Saturday, February 12, 2022

Thoughts on Arm Training, Part One -- Greg Zulak (1984)

Nice Middle Finger Illusion on the Right

There's something very alluring about big, strong muscular arms. Everybody wants them. Probably more bodybuilders initially became inspired to take up bodybuilding by a picture of some superstar's huge, monstrous arms than any other bodypart. 

In my case I was just 14 years old. I was down at the local variety store buying some coke and potato chips or other such junk and I started leafing through a magazine. Suddenly I came across a closeup photo of the biggest, most muscular arm I'd ever seen! 

At first I didn't actually believe it was real -- it had to be trick photography or made of rubber. Man, it was really something else. I just kept staring at it with a growing sense of awe and excitement. 

At the time I didn't know anything about bodybuilding or biceps, triceps and forearms but this arm was truly mindboggling. Attached to the arm was a blond-haired giant I would later learn was superstar Dave Draper. To me he looked like a Greek God and even today Dave is one of my all time favorites and a source of inspiration.   

That very day I went home and asked my father about getting some weights, and a few months later (on Christmas morning) I received a 110-lb set and I was on my way. 

I suppose a similar story could be told by literally thousands of bodybuilders around the world. And now, almost 17 years later I've had more than my share of ups and downs an disappointments with my training but I've had aa lot of fun and learned a lot along the way. I'm still as enthusiastic about bodybuilding now as I was when I saw that first picture of Dave Draper. Maybe I'm not so na├»ve as that youngster was who thought 20" arms were only a few protein drinks and arm workouts away, but I'm still trying to improve.

Actually, arms are not one of my favorite bodyparts to train, but I'd be lying if I told you I never imagined having an 18 or 19 inch monster hanging out of my shirt sleeve. But this article is on arm training -- some of the problems often encountered training arms and offering a few possible solutions, and ends up with some very successful arm training programs. 

Before we get into talking about some of the problems and solutions of training arms, let's talk about what constitutes a "great" arm. Most authorities would agree that the characteristics or qualities of prize-winning arms are good size, shape, separation and balance, with definition, vascularity and cuts. That's a tall order to fill and can only be achieved through hard, persistent, intelligent training, using a balanced routine to train the complete arm.

To achieve such arms, the biceps should be trained for overall size, thickness, peak and length 
with a pronounced cephalic vein running down the middle of the arm. Think of that huge vein on Arnold's biceps and you'll know what I'm talking about . . . 

Each of the three heads (inner, outer and side) of the triceps should be developed fully, especially the side and outer heads which should sweep out from the elbow and flow into the rear delt area, giving the arm width when viewed from the side. 

Also, you should have fully developed Brachialis and Coracobrachialis which lie between the biceps and triceps. The forearm, both pronators and supinators, or flexors and extensors, should be developed to the maximum. 

Okay, you now know what qualities make up good arms and what muscles should be trained to achieve such arms, so how come most guys don't have such arms? 

Well, let's talk about it and give a few insights into why guys find arms difficult to develop. 

First of all, you've got to realize that there are no secret routines or exercises that will magically give you big arms if you don't have the potential for such size, but there are certain guidelines to follow to help you make the most of what you've got and there are certain exercises that work better than others. A lot is it is just common sense. For example, if our arms are small and you are trying to add size then obviously a routine of Barbell Curls, Close Grip Bench Presses and Reverse Curls will add more size than a routine of concentration curls, kickbacks and the wrist roller.

Also, you've got to understand that the arms are not like most other bodyparts and have problems unique to themselves. For example, a lot of guys find arms difficult to develop because the arms are used to so much to train other upper body parts that they get very strong and used to doing a lot of sets and resist change because they are used so often they can easily be overtrained, so simply adding more sets and/or exercises often isn't the answer to the big arm riddle.

If you overtrain you'll actually eventually lose size and strength, so working efficiently and sensibly while getting enough rest and recuperation is imperative. 

I feel it doesn't take a lot of sets to make the arms grow, but the sets you do should be done with high intensity to jolt the arms into growing. Your arm training must always be progressive, constantly adding weight or reps each workout and not merely maintenance work. Believe me, if you're not shocking the arms constantly and making great demands upon them by doing a lot of reps in the pain barrier and beyond, they quickly become accustomed to the workload and refuse to budge.

Because your other upper body exercises work your arms so much, most of your arm exercises should be of the isolation variety. Actually nearly all direct arm exercises are isolation exercises in that they are nearly all purely arm exercises, even exercises traditionally thought of as "bulker" or size builders like barbell curls, dumbbell curls, and triceps extensions. Only exercises like dips, chins, close grip benches involve some other major major muscle groups. Most isolation exercises can add a lot of size but the secret is to use heavy weights in strict, smooth style over a full range of motion. Whether your problem is lack of muscle mass, thickness, length of peak, isolation of the individual muscle is the key to full development.

Isolation does not just involve your choice of exercises. To truly isolate the arm you should solidly anchor your body to prevent excessive cheating and use deep concentration and focus your mind on the part of your body you are trying to isolate. You can actually get deeper nerve stimulation and neuromuscular response this way.

Cheating is sometimes necessary to peak past sticking points but excessive cheating, which only defeats the purpose of the exercise, should be restricted to the end of your sets when trying to force out a few extra reps AFTER you have done as many strict reps as you can, or should be combined with full, strict movements to ensure complete development. 

For example, using the effective heavy / light principle you could do heavy cheat curls followed by or supersetted with strict preacher or dumbbell curls. But these are the exceptions rather than the rule and for the most part all exercises should be done SLOWLY, SMOOTHLY AND STRICTLY from FULL EXTENSION to FULL CONTRACTION, emphasizing the negative part of the movement. 

Such training develops the muscle fully and accentuates the shape of the muscle. This is especially important when training the arms because when you try and "bulk up" the arm muscles you get an arm that measures bigger but being smoother and shapeless, actually looks smaller. As is so often said train for shape and size will take care of itself. 

Always remember, shape is far more important than size. If you've got good shape, then it means you've got some sort of development, but size itself, if not backed up with rock hard muscularity, deep chiseled separation, cuts, definition and balance, is most unimpressive. 

The fat lady at any carnival has arms far bigger than any bodybuilder alive or who has ever lived (the one I saw at the Canadian National Exhibition had arms close to 30 inches, but personally I'll take arms like Boyer Coe's or Albert Beckles, Larry Scott's, Arnold or Sergio's (or any top champ) over some fat lady's shapeless blob any time.    

Actually, arms are fairly easy to grow if you don't overtrain them and give them a chance to grow. Your arms will (believe it or not) grow as you gain muscular weight and development whether you train them directly or not. At one time my arms were at their all-time biggest when I was doing a lot of chest-back-delt work but very little direct arm work. Believe me, if you are doing 20 sets for your pecs, 20 sets for your lats and another 25-30 sets for your delt-traps, then your arms have done a lot of sets and require little direct work. I used to throw in another 3 or 4 sets each for biceps and triceps and that was it. They were worked into the ground. And as I said, I never had them bigger.

Interestingly, I recently read that Serge Nubret observed the same thing in his training, often abstaining from direct arm work completely because he was putting so much into his torso work and yet his arms remained massive. Which shows that it's not always how much you do and in fact your arm training may actually be preventing your arms from growing because they are being overworked. 

A common problem is to become overly enthusiastic and try to do too much for the rms. You shouldn't attempt to follow Mr. Universe arm routines published in a magazine because they're much too advanced and you'll just wind up overtraining. Instead, you should follow a routine in line with your current development, sticking to the basics like barbell curls, triceps extensions and wrist curls, done for 3-4 sets, each done 2-3 times per week.

When you read about a top bodybuilder's program, nine times out of 10 it's his pre-contest routine listed, NOT the one he uses to gain maximum size and strength, but the one he uses to train down and cut up. Such programs are totally unsuitable for gaining size and strength because they weren't designed for that purpose in the first place. It's amazing how many guys get screwed up by using routines designed for a different purpose (tearing down) than what they're using it for (building up). They're destined to fail because the designs and purposes of the routines are diametrically opposed. 

Note: These three chapters of an earlier book on arm training (written by Charles Smith for the Weider company) might be useful in seeing how different exercises, set/rep schedules and frequencies can be used. Not confined to only arm training, of course. It's from an older book, "quaint" and all that horrible stuff, but you may find worth in learning what's there. Or not.  Granted, it's not cutting edge by any means, which for some of us is actually a positive thing, oddly enough. 


Continued from Here.

Incidentally, the comments are open to all possessors of great lifting knowledge who wish to state how wrong all of this training info is via their always-erudite discussions! Feel free to comment in such a way and I'll feel free not to publish any of it. What in heck are those two words, the famous ones that begin with F and O respectively . . .   

Enjoy Your Lifting! 

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