One of the best things about fitness, as well as general social trends, is that things are cyclical. So what was popular, years ago, oftentimes comes back around again with the same level of ferocity as before, if not more. Anyone remember when kettlebells became popular again circa 2001-2006? Well, they did. Kind of like how they were popular among performing strongmen roughly a century before.

The interesting thing out of that time period was that people started eschewing other goals that people may have had. Especially if those goals were “vanity” focused or had to do with something other than gaining brute strength. Perhaps I am being too optimistic, but it seems like people are slowly coming around again, in that they’re not worrying about someone else unless the circumstances require it.

Now, the tide has turned again, and training for a good physique is a bit more main stream. And I think that’s great. No goal is “bad” if it’s something a person legitimately wants. To that end, everyone likes a nice set of arms. And since I have talked about training the forearms, it’s time to move on to the rest of the arms. After all, nobody wants forearms bigger than their biceps, even though that type of dedication in and of itself is impressive.

 

What do your Arms Actually Do?

Excellent question. Besides look good when you train them, your arms are responsible for several primary functions. Let’s start with the biceps:

  • The biceps bend the elbow, like in any type of curl, pull-ups, chin-ups, and rowing motions.
  • They also supinate your forearm. Hold your arm so that your humerus is straight and your elbow is bent. Turn your palm up and you’ll see and feel your biceps working.
  • And to a lesser degree, they aid in humeral abduction, adduction, and flexion.

The triceps are bit simpler in their function, since their primary goal is to extend the elbow, like in a bench press, if you’re looking at the elbow joint.

And the names of each are self explanatory. The triceps has three heads, a lateral head, located on the outside of the arm, the medial head, located next to it, and on the other side of the medial head, we have the long head. The biceps has two heads, the long head on the outside, and the short head on the inside.

 

How to Train the Arms

Bentley at strengthandconditioningresearch.com cited several studies regarding the nature of the biceps and the triceps and noted that they are mostly comprised of type II muscle fibers. This means that they respond well to heavy lifting or speed. And it goes for the biceps and the triceps.

In addition to that, the range of movement at a joint is the strongest when it is extended. You’ll notice that you can lift significantly heavier weight on a three or four board bench press than you can when you do a full range of motion bench press. And the same goes for something like a dumbbell row, a pulling exercise. You’ll be able to do more at the start of the movement than you can at the end.

With that in mind, if you want to lift heavy and get big arms, it’s important to select the exercises that allow you best to maximize the load you can use. For that purpose we have two exercises.

 

Barbell Biceps Curl

Pretend that I am not doing these in a squat rack, if it suits you. But, it’s a pretty easy exercise. Having said that, there a few points of order to keep in mind:

  • You want to keep your hands as close as you reasonably can, because if you’ll recall, the biceps help with abduction a little bit.
  • You don’t want to swing the weight, because remember, this is the heavy exercise and you want the load to go to the biceps, and swinging at the beginning of the exercise—the point at which you are the strongest—is like stealing from yourself.
  • If your wrists can’t handle it, spread your hands wider or opt for an EZ Bar curl instead.

 

Close Grip Bench Press

This is also a pretty straightforward exercise. Different people will, of course, find their own sweet spot in terms of grip, but I like to have everyone at least start with their index finger on the inner smooth portion right past the knurling on the bar. From there, you can make adjustments. My personal sweet spot is to have my pinkie and ring fingers on the knurling, and my middle and middle and ring fingers on the smooth.

Another option with this is to use the Smith machine. If you’ll recall in that piece, the studies I cited relay that the Smith machine reduces anterior deltoid activation in the bench, plus the track might alleviate any safety concerns you have, if you lift alone.

But whichever you choose, the key points are as follows:

  • Don’t flare your elbows out.
  • Apply the same rules as you would for a medium or wide grip bench press, otherwise.

Last, but not least, your thumb. Personally, I opt for a thumbless grip, since using my thumb at close range doesn’t make my wrists feel pleasant. If I move the grip wider, I can use my thumb, but I don’t feel it as much in my triceps. So it’s a trade off. And the safety (or lack of) of the false grip is something I am willing to accept as a trade off. Exercise caution if you make this same trade off.

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