You wouldn't trust a mechanic with only one wrench to work on your car. So why do so many guys trust one kind of workout to build their arms? Sure, it seems simple enough —if you want bigger arms, do arm exercises. But if curls and pressdowns were really foolproof arm builders, you'd see a lot more pipes than pipe cleaners bursting out of shirt-sleeves this summer. The reason you don't is guys are usually as ill-prepared to jack up their arms as that grease monkey is to fix your Hyundai.
If you're determined to build size and strength in any muscle group as quickly and efficiently as possible, I strongly suggest a three-tiered approach. I like to think of it as assembling a cool sports car. Before you worry about what kind of rims you want on the tires, you need to construct the frame. After all, if the suspension is shoddy, you're not going to get far. Read on, and I'll show you an eight-week blueprint for bigger arms—and a better overall body—that will make you the fastest Ferrari on the road.
Weeks 1-2: Build the Chassis
First, you need to establish stability—a sturdy foundation of balance and neuro-muscular control that will allow you to lift heavy, muscle-maximizing weights later on. So for two weeks, I want you to concentrate on exercises that emphasize your core—the muscles of your abs and lower back that not only stabilize your entire body but also determine its ability to produce maximum strength.
You want to "teach" your body to recruit more muscle fibers when you lift, thereby setting the stage for more strength and growth. This means getting into awkward positions that will require your central nervous system (CNS)—the engineer for all your muscles—to call in reinforcements to keep you stable during exercise. So you'll work out with Swiss balls, standing on one leg, using one arm, and even twisting in midair. Yeah, you might look a little funny—but you'll be getting in great condition, sharpening your body's ability to train harder, heavier, and longer in the weeks to come.
This is a crucial step, and to reap the full benefit, you'll need to perform the workout at least four times a week. Because you won't be training heavy or for very long per session in this phase, you'll recover quicker and be able to handle the frequency. While the other "hardcore" bodybuilding magazines would have you skip this part completely and head straight for the barbell curls, taking my route lessens the risk that your vehicle will break down from overtraining or injury (the muscles of the arms are relatively small and are therefore more easily fatigued and overused).
Weeks 3-5: Start the Body Work
Once you've got a solid chassis to build on, you can begin to hammer out the "body" by hammering your muscles with heavier strength exercises for the next three weeks. It's time to add some classic bodybuilding moves to the mix—for fast muscle growth—and some arm-isolation exercises (lying triceps extensions and curls). Thanks to the previous two weeks' prep work, you'll find you can progress to heavier weights much faster than usual. To ensure your CNS stays keyed up, you'll integrate the new strength moves with the core training you've been doing, supersetting each bodybuilding exercise with a stability exercise for the same muscle group.
For example, you'll perform a set of lying triceps extensions followed immediately by a set of Swiss-ball pushups. An exercise like the triceps extension isolates the tri's and forces them to work maximally. When you go on to do the Swiss-ball pushup (without rest), your triceps will naturally be fatigued, and you'll need to draw on more of your stabilizer muscles to keep you on the ball and complete the set—thereby working more muscle at a fast pace that is sure to elicit growth.
Because the workouts this time will be significantly more intense, you need do them only three to four days a week.
Weeks 6-8: Install the Engine
By this point, your body has become sturdy and reliable, and should run smoothly through the last three weeks. You'll rev up muscle growth tremendously with two to three workouts a week based on compound movements that work your entire musculature, but are especially effective for your arms. In addition to the direct effects of training large muscle groups, your body will benefit from the greater post-workout hormone production that results from heavy lifting, meaning your system will be flooded with muscle-producing testosterone and growth hormone. In short, even the deadlifts you do will make your arms grow.
This is the stage where most guys begin their arm programs, but despite your five-week detour, you'll be further along than they are and make more impressive gains in less time—guaranteed. With a heightened level of muscular control, you'll be able to lift heavier weights and get more out of each exercise.
Because the goal of the workouts in weeks one and two is to train your CNS more than your actual muscles, I don't want you to fixate on the weight you're using. (As you'll see, properly performing the exercises requires a lot of concentration and coordination, so you won't be able to hoist heavy weights, anyway.) For the first few sessions, choose a light weight that allows you to execute every rep with precise form and correct tempo (see the workout on page 122 for an explanation). When you're comfortable with that weight, you can make the exercise more difficult by adjusting your position rather than adding more weight. This will make the CNS recruit even more muscle fibers and have your core working overtime to keep you balanced. At right are some recommendations for making each exercise harder without adding more weight.
Warning: Make these adjustments gradually—and only after you can easily complete all the prescribed reps with your original weight. Don't make any changes that compromise your form or put you at risk for injury.
- SIDE PLANK
Split your legs, raising the top one slightly away from your lower leg
- DUMBELL OVERHEAD LUNGE
Perform the exercise on the balls of your feet
Slow down the tempo another second or two
- SWISS-BALL LEG CURL
Perform the exercise with only one leg, with your other leg up in the air
- ONE-ARM DUMBBELL PUSH PRESS
Close your eyes
- SINGLE-LEG GOOD MORNING/LUNGE
Perform the exercise on the balls of your feet
- SINGLE-LEG DUMBBELL ROW
Close your eyes