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Direct Muscle Work?

Okay guys…teach me something here, because I’m confused…


Does anyone have a plausible explanation for why NOT directly working a muscle group makes it grow? (This keeps showing up on the Forum, especially as it relates to Biceps).Is there a plausible explanation OR is this just a case of “I don’t know why it works…it just does!”?

I think it’s more of distinction between compound vs isolation movements.

I also thought about this. The only way I can think of is if you are overtraining your smaller muscles and then when you go to compound only exercises your arms grow because they are not being overtrained. I don’t believe the idea that direct arm doesn’t work though. If you want to workout your calves then squats will not do much for them. you have to do calf exercises.

It’s not that you don’t have to train them, it’s the notion that people think by doing curling exercises, their arms are just going to blow up that is misleading. Out of the 10-12 people who were training in the gym today, I think 6 of them were doing some type of curling exercise. Maybe they just like to pump up their arms for an hour…because they are not growing. For your biceps to grow, you have to 1) put on mass elsewhere, and 2) have strong traps, back, and forearms to support them. If not, your brain says “no” when you ask your arms to grow. It’s called regulatory feedback.

Generally speaking, in the weight room, athletes routines primarily use compound exercises. In comparison bodybuilders use isolation exercises more so than athletes. Although many athletes have great physiques, none compare to the muscle developement of a bodybuilder.
- Side note. Those who claim the made great muscle gain on compound exercises vs isolation were probably doing far too much isolation work, thus overtraining the muscle and not making gains.

Heb is right. Most people like to pick one way of thinking as ‘the only way’. Currently everyone that keeps up on training science is aware that compound movements stimulate more growth than isolation movements. So based on that info ‘the only way’ thinkers stick to only doing compound movements. I do both compound and isolated movements. I usually start the w/o with compound movements and finish with whatever isolation movements I think will help me achieve the body symetry I desire. Everybody is different, I have seen some guys get good results with isolation only techniques, and others didn’t. WTF, just do what works for you and try all the new ideas that come out I guess.

What Heb said. I’ll also add that once I am done with competitive bodybuilding, I more than likely will not perform as many isolation movements (especially for biceps). And some people may find that their biceps respond just fine with just compound movements, but others may need a li’l extra help with isolation.

the reason it is always brought up about biceps is that biceps are being worked hard without directly working them if you are training correctly. Same with triceps. If you look at any powerlifters arms, they are usually pretty big and semi cut. These guys rarely do direct bicep or tricep work. I havent been doing anything for bis because I think they grow from doing powercleans and bent over barbell rows, which are done in every back workout. However, I dont think theres anything wrong with training your arms, Its just not my first priority.

The reason (according to Poliquin and others) is that some small muscle groups get too much stimulation and are therefore in a constant state of being overtrained/unable to recover. With Biceps being so involved in any kind of pulling movement (even deadlifts, to a certain extent), training them directly in addition to everything else (back work and so on) can easily result in overtraining. Especially when you throw in the fact that most newbies make the mistake of over-training arms to begin with.


My arms grow easily compared to everything else, and I’ve been trying this idea of CP’s in my workouts for over a year now. I haven’t had anything but positive results. When I used to work arms a lot directly, they were about 14 1/2 cold. Now, with only very occasional direct work, they’re closer to 16 inches. Proof of the pudding, at least in my case.


You’ve mentioned several times that you’re more endo than ecto (whereas I’m the opposite), and therefore you probably don’t have to worry about overall recovery as much as someone like me does. Also, arms may not be an easy bodypart for you. But for someone in my situation, not directly training arms has been great.

I would say it’s mainly from the hormonal effect of doing big compound movements along with a large food intake which causes a size increase in the entire body…kind’ve like the old ripple in the water analogy. A bicep curl is like throwing a pebble in the water whereas a squat or deadlift is like throwing a boulder in the water. You get the ripple effect throughout the entire body.

Believe the hype. After I stopped training biceps by using lots o’ isolation movements and focusing on back with rows, chins, and more rows, my arms grew. This happened without my noticing until people started commenting. I pulled out the measuring tape and what do you know 1/2 inch bigger. Of course I have been eating big and using MAG-10.

To Joel, while I agree that back and trap work is essential for arm size, I do not think that forarm work or size is highly correlated with upper arm size. At least for me it’s not. My upper arms cold are 17" and forearms are only 14". I do think that forearms grow best like the biceps do with lots of back and grip work.

Okay…I just want to make sure I’m reading the comments right (by the way…as always, you guys are GREAT!). In summary:


1)It’s not so much that you don’t work the bi’s, but just with not as much (or ANY in some cases) isolation work.


2)The lack of growth that many allude to SEEMS to boil down to an old familiar nemesis…overtraining.


3)As always…you need to see how your own bodyparts respond.


With the comments thus far…is that about right? (Things are making sense now!)

I was telling my good friend for a year to cut back on direct arm training.He had nice size arms,so he wasn’t really interested in cutting back on “fun” exercises.I convinced him to stop training his arms separately(after the experiment worked well for my brother).Instead of 9 sets for each on a seperate day,he did 3 or 4 sets after his back or chest workouts(for bi’s or tri’s respectively).His arms went from 16 1/4 to 16 3/4 in less than 2 months.There’s time to increase the volume,sure,but I am with the big exercises rule crowd!

What Kelly Baggett said was the best thing I have ever heard in my entire life. Congratulations evereyone!  you have heard the best words of wisdom that you will ever hear in your bodybuilding life! (but keep up the cleans and deads!)

As far as overtraining goes, especially arms, I just don’t buy the fact that it leads to no gains.

The best example I can think of is the professional or olympic gymnast. As hard and as taxing as their daily lives are in terms of training, those guys have very large, well defined arms.

I doubt they got that way through excessive curling exercises, but rather what would be considered "compound" movements (aka the rings, pommel horse, parallel bars, uneven bars, etc.)

There isn’t really one correct answer here. The indirect work is always going to contribute to some extent (i.e. chins/biceps). Recovery ability is different for each person. Therefore, some can get away with doing more isolated (biceps) work and it will assist them with their development. Others can train indirectly (exclusively) and will grow w/o the isolated movements. The recovery factor is huge if you ask me.

Are you kidding me? Worj your chest and you hit your shoulders & Tris! When doing back you nail your bi’s! It’s not brain surgery!

As a bodybuilder, I use both compound and isolation exercises. Those training for sport probably stay away from isolation exercises, especially during the season for their sport, because no isolation exercise builds overall strength nearly as well as say a squat or bench press. Such compound movements hit all your muscles and will build huge overall strength which is why powerlifters and athletes use them. For bodybuilders like myself who are going for size and symmetry, isolation exercises are good because they allow us to target muscle groups and develop amazing size and tone.

i have heard (dont know for a fact, but the theory makes sense) that you have to train muscle groups pretty evenly in proportion in order for things to grow. for example, if you do 5 sets for biceps, do 5 sets for triceps. i even have it broken down to the fact that every third workout, i do tibialis raises (a reverse standing calf raise for the muscle in front of the shin) so my calves wont stop growing.

I think muscles tend to stop growing when the muscles around them don’t grow. It’s your body’s way of avoiding muscle imbalances that could potentially cause injury. So, if you pay 50% of your time to your biceps while neglecting everything else, your biceps won’t grow. However, if you do compound movements you’re working several muscles at once, and you won’t be neglecting any of them. That’s just one explanation.