Frustrated with your progress (or lack thereof)? Make sure you avoid these rookie moves.
Anthony J. Yeung, C.S.C.S., for Muscle & Fitness 1 / 8
Arms Won't Grow?
It’s a simple fact: guys want big arms. Just walk into any commercial gym and you’ll see a line of people standing in front of mirrors working on their biceps and triceps.
Yet, despite all the attention heaped upon arms, so many guys struggle to develop theirs. Just gotta train more, right? Not likely. You can train your arms as much as you want, but if you keep making a few critical mistakes, you’ll never get great results.
Escape the black hole of ineffective arm training by learning the eight reasons why your arms still aren’t growing and exactly what you can do to fix it.
Mistake 1: Not Eating Enough
As much as guys like to focus on certain muscle groups (biceps especially), the simple reality is that your body is built to grow proportionately. If you want big arms or a big chest, you need to get big all over. Fortunately, the solution to this one is simple: Eat more to get bigger all over, and your arms will follow suit.
Aspiring bodybuilders should follow this rule: Take your height in centimeters (sorry, America) and subtract by 100. Your result is your minimum target weight in kilograms. For example, if you’re six feet tall (183cm), you should try to gain enough muscle overall so you weigh at least 183lbs (83kg). Only then will you have the overall musculature to develop truly impressive biceps.
No body part grows by trashing it every day—you need to rest to let your arms recover. In the hours after a workout, your muscles lose strength and power as they heal; after 36–48 hours, the muscle actually gets stronger, a process called "supercompensation."
Bottom line: You need to give yourself rest. That's especially important for your arms, which are tiny compared to other muscle groups like your legs or back, and therefore can’t handle as much stimulus.
Performing leg exercises before arm exercises can lead to bigger and stronger arms than arm exercises alone, Norwegian researchers found in an 11-week study. Immediately after research subjects trained their legs, they had more testosterone and growth hormone in their blood—by training arms afterward, they enjoyed superior results.
Make sure to blast your legs with heavy exercises like squats, deadlifts, and lunges to elevate your anabolic hormone concentration. Training your legs not only leads to acute hormonal increases, it also leads to higher levels long-term.
Although isolation exercises are typically staples of arm workouts, you’ll never build huge arms without simultaneously developing strong surrounding muscles, too.
Instead, add complex exercises to target not only your arms, but also your forearms, shoulders, back, and chest. To build your triceps, add weighted dips, close-grip bench presses, and barbell overhead presses. To build your biceps, include chinups and reverse-grip barbell rows.
Remember, your triceps give your upper arms their size. (The tricep actually occupies two-thirds of your upper arm.) And to build truly huge arms, you need to hammer your triceps just as much as your biceps.
Take a scientific approach to build massive arms. As with any muscle group, there are fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers, each adapting to a different level of volume and intensity. Spend 3–4 weeks developing a specific fiber and then cycle to another one.
Do you always do 3 sets of 8 reps of bicep curls? Add massive volume with band-resisted curls and do as many as you can until failure (40 or more reps) for a few weeks. Do you always do drop sets? Try going extra heavy and repping out only 5 reps for 4 or 5 sets.
Most people train their biceps and triceps with a familiar set of equipment: dumbbells, EZ bars, barbells, and cables. And although those are great, you can unleash a different stimulus on your arms by using other tools in your training.
For example, use thick-handled dumbbells or barbells to boost your neural drive and activate more musculature. If thick-handled weights aren’t available, use fat grips or wrap a small towel around the handles.
Also, use bands to explode past sticking points. During the bicep curl, for example, you engage the biceps more toward the top half of the movement than the bottom half. By using a band, you can better match the strength curve of the bicep curl, because the resistance will be easiest at the bottom (when the muscle is fully stretched) and get more difficult as you rise.