By Cavino Johnson Athletic Xtreme
Of all the muscle groups on my physique, the ones I get asked about the most– my arms. I can’t say that I mind. They usually make people stare or start conversations like, “Dude, ok, ya gotta tell me– what do you do to get your arms that big?” That’s really a question that I can answer in the time it takes the Barista to whip up my venti Caramel Macchiato with an extra 2 shots of Espresso and extra caramel drizzle. So, I keep my responses simple: “I’ve been doing this for a long time…” Now, from the looks on their faces, I can probably make an accurate assumption that most people that have heard this response from me, have no concept of the kind of “time” I’m talking about. I’m talking years. I’m talking once, sometimes, twice a week for years.
The Bigger Arms Foundation
As a trainer, and as a bodybuilder, I hear from both, men and women, the desire to have either nice arms or big arms. It’s the way that they say it that makes me wonder… What are they not doing? When I go into the gym, between sets or before, maybe after training, I look around the gym. I take in what I see. I see a lot of the same faces on the same people doing the same things over and over again, week in and week out, and they usually look, well… the same. Depending on the day, and it’s really weird to me, most times, the majority of people are training arms, usually, on a Thursday or Friday. It’s almost like everyone’s split is synchronized. Anyway, what I see on these days are people doing the most basic arms training. There’s nothing wrong with that. Not in my book, at least. But, there’s also no fault in taking different approaches to training versus coming in and doing the same old, same old.
The 8 Massive Movements
What I have done is compiled 8 of my favorite arms moves that I rarely see being used in many gyms that I have been in. There are 4 moves for the biceps, and 4 moves for the triceps. But before we get into the “how” in training arms, let’s take a brief look at what these parts of the upper arms the biceps and triceps are.
The Biceps, or biceps brachiis, are composed of 2 muscles, the long “head” and the short “head, hence it’s name, which stems from Latin, where bi- means “two“, and “ceps” is a derivative of the latin word, “caput”, which means “head”. Bicep. Train them properly, and be lean enough, and you will be able to see the muscle separation between the long and short heads of the muscle.
Triceps, or triceps brachii, consists of, you guessed it 3 heads. Translation from old language, it follows a similar origin that the bicep does. Instead of two heads, the triceps display three. Located at the back of the upper arm, well trained and developed triceps can display what many refer to as horseshoes and tornadoes, and is the biggest part of the arms.
A long time ago, I asked the same question to an old bodybuilder that many ask me– “How did you get your arms that big?” He said to me, “You wanna know the secret to bigger biceps?” Well, duh, dude. He continued, “The secret to big biceps is to have even bigger triceps. They’ll make your biceps look bigger…” I thought that had to be the biggest pile of crap I have ever heard, so my young and reckless, and cocky, self told him that there is no “secret” and that you just have to hit arms training with just as much intensity and volume that you would any other muscle group, and I haven’t looked back since then.
Over the years since then, I have witnessed (and participated) in more barbell and dumbbell curls, dips, preacher curls, skullcrushers, pressdowns… you name it, I’ve seen it. There are a few, however, that I don’t see enough, though, and they are some of my favorites. Of course, I have compiled a list. Of course, I use them. Of course, you should be. Let’s start with the biceps.
1. The Spider Curl
Some may say that this is a great finishing move for the end of your biceps training. Some say it’s good at the beginning. Personally, I put it where ever I want them. The Spider Curl, involves using an incline bench and an EZ Curl bar with either a preset weight amount or a plate loading bar. Lying on your stomach on the bench, back straight, fixing your sights on a spot on the floor a couple of feet in front of you, so that you do not strain your neck muscles. With the bar in hand, granted you are using a good amount of weight and your balance is circus worthy, lay the front of your body onto the incline bench, and let the bar dead hang. Keep your core engaged, curl the bar up, squeeze for a couple of seconds, then unfold back down, and repeat.
(muscles worked: Primary- biceps. Secondary- forearms, lower back, front delts See Video.)
2. Cross-Body Dumbbell Hammer Curls
If you perform this move correctly, you’ll feel it in all the right places. Do it wrong, and well… you’ll feel it. Many people come to the gym and hit dumbbell curl after dumbell curl, searching for that ever elusive peak. Yet, the fail to realize, that the biceps, along with every other muscle group, has different angles to them, so, you have to train them from different angles. Slotted as a forearm-primary move, I say that, along with the brachioradials (the forearm muscle that runs from the outer part of the bicep, over the elbow, towards the wrist), this particular hammer variation will also hit the outer part of the biceps (brachii and brachialis). If you’re a bodybuilder, then you know that a rear double biceps pose highlights these three small muscles. Small, but they make a huge difference.
(Muscles Target: Biceps Bracii, Brachialis, Brachioradials… yes, the biceps and forearms, man)
3. Standing Concentration Curls
One of my favorites. Sometimes, I do them as what I call dead curls. It allows me to curl heavier weight. The standing concentration leaves the arm free in the same sense as a standard, standing dumbbell curl. You play against gravity here. Some prefer propping the elbow of the working arm against the knee. I will do that when the weight is lighter for a more strict form, but I want to build massive biceps. So, I break form, slightly, use a little body, and dead curl for reps. For clarification, when I say “dead curl”, what I mean is that I sit the dumbbell on the floor, grip the handle, rep full range for one, then sit it down for a split second, then rep it, again. The concentration curl, seated or standing, is one of the most important biceps training move you can do.
(Muscles Target: Biceps, forearm)
4. Single Arm High Cable Curls
PEAKS!! There is 2 other moves that I use where I can truly feel the tops of my biceps begin to feel like they are going to burst through the skin. They are the Preacher Curl and Barbell Curls. The High Cable Curl is awesome! The single arm high cable curl is even more awesome, as it allows isolation and helps in bringing up weak biceps as far as size and shape go. Elbow positioning and weight used are critical, as you want to find what I call the sweet spot. It’s easy to bring in the shoulders and lats to pull the weight, so be mindful at making connection with your biceps. Don’t curl with the forearms, but instead, let the bicep pull in the handle.
(Muscles Target: Biceps… those peaks, son!)
Alright. Those are some of my favorites for biceps. After nearly a decade, I’d say that my biceps are one of the most pronounced muscles I have. But let’s move on to the bigger muscles of the upper arm. The Triceps. Consisting of three “heads” as mentioned above, the tricep is the largest muscle of the upper arm and is responsible for extending the upper arm. The Triceps Brachii Medius, Triceps Brachii Longus, Tricep Brachii Lateral, each require certain training in order to build them symmetrically and effectively. I’ve highlighted my 4 moves that I rarely see in most gyms I frequent.
1. Standing Barbell Tricep Press/Extension or (French Press)
I see that people take to Skullcrushers and dumbbell overhead triceps presses, but I NEVER see anyone execute them standing and with a barbell. The barbell, alone, puts a different spin on the actual press, changing the weight balance. This, plus the fact that you are standing, requires more core activation. I do not recommend going for heavy weight on this move. I, personally, cap my max weight at 100 pounds to maintain form for safety. Be mindful in the stress this may put on your wrists, which will be determined by where you grip the bar. i usually take about a 18″-20″ grip width, keeping my elbows as close to the head as possible.
(Musles Target: Triceps. I feel it mostly in my long heads)
2. Close Grip Bench Press
On chest day, everyone waits for the flat bench to do their chest presses. What many forget is that their triceps are a major force in this press. The next time you train chest, look at your triceps in the mirror. See that pump? Now, let’s focus more on the triceps in a bench press. By moving your hands to about 16″-18″ apart, you are able to put more work into the triceps, as well as the mid pecs. I’ve seen people load up 315 on the bar to do these, and that’s fine, but only if you are able to contract the triceps while maintaining proper form. Of course, one slip and the horseshoe shap in your triceps would be the least of your worries. Be sure to fold at the elbows close to the body, lowering the bar, palms up, high on the chest. I tend to go lighter to moderate weight and go for reps.
(Muscles Target: Triceps, medial, mostly)
3. Bent Over Cable Extensions
The problem with cable exercises is that people stick to the basics. The great part about cables is how they are extremely versatile and allow for various angulations to nearly every move. For instance, we’ve all seen the rope extensions done. Basic. Start at the top, extend down, and return. The issue I have with this, is that a lot of people do not use proper weight. Because of this, they are unable to separate the rope ends at the bottom of the extension, which, in turn, does not maximize the movement, short-changing the targeted triceps. The same goes for the Bent Over Cable Extension. With rope in hand, back facing the pulley, hands over your head, bend at the waist. Fully extend the arms and rope past your head and in front of you. At the end of the extension, separate the rope ends to get a full contraction in the triceps, while keeping the elbows relatively close to the head. (See video)
4. Single Arm Tricep Extension
Ok. I love arms training. I love all training, really. But this particular move is my utmost favorite of them all. With a simple grip adjustment and a slight differentation in angles, one could hit all three triceps heads with this one move. Whether underhand or overhand, isolating each tricep on its own is beneficial across the board. Standing, feet together, or at least, close, grip the D-handle with one hand. In the video, I use an underhand grip. From the starting position, keeping the elbow”tucked into the ribcage, extend downward, contracting the tricep muscles. If you are able to watch in a mirror, you will see how quickly the triceps come alive. I, generally, use a lighter weight, around 30%, and rep to failure on each arm. As the reps become nearly impossible, I drop the weight and continue.
There you have it. Four moves you don’t see a lot of people doing that could make all the difference in the muscle growth in their arms. Be sure to implement these 8 moves into your arms training split, and watch and feel the growth. Rep for rep, be sure to squeeze the muscles, and get that blood filled up in the muscle bellies. Then, cut the sleeves off your t-shirts. Trust me. I know arms.