The BIGGER-ARMS Challenge

Can You Spare 4 Workouts in 2 Weeks?

Can you really make your biceps and triceps bigger in only four workouts? With this program you can.

Hey T-Nation members, especially you guys who think you know that Old-School HIT doesn’t work…

  • Are you disappointed with the size of your biceps and triceps?
  • Perhaps your upper arms have been at a sticking point for months?
  • Maybe you’d just like to get those big guns… even BIGGER?

If you answered any of the above questions with a yes, I challenge you to apply my hard, brief, biceps and triceps cycles… for only two weeks. All I want is for you to give me four workouts in 14 days.

That’s it.

I promise that the cycles in this article, properly performed, are going to stimulate your biceps and triceps into renewed growth.

At the end of the two-week period, if your arms are NOT significantly larger – by at least 3/8ths of an inch of circumference on both upper arms, I’ll call myself (for several weeks) Arnold instead of Ellington.

(You have to admit, “Arnold Darden” doesn’t have much creditability to it.)

How about specializing on your biceps and triceps for the next two weeks?

Here’s the deal in condensed form:

There’s a cycle for week 1 and a related, even harder cycle for week 2. Those of you who are interested will start the workout on May 8, 2006.

The routine will involve 1 set of two or three biceps exercises and 1 set of two or three triceps exercises – performed to momentary muscular failure.

You then execute the routine 4 times in two weeks. After your last workout, on May 19, 2006, you’ll rest two days, retake your upper-arm measurements, and report the results. I’ll talk about the requirements in much more detail, after the movements are described.

Warning! Both cycles entail intense muscular PAIN.
Warning! Don’t underestimate this seemingly “easy” routine or it will destroy you!

The exercises involve variations of the biceps curl, triceps extension, chin-up, and dip… plus, a technique called pre-exhaustion.

Pre-exhaustion is a HIT concept that stacks together a single-joint and multiple-joint exercise. When those two exercises are turned around, it’s called reverse pre-exhaustion. Double pre-exhaustioninvolves the stacking of three movements.

Here’s the first cycle, which is to be performed during week 1:

Week 1: Reverse Pre-Exhaustion Cycle

  • Extremely slow chin up, 1 repetition only, immediately followed by
  • Biceps curls with barbell
  • Rest briefly.
  • Extremely slow dip, 1 repetition only, immediately followed by
  • Triceps extensions with one dumbbell.

Extremely Slow Chin, 1 Repetition Only

The objective is to make a single repetition as intense and slow as possible, while still being able to complete it. From a hanging, underhand position – arms fully extended – take as long as possible to get your chin over the bar.

Try to move an inch and hold, another inch and hold, and so on. Remain in each position briefly (without lowering) and move up very deliberately until your chin is over the bar and your upper chest touches it.

Have an assistant who has a watch with a second hand call out your time in seconds (5, 10, 15, 20) as the exercise progresses. Once you’ve achieved the top position, lower yourself in exactly the same manner. Again, your assistant should note your time in seconds.

If your grip is a problem, cut out a couple of thin rubber-foam pads and place them between your palms and the bar. Doing so will help your gripping power. Also, make sure the horizontal bar you’re holding on to is stationary. It’s not to your advantage for it to move, rotate, or revolve.

Begin this movement with a goal of 30 seconds positive (pulling yourself up) and 30 seconds negative (lowering). If successful, add 5 seconds to both phases in your next workout.

Note: Only a handful of bodybuilders have ever been able to achieve 60-seconds up and 60-seconds down.

At the completion of your one rep, move quickly to the biceps curl.

Biceps Curls with Barbell

This is a standing barbell curl performed strictly. To be conservative, lower your normal curling resistance by at least 20 percent. Grab the barbell with your palms up and your hands shoulder-width apart. Stand erect. While keeping your body straight, smoothly curl the barbell.

Stabilize your elbows as you smoothly lower and raise the barbell in strict form. Slowly lower the weight while keeping your elbows stable. Try to keep the speed at approximately 2 seconds on the positive and 2 seconds on the negative.

Don’t pause at the bottom. Begin the next repetition immediately. Repeat for maximum repetitions in the 8 to 12 range. Focus on getting one more repetition, even when it looks like you won’t succeed. Accept the pain…and then ignore it. Do the next rep. Most people quit when in fact they have one or two reps left in them.

Get a quick drink of water and ready yourself for the extremely slow dip.

Extremely Slow Dip, 1 Repetition Only

The 1-repetition dip is performed in a similar fashion to the 1-repetition chin up. Start the dip in the bottom, stretched position. Move up an inch and hold, another inch and hold, and so on. Take 30 to 40 seconds to push to the top and an equal amount of time to lower yourself.

Your training partner should make sure he paces you appropriately by calling out your raising and lowering times in seconds. Don’t shoot past any of those 1-inch ranges. Ease gradually into and out of each small part. After the last few seconds of lowering, step down, pick up a properly loaded dumbbell (35 or 40 pounds may be enough), and start doing the triceps extensions.

Triceps Extensions with One Dumbbell

Grab a single dumbbell at one end with both hands and press it overhead. Keep your elbows close to your ears as you slowly lower the dumbbell behind your head. Keep your upper arms vertical; only your forearms and hands should move. Extend the dumbbell smoothly back to the top position. Repeat until you reach muscular failure, always remembering to try for 1 more repetition. Focus on the triceps pain… and tolerate it.

Keep your elbows in a stable, vertical position throughout the movement. Your goal is 8 to 12 strict repetitions.

Note: One key to this first cycle is moving quickly between the two biceps exercises and between the two triceps exercises. If you rest as long as 3 to 4 seconds between the pairings, you’re limiting growth stimulation. Make it a point to NOT REST from one to the other.

Week 2: Double Pre-Exhaustion Cycle

In week 2 you’ll be adding a third exercise – the negative-only chin and the negative-only dip. You better have your act together to transition correctly through this series.

  • Extremely slow chin up, 1 repetition only, immediately followed by
  • Biceps curls with barbell, immediately followed by
  • Chin up, negative only.
  • Rest briefly.
  • Extremely slow dip, 1 repetition only, immediately followed by
  • Triceps extensions with one dumbbell, immediately followed by
  • Dip, negative only.

Extremely Slow Chin, 1 Repetition Only

This is the same exercise that you did in week 1, except now you should be stronger and able to last longer. How about trying at least 45-secondsupand 45-seconds down? It’s imperative that you spend as much time on the negative as you do on the positive. It helps to have a training partner call out your time in seconds.

Biceps Curls with Barbell

Start curling immediately. Keep the movement as strict as possible and go to failure, which should occur between 8 and 12 repetitions.

Chin, Negative Only

You’ll need a chair, stool, or some steps placed under the chinning bar. You’ll be pushing yourself up with your legs and lowering slowly with your arms only.

Can you do an 8-second, negative-only repetition with 40 pounds attached to your waist? How about a second repetition, then a third? Eight repetitions is your goal, with or without the added resistance. (You can also use a combination of both – as many reps as you can manage with the weighted belt, get out of the belt, then a few more with just your body weight.)

Notice the stool, for stepping on, under the chinning bar. Also notice the weight belt around his hips and the attached plate. He’d probably have a bit more control if the plate was higher on the chain. From the top, lower in 8 seconds, to the fully stretched position. Climb quickly and descend slowly.

Shake your arms a bit, hydrate your mouth, and jump back into the cycle.

Extremely Slow Dip, 1 Repetition Only

Just like week 1, except now you’ve improved. Try to take at least 45 seconds going up and the same amount of time fighting your way down.

Triceps Extension with One Dumbbell

Grab a dumbbell at one end with both hands and let your triceps do their thing. Burn 'em out as best you can for 8 to 12 reps.

Dip, Negative Only

You’ll also need a chair, a box, or steps to assist you in getting into the top position of the dip, preferably with some resistance attached to a weight belt. Once there, begin the deliberate lowering process. Make up your mind that your somewhat rested chest and shoulder muscles can be called into action to force your triceps simply to do more work – more work than they’ve done previously. Knock them out for 8 to 12 repetitions. It really helps if you can relax your face and neck on the way down.

From the top position, bend your elbows and lower your body under control while resisting the movement with your triceps. Remember, the concept is… legs up fast, triceps down slow.

Note: Once again, it’s very important to take LITTLE OR NO REST between the three biceps and the three triceps exercises. I know you’ve got to get into a weighted belt on the negative chins and dips – just do it in haste. And I know that you’ll be breathing like an old-fashioned freight train, before and during those chins and dips. Hey, I told you up front that these cycles were going to challenge your manhood. That’s what it takes to stimulate muscular growth… quickly.

The Necessary Steps

To be a part of The BIGGER ARMS Challenge, you need to take the following steps:

  1. Make a commitment. Tell me that you want to be involved by submitting a post at the end of this article. Include your age, height, weight, and BEFORE arm size (see #4 below).
  2. Editor’s Note: Some of you may be tempted to do the challenge without signing up. Don’t. C’mon, let’s do this together and compare results! Besides, if you do it and post your before and after pics, we’ll send you an exclusive T-Nation baseball cap.
  3. Have a friend with a digital camera take before-and-after shots of your contracted arms in a double-biceps pose. Try to standardize the photos: same background, angle and distance from camera, and time of day. At the end of the plan, consider emailing me your comparison photos. If you don’t want to be recognized, wear dark glasses, do the photos from the backside, or crop out your head.
  4. Agree to train your biceps and triceps, according to the outlined directions, four times over a two-week period.
  5. Take a careful set of BEFORE circumference measurements of your upper arms in the following manner: Locate a thin plastic tape. Have a training partner take your unpumped measurement prior to training. Stand and contract your right biceps. Your upper arm should be parallel to the floor. Have your buddy pass the tape around the largest part of the biceps with the tape perpendicular to the upper-arm bone. The tape should be taut but not tight. Record the measurement to the nearest one-eighth of an inch. Measure the left biceps in the same manner.
  6. Try a practice session with the extremely slow chin and dip. Doing each movement well requires a little learning. A training partner is also helpful. Make sure you place a barbell for the biceps curl next to the chinning bar and the dumbbell for the triceps extension near the parallel bars. It’s important to move quickly from one exercise to the next. You’ll also want to practice those weighted, negative-only chins and dips if you’re unfamiliar with them.
  7. Begin your initial workout on May 8, 2006. You could also start on the next day. Train four, non-consecutive days over two weeks… do the Reverse Pre-Exhaustion Cycle during the first week and Double Pre-Exhaustion Cycle during the second week. For example, exercise on Mondays and Fridays of both weeks: May 8, May 12, May 15, and May 19. Allow for plenty of recovery and growth time (at least two or three days) between workouts.
  8. IMPORTANT: Add four non-arm exercises to complete your routine on each training day. I suggest the squat with a barbell or the leg press on a machine; some form of calf raises; the lateral raises with dumbbells; and shoulder shrugs with a barbell or dumbbells. Use as much resistance as you can for one set of 8 to 12 repetitions. Do these four exercises after your arm cycle.
  9. Be progressive in all your exercises. Each session, add time on your slow chin and slow dip. Increase the resistance by 2-5 percent on any exercise that you can achieve 12 or more repetitions on.
  10. Limit your strenuous activity on your off-days. Also, get more rest and sleep, if possible. The idea is to hit your biceps and triceps very intensely – then back off and permit them to grow larger.
  11. Eat nutritiously and don’t skimp on calories. I reinforce the concept of consuming small and medium-size meals more frequently and staying well hydrated.
  12. Use creatine monohydrate (I like Biotest’s micronized version) according to directions on the label for two weeks. Research shows that creatine contributes to muscle-fiber growth.
  13. Complete your fourth and last arm-training session on May 19th. Rest over the next two days. On the morning of May 22nd, re-measure your contracted right and left biceps and record each one to the nearest one-eighth of an inch. Also, have your training partner take another picture of your contracted arms in a double-biceps pose.
  14. Post your BEFORE and AFTER measurements and your before and after double-biceps pictures in the appropriate thread at T-Nation.

Editor’s note: On the morning of May22nd, I’ll put up a thread in the Author’s Locker Room titled, “Darden Arm Challenge Photos”. That’s where you’ll post your before and after pics.

Bigger Arms… In Two Weeks!

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be hanging close to the T-Nation discussion board to take your comments and questions and offer my guidelines and suggestions.

I really believe that if you give your best effort to the arm cycles for four workouts, your biceps and triceps will have no choice but to GROW.

Three-eighths of an inch of solid muscle on each arm – that’s my BIGGER-ARMS Challenge to you. Let’s make it happen. Sign up right now.

Gregg Downing: “I Need A Plateau Buster”

Gregg Downing

I’m 36-years old, 5-feet 11-inches tall, and weigh 181 pounds. I’ve been involved in bodybuilding – primarily with multiple-set, split routines – since I was in high school. My arms, however, have been approximately the same size, 15-1/2 inches, for more than 12 years.

You could say I’ve been on a plateau, a very enduring PLATEAU. And you could also say I need a change, something different… I need a plateau buster.

The precise BEFORE measurements of Gregg Downing’s arms are: right biceps, 15-7/16 inches; left biceps, 15-1/8 inches. Gregg is sales manager of Serra Chevrolet-Cadillac in Jackson, Tennessee. He considers himself a bodybuilder, but he has never entered a contest – nor does he ever intend to.

Nine months ago, my son, Vin, started preschool in Jackson, Tennessee. Soon he had a best friend, Tyler, whose father turned out to be Ellington Darden. My wife, Vickie, and Ellington’s wife, Jeanenne, also have a lot in common. We’ve all gone to a number of birthday, Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine parties and enjoyed them together.

During one of the initial parties at the Darden’s home, Ellington gave me a copy of his book, The New High-Intensity Training, which I read with interest. Since we both spent many years in Florida, we’ve trained around some of the same well-known bodybuilders such as Mike Quinn, Vince Taylor, Mike Ashley, and Robby Robinson. We’ve always had plenty of things to discuss, including my problematic arms.

During a recent Easter-egg hunt, Ellington challenged me to try some of his old-school workouts, which sort of evolved into his new article on building bigger arms. I reviewed the article and accepted his challenge. Then, he offered to train me in his home gym, which I again agreed to.

After studying the routine, I’m still skeptical that Ellington’s hard, brief cycles will help me bust through my plateau. Twelve years is a long, long time and I’ve applied all types of arm workouts. But I’m also more than willing to give his unique HIT cycles a try. Who wouldn’t like to add 3/8s of an inch on each of his arms?

I told Ellington that I’d provide him with my candid thoughts – both good and bad – as I work through the same two-week program that the T-Nation guys will be using.

Beginning on May 8th, I’ll report on my training progress almost daily for two consecutive weeks.

Make any workout work better. Fuel it.


(Exercise Photos of Andy McCutcheon by Mitch Mandel)