Updated: May 13
If you ask someone to “flex”, what body part do they flex first? Arms! When we see someone with big arms we automatically equate them with having significant strength. You know that this person works out, worked out, or has a physically demanding job. Having big arms is a common fitness goal for many people. However, building big arms requires a well-rounded approach that targets both the biceps and triceps muscles. As much as 70% of your arm is made up of tricep muscle mass, the other 30% is biceps, and of course, we cannot neglect the forearms to tie it all together. These are some of the best exercises to help you build big arms:
1) Barbell Curls
Barbell curls are one of the most effective exercises to target the biceps. To perform this exercise, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and hold a barbell with an underhand grip. Keep your elbows close to your sides and curl the barbell up towards your chest, then slowly lower it back down. Repeat this movement for several sets of 10-12 repetitions. Try to control the momentum of the weight on the eccentric movement.
2) Hammer Curls
Hammer curls target both the biceps and forearms. To perform this exercise, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing each other. Keep your elbows close to your sides and curl the dumbbells up towards your shoulders, then slowly lower them back down. Repeat this movement for several sets of 10-12 repetitions. This exercise could also be done with a rope attachment, one of my preferred variations.
3) Tricep Dips
Tricep dips are an effective exercise to target the tricep muscles. To perform this exercise, sit on a bench or chair with your hands next to your hips and your fingers pointing forward. Lift your hips off the bench and lower yourself towards the ground, then push back up. Repeat this movement for several sets of 10-12 repetitions. You want to focus on the angle of your body during this exercise. Typically, the more you lean forward you will change the tension in your chest. This exercise could be made more difficult by holding or strapping weights on yourself or can be made easier by using an assisted machine or fitness bands for support.
4) Close-Grip Bench Press
This is a favorite because you can typically load the muscle with more weight, increasing both strength and hypertrophy. Close-grip bench press targets the triceps muscles and helps to increase overall upper body strength. To perform this exercise, lie down on a bench with your hands close together on the barbell. Lower the barbell towards your chest, then push it back up. Repeat this movement for several sets of 10-12 repetitions.
5) Overhead Tricep Extensions
Overhead tricep extensions are an effective exercise to target the tricep muscles. To perform this exercise, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, hold a dumbbell with both hands, and raise it above your head. Lower the dumbbell behind your head, then push it back up. This exercise can also be performed with a barbell as with “skull crushers” or a rope attachment on the cable machine. Cable machines offer the benefit of the constant tension on both concentric and eccentric movements. Repeat this movement for several sets of 10-12 repetitions.
Chin-ups are an excellent compound exercise that targets multiple muscle groups, including the biceps and back muscles. To perform this exercise, grab a pull-up bar with an underhand grip, and pull yourself up towards the bar. The angle of your body can also affect where you feel the tension of this exercise. If you lean slightly away from the bar you will feel more tension in your biceps, the more perpendicular you are to the bar you will shift tension to your back. Repeat this movement for several sets of 10-12 repetitions.
7) Wrist Curls & Reverse Wrist Curls
The forearms tie the arms together, yet are often a neglected body part. By targeting the forearms directly you can grow them like any other muscle of your physique. Wrist curls and reverse wrist curls are great at isolating the forearm muscles. To perform this exercise, you can hold a barbell in front of you with your arms flexed 90 degrees and palms facing upwards, then curl the weight by flexing your wrists towards you. For reverse wrist curls you are doing the opposite grip, with palms facing downwards, and then curl the weight by extending your wrists. Repeat this movement for several sets of 10-12 repetitions.
8) Plate Pinch Carry
This exercise works by keeping constant tension on your forearms and even exercises the various muscles in your hand for increased grip strength. This exercise is simply performed by holding plated weights with a pinch grip. You can do a static hold or carry the weight back and forth for a couple of steps.
Bonus Tip: Arm Builder Accessory- Fat Gripz
The Fat Gripz accessory is a fantastic arm builder attachment and a favorite for 4-time Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler. They work by increasing the diameter of your barbell or dumbbells which make them more difficult to grip. The result is that increase your grip strength and muscularity by targeting the smaller muscles in your forearm that often go neglected.
Incorporating a combination of the above exercises into your workout routine will help you build big arms. Remember to perform each exercise with proper form and gradually increase the weight or intensity as your muscles get stronger. Experiment with a combination of barbell, dumbbell, and cable attachments for the best results. With patience and consistency, you will start to see visible improvements in your arm muscles over time.
Before starting any fitness program or making dietary changes, including supplementation, please consult your physician for a thorough examination.