Make a Muscle
by Bob Hoffman (1980)
Gyms everywhere are loaded with trainees suffering from "big-arm fever." Warning: This passion often leads to frustration. Why? Here's one explanation.
If there is one thing that the bodybuilding fraternity and the general public have in common it's a worship of big, thick, powerful looking arms. As far as the masses are concerned, this appreciation is often manifested by requesting an advanced trainee or physique man to "make a muscle." On the other hand, this biceps-triceps fetish is understandable, since the majority of poses demonstrated by today's musclemen feature the arms to a great degree. The point is that the arms are a very conspicuous muscle group, especially in short sleeve shirt weather. However, in relation to the rest of the body's overall mass, the arms are only a small portion of the entire picture.
Nevertheless, it's a mystery why nearly everyone who takes up a barbell craves big arms. Unfortunately, many trainees experience a great deal of frustration because they never seem to be able to reach their goal. Why? For one thing, many of them have unrealistic expectations, desiring 20-inch appendages while their frames are not capable of handling this type of massive size. Even though one must put forth an enormous amount of effort to build a superior physique -- including big arms -- genetics determine pretty much how far a person can go in acquiring exceptional development. Besides, wouldn't an arm of this mammoth dimension look rather ridiculous on a person who didn't have comparable measurements throughout the rest of his structure?
This brings me to another mistake that many anxious big arm seekers make -- going overboard in their arm work and neglecting the rest of their physique. First of all, the heavy squatting, deadlifting, rowing and pressing that work these other bodyparts promote the overall size and mass needed to develop big arms. Plus, pulling and pressing movements are fine arm-building movements in their own right.
Secondly, slaving away at arm exercises for hours on end is utter folly because it will never produce the kind of round, massive arms that the trainee envisions. Excessive emphasis on arm work -- which can either be in the form of doing too many exercises or doing endless set after set of only one or two movements -- usually results in disproportionate arm development. In the former instance where the arm muscles are overworked, the biceps and triceps muscles will have a stringy look. On the other hand, when the area is exercised in a constant, singular groove, the arm muscles will often have an "off" appearance and will not develop fully.
Avoiding this incomplete look is simple: Practice a regular, planned course of exercise for the rest of the body as well as the arms. Okay, but what about the individual who goes through the conventional exercises and still feels that his arms need some extra attention? This can be taken care of with some proven specialization techniques. First of all, one can split his routine and work his arms as a separate unit on specific training days. This is popular with many advanced men.
However, let's assume that the lifter is not so advanced and is doing full-body workouts two or three days per week. What's the best way for him to focus in on his arms? In this case, he should save the arm work until after everything else is done. He may find it extremely beneficial to exercise the entire arm-shoulder assembly together. This is best accomplished by doing one or two sets of a variety of exercises aimed at these areas . . . specifically, barbell/dumbbell presses, laterals, and upright rows in addition to barbell/dumbbell curls and triceps extensions.
Or, he can restrict himself to biceps-triceps movements and alternate between them. However, it should be remembered that the triceps group comprises the bulk of the arm and should receive more work.
If one desires a terrific arm pump in a comparatively short period of time, he may want to try compound exercise. For our purpose here, he would perform a set of curls, a set of overhead presses, and a set of upright rows back to back in nonstop fashion. This cycle would then be repeated after a short rest, or other exercises could be substituted.
Compound exercises are very severe if you have never tried them before. Plus, you will have to use lighter weights than when performing these exercises in conventional style. Nevertheless, it's a productive change of pace and can be worked in to your workouts as a 'light' day.
For those of you who prefer dumbbells for your arm workouts, you may want to try the up and down the rack approach. In this method you start with the lightest pair of dumbbells on the rack and curl (or press) them for a set, put them down, immediately pick up a heavier pair and curl them, and so forth. This procedure is continued until you reach a pair that you can't curl. At this point you start working your way back down the rack to the lightest pair. Regardless of whether one is curling or pressing, the affected areas are given plenty of work. Like the compound exercises, this method is severe and can be a time-saver.
Now, for the sake of the novices reading this I'll run through some of the more result-producing arm exercises.
The prime movement for the flexor muscles of the arm is the curl and its many variations. In regular curling the trainee grasps a barbell with an underhand grip (knuckles facing down), hands about shoulder-width apart. With the arms straight and the elbows firmly planted at one's sides, curl the weight to the upper chest, concentrating on using the power of the biceps. No swinging action should accompany the movement.
Once every week, or at regular intervals, the reverse curl should be practiced. It's performed just like the regular barbell curl except that the bar is gripped with the knuckles facing forward.
As I stated before, certain "heavy duty" exercises like rows and chins can add mass to the biceps. However, these exercises, especially chins, can be performed in a number of different ways, all of which have a different reaction on the biceps. Chinning with the palms facing the body will hit the flexor muscles severely. Pullups with the palms facing away can be likened to a reverse curl. There is no reason why both versions should not be performed.
The extensor muscles of the arms are worked directly by a combination of pressing and extension movements. Heading the list of the first type are military presses, dumbbell presses, presses behind the neck and parallel bar dips. What about bench presses, you say? While they do involve the triceps strongly particularly at the upper portion of the lift, these muscles are not exercised over a full range of motion during this exercise. This does not mean that bench presses should not be done! No, just avoid focusing solely on the bench press and practice the other exercises mentioned as well.
The other type of triceps exercises come under the heading of extension movements. Among the more widely practiced members of this group are triceps pushdowns and standing or lying triceps extensions with either barbell or dumbbell(s). The main point to remember about these kinds of exercises is to keep the elbows stationary throughout their performance and lower the weight slowly. A close grip is best in any form of triceps press.
Many individuals eventually experience sore elbows from doing triceps presses due to poor leverage. One way to avoid this pain in most cases and still get the benefits of the exercise is to begin with a very light weight and do a high number of repetitions to get a good flow of blood into the joints. As an additional warm-up aid, a set or two of light curls can also help flush the area with blood.
There are a few steps that have to be mastered to get larger biceps and triceps. You must put on enough overall mass to acquire sufficient size. Once you've done that, and it may be a matter of years before you accomplish this, you can start specializing on the area a little more with some of the techniques I've mentioned here and others as well.