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Direct Assault: The “Case” for Arms Training

Recently there’s been a trend of abbreviated training routines. In these routines, basic compound movements such as the bench press and barbell rows are emphasized, but direct arm work is nonexistent. The argument that’s asserted for such routines is that direct arm work does very little to incur hypertrophy. Supposedly, the hypertrophy derived from direct arm work is negligible at best. Well, I’m here to tell you that if you want bigger arms, you need to train them directly. I bet you’re saying, “Duh, Einstein. I never stopped training my arms.” Yes, yes, most trainees are reluctant to give up their concentration curls and cable pressdowns, but who’s ever gotten big arms off of concentration curls and cable pressdowns alone? And don’t think you’re getting bigger arms from dips, barbell curls and close grip bench presses either. Compound exercises alone will not help you achieve bigger and more muscular-looking arms.

There are a number of reasons why many trainees do not achieve massive arms through direct training, but three factors stand out:

  1. Inappropriate exercise selection
  2. Inappropriate set totals
  3. Inappropriate repetition protocols

Inversely, there are number of reasons why some trainees maintain or even temporarily increase their arm size on abbreviated programs. For one thing, since most trainees never properly train their arms, not much growth is gained. So when these trainees employ an abbreviated program, they don’t lose much arm mass at all. How can you lose what you never even gained in the first place? Now some trainees may increase their arm size on abbreviated programs, but this is due to a sudden drop in training volume. Much of the increase in arm size is due to water weight. This sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is due to the accumulation of muscle glycogen resulting from a lack of direct training. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is temporary and only lasts for a few days. To properly train your arms, you need to understand the fiber composition of your upper arm muscles.


Yes, your arms have a high amount of fast-twitch muscle fibers. So it makes sense that if you want to maximize the size of your arms, you must stress the fibers with the greatest growth potential. Question is: where are these fast-twitch fibers?

Target #1: The Brachialis

While your biceps have a mix of fast and slow-twitch fibers, the misnamed “lower biceps” or brachialis is composed primarily of fast-twitch fibers. Even though it is only the size of a golf ball, the brachialis is situated underneath your biceps next to the inside of your elbow. With regards to symmetry, this is a strategic location on your arm. Develop the brachialis, and its increased size will push the biceps up and give you greater biceps “peak.” Greater biceps peak adds to greater arm girth. Exercises that target the brachialis include Zottman curls, hammer curls (incline and standing), and preacher curl variations. Preacher curls can be done in a variety of ways, such as barbell preacher curls, one arm dumbbell preacher curls, and reverse grip EZ-curl bar preacher curls.

Target #2: The Triceps Long Head

Of the three triceps heads (lateral, medial, and long head), the long head of the triceps is the meatiest of the three. Even when the lateral and medial heads are fully developed and the long head is underdeveloped, the long head is still comparable in size. Whereas the lateral and medial heads have a mix of fast and slow-twitch fibers, the long head is comprised primarily of fast-twitch fibers. So when the fibers of the triceps long head are properly stressed, they develop tremendous size. Now while the bench press, close grip bench press and dips are excellent mass builders for the lateral and medial triceps heads, the long head is almost inactive during these exercises. This is one reason why abbreviated programs can never fully develop the upper arms. Exercises targeting the long head are 1) lying flat bench triceps extensions with an EZ curl bar and 2) lying decline extensions with an EZ curl bar. If you perform either one of these extension movements in conjunction with a pressing movement, then you will develop thick, full triceps. Performing lying triceps extensions with a straight barbell or dumbbells, however, will shift the emphasis to the lateral heads.

Set and Rep Protocols for the Upper Arms

You know where the fast-twitch fibers are on your arms, and you know what exercises isolate these fibers. Question is: what sort of set and rep protocol should you use? Everyone who’s familiar with fiber type training knows that fast-twitch muscle fibers require heavy weight and low reps. What a lot of trainees fail to do, however, is employ multiple sets of these low reps. Two to three sets of 4-6 reps just doesn’t incur much growth, but the next ten sets of 4-6 reps sure does the trick.

A Sample Program

The following is a sample program to stimulate the fast-twitch fibers of your upper arms. On Monday you’ll perform supersets with a minute and a half between the two exercises. On Wednesday you’ll perform high reps with no rest between exercises and a minute rest between supersets. These high reps will help promote recovery between the fast-twitch training sessions. On Friday, you’ll perform ten consecutive sets for biceps, followed by ten consecutive sets for triceps. Monday A1) Preacher curls (6 sets) 6 reps, 90 seconds rest A2) Lying flat bench triceps extensions with an EZ curl bar (6 sets) 6 reps, 90 seconds rest Wednesday A1) Lying to seated dumbbell curls (3 sets) 13-15 reps, no rest -perform 6-8 reps of lying flat bench dumbbell curls, then sit up and perform alternating seated dumbbell curls A2) Elevated diamond pushups (3 sets) 13-15 reps, 60 seconds rest

  • place your hands on the floor and form a diamond shape
  • place your feet on a bench
  • perform as many pushups as you can, aiming for 13-15 reps

Friday A) Incline hammer curls (10 sets) 4 reps, 60 seconds rest B) Seated overhead half press in power rack (10 sets) 4 reps, 60 seconds rest

  • sit on a bench inside a power rack
  • grasp the barbell with a shoulder width grip
  • perform half presses from the head to lockout
  • during this exercise, the pins of the power rack are set at forehead level


To launch a direct assault on your arms, you need to lift the heavy artillery. Bottom line: big arms need big weight and must be trained directly.