrated too much on his biceps and assumed that if this muscle was big and bulging, that was all that mattered. Today’s outstanding bodybuilders have discovered, however, that you must work to build longer and larger triceps to give your upper arms that desired extra size and shape. I advise you to follow this procedure if you want to add extra inches of muscle to your arms.
“I’ve also found that if you want to get the ultimate arm development, you must learn to relax your arms. The special relaxing movement I use is to close my fists tightly, then suddenly let go completely. Practice this a few times before and while exercising, and don’t hesitate to stretch and yawn whenever you have the chance. These movements take only a few seconds, and they’ll help move stagnant blood and bring a fresh supply to tiring muscles, breathing new life to them. So relax those tense muscles.
“I’ve spent many years reading all the articles I could find on arm development, studying how champions exercise theirs. I’ve devised my own system that I’m passing on to you. A great many people have used it successfully, and I’ll be very happy if this system does as much for you as it has done for me. May your progress be speedy.”
McWilliams arm routine uses a number of double-compound movements, which gives your muscles a unique blast. Use the following program three times a week with at least a day of rest between arm workouts.
1) Pullovers and presses. This is not only a good exercise for the chest and shoulders, but it’s terrific for the arms. I attribute 75% of my own arm development to this double-compound exercise. There are many variations of this that you can perform. In this routine it’s used as a warmup and the first exercise, as follows.
Lie on your back on a flat bench that’s at least 18 inches high. Grasp the barbell with your hands approximately 10 inches apart. Begin with the bar resting on your chest and then press the weight up about 12 inches. With your arms bent, continue by guiding the bar back, over your head and down as far as you can. When you reach the lowest point, pull hard and bring the weight back to the original position on your chest. Repeat for 12 reps, inhaling as you lower the weight and exhaling as you pull back to the starting position. Do this part of the movement slowly so you can feel the muscle pulling both ways.
When you finish the 12 pullovers, without taking any rest, do 12 narrow-grip bench presses, exhaling as you press the weight to arm’s length and inhaling as you lower it back to your chest. Still taking no rest, perform sis more pullovers and six more bench presses. This last round of the double-compound exercise really brings the blood to the target region, which gives you a massive pump that sticks around for the rest of the arm routine. Do two sets of this super movement, resting about 90 seconds between sets.
2) Two-arm curls and triceps presses. This double movement is one of the best exercises for the biceps. While standing erect, with your feet about 18 inches apart, hold a barbell with a medium, palms-up grip and slowly curl the weight from your thighs to your shoulders, tensing the biceps at the top. Lower the weight slowly to your thighs and repeat for 12 reps. Remember to stand stiff and let your biceps do all the work.
When you finish the curls, go right into the triceps presses. Switch to an overgrip and press the barbell overhead, which positions your palms facing forward. Holding your elbows stationary throughout the movement, bend your arms, letting the weight travel down to the backs of your shoulders, and then push the weight back to arm’s length with triceps power alone. Inhale as you let the weight down, and exhale as you press it up. Perform 12 reps and then without taking any rest, grab two fairly light dumbbells and do 10 fast curls using good form, which means going all the way down without swinging the dumbbells. When you finish that, again without taking any rest, do 10 fast triceps presses with the dumbbells.
Rest for 60 to 90 seconds and repeat this double-compound exercise for a total of three sets.
3) Lying barbell triceps extensions. This is one of my favorite exercises for building triceps size. Lie on your back on a flat bench and start with the bar at arm’s length above your chest and keep your hands 10 inches apart. Keeping your elbows pointed toward the ceiling, lower the weight slowly behind your head. Inhale as you lower the barbell and exhale as you press back to the starting position. Repeat for three sets of 12 reps, resting for 45 to 60 seconds between sets.
4) Close-grip benches and triceps pumper. This is another superior size builder. Lie on a flat bench, and use a weight that you can sustain for three sets of at least 10 reps. Inhale on the way down and exhale on the way up, and rest about 60 seconds between sets.
When you finish the third set, taking no rest, pick up a dumbbell with your right hand and bend forward at the waist, with your left hand holding onto a support. Do 20 kickbacks, then switch the weight to the other hand for 20 reps. Rest for 30 seconds and perform a second set for each arm.
Well, there you have one of the best size-building programs for getting big arms fast. One modification that some of us at the Pasadena Gym used was to start with dumbbell concentration curls, performing four sets of 10, eight, six and 15 reps, while increasing the weight on the second and third sets and dropping it on the last: for example, using 40 pounds for 10 reps, 45 pounds for eight reps, 50 pounds for six reps and 30 pounds for 15 reps. We did this while taking no rest at all between sets. Only the more advanced guys who’ been training for quite some time used this program, however.
John McWilliams put a strong emphasis on the big-three fundamentals of bodybuilding:
1) consistent hard training
2) proper nutrition, including supplements
3) sufficient rest, relaxation and growth promoting sleep.
The workout techniques that enabled him to become one of the pioneers of super-massive arm development are still valid today. His training secrets can help all those who use them build massive arms rapidly, enabling them to reach their goal of physical perfection much sooner. Why not try it – and watch your arms grow?
John McWilliams Arm Program
John McWilliams Arm Program
Barbell pullovers 2 x 12
Close-grip bench presses 2 x 12
Barbell pullovers 2 x 6
Close-grip bench presses 2 x 6
Barbell curls 3 x 12
Triceps presses 3 x 12
Dumbbell curls 3 x 10
Dumbbell triceps presses 3 x 10
Lying barbell triceps extensions 3 x 12
Close-grip bench presses 3x10*
One-arm kickbacks 2 x 20**
*Go right into the next exercise without taking any rest.