12 steps to building stronger arms in the gym

While this column is less about vanity and more focused on health and wellness, let's be honest – a good pair of arms is a strong proposition.

Summer is upon us and you might be keen to know what it takes to build your biceps with this 12-step process that's detailed here.

The exercises

A recent ranking of eight commonly-used bicep exercises revealed the following to be the most effective, from best to worst. 

  1. the concentration curl
  2. the cable curl
  3. chin-up
  4. barbell curl
  5. ez curl (wide grip)
  6. ez curl (narrow grip)
  7. incline curl
  8. preacher curl

The form

Every exercise has form that yields optimum results and guarantees safety. Learn it, because there's nothing worse than that swaying, standing bicep curl that means A) You're lifting too much weight, B) You're transferring the load from biceps to lower back (get ready for injuries), and C) You're missing out core activation.

The range

Fights break out over "how many reps" are best for building size. Science supports a medium range of 8-12 repetitions, and 3-4 sets will suffice.

The tempo

Bulking up is all about tempo, known as "Total Time Under Tension" (TTUT) – that's how much time a muscle is under strain. A set should last around 40-60 seconds, meaning the "curl-up" (concentric phase) should last one second, whereas lowering the weight (eccentric phase) should be a slow and controlled three to four seconds.

The triceps

If you work your quads, you must work your hamstrings; same goes with the chest and back. If you want bigger (and better) arms, you must work the triceps. Training the anterior and posterior breeds a body with balance, and the fact is: two thirds of the upper arm's mass comes from the triceps.

The supersets

To "superset" is to perform one exercise, then immediately perform another exercise. It's about efficiency and increased muscle activation. Perform a bicep exercise, then follow it up with an opposing muscle movement like tricep skullcrushers, diamond push ups, or tricep cable push downs.


The timing

When you lift, muscle growth occurs over the next 48 hours, therefore rest and repair is required. Only thereafter is it time to stimulate and load those muscles again. Scientific research recommends two arms sessions per week within a hypertrophy program.

The other

Avoid the simple, monotonous "three sets of 10" week after week – shock your arms by changing up your routine. Mix in isometric holds, change the angle, change the grip, overload with negatives, and get involved with periodisation (varying specificity, intensity, and volume).

The failure

Work 'em 'til you can't work 'em any longer. Two great movements to end a session for serious pump are Bicep 7s (aka 21s) and / or a drop set.

Bicep 7s require seven reps of the lower half of a barbell bicep curl, straight into seven reps of the upper half of the moment, then straight into seven full range curls.

A drop set is a decreasing load technique where you load the barbell with small weights, doing as many reps as possible until failure, then dropping the weight and repeating until failure, until you're left with just the bar and total muscular exhaustion.

The routine

A simple yet effective session to smash the biceps is as follows: three sets of eight of

  • standing barbell curls
  • seated hammer curls
  • preacher curls
  • concentration curls 

Finish with a drop set to failure.

The proportions

Bigger arms look better with a leaner torso. Don't forget about the cardio, chest, and abdominal work… as well as the sacrifices required in the kitchen. Don't forget about leg day. Don't forget that a balanced body is a healthier and better looking body.

The patience

You can't build arms like an AFL player in two weeks. With the right nutrition complementing a solid program? In just eight weeks you'll have your instagram littered with flexing selfies to upload onto 2019's Tinder profile.

Passion for lifestyle change is the cornerstone for everything Michael Jarosky does. A Sydney-based personal trainer, he cajoled thousands of Executive Style readers to undertake his "Cut The BS" diet, and champions a charity weight-loss event, Droptober.

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