Tweak your workout for bigger arms and use our form tips to power up your biceps curls
'Getting bigger arms in the gym comes as a result of your body’s response to the stress of weight training,' says personal trainer Guy Stockwell. 'If your arms muscles were sentient beings they’d think, "That was hard. I'd better do something about it so it’s not as difficult next time".’
When you perform arm resistance exercises, microscopic tears occur in your muscles. Your body responds to this micro trauma by overcompensating: the damaged tissue is repaired and more is added, making your muscles bigger and stronger so the risk of future damage is minimised.
This also means that over time you need to steadily increase the weight you lift, because your muscles quickly learn to deal with the stress to which they’re exposed.
It’s thought this damage to your muscle fibres is the reason for delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, the symptoms of which include muscle soreness and stiffness in the days after a tough workout. That’s why you should leave at least 48 hours between arms sessions.
Here are five other tweaks from Stockwell that you can make to your workout for big arms gains.
Change your grip
When doing exercises with a barbell or E-Z bar, try gripping with your thumb under the bar rather than wrapped over it. This reduces the role of the forearm in the move and places greater emphasis on the biceps or triceps, forcing these muscles to work far harder for each rep.
Don’t ignore your triceps
It’s easy to concentrate on blitzing your biceps, but your triceps are actually the bigger muscles in the upper arm. Focusing on triceps exercises that isolate the muscle, such as dips, narrow-grip bench presses and lying triceps extensions, will lead to bigger gains so you fill out your T-shirts in double-quick time.
Perform big lifts
Biceps curls are all well and good, but you’ll see better results from big compound moves that involve the arms, such as reverse-grip bent-over rows and chin-ups. These exercises require multi-joint movement and allow you to lift heavier weights, flooding the body with muscle-building hormones so you get bigger and stronger.
Take your time
The golden rule is one second up and three seconds down for every rep. Three times as many muscle fibres are activated during the eccentric – or downward – phase of the exercise, so lowering the weight slowly and under control will work the biceps and triceps far harder. Taking your time also keeps the muscle under tension for longer.
Work to failure
To build muscle you need to fatigue the arms, forcing them to grow back bigger and stronger. Each set should last around eight to 12 reps, at which point you should reach failure. If you feel as if you have a few more reps in you, the weight is too light. Also make sure you ‘squeeze’ the muscles at the top of every rep to really work them.