Considered Armed and Delirious Most weight trainers, particularly beginners, have a fascination with arm development. Biceps are a top priority here. In many ways sporting a pair of baseball biceps may actually be a status symbol among this group, directly related to one’s position in the pecking order or hierarchy of the gym. I can’t tell you how many adolescent males I have known who trained their biceps to the exclusion of all other muscle groups. Typically they will do one arm, dumbbell concentration curls, barbell ‘cheat’ curls, preacher curls, machine curls, alternate dumbbell curls, Zottman curls, hammer curls, etc., and then quit training by the end of the month, discouraged when the hoped for results fail to materialize. As I recall my early trips to the ‘Y’ as a teenager, the advice on arms training was always liberally dispensed. “Heavy, maximum poundages for low reps is the ONLY way to build arms!” was the dictum many of us had come to accept as fact.
One of the weight room regulars known among our group as ‘The Electric Eel’ swore to us that he had a secret program for putting two inches on his arms in two weeks. If he actually had such a program, none of us ever saw it happen. Actually ‘The Electric Eel’ would have needed to put two inches on his arms just to look normal.
Another source of extreme, though more practical advice, came from Leon. Leon was a New Hampshire State Trooper. While not caring much at all for leg work, Leon sported a pair of at least 18 to 19 inch ham hocks squeezed tightly into the nearly bursting sleeves of his trooper’s uniform. Rumor had it that he deliberately squeezed himself into size medium shirts so as to have a mental edge over the numerous troublesome motorists he was apt to encounter on his job as a trooper. While Leon didn’t go particularly heavy on his arm exercises, he did in fact train the whole arm……biceps, triceps, and forearms. The triceps, he told us, comprised two thirds of the girth of the upper arm, so to just train biceps in his opinion was a waste of time. His program was simple: dips, close grip bench presses with legs in the air,and ankles crossed, and pulley pushdowns for triceps……barbell preacher curls and incline dumbbell curls for biceps…..reverse curls and wrist curls for forearms, usually never doing less than 6 reps of an exercise but often doing as many as 10 to 12 reps. Leon didn’t suffer fools very well and only spoke to the guys he thought took their training seriously.
Al P. was the same way. Al didn’t talk much at all in the weight room. He was there to train, not socialize. Al looked like Franco Columbo and worked as a plumber. He used to train in steel-tipped work boots and carry around a thick rope and a jar of honey. The rope was for weighted dips and chins, the honey for restoring falling blood glucose levels midway through his workout. If you said anything at all to him, you just said “Hi” and made sure to get out of his way.
One day my friends and I got together and put one of us up to the task of asking Al for a ‘bulk routine’. Here is the straight scoop as he gave it to us. Train four days a week; two days on, one day off. Then two days on and two days off; never doing more than four sets of our primary exercise. For example, bench presses for the chest, and doing only two sets of the secondary ones such as Heavy Incline Dumbbell Presses, and Dumbbell Bench Presses on the flat bench. Again all done for 6 reps for a total of 8 sets for chest . The majority of Al’s program consisted of heavy squats, deadlifts, rows, and overhead presses. Such exercises, we soon learned, were the real keys to triggering growth in the arms, not single arm concentration curls. Of course the food intake on such a program should be enough to feed a small horse. You really can’t gain much mass on the arms without gaining in overall size. That’s why the heavy, compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, rows, and presses are so indispensable.
Then there was the matter of measurements. Bob T. used to bring a tape measure with him to measure his arms after each and every set, the purpose here being to pump them up by at least a quarter to a half of an inch. Our goal was to get ourselves a pair of at least twenty inch arms. In our dreams! Leroy Colbert was supposed to have been the first man to have achieved this feat. Next thing you know, it seemed as though every top bodybuilder had twenty plus inch arms……Dave Draper, Arnold, Sergio, and Larry Scott. Of course, a twenty inch arm on 5Ft. 8 in. Larry Scott looked infinitely larger than a twenty inch arm on 6 Ft. 2 in. Arnold. So my friends and I all slaved away at the preacher stand as Larry had done, hoping for the arms of Scott…….Not even close!
Then one of the ‘Y’ guys named Nipper P. drove his motorcycle out to the Original Gold’s Gym in Venice, California in October of ’71 and trained there until the following spring. Upon his return to New Hampshire, Nipper was put through the third degree by myself and several others. “Okay, Nip…tell us, how do we get twenty inch arms?” Nipper, appearing disillusioned, attempted a feeble explanation,”Drugs,” he said. “What?” Nipper went on to explain that no less than Arnold had told him that such superhuman development would not be possible without the assistance of powerful pharmaceutical agents. But Red Hog refused to accept it. “I’ll do it!” he shouted out as if swearing a solemn oath to the rest of us, “And I’ll do it without drugs! I don’t care if I have to keep liftin’ until I’m fifty years old!” None of us were about to argue with him about it.
Let us now consider the basic, functional anatomy of the arms. The biceps consists of two distinct heads, the long head and the short head, which originate from the upper border of the glenoid cavity (shoulder socket) and coracoid process of the scapula (shoulder blade) respectively. Its fibers run along the front portion of the upper arm, terminating in the biceps tendon which inserts upon the proximal (upper portion) of the radius bone of the forearm. The biceps functions as the primary flexor of the elbow and also supinates the palm (turns it up to face the ceiling). The biceps is positioned directly upon the brachialis, a secondary elbow flexor. On the posterior (back) of the upper arm we find the triceps. The triceps has three heads, lateral, medial, and long. The lateral and medial heads originate on the proximal (upper portion) humerus, while the long head originates from the scapula. All three heads run along the back of the upper arm and converge into a common tendon of insertion which attaches to the olecranon process of the ulna (funny bone). The triceps functions as an elbow extensor, as does the anconeus which we really don’t need to discuss here. The forearms can get tricky, composed of such varied muscles as the extensor carpi radialis, flexor carpi ulnaris, extensor digitorum profundus, pronator teres, brachioradialis, etc. Then we also have the intrinsic muscles of the hand such as the flexor pollicis longus and brevis and the interossei. Forget them unless you’re taking a gross anatomy exam any time soon. Let’s keep it simple. The part of the forearm on the palm side we’ll call the forearm flexors; the opposite side, the forearm extensors. These muscles as well as the intrinsic muscles of the hand may very well receive adequate stimulation any time we grip a barbell.
Okay, now let’s get down to business. Here’s how to go about building arms:
Beginner’s Arm Program (Add weight on the second set)
|Squats 2||sets of 10 to 15 reps.|
|Deadlifts||2 sets of 10 reps.|
|Clean and Press||2 sets of 8 to 12 reps.|
|Bent Over Rows2||sets of 8 to 12 reps.|
|Dips 2||sets of 8 to 12 reps.|
|Barbell Curl||2 sets of 8 to 12 reps.|
The idea here is to train the biceps and triceps AFTER they have been thoroughly warmed up and partially fatigued by the preceding indirect work.
Advanced Arm Program (Add weight on each successive set)
On a split routine you may either train the biceps and forearms after you have thoroughly trained your back. Triceps may be trained after chest and shoulders. Or you may mix things up by training the complete arm complex (Biceps, triceps, and forerams) after you have worked your shoulders to exhaustion. For example:
|Incline dumbbell curl||3 to 5 sets of 6 to 12 reps|
|Weighted Dips||3 to 5 sets of 6 to 12 reps.|
|Close Grip Bench Press||3 to 5 sets of 6 to 12 reps|
|Spider Bench Curl w/ straight bar||3 to 5 sets of 6 to 12 reps.|
|Rev. Grip Preacher Curl||2 to 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps|
|Barbell Wrist Curls||2 to 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps.|
Something to consider: If these programs are followed to the letter in conjunction with a balanced, high calorie diet and adequate rest and recovery, your arms will grow. Granted, they may not reach the magical twenty inch mark without assistance from the previously mentioned pharmaceuticals, but they will grow far beyond what you have thus far achieved.
One word of caution, however. Don’t let it go to your head. One of the ‘Y’ gang named Mango was observed coming out of a restaurant after he had nearly pumped himself into a coma at the ‘Y’. The sight of a group of secretaries walking toward the entrance elicited the following response from him: leaping onto a nearby wall, he flexed his biceps and shouted out to these surprised young women, “Hey, baby!……How’d ya like to……y’know? Hey, get a loada my mass!” Don’t be a Mango.