T Nation

Increasing Arm Strength & Size

Hello,

Ok, so I noticed today at the gym, discussing after my wo, that my biceps are long. The anchor point with forearm is is far from the inside of the elbow, and my arms in general have always been a problem.

I got a narrow skeleton, ectomorph type, with narrow wrists and elbows. I m not expecting to become hulk one day.

My forearms strengthened with deadlifts and pullups. Here is the strength program I’m doing, consisting of a 2 workout rotation in 3 days :

A/ Squat - Bench - Pull up (weighted when I will be able to)
B/ Squat - OHP - Deadlift
All 5x5 with some shoulder assistance work & core work with higher reps

I can notice that my biceps / arms are a weak factor. When I fail on bench, I fail from the tris. When I fail on pull ups, I fail due to grip or arms, not arms. When I fail OHP, it’s because my tris fail.

Should I add a 4rd workout for arms ? Should I do assistance work ? Right now, this is really taxing on my workouts. My progression is very slow and I feel I am not directly hitting my arms…

[quote]Vince_fr wrote:
Hello,

Ok, so I noticed today at the gym, discussing after my wo, that my biceps are long. The anchor point with forearm is is far from the inside of the elbow, and my arms in general have always been a problem.

I got a narrow skeleton, ectomorph type, with narrow wrists and elbows. I m not expecting to become hulk one day.

My forearms strengthened with deadlifts and pullups. Here is the strength program I’m doing, consisting of a 2 workout rotation in 3 days :

A/ Squat - Bench - Pull up (weighted when I will be able to)
B/ Squat - OHP - Deadlift
All 5x5 with some shoulder assistance work & core work with higher reps

I can notice that my biceps / arms are a weak factor. When I fail on bench, I fail from the tris. When I fail on pull ups, I fail due to grip or arms, not arms. When I fail OHP, it’s because my tris fail.

Should I add a 4rd workout for arms ? Should I do assistance work ? Right now, this is really taxing on my workouts. My progression is very slow and I feel I am not directly hitting my arms…

[/quote]

You could try adding something for the arms. The arm session will be much easier on the body overall, and easier to recover from than your other sessions, so if you place it carefully in your routine, I don’t see why it would hurt.

I do 4 days a week

  1. Back / chest
  2. Legs
  3. Arms
  4. Shoulders

and find the arm (and shoulder) days are easy. The recovery comes hard for days 1 and 2 (pull ups, deadlifts, squats, rows, bench), but the end of the week becomes much easier.

For arms, I find

1a) Ring dips
1b) flat bench, dumbells (fat grip), neutral grip, elbows in

2a) hammer curls, dumbells (fat grip)
2b) barbell curl

gives me all I need. I mentioned fat grips, these are simply normal dumbells will thick(ish) rope wrapped around the grip, wrapped with duct-tape. Introducing fatter grips helps strengthen the hands and wrists, do not overlook this as a tool for progression in greater arm strength (and therefore a greater capacity to build muscle)

just my 5 cents

[quote]Vince_fr wrote:

I got a narrow skeleton, ectomorph type, with narrow wrists and elbows. I m not expecting to become hulk one day.

[/quote]

You damn sure won’t reach that with that mentality. Hell, thinking like that will probably hold back most of your progress. I was skinny too and so were a lot of other really big people walking around.

[quote]Vince_fr wrote:

My progression is very slow and I feel I am not directly hitting my arms…
[/quote]

That’s because you’re not. If you want to increase arm strength and size, do some direct arm work. I promise it won’t make you over-trained.

As others have said, do arm work. I did the program you outlined, and “progressed” onto one similar to it. Neither had direct arm work. Needless to say, even though I got a 335lb squat, 380lb deadlift, my arms were an amazing 14 inches.

If you want big arms, you have to train them. After a serious injury and 2 years off because of it, my arms are bigger now (4 months back into lifting) then they were back then even though im significantly weaker. This is because I stopped being an idiot and realized pull-ups, benching, and deadlifts aren’t going to do jack shit for building impressive arms.

^ I threw out the squat and deadlift numbers basically to show that this program works for building those lifts up and doesn’t do much for developing the rest of your body. Squatting 3x a week and deadlifting 1-2x a week is great for increasing them both, not for getting bigger arms.

[quote]fisch wrote:
As others have said, do arm work. I did the program you outlined, and “progressed” onto one similar to it. Neither had direct arm work. Needless to say, even though I got a 335lb squat, 380lb deadlift, my arms were an amazing 14 inches.

If you want big arms, you have to train them. After a serious injury and 2 years off because of it, my arms are bigger now (4 months back into lifting) then they were back then even though im significantly weaker. This is because I stopped being an idiot and realized pull-ups, benching, and deadlifts aren’t going to do jack shit for building impressive arms.[/quote]

Yes, if you focus on bringing up squat and deadlift numbers, gaining arm mass is going to be slow. But to say pullups, deadlifts, etc do nothing for the arms seems like a massive oversimplification. I mean anything which stimulates, strengthens, and increases the muscle mass in the torso is going to help to train your limbs harder. There is carry over. And then squats and deadlifts raise your hormone levels, blah blah blah.

Of course there are the freakishly imbalanced guys who seem to just do seated preacher curls and have thick slabs of beef for biceps, Quasimodo’s shoulder posture, and forearms thicker than their calf muscles. I have never understood THAT level of fixation on the arms, but I have seen it in the flesh.

There are those who say:

‘you have bigger arms than me, but my arms are better proportioned to my legs’

and those who answer:

‘you may be better proportioned than me, but you still have small arms (bitch)’

It’s the choice of an ideological stance

[quote]Professor X wrote:

[quote]Vince_fr wrote:

I got a narrow skeleton, ectomorph type, with narrow wrists and elbows. I m not expecting to become hulk one day.

[/quote]

You damn sure won’t reach that with that mentality. Hell, thinking like that will probably hold back most of your progress. I was skinny too and so were a lot of other really big people walking around.[/quote]

Got me there.

Just had a bad mood.

Three questions:

  1. Are you committed to sticking with that program?

  2. Can you work out more than three days weekly?

  3. Do you want to get big, well-proportioned, and strong or are you fine with making modest strength gains?

EDIT: The last one is not meant to be condescending or anything, I’m just not going to suggest radical programming for someone who doesn’t aspire to much more than the average guy- done that even with friends and it doesn’t really get anywhere.

[quote]bigmac73nh wrote:
Three questions:

  1. Are you committed to sticking with that program?

  2. Can you work out more than three days weekly?

  3. Do you want to get big, well-proportioned, and strong or are you fine with making modest strength gains?

EDIT: The last one is not meant to be condescending or anything, I’m just not going to suggest radical programming for someone who doesn’t aspire to much more than the average guy- done that even with friends and it doesn’t really get anywhere.[/quote]

1/ Not commited. But I want my priority to be : Squats, Bench, DL, the 3 main lifts. And 5x5 is looking fine for my gains.

2/ 4 days, for sure. 5 maybe.

3/ I want big gains. I want to be strong. For me, not to impress anybody. I want to look full, strong, I want to be heavy and I want that to be aesthetic too. But I know my priority is strength. I did 2 years of typical 3x8 routines, that helped me gain, but my strength was not evolving. Right now, in 6 weeks in my program, I doubled my squat & deadlift. I want it to continue.

[quote]Vince_fr wrote:
1/ Not commited. But I want my priority to be : Squats, Bench, DL, the 3 main lifts. And 5x5 is looking fine for my gains.

2/ 4 days, for sure. 5 maybe.

3/ I want big gains. I want to be strong. For me, not to impress anybody. I want to look full, strong, I want to be heavy and I want that to be aesthetic too. But I know my priority is strength. I did 2 years of typical 3x8 routines, that helped me gain, but my strength was not evolving. Right now, in 6 weeks in my program, I doubled my squat & deadlift. I want it to continue. [/quote]

Sounds like you have the right mindset. If you want to work strength and size simultaneously and cut down on imbalances while still cranking on the ‘big 3,’ why not try a modified bodypart split that incorporates high frequency strength work? Christian Thibaudeau had me do something along those lines when I was working with him last year and I was very pleased with the results.

Here’s the idea:

For four days, try something like:

Day 1: Chest
Day 2: Quads
Day 3: Shoulders
Day 4: Back/Posterior Chain

Lead each session off with HFSW (the high frequency strength work I mentioned. Perform each of the big the lifts for 3-5 sets (whatever you’re comfortable with- I’d recommend starting low and building up) of 3-6 reps. Weights/reps are not important- you should be focusing on form and explosiveness with each rep. Don’t be afraid to cut the set if form begins to break down or if explosiveness declines. The idea of this type of work is that it helps improve muscle recruitment, builds neural efficiency on the movement patterns you care about (for you, the big 3), and helps with activating the CNS to improve strength/productivity for the rest of the session. You should feel ready to go after this stuff, not fatigued.

After the HFSW, move on to strength work on a big lift for the day:

Day 1=Bench Press
Day 2=Back Squat
Day 3=Overhead Press (standing if you’re a cool kid lol)
Day 4=Deadlift

Do your heavy work for the day’s big lift at that time. I recommend avoiding grinding reps/total failure, but other than that you can work heavy on them.

Following the strength work, you can perform any desired accessory work. On bench day, that would be chest/triceps work. On back squat day, quad work. On OHP day, medial+posterior delt/trap work. On Deadlift day, biceps, lats, and/orposterior chain (hams+glutes). You shouldn’t have to go too crazy on hams/glutes, as both back squats and deadlifts work them. The accessory work should be lighter weight, higher rep, and should be about improving MMC (so you can get better muscle recruitment on the big lifts). You shouldn’t really need more than 2 accessory moves per day, I wouldn’t go higher than 3. Slow reps and holds at peak contraction are encouraged.

Also, feel free to include some band pull aparts or light rope face pulls between sets or following sets of heavy benching if you want.

This is just a very general breakdown, open for you to insert exercises that you find effective for various bodyparts. You can take it or leave it lol- should leave you way less open to imbalances than what you’re doing while still bringing gains on big lifts.

Edited.

That sounds interesting…

There is a schedule problem for me, as I can train 1h / day (due to work, and due to the fact that the gym is full at evening), I believe that even 3*5 HFSW will take something like 40 mins, it leaves very few time… I will have to think about rescheduling (like doing 2 days on weekend with more time, and 2 or 3 lighter days at week) !

[quote]Vince_fr wrote:
That sounds interesting…

There is a schedule problem for me, as I can train 1h / day (due to work, and due to the fact that the gym is full at evening), I believe that even 3*5 HFSW will take something like 40 mins, it leaves very few time… I will have to think about rescheduling (like doing 2 days on weekend with more time, and 2 or 3 lighter days at week) ![/quote]

Ah I see. Time constraints are unfortunate. To make some simpler modifications to the program you’re already using, you could just try adding triceps accessory work at the end of workout A and biceps accessory work to workout B. That won’t take much time and will help you bring your arms up anyway. One hour per day three days per week isn’t all that much though, so I’d definitely recommend squeezing a bit more work in if at all possible.

EDIT: I do like your idea of going heavy on the weekend and keeping it light during the week. How long does your strength work for one movement out of the big 3 usually take?

Well it depends. Squat takes me 20 mins (for 5x5 + warmup) and is more and more taxing. Bench & deadlifts are easier at the moment, like 15 min.

I can easily spend 1h30 to 2h to the gym on saturday & sunday. But the week it s 1 hour. I will work it out. Maybe doing HFSW on weekends and rotating the body part, and usual strength + accessories during the week…

[quote]Vince_fr wrote:
Well it depends. Squat takes me 20 mins (for 5x5 + warmup) and is more and more taxing. Bench & deadlifts are easier at the moment, like 15 min.

I can easily spend 1h30 to 2h to the gym on saturday & sunday. But the week it s 1 hour. I will work it out. Maybe doing HFSW on weekends and rotating the body part, and usual strength + accessories during the week…
[/quote]

If you are going to incorporate HFSW, I would actually recommend performing HFSW plus strength work for the big three on your workouts during the week. The HFSW and strength work are the necessary components of the programming, the accessory work is good to have but not nearly as important. So for example:

Day 1: HFSW + Squat strength work
Day 2: HFSW + Bench strength work
Day 3: HFSW + Deadlift strength work

Then on the weekend you could have one shoulders/triceps day (pressing assistance) and one back/biceps day. Shoulder day would begin with OHP then shift to accessory work, the back day would begin with chins and then shift to accessory work. You wouldn’t NEED a full 90 minutes for that volume of work, though you could take it if you want.

[quote]yarni wrote:

[quote]fisch wrote:
As others have said, do arm work. I did the program you outlined, and “progressed” onto one similar to it. Neither had direct arm work. Needless to say, even though I got a 335lb squat, 380lb deadlift, my arms were an amazing 14 inches.

If you want big arms, you have to train them. After a serious injury and 2 years off because of it, my arms are bigger now (4 months back into lifting) then they were back then even though im significantly weaker. This is because I stopped being an idiot and realized pull-ups, benching, and deadlifts aren’t going to do jack shit for building impressive arms.[/quote]

Yes, if you focus on bringing up squat and deadlift numbers, gaining arm mass is going to be slow. But to say pullups, deadlifts, etc do nothing for the arms seems like a massive oversimplification. I mean anything which stimulates, strengthens, and increases the muscle mass in the torso is going to help to train your limbs harder. There is carry over. And then squats and deadlifts raise your hormone levels, blah blah blah.
[/quote]

I have never once finished a set of deadlifts and said “wow, my biceps/triceps are worked!”. Yes, I agree there will be a very small amount of stimulus, which is why is put “impressive” in my statement. I got 14 inch arms from starting out at 12 inch arms by doing pullups/deadlifts/bench, but I would hardly consider 14 inches anywhere near impressive. Yeah pull-ups will hit your arms and does stimulate your arms some. Should still do direct arm work if your goal is big arms.

As for raising your hormone levels, that doesn’t do shit for you. seriously, the amount it raises it and the duration it does is minimal.

[quote]fisch wrote:

[quote]yarni wrote:

[quote]fisch wrote:
As others have said, do arm work. I did the program you outlined, and “progressed” onto one similar to it. Neither had direct arm work. Needless to say, even though I got a 335lb squat, 380lb deadlift, my arms were an amazing 14 inches.

If you want big arms, you have to train them. After a serious injury and 2 years off because of it, my arms are bigger now (4 months back into lifting) then they were back then even though im significantly weaker. This is because I stopped being an idiot and realized pull-ups, benching, and deadlifts aren’t going to do jack shit for building impressive arms.[/quote]

Yes, if you focus on bringing up squat and deadlift numbers, gaining arm mass is going to be slow. But to say pullups, deadlifts, etc do nothing for the arms seems like a massive oversimplification. I mean anything which stimulates, strengthens, and increases the muscle mass in the torso is going to help to train your limbs harder. There is carry over. And then squats and deadlifts raise your hormone levels, blah blah blah.
[/quote]

I have never once finished a set of deadlifts and said “wow, my biceps/triceps are worked!”. Yes, I agree there will be a very small amount of stimulus, which is why is put “impressive” in my statement. I got 14 inch arms from starting out at 12 inch arms by doing pullups/deadlifts/bench, but I would hardly consider 14 inches anywhere near impressive. Yeah pull-ups will hit your arms and does stimulate your arms some. Should still do direct arm work if your goal is big arms.

As for raising your hormone levels, that doesn’t do shit for you. seriously, the amount it raises it and the duration it does is minimal.[/quote]

You don’t seem to have fully understood what I was trying to say. I wasn’t suggesting that doing deadlifts might pump the arms, but more: if you do heavy deadlifts, come back a few days later to work biceps, go to pick up a barbell - you will feeling stronger (for example) in the standing bicep curls from having done deadlifts in a previous session, the torso will be tighter and stronger giving a firmer base to perform curls effectively. Yes, I am stretching it here but this I can feel from the work I do. I value this kind of feedback far more than scientific papers.

As for the hormone thing, I purposely ended it with ‘blah blah blah’ because I cannot verify the effect - but you seem like a fully qualified endocrinologist with your frank and final report on the issue. Thank you

Wow just came back from a HFSW + chest here… Feel good man, huge pump…

[quote]Vince_fr wrote:
I got a narrow skeleton, ectomorph type, with narrow wrists and elbows. I m not expecting to become hulk one day. [/quote]
What’s your current height and weight?

What did the workout look like - exercises, sets, and reps?

[quote]yarni wrote:

[quote]fisch wrote:

[quote]yarni wrote:

[quote]fisch wrote:
As others have said, do arm work. I did the program you outlined, and “progressed” onto one similar to it. Neither had direct arm work. Needless to say, even though I got a 335lb squat, 380lb deadlift, my arms were an amazing 14 inches.

If you want big arms, you have to train them. After a serious injury and 2 years off because of it, my arms are bigger now (4 months back into lifting) then they were back then even though im significantly weaker. This is because I stopped being an idiot and realized pull-ups, benching, and deadlifts aren’t going to do jack shit for building impressive arms.[/quote]

Yes, if you focus on bringing up squat and deadlift numbers, gaining arm mass is going to be slow. But to say pullups, deadlifts, etc do nothing for the arms seems like a massive oversimplification. I mean anything which stimulates, strengthens, and increases the muscle mass in the torso is going to help to train your limbs harder. There is carry over. And then squats and deadlifts raise your hormone levels, blah blah blah.
[/quote]

I have never once finished a set of deadlifts and said “wow, my biceps/triceps are worked!”. Yes, I agree there will be a very small amount of stimulus, which is why is put “impressive” in my statement. I got 14 inch arms from starting out at 12 inch arms by doing pullups/deadlifts/bench, but I would hardly consider 14 inches anywhere near impressive. Yeah pull-ups will hit your arms and does stimulate your arms some. Should still do direct arm work if your goal is big arms.

As for raising your hormone levels, that doesn’t do shit for you. seriously, the amount it raises it and the duration it does is minimal.[/quote]

You don’t seem to have fully understood what I was trying to say. I wasn’t suggesting that doing deadlifts might pump the arms, but more: if you do heavy deadlifts, come back a few days later to work biceps, go to pick up a barbell - you will feeling stronger (for example) in the standing bicep curls from having done deadlifts in a previous session, the torso will be tighter and stronger giving a firmer base to perform curls effectively. Yes, I am stretching it here but this I can feel from the work I do. I value this kind of feedback far more than scientific papers.

As for the hormone thing, I purposely ended it with ‘blah blah blah’ because I cannot verify the effect - but you seem like a fully qualified endocrinologist with your frank and final report on the issue. Thank you[/quote]

I wasn’t trying to come across as dickish in my post, and I don’t really care about science papers which is why I said it doesn’t do anything for you. Some reasearch has shown an slight increase in HGH/testosterone, but if anyone actually thinks it is significant has not seen the thousands (millions?) of people who squat/deadlift multiple times a week who aren’t exactly raging full of testosterone. Even if it was significant, those are not the only lifts that would cause your body to release those, it would come from many different exercises.

I understand what you are saying, I just feel the benefit of a stronger back does not really add that much to a curl. I never noticed an increase in arm size/strength with an increase in deadlift strength. If it was there it was extremely minimal, and not something i would be concerned about if I wanted bigger arms.