How to Exercise for Arm Development
A general routine of body-building should include perhaps from 12 to 15 exercises. These exercises, to be the most beneficial, should be far-reaching rather than localized in their effects. The majority of the exercises should have their chief effect on the larger muscle-groups: the chest, waist, loins, hips, and thighs. Consequently, a smaller number of exercises – perhaps 4 or 5 out of the series – should suffice for the arms in particular. In the foregoing chapters a considerable number of arm, forearm, and grip exercises have not only been mentioned, but prescribed for the reader’s use. Hence, to incorporate the best of these exercises in a general body-building program, we must judge the exercises according to individual efficacy, and adopt some for regular use and others for supplementary or occasional use.
The most effective of all exercises for the flexor muscles of the upper arm is, as previously stated, curling weights from the hang position to the shoulders. Who can be pointed out among those who practice other methods of body-building with arms to equal those of Nordquest, Hackenschmidt, or Grimek, to name only several who practiced the curl. In adopting a small number of exercises for regular use, out of the many exercises offered, it is advisable to concentrate on exercises for the forearms, as in such procedure the upper-arm flexor muscles will incidentally receive sufficient exercise for their harmonious development (The upper arm extensor muscles will likewise acquire balanced development from exercises primarily for the shoulder and chest muscles). If a disproportionate amount of curling is practiced with the hands in the position of supination (palms uppermost), which compels full contraction of the biceps muscles, these muscles will tend to hold the arm in a partially flexed position even when it is relaxed. Therefore, it would seem advisable to give the reverse curl, and the one-hand curl with hand in semi-supination, preference over the curl with palms uppermost.
For the extensor muscles of the arm, there is nothing more practicable and beneficial than the exercise of pressing weights while lying on the back. True, this movement does not localize its effect to the triceps to the extent that certain other movements do, but localized use of a muscle, generally speaking, is just what one should avoid. Such restricted use tends to develop within the muscle an inability, or at least an inefficient ability, to unite its power with that of other muscles in the performance of fundamental movements. The press on back is to be preferred to the dip on the parallel bars, in this respect: that the former promotes expansion of the chest, whereas the latter inclines, if not compels, the breast muscles to draw the shoulders forward while acting, thus including faulty carriage. The regular press on back exercise, with the body kept flat on the floor, may be varied with the press in the shoulder bridge position. The latter position enables exercise to be applied to the triceps muscles beyond the stage where, if the flat position of the body is maintained, these arm extensors become fatigued.
In overhead two-arm pressing, if the triceps in particular (rather than in combination with the shoulder muscles, which raise the arm to shoulder height) need improving, the press from behind the neck is more efficient than the regular press from in front of the neck. The triceps press from behind the neck can be practically localized to the triceps, if desired, by holding the hands close together on the bar, using the under-grip. If the latter position is adopted, the amount of weight used will have to be decreased considerably.
For developing the forearm muscles that flex the wrist, one has the choice of two very good exercises, both quite similar in action. One is the wrist curl with a barbell, while in a sitting position; the other is the wrist-roller, with a weight suspended by a cord. The wrist-roller, correctly performed, is considered to be one of the most effective forearm exercises devised. The wrist curl, however, has two definite advantages: it can hardly be done incorrectly (as the wrist-roller usually is); and it allows the flexor and extensor muscles to be exercised separately with a different amount of resistance accorded to each group of muscles in proportion to its different strength (the flexor muscles being, as before stated, much stronger than the extensor muscles).
Cuts taken across the forearm by anatomists show that the largest muscle in the forearm is that formed by the combined flexor profundus digitorum and flexor sublimis digitorum muscles. These muscles, the tendons of which are seen of the front of the wrist, are the very ones chiefly involved in typical tests of grip strength. Therefore, the important inference to be drawn is: that to develop one’s forearm to maximum size, one should rely chiefly on exercises that tax the gripping and holding strength of the fingers. Nothing is better for this purpose than the regular use of bells with thick handles. In the great majority of barbell exercises for other parts of the body, the weight used in (in conjunction with the regulation-sized handle) is insufficient to tax the fingers to the extent necessary for full development of the forearm muscles that actuate them. In view of this deficiency of the ordinary-sized barbell handle to promote exceptional development of the grip (unless weights are employed that are often too heavy to be borne by the body muscles), the student desirous of attaining his individual limit in gripping strength and forearm development should equip his bells with thick handles. By this is meant bars from 2 to 2 ½ inches in diameter. Bars of this size prevent the ordinary-sized hand and fingers from completely encircling them, and so make it necessary for the fingers and thumb to acquire tremendous gripping power. Try the Zottman exercise or the one-arm curl with these thick bars in place of ordinary handles. They will repay the user many times over in forearm development for any inconvenience gone to in procuring them.
As to the amount of weight and the number of repetitions to use in the various arm exercises, it should be borne in mind that increased size in a part comes about through an increased flow of blood and deposition of tissue-building substances in that part. The muscles are best developed by such application of exercise as causes the blood to flow to them in greatest volume and remain in them long enough for the maximum amount of nutritive elements to be deposited or absorbed. Light exercise, continued over a lengthy period, does not bring about this completeness of absorption, for it uses up so great a proportion of the nutritive elements for fuel (to maintain the muscles in action) that little or none is left for the building of the muscles. Indeed, light muscular exercise continued for a prolonged period of time will cause the muscles to draw even on their own substance for their maintenance. This, of course, causes the body of the performer to waste rather than to build up. The condition is typical of long-distance runners.
On the other hand, a very heavy exercise, performed only one repetition, is not conducive to the fullest development of the muscles, since it does not continue long enough to allow the blood to accumulate in the parts involved. The only way in which a single heavy effort can even approximate this desired effect on the muscles, is for it to be performed very slowly. The reader should not here confuse developing exercise with strength display. A single lifting of a weight, however rapid, is a real display of strength if the poundage is of merit, but such a feat is not as efficacious for making the muscles larger as is a less extreme effort longer continued.
There is a certain combination of resistance and duration (weight, and the number of times it is lifted) that is of greatest efficiency in developing the muscles. This combination varies considerably as to resistance and to a lesser degree as to duration, in its application to different parts of the body. Experienced physical trainers have found that the arms are best developed by using an amount of resistance that tires the muscles in from 10 to 15 repetitions of a movement. Such number of repetitions need not be adhered to without exception, but should be approximated as a rule it the best effects from exercising are to be gained.
We recommend that the various barbell and dumbell exercises for the arms be each performed form 8 to 12 repetitions, using a weight of about 2/3 the amount that the user can raise but once in the same position. Starting with 8 repetitions, add one repetition every week until 12 repetitions are performed. Then add 5 pounds to with of the barbell, or 2 ½ pounds tot the weight of the dumbell, and start anew with 8 repetitions. And so on.
An important feature of this system of training is that the exercises should not be preformed oftener than every other day. Because of the pronounced effect of lifting exercises on the breaking down of muscular tissue, a longer time between exercising periods must be observed than when ordinary “free exercises” are employed. In other words, a sufficient time between workouts must elapse to enable the constructive bodily processes to supply the muscles with new tissue – even greater in amount than that broken down by the exercise, so that the muscles may gain in size and quality. Three non-consecutive exercise periods per week have been proved to be sufficient for the arms when weights are used.
The exercises should all be performed at a slow, even tempo, so that the weight could, if desired, be stopped and held at any point in its travel. This will develop the muscles of the arm proportionately through their full length. Breathing is of no great concern, so long as one breathes naturally and avoids undue holding of the breath.
The amount of weight to be used in the various arm exercises will vary according to the relative power of the muscles employed in the positions assumed. The fact that when the muscles are proportionately developed one can raise nearly 50% more in the two-arm press than in the regular two-arm curl has been taken by a number of writers as a basis for the assertion that the muscles that extend the arm are 50% larger and stronger than the muscles that flex the arm. Such is not the case. In raising a barbell from shoulders to overhead in the two-arm press, the triceps muscles play a secondary part to the powerful deltoid muscles of the shoulders; whereas in the two-arm curl, the raising of the weight from the thighs to the shoulders is accomplished almost entirely by the arm flexor muscles. Test that are confined in their effect to the flexor muscles of the arm, respectively, show that the flexor muscles range from approximately as strong as the extensor muscles, to over 50% stronger that the extensors. These tests are made with the upper arm fixed in position. In this way the subsequent movements in which the forearms are flexed, and then extended on the upper arm against resistance, are confined to the arm flexors and arm extenders, respectively, enabling the comparative power of these muscles to be accurately measured. You can make your own tests by comparing the amount of weight you can use in the curl with the amount that you can use in the triceps pushaway or kickback. The extensor muscles of the upper arm (triceps) are slightly larger in average cross-sectional area than the flexor muscles (biceps and brachialis) but the latter muscles make up in favorable leverage on the forearm what they lack in bulk, and are thus enabled to act as powerfully as the triceps, or more powerfully.
Another erroneous idea generally held is that the biceps muscles have stronger action on the forearm when the hand is in supination than when it is in pronation. This perhaps pardonable inference originated from the fact that it is possible to lift a greater weight in the regular curl (palms upward) than in the reverse curl (palms downward). Tests by is physiologists have disclosed that there is no appreciable difference in the power of the flexor muscles of the arm, whether the hand be turned palm upward, palm downward, of in any intermediate position. The reason, therefore, why one can curl more weight with the under-grip than with the over-grip would seem to be because the muscles that hold the wrist in flexion are stronger than those that hold it in extension. Furthermore, in flexing the arm when the hand is in pronation, and to a lesser extent when it is in semi-pronation, the biceps offers mechanical hindrance to the movement of the forearm by reason of its lengthened condition, the muscle not being fully shortened and up out-of-the-way, as is the case when the palm is turned upward. Observation shows that the failure of lifters to complete successfully a heavy reverse curl or rectangular fix is usually due to their inability to keep the wrists bent sufficiently upward. If their wrist-extensor muscles were better developed, they could curl very nearly as much weight in the reverse curl as in the regular curl, since the muscles that flex the arm act with equal power in either case. David Willoughby has succeeded in curling 150 pounds in the regular Two Hands Curl, and 140 ½ pounds in the Rectangular Fix (the reverse curl stopped at the half-way position and held). This close correspondence of poundage he attributes chiefly to extra strength of the forearm muscles that extend the wrist.
To return to the subject of weight to be used in the various exercises. If, in the regular two-arm curl, one is capable of handling 100 pounds, he should, to imply possession of balanced strength and development, handle 80 pounds in the reverse curl, 45 pounds in the one-arm curl, 190 pounds in the press on back, 210 pounds in the press on back with shoulder-bridge, 140 pounds in the two-arm press, and 130 pounds in the press from behind neck. On the same basis, he should handle in the wrist curl perhaps 70 pounds using the under-grip and 40 pounds using the over-grip. You may, however, be able to use as much weight in the regular wrist curl as in the ordinary two-arm curl, as ability in this respect varies. If one’s ability is less than the foregoing figures (as the beginner’s naturally will be), the poundages given should be reduced in proportion. That is, one should handle 80% as much weight in the reverse curl as in the regular curl, and so on with the other exercises, in accordance with the figures here given.
No hard and fast rule can be laid down as to the amount of weight for different persons to commence with. The most practical method is perhaps to first determine how much weight you can raise once in a certain position by using your full strength, and then take a certain proportion of that weight for the purpose of exercise. This proportion should be about 2/3 of the amount that you can accomplish once when in an unfatigued condition. If, for example, you find that you can raise 80 pounds once in the regular two-arm curl by using all your strength, 50 or 55 pounds would be the proper amount to commence exercising with, performing the movement 8 times as previously mentioned. Then, taking the 50 or the 55 pounds to be used in the regular curl as a basis, you should compute the corresponding poundages to be used in the other arm exercises, conforming with the ratios given in the preceding paragraph.
It is always better to use too little weight than too much. One of the common faults of the ambitious pupil is his desire to use too heavy a weight. Remember, first, that you are only beginning a course of progressive exercise, in which the muscles are going to be coaxed into greater and greater development as you very gradually increase the weight used. Second, that you have an entire course of about a dozen exercises to go through. And third, that the correct performance of each exercise is necessary for the best results, and that if you use too much weight you will be unconsciously, if not consciously, forced into doing the exercise incorrectly. The fact is, that the use of too heavy weights, and the incorrect performing of exercises in consequence, is extremely common. One can visit the leading barbell gymnasiums and see pupils doing the forward raise with dumbells, for example, starting each upward movement with a swing or a jerk, and swaying the trunk backward as the bells are rapidly lifted to shoulder level. This is not the way to do the exercise. The movement should be started without any swing or jerk, the bells should be lifted slowly and evenly to shoulder level, ad the trunk should be kept perfectly upright with no back movement whatsoever. The exercise was designed for the deltoid muscles of the shoulders; but by using momentum and body-movement, other muscles are brought into action, a greater weight can be used, the developing effect on the deltoids is lessened, and the ambitious exerciser cheats himself.
The reverse curl should be given preference over the regular curl. The press on back and the press in shoulder-bridge position should be given preference over the dip on the parallel bars. In general, exercises for the forearms should be given preference over exercises for the upper arms, and exercises that tax the gripping power of the fingers should predominate over those that involve the forearm muscles in movements of the elbow joint. The very best arm exercises are those that tax both the power of retaining a grip and the power of moving the arm, at the same time.
The general experience of body-culturists is that the calves are the most difficult part of the body to increase in size, and the forearms come next. The stubbornness of these parts in responding to special exercises is attributed to the nature of the movements that each is called upon to perform in everyday occupation. The muscles of the calves and the forearms, more than those of other parts, are required to perform countless repetitions of light efforts; the calf muscles in walking, and the forearm muscles in movements of the hands and fingers. These light efforts often repeated, apparently develop within the calf and forearm muscles a toughness and endurance which makes them unresponsive to additional development except from exercise of markedly vigorous nature. One advantage possessed by exercise of the forearms over exercises for the calves is that forearm exercise is not nearly so productive of general body fatigue, and so may be more intensively applied.
In exercises of curling for the flexor muscles of the upper arm, it is well to guard against any tendency of the biceps to hold the arm partially flexed when relaxed. This tendency may be offset by the frequent application of stretching exercises to the arms, such as hanging with the arms relaxed from a bar or pair of rings, or forcibly extending the arms by effort of will.
For the benefit of those whose arm muscles prove particularly stubborn in responding to exercise, or those who desire to attain their utmost possibilities in the way of arm development, various specialized programs of intensive training may be suggested. After one has practiced with weights over a considerable period it may be found of additional benefit to repeat each exercise (the whole number of repetitions of an exercise) several times during a workout, rather than only once as is advised for the beginner. This procedure is well adapted to special improvement of a particular part of the body, such as the arms. The several repetitions of the entire exercise, or exercises, are best interspersed among the exercises for other parts of the body, rather than repeated in a row. If one wishes to concentrate on the arms, for example, he may do a couple of arm exercises, then several exercises for the back and thighs; another repetition of the same arm exercises, then several sets for the abdomen, the sides, and the calves; and so on, interspersing arm exercises between.
Or one can keep retuning to the arms in this manner, but using different arm exercises each time, instead of repeating the same ones. This latter method has been used with great success by Siegmund Klein. Interspersed among his exercises for the other parts of the body, he will perform the following exercises for the arms: (1) the two-arm curl, (2) the triceps pushaway, (3) chinning on the horizontal bar, (4) dipping on the parallel bars, (5) one-arm curl with dumbell, with hand held in semi-supination, (6) dipping in the handstand position. That is, he will perform exercise 1, and then several exercises for other parts of the body than the arms, then perform exercise 2, then several other exercises for the legs or torso or neck, then exercise 3, and so on.
John Grimek has suggested a special method or repeating the two fundamental upper arm exercises of curling and pressing. The exerciser first curls a barbell about 8 times, and then performs several exercises for other parts of the body. Then, adding about 10 pounds to the weight used in the previous curl, he performs the curl about 4 times. Then, after several other exercises, he adds another 10 pounds to his curling weight, and performs the curl about 2 times. Finally, after several more exercises, he adds another 10 pounds to his curling weight, and performs the curl for a single repetition. The same method may be applied to the two-arm press.
A method of applying exercise for the specific purpose of increasing the size of the arms, and which is perhaps more effective for that purpose than any other method, is to perform a series of one exercise, using one arm at a time. For example, take a dumbell of a weight that you would ordinarily use in the one-arm curl, and curl it 12 times with your left arm and then 12 times with your right arm, with the hand in full supination (the same as in the regular two-arm curl. After a couple of deep breaths, follow this immediately with 9 or 10 curls with the left arm, and then 9 or 10 with the right; another deep breath or two, and then 7 or 8 curls with the left arm, followed by the same number with the right arm; and so on until you are able to do only 3 or 4 curls with either arm. If this exercise is performed with a thick-handled dumbell, so that your grip tires about as quickly as your arms, you will have an unsurpassable exercise for developing the flexor muscles of the arm from hand to shoulder.
This same method of alternating repetitions can be applied to the extensor muscles, using either the triceps push-away or the backward dumbell raise with locked elbows. You can also press a dumbell first with one hand and then with the other, starting with 12 presses and continuing until you can press the bell only 3 or 4 times; although this exercise would strongly affect the deltoid muscles as well.
The same manner of exercising is most effective for increasing the size of the forearms. Using a dumbell, perform the wrist curl in this way, starting with 15 wrist curls for the left then right arm, and continuing until you can do only 5 or 6 wrist curls. Use the same method with the reverse wrist curl, with a lighter weight and fewer repetitions. When this particular method of exercising is used, no other arm exercises should be performed during the day’s routine.
Repetition chinning and dipping is also very effective for increasing the size of the upper arms. The exerciser performs a number of dips on the parallel bars. He then rests for five or ten minutes, after which he performs a number of chins on the horizontal bar. Another rest of 5 or 10 minutes and he again dips on the parallel bars. Another rest, and he chins again. A total of 50 to 100 dips, and a lesser number of chins has been found most effective in developing the size of the biceps and triceps. This chinning and dipping routine, however, has a greater developing on the muscles of the chest and upper back than on the muscles of the arms.
The most intensive method of exercising for arm development is to perform no exercises for any part of the body except the arms. This form of specialization should never be adopted until the pupil has practiced a complete body-building routine for all parts of the body for at least a year. Moreover, it should not be adhered to for more than two months at a time. There ism however, no more effective way of obtaining results in arm development, or in development of any stubborn part of the body, that to specialize entirely on that part of the body. As we pointed out in the third chapter of this book, the proper development of the legs may become impossible if their cultivation is neglected too long while the arms and upper body are subjected to intensive training. And, as we also pointed out, a balanced and symmetrical development of the body is what every exerciser should aim at. The advanced student, however, may with benefit, specialize entirely for a short period of time on any particular part of the body, if that part has proved exceptionally stubborn in developing, or if he desires the ultimate possible degree of size in that part. We recommend specialization particularly to those whose arms, after a year or more of barbell exercising, have remained disproportionately small in comparison with their legs or torso.
In using this method, drop all other developing exercises and concentrate for one or two months upon arm exercises alone. In doing this you should alternate exercises for different parts of the arms in your workout. A sample routine might be the following movements, in the order listed – 1.) two-arm reverse curl, 2.) triceps push-away, 3.) regular wrist curl, 4.) one arm curl with dumbell with hand in semi-supination, 5.) press on back, 6.) wrist-twister, 7.) two-arm regular curl, 8.) two-arm triceps press from behind neck, 9.) reverse wrist curl.
Another plan would be to adopt the routine of curling a dumbell with alternate arms starting with 12 repetitions and continuing until only 3 or 4 curls can be made, as previously described; using the same method in the triceps push-away or the backward dumbell raise, and also in the regular and reverse one-arm wrist curls. When this routine is used, no other arms exercises should be performed.
A still further intensification of this specialized training may be accomplished by increasing the frequency of the exercise periods. Instead of exercising three times a week, you can exercise five times a week doing arm exercises only. Or you can try the plan of exercising every day, for two weeks, and then resting from all exercise for an entire week. Then exercise every day for the next two weeks, and again rest completely for an entire week. After that, return to three exercise periods a week. Remember that you are to do arm exercises only when using this plan of daily training.
In conclusion, we must again stress the fact that intensive specialization should be used as a temporary stimulant to overcome the stubbornness of muscles that refuse to respond sufficiently to ordinary training, or to develop parts of the body that are disproportionately small. It should be adopted only by the advanced exerciser, after he has practiced a general routine of body-building exercises for at least a year.