The Most Effective Arm Workout You'll Ever Do

by Alan Bishop

The Descending Eccentric Protocol

The descending eccentric arm workout will challenge you, forcing adaptations in size and strength. That means bigger biceps and triceps, bro.

The Plateau-Busting Arm Workout

If you’ve been lifting consistently for years, the best training program is usually the one you haven’t done yet. It’s a stimulus you haven’t adapted to yet.

If you hit the gym religiously but haven’t seen your arms grow since Clinton was in office, it’s time to think beyond conventional wisdom and make some major adjustments. You don’t need a Ph.D. to pack on muscle, but knowing how to manipulate training variables is critical to preventing plateaus and maximizing gains.

To make progress, there needs to be a change from workout to workout with the training variables that affect “volume load.” This is typically done by manipulating the sets, reps, or weight from week to week, forcing the body to get bigger and stronger to handle more work.

A New Protocol Using Antagonist Exercises

I’ve been tinkering with this for 15 years and have seen it work at four universities with athletes across multiple sports. While the protocol can be used for any body part, I’ve seen great success with athletes who love training arms for growth.

The protocol is simple but not easy. The first time you do it, you’ll probably have a substantial amount of delayed onset muscle soreness if you really push yourself.

This can be used with any antagonist muscle groups, too, such as quads and hamstrings and chest and back.

The Arm-Specific Workout

Choose your own favorites, but my go-to exercises are:

  1. Semi-Supinated Curl
  2. Decline Triceps Extension

This is how it looks:

Exercise One: Semi-Supinated Curl

  • First 3 reps, lower the weight for 10 seconds
  • Rest 30 seconds
  • Next 6 reps, lower the weight for 5 seconds
  • Rest 30 seconds
  • Final 15 reps, lower the weight for 2 seconds
  • Rest 60 seconds, then do exercise two.

Exercise 2: Decline Triceps Extension

  • First 3 reps, lower the weight for 10 seconds
  • Rest 30 seconds
  • Next 6 reps, lower the weight for 5 seconds
  • Rest 30 seconds
  • Final 15 reps, lower the weight for 2 seconds
  • Rest 90 seconds, then start over with exercise one.

Completing all reps for both exercises is one round. Do a total of 4 rounds. Complete this workout once per week. It can be added almost any training protocol.

Confused? Here It Is Written Out

Pick a weight for your curls and do 3 reps, each with a 10-second lowering phase or negative on each rep.

Rest 30 seconds and then do 6 reps with a 5-second lower each rep.

Rest 30 more seconds and complete a final 15 reps, each with a 2-second lowering phase on each phase. By the end of the 15 reps, it should really be a challenge to complete the set.

After the 15 reps of curls, rest for 90 seconds and repeat the same protocol, but with the decline triceps extension. Once you’re done with all those prescribed reps for both the triceps and the biceps, congrats, you’ve completed one round. Now do three more.

Coaching Tips

  1. Focus on the mind-muscle connection. You need to FEEL the tension building in the muscle during the lowering phase of the lift.
  2. Lowering the bar slowly does not mean raising it slowly. Move the bar fast on the way up.
  3. Do this set and rep scheme for 3 weeks. Maintain the same eccentric speeds within each set, but try to increase the weight by 2.5% each week.
  4. Pick a weight that’s somewhere in the RPE range of 8 to 8.5 during the first week.

Different Ways to Grow

Make no mistake about it, strategically increasing volume load from week to week is almost always the most effective way to make continuous progress, and it’ll work for most people for a long time.

That means you don’t always have to be focused on increasing the load. Here are three different examples that can increase the volume load.

Stimulus 1: A Change in Reps

Week Sets Rep Weight Volume Load
One 3 8 100 2,400 lbs.
Two 3 9 100 2,700 lbs.
Three 3 10 100 3,000 lbs.

Stimulus 2: A Change in Weight

Week Sets Rep Weight Volume Load
One 3 8 100 2,400 lbs.
Two 3 8 105 2,520 lbs.
Three 3 8 110 2,640 lbs.

Stimulus 3: A Change in Sets

Week Sets Rep Weight Volume Load
One 3 8 100 2,400 lbs.
Two 4 8 100 3,200 lbs.
Three 5 8 100 4,000 lbs.

The Problem for Experienced Lifters

A potential problem with only accounting for volume load? Over time, as training age increases, we start to develop biases in our training which lead to compensations and imbalances.

One of the biggest imbalances I see with lifters who have a higher training age is that their ratio between eccentric strength and concentric strength (known as strength deficit) begins to skew.

But why is this important? The human body is naturally stronger eccentrically than concentrically. This means we can produce a more powerful muscle contraction under maximal eccentric loads (lengthening) than we can under maximal concentric loads (shortening).

While everybody will have a slightly different strength deficit, a good rule of thumb is that we’re typically 40% stronger eccentrically than concentrically. This means for every 100 pounds you raise concentrically, you should be able to lower under control 140 pounds eccentrically. This is something that most people neglect to account for.

Strength deficit is an important training concept to understand because when we plateau with our eccentric strength, we significantly blunt our ability to build concentric strength.

There will always be a gap between the weights you’re capable of training with eccentrically versus concentrically, but the bigger the gap between eccentric and concentric, the more advantageous it is for you. Why? The wider the gap, the more potential there is to drive up strength concentrically.

Here’s another way of looking at it:

Big Gap = More Strength/Growth Potential

  • Concentric 1RM: 100 pounds
  • Eccentric 1RM: 140 pounds
  • Potential to Improve Concentrically: 40 Pounds

Small Gap = Less Strength/Growth Potential

  • Concentric 1RM: 100 pounds
  • Eccentric 1RM: 120 pounds
  • Potential to Improve Concentrically: 20 pounds

This is Why an Eccentric Emphasis Matters So Much

So how do you increase the size of the deficit between eccentric and concentric strength? For starters, focus on the eccentric portion of the lift by doing accentuated eccentrics during training.

Accentuated is simply another term for emphasized, and when you do eccentric-based training, you’re challenging yourself during the lowering phase of the lift by slowly lowering the weight. This will do two things that are important for breaking through a plateau:

  1. It’ll challenge the muscle contraction for longer periods of time, where the body can produce more force (eccentrically). This forces us to work harder where we’re stronger.
  2. It’ll make you spend more time under tension eccentrically. When all is said and done, mechanical tension is the most important factor in driving muscle hypertrophy.

This is why the protocol above works wonders for those who try it. Drop a comment below if you give it a shot, or tell us how you plan to use it for other body parts.