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The Fit Five: All Arms

An expert’s best advice on building big, defined arms.

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Whether you’re rockin’ a sleeveless to the beach, a casual tee for Friday, or the full suit while grinding out the work week, defined and developed arms are a sign that you’re strong and on top of your game. To maximize your efforts in the arm department, we asked Andrew Sakhrani, C.S.C.S., a Montreal, Canada-based strength coach, for his expert advice on getting bigger, stronger arms.

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Q1: Which is better for overall size development, compound or single-joint lifts?

“I see the importance of both, because single-joint lifts work what we call the secondary muscles, which are most involved in joint stabilization. In this case, the biceps and triceps stabilize the shoulder. However, compound lifts create much greater strength and mass increases because performing a move that requires multiple-joint involvement recruits more muscle fiber."

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Q2: I want that “horseshoe” shape. What’s a good move to develop the outer head of the triceps??

“There are a variety of exercises you could do to develop the horseshoe, but I’d recommend going with overhead triceps extensions with a cable, rope pushdowns, skull crushers, or bar pushdowns. ”

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Q3: When should I work my arms for the optimal development?

“If you’re not taking a minimum of one day off for your muscles to relax and recover, then your body is constantly breaking itself down without a chance to build itself back up. It’s important to know that muscle growth takes time. As for when, the best time to work your arms is when you feel that your muscles are ready to be worked—that is, when you’re no longer sore. That way you’ll be able to work harder for longer, resulting in much faster improvement.”

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Q4: What are five arm moves I absolutely should not cut out of my workouts?

“People neglect many important exercises that are crucial to strengthening the arms. The top five are: shoulder presses, upright rows, lateral raises, biceps exercises, and triceps exercises. At times, there’s this idea that if you consistently perform multijoint movements, there’s no need to train these muscles. But these areas are responsible for doing the lifting in many crucial exercises—like dumbbell presses—so without these five arm exercises, the muscles involved in those important movements won’t be able to lift the weight sufficiently.”

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Q5: How do I get my biceps to “peak”?

“The best thing to do is to change up your workout at least once a month—or, better yet, every three weeks—so your muscles don’t get used to a routine. I change my program every three weeks, and alternate between eight and 12 reps. Some effective biceps workouts are hammer curls, twist curls, cable curls, and preacher curls. And it’s important to do not only biceps exercises but also exercises that require multijoint systems, such as lateral pulldowns.”

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