A lot of guys still believe that if you follow Arnold's routine you get arms like Arnold's, or if you follow Larry Scott's routine you'll get arms like Scott's.
Of course this is a ridiculous notion and simply isn't true. Your individual genes and bone structure determine your potential muscle size, shape and length, so training merely develops the arms you have the potential to have and nothing else.
You can accentuate certain muscles to give the appearance of altering your muscle shape but usually the change is slight and you're stuck with the shape you have.
If you have a short bicep and a gap at the elbow then doing Preacher Curls will probably only lengthen the bicep ever so slightly if at all, and if you don't have the potential for a big split biceps peak then all the concentration curls in the world won't give you a peak like Boyer Coe, Robbie Robinson or Al Beckles. It will improve a bit in some lifters. If peak could be built don't you think that Sergio Oliva or Chris Dickerson would have found a way?
This doesn't mean you shouldn't try to improve. If your biceps are short, by all means do preacher curls, lying DB curls and reverse curls to try and fill in the gap.
If your biceps are flat then concentrate on dumbbell and bentover barbell concentration curls, alternate dumbbell curls with supination and spider curls with barbell or dumbbells done at a 90-degree angle.
One of the very best biceps "peakers" is lying lat machine pulldown curls. Lie on a bench under a lat machine bar, keep your elbows pointing up and curl the bar to your chin in a wide semicircle arc. Really tense the biceps hard for an intense contraction.
The thing is, how do you know how your arms are going to develop until you try and develop them? Some guys have started out with fairly flat looking biceps and built good peaks, and for others the peak just never comes. But you've got to try to find out.
Because the arm muscles are small it is usually necessary to gain some muscular body weight in order to add size to them, do diet and an all round training routine is important.
Here's an interesting four-part article by John McCallum.
"Gain Weight to Build Your Arms" -
It may not be popular to say but doing squats, bench presses, rows and chins will do as much or more than most actual arm movements to add size. Certainly the man who solely trains his arms would have a difficult time after a while adding size to them, while another man who followed an all around routine that included work for all major muscle groups would be far more successful in the long run and look better too.
Each person is unique and responds differently but generally for each 10-15 pound gain in muscular bodyweight you should add about one inch to your upper arms and close to one half inch to your forearms. (Note: I stress muscular bodyweight -- adding 10 pounds of fat is useless and as mentioned earlier, will just hide your muscularity and make your arms look smaller and less impressive).
If you are genetically predisposed of big arms or of superior genetics you may gain even more, but if you have poor genetics your gains may be somewhat less. Usually one inch per 10-15 pound gain holds true in most cases.
No matter how good your genetics are it takes time to build such size. You may gain 20-30 pounds in your first year of training and then 7-10 pounds your next 3-4 years, and then it may be difficult to add even 5 pounds of muscle a year, so to add 4-5 inches will take years.
If you currently have a 14 or 15 inch arm and weigh 160 pounds don't expect to build your arms up to 18 inches some day and still weigh 160 pounds. It's a physical impossibility.
Face it, every "big arm" champ from Park, Pearl, Draper, Scott, Sergio, Arnold, Beckles, etc., are huge people and all weigh over 200 pounds in top shape.
Don't believe that garbage about Mohamed Makkawy, Franco Columbu and Danny Padilla only weighing 170 pounds or so and having 20" arms. It just ain't so. Most arm measurements are grossly exaggerated.
At last year's Olympia in Munich, Germany, Makkawy's arms were 17.75" but because of his shortness and incredible cuts and symmetry most people would swear his arms were at least 20 inches. Likewise for Danny Padilla. Several years ago Arthur Jones measured Franco Columbu's arms and they measured 16.75 inches cold. These are true measurements. A real 18" arm is huge.
Remember too that those guys are the elite of the sport; the guys with the best genes. If they can only manage 17 to 17.75 inches [with assistance] should you expect more? Hardly!
Very, very few guys can build up to a muscular 200 pounds and build a 17 or 18 inch arm let alone build up to a muscular 220 or 230 and have 20 or 21 inch arms. It's rare, believe me.
Even Arnold has his limits. Once he went over 235-240 pounds he started smoothing out and looking fat. Likewise you may find your structure only allows you to weigh 190-200 pounds and anything over that and you lose your shape and cuts and look fat and if you have a small frame even 170-180 may be too much for you, so you'll have to be content with a smaller arm.
But even as 16.5 or 17 inch arm that is well shaped and symmetrical with cuts and separation is far more impressive than a 29 incher of shapeless, smooth bulk. As they say, you can't flex fat.
I'm not saying not to try and build you arms as large as possible. What I'm trying to tell you is that size is only one quality of good arms and if genetics won't allow you to build big arms, then build the best arms you can by concentrating on the other essential characteristics-- like shape, balance, separation and cuts -- and your arms will still be very impressive.
When you are trying to build your arms it's important not to rest excessively between sets or you'll lose your pump and find it difficult to congest your arms. It may be okay to rest 2 or 3 minutes between heavy sets of squats or deadlifts but for arms I'd suggest a much faster pace -- what Larry Scott and others call 'racing the pump" of about 45-60 seconds between sets.
The pump is proof that you are working the muscle as the body sends more blood into the worked area to carry away waste products and supply nutrients which help to rebuild the muscle.
An old trick is to train your forearms the day after you train biceps, which can "feed' the biceps and brachialis as fresh blood is forced into the area via forearm training.
This brings up another vital point -- the importance of forearm and brachialis work. There is a definite relationship between the upper and lower arm, for a small, weak lower arm simply cannot support a huge upper arm. You won't have a 20 inch upper arm on a 10 inch lower arm.
Not only will the weaker lower arm hold back development of the upper arm by preventing the use of heavy weights necessary to built the upper arm, but it looks "funny" and throws off your symmetry to have skinny forearms, no matter how impressive your biceps-triceps are.
Most authorities agree that one inch on your forearms is worth about three inches on your upper arms and that forearms being a denser muscle group need higher reps and more pumping to make them respond.
Because they are difficult to overtrain I suggest you train forearms three or four times per week.
There are many effective forearm exercises like wrist curls, Zottman curls, hammer curls, reverse preacher curls and reverse curls. The reverse curl deserves special mention as it is definitely a size builder and a favorite of almost all the big arm boys. I'd definitely recommend you include it too.
Another important rule for building big arms is to do more triceps work than biceps, for the triceps comprises to-thirds of upper arm mass. Do two triceps exercises for every one biceps movement, unless your arm development and your biceps are less developed.
When training triceps the most important thing is contraction so you shouldn't use constant tension style training as this denies the triceps work in the fully contracted position. Always go from full extension to full lockout.
Keep in mind that the triceps have three heads so eventually you'll have to do exercises for each head to get full triceps development and get that horseshoe look to the back of your arms.
To hit the side and outer heads try close grip bench press, reverse grip bench press, lying one arm extensions with dumbbell moving across the face, triceps kickbacks and triceps pressdowns with the elbows held wide to the sides.
For the inner and long heads try triceps extensions (seated, flat, decline or incline), dips, triceps dips, one arm extensions and long pulley extensions. The seated triceps extension develops the triceps closer to the elbow than the lying version.
If you're having trouble getting a pump in the triceps then try supersetting, pre-exhaust, one-and-one-halfs, tri-sets, burns (1/4 reps).
An effective superset for triceps is:
Close grip bench press -> Lying pulley extension
3 x 8-10
Triceps extension -> Triceps dip
3 x 8-10
Dips -> Triceps pressdowns
3 x 8-10
Because the arms need a lot of variety and constant shocking to improve, barbells, dumbbells, cable and arm machines should all be used at one time or another, utilizing different training principles, i.e. sometimes straight sets sometimes compound sets.
One way to shock the arms and get a lot of variety in your arm training is to train the arms three times per week but use different exercises each day. This not only prevents boredom and keeps your enthusiasm up but works the arm from various angles, thus more muscle fiber as well.
Barbell curl, alt. DB curl, Machine curl.
Pullover and press, Dips, Triceps pressdown.
Reverse curl, wrist curl, reverse wrist curl.
Incline DB curl, Preacher curl, EZ curl
Seated triceps extension, One arm extension, DB kickback
Reverse preacher curl, Standing wrist curl, Wrist roller
Wide grip cheat curl, DB curl, Concentration curl
Decline EZ extension, Incline EZ extension, Triceps dip
Zottman curl, Cable wrist curl, DB reverse curl
As I mentioned, some days you could mix things up and use supersets or tri-sets, or else you could follow a system of training for 6 weeks or so like straight sets for 6 weeks and then on to another exercise style.
Chuck Sipes built big arms, but didn't change exercises too often. He did, however, sometime use different training principles to hit the muscle in a different way.
For example, he'd take two exercises for his biceps and two for his triceps and train them very heavy, constantly adding weight each workout. His routine might look like this:
Barbell curl, 6 x 6
Incline DB Curl, 6 x 8
Lying triceps extension, 6 x 6
Triceps pressdown, 6 x 8
After six weeks he'd switch over to supersets so now his routine would look like this:
Barbell curl -> Lying triceps extension
6 x 6
Incline DB Curl -> Triceps pressdown
6 x 8
Finally, for his last six weeks he'd switch to compounds or supersetting the same muscle group for an extreme burn and pump:
Barbell curl -> Incline DB curl
6 x 6-8
Lying triceps extension -> Triceps pressdown
6 x 6-8
Note: you can find much more on Sipes' training approach on this blog.
Just heavy, basic training but very, very effective. Most guys try and get too fancy and go too many exercises and end up overtraining and losing interest.
After the third routine Sipes would switch back to a more conventional workout and do mostly straight sets with the accent on heavy weights and strength. I feel you really can't go wrong by cycling your training methods like this, and supersetting is one of the most effective types of arm training you can do.
Another very effective style of training that I feel you can't go wrong with is the Heavy - Light principle; that is, doing a heavy low rep exercise, followed by a lighter high rep exercise or superset to pump up the muscles. The heavy exercises put a heavy load on the muscle, thickening and strengthening the deep muscle fibers, especially the fast twitch kind, as well as thickening and strengthening the bones, tendons and ligaments while the lighter high rep movements hit the slow twitch muscle fibers, and pump the muscle up, build capillaries, and build muscle endurance.
An effective heavy - light arm routine might be:
Heavy barbell curl, 4 x 4-6
Preacher curl -> DB curl, 3-4 x 8-12
Close grip bench press, 4 x 6-8
Decline triceps EZ extension -> Triceps pressdown, 3-4 x 8-12
Reverse curl, 4 x 6
Preacher reverse curl -> Wrist curl, 3-4 x 12-15
A favorite and most successful arm routine of mine for more advanced trainers, one that was modeled after Larry Scott's somewhat, was as follows:
One are concentration curl, 3 x 6-8
Preacher curl -> Barbell curl -> EZ reverse curl, 3-4 x 6-10
Close grip bench press, 5 x 8-12
Decline EZ extension, 4 x 8-10
One arm DB extension (optional), 3 x 8-12
Long pulley ext. or Seated triceps ext. -> Triceps pressdown -> Triceps dips
3 x 8-10
Wrist curl, 4 x 15-20
This routine really blew my arms up like no other routine I've ever done.
Note: Here's some of Larry Scott's advanced arm training stuff, more than likely what he's referring to above:
A third very effective principle that really hits the arms hard is the descending rep or triple drop method. Larry Scott uses a similar method with dumbbells called "down the rack" training, where he starts with say a pair a 60's, does as many reps as he can and then puts down them down and immediately grabs the 50's and repeats until he's gone down the rack and is only using a pair of 20 or 25 pounders. One or two cycles is all that is necessary to really get a terrific pump.
In triple drop [Note: there will be a full article from this author on Triple Dropping in the future) you can use a barbell and do as many reps as you can, immediately remove some plates and continue on to failure and remove weight a second time and go on to failure again and remove some plates a third time and go on to failure again. It helps if you have training partners to remove the plates for you so you don't put the bar down. Dumbbells also work very well with this.
Because triple dropping is so demanding it is recommended you start with only one exercise per body part for two sets.
Close grip bench press - 2 sets or "cycles", 3 "drops" per set
Barbell curl, same
Wrist curl, same.
After three weeks you can go on to three such triple drop sets per exercise. As with all methods, triple dropping must be made progressively harder or it becomes ineffective, so when you feel you are ready for it, go onto two exercises per body part, two sets of three drops each. i.e. Routine II:
Close grip bench press, 2 sets plus 3 drops
Triceps pressdown, 2 sets, 3 drops
Barbell curl, same
Preacher curl, saame,
Reverse curl, saaame,
Wrist curl, saaaame
Again when you feel you're up to it you can go on to a third set for each exercise. Routine III, your next level of progression is to do three exercises per body part, two sets of three drops each exercise.
Close grip bench press, triceps extensions, triceps pressdown
Barbell curl, preacher curl, concentration curl
Reverse curl, wrist curl, reverse wrist curl
Again when you feel up to it go on to a third set of three drops for each exercise. At this point you're up to nine very intense, demanding setss and it's just about impossible to go beyond nine sets of such training without overtraining. So be certain you're ready and up for it. I wouldn't recommend you go over three tri-sets of triple drops unless your name is King Kong. At this point you are doing (counting each drop set as a set) 12 sets each tri-set or 36 intense, demanding sets for each bodypart!
All of these triple drop routines should be done only twice a week except. This is very advanced training and it should take a long, long time to build up to routines four and five, but to someone who puts forth the necessary effort he should realize some spectacular gains if he eats properly and manages to recuperate.
How much should you reduce each drop? A good rule of thumb is 10%.
For example, starting with 100 lbs, the first drop would be to 90 lbs, then 80, and finally 70 on the third drop.
All of these routines should be done to positive failure only but if some animal out there manages to get up to three tri-sets of triple drops per bodypart and wants to intensify even more then he has three options.
The first is to go on to four or five tri-sets of triple drops, but overtraining looms on the horizon. The second option is to add some forced reps and negatives to each set of triple drop. And the third option is to use the 1-1/2 rep system. Do a half rep, lower the bar down and do a full rep. Each 1-1/2 rep counts as one rep. But all of these options increase the already super high intensity and won't be needed by most humans on this planet. I'd pay money to see someone do nine sets of triple drop done in 1-1/2 style, with forced reps and negatives thrown in while being caned by a top and suspended from chains.
In any case, all of these routines are only suggestions and can be modified to meet your individual needs and preferences. The best rule for success in bodybuilding is to find out what works for you and keep doing it. There's more than one way to build good arms and if you keep plugging away you'll eventually find out what works best for you.
One last word on arm training . . .
Don't get discouraged if your gains seem to come slow. Don't expect to gain two inches a month and build your arms from a skinny 14" to a muscular 18 in a year. It takes years of hard, constant training to develop great arms. Not everyone had the genetic potential to build such arms anyway and even those who do may not want to put forth the effort needed.
Keep building your arms 1/8 or 1/4 of an inch at a time, keep to gaining muscle and very little fat, and in a few years your arms will be really impressive. But remember -- nothing takes the place of time.
Training hard, eating well and keeping positive, combined with some of the things we've talked about here should take you a long way towards your goal of great arms.
Remember too . . . you only get out of your training what you put into it. You don't get something for nothing.
Enjoy Your Lifting!