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The Science of Arm Training
You know the world has changed when the average lifter wants the body of a baseball player. A big chest, a thick back and toned arms pretty much completes the wish list of most. Now I don’t know if all these players achieved their results with steroids or not. The fact is, they didn’t get the hell out of those arms by training kickbacks and focus.
If your arms haven’t grown since you thought baseball was drug-free, then it’s time for a change in your training. And I’ll show you how to use effective and efficient exercises in a scientifically designed plan that will add more arm size per week at BALCO Labs.
Unlike the average gym member, a lifter who gets results trains according to a schedule (even on arm day). While my set and rep scheme may be “out of left field” compared to what you’re doing now, trust me it’s guaranteed to improve on most arm training programs. But if you insist on playing in the 10-15 rep range for each exercise, then you’re bound to plateau and have minor league arms. Research shows that a wide range of reps (from 3 reps in a set to 12 reps in a set) can lead to large gains in muscle mass.
Using low reps and heavy weights for arm exercises may go against the grain, but the following outline will work for arms and all other body parts. But for now, that’s all you need to know.
In the first exercise of this workout, you will do 3 sets of 5 reps with a heavy weight (this will allow you to complete all reps as instructed below). The goal is to build absolute (“maximal”) strength and muscle mass (obviously). Increasing your absolute strength will help you lift more weight in all exercises. And if you can lift more weight, then you can train your muscles harder. In response, the muscle enlarges to sustain the demands of the heavy weights.
In the second exercise of the training, you will use 4 sets of 8 repetitions. This may be the optimal combination of intensity and volume for muscle growth and will work very well for lifters who have stalled on higher rep sets.
In the third and final arm workout, you’ll do 3 sets of 12 reps to add volume to the workout and fatigue the muscles and deplete muscle glycogen (glycogen is the name for the carbohydrates stored in the muscles). High volume training and fatigue cause the muscles to “store” carbohydrate stores in preparation for the next workout. And when your muscles are stocked with glycogen, they get bigger and future workouts can be more intense. By the end of the 6-week program, you’ll experience these workouts with more intensity and strength than you’ve had in months.
One of the trademarks of my strength training programs, as you will see in the coming months, is to use supersets as often as possible (although there are exceptions to the rule). With supersets, we combine two non-competing exercises together to do more work in less time without sacrificing strength or mass. Muscle size has nothing to do with how long you spend in the gym. The training goal is to get in, work hard, get out, whip up a post-workout shake, get home, eat and grow.
Another way to increase the effectiveness of a training program is to focus on the pace of the exercise. Tempo just means the speed of the exercise. For example, and for our purposes, a 3-1-1 pace means that you will take 3 seconds to lower the weight, then pause for 1 second, and then raise the weight back up in 1 second. A slow eccentric (lowering) tempo and a fast concentric (lifting) tempo will put the most stress on your type II muscle fibers—those fibers that have the greatest potential for muscle growth. So using this general tempo arrangement will give you the best strength and mass gains.
You may have gone through a pace phase for a few weeks in the past and then, being human, you probably got lazy and forgot to use it. But for the next 6 arm workouts, I want you to stick to the prescribed pace. You will see and feel the benefits after the first training session.
Now all that’s left is to choose the best exercises to build big arms. With the help of scientific research, experience, and a few recommendations from Charles Poliquin, I have put together some of the most effective and efficient arm exercises for increasing weight and strength.
After the 4 week arm attack, I want you to take 1 week off arm training to allow your muscles to grow (and adapt to the training). If you regularly include a week off in your training schedule, take it here. Otherwise, skip the arm workout in week 5. You can come back in week 6 with a new variation of this program. By the end of the program, your results should be glaringly obvious, and you may even be getting calls from major-league bullies for training tips.
Recommendations for training
Note: This program is for advanced lifters only. If you are a beginner, you will only need 1 set per exercise in the first two weeks and only two sets in weeks 3 and 4.
Do this exercise 6 times in 4 weeks.
1st week – Wednesday and Saturday
2nd week – Wednesday
3rd week – Wednesday and Saturday
4th week – Wednesday
Week 5 – recovery week
Reduce the amount of direct arm training you do in the 4 week arm training phase.
Exercise descriptions: See bottom of article.
Warm-up: For a specific warm-up, perform 2 sets of each exercise in the first Superset. Start with 50% and then 75% of the weight you use in your first “real set”. Do 8 reps for each warm-up set.
Each pair of exercises forms a “Superset”. In each superset, perform one set of the first exercise (1A), followed immediately by the next exercise (1B). Rest for 1 minute and repeat.
For each exercise, use the correct weight to allow you to complete all repetitions with perfect form and at the recommended pace. This will require you to reduce the weight by at least 10% for most exercises.
1A) Bench press with rack lock in tight grip
1B) Grip EZ-Bar Preacher Curl
2A) Decline DB triceps extension
2B) DB oblique curls
3A) Lying EZ-Bar Triceps Extension
3B) Seated DB Zottman Curls
Bench press with lockable stand
o Move the straight bench to the center of the squat rack.
o Set the pins 6 inches above the chest. You will only perform the upper half of the close bench press.
o Keep your feet flat on the floor, bend your legs and lean your upper back against the bench.
o Grasp the bar with a shoulder-width grip and ask your spotter to help you lift the bar from the rack.
o Keeping your elbows at your sides, lower the bar straight down to the pegs at pace.
o Pause briefly and then press the bar in a straight direction.
o Poliquin recommends that you have very little elbow bend at the top of triceps exercises to keep the muscles working.
Decline DB Triceps Extensions
o Lie down on the decline bench with your feet properly anchored.
o Press the dumbbells to your chest to the starting position and turn your palms to face each other.
o Begin the movement by bending the elbow and lowering the dumbbells down and next to the head.
o Pause and hold for one second, then contract your triceps to extend your arms and bring the dumbbells back to the starting position.
Lying EZ-Bar Triceps Extension
o Lie on a bench with dumbbells in each hand. Hold the dumbbells at arm’s length across your chest, palms facing each other.
o Bend your elbows and lower the dumbbells behind your head.
o Briefly pause at the bottom and then contract the triceps and extend the arms back to the starting position.
Fixed EZ-Bar Preacher Curl
o Sit on a preacher’s curl bench with a narrow grip, palms up on the EZ-Bar.
o Poliquin recommends that you adjust your seat height so that the top of your thighs are parallel to the floor.
o Bend forward so that your armpits are in contact with the top of the preacher’s bench and as you lower the bar, your triceps are in contact with the pad of the bench.
o Lower the bar until your arms are straight.
o Pause briefly, then contract your biceps to curl the bar back to the top position.
o Poliquin also recommends that you keep your wrists extended back through the full range of motion.
Seated DB slant curls
o Adjust the incline of the bench to 80 degrees (in an almost upright position).
o Sit on a bench with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing up.
o Lean back and keep your back and head against the bench throughout the exercise.
o Alternate dumbbell curls with each hand. Keep your palm up throughout the exercise.
Seated DB Zottman Curls
o The Zottman curl is simply a barbell curl performed with a “palms down” grip when lowering the barbell and a “palms up” grip when lifting the barbell. It’s like doing a curl followed by a reverse curl.
o Adjust the adjustable bench so that the back is straight. Sit down and hold a dumbbell in each hand at arm’s length, palm facing up.
o Shorten your biceps and curl the barbell up to shoulder height.
o At the top of the movement, rotate your palm down and lower the barbell back to the starting position.
o Poliquin recommends that you keep your elbows glued to your hips throughout the lifting and lowering portion of the exercise.
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