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Ask Men's Fitness: How Do I Get Big Arms?

Our training director explains the science behind getting pumped up arms.
Big arms



Most of the trainers I’ve interviewed over the years don’t recommend much arm isolation work—for beginners, no more than two exercises each for biceps and triceps done up to twice a week for three or four sets, tops. More experienced guys can experiment with one “arm day” per week or hitting the bi’s and tri’s at the end of upper-body workouts, but the message is clear: Less is more. 

Remember that the biceps and forearms work hard on any back exercise. Chinups and row variations should always leave them pumped up. Meanwhile, your triceps get smoked by chest and shoulder training. So there’s little reason to bombard your arms with a lot of work beyond that. They’re small muscles, after all (in general—not yours personally, of course). 

To see gains in any muscle group, make an effort to gain some weight and get stronger overall. You won’t find many guys with a big bench press who also have skinny arms. 

And here’s one more tip: Keep your isolated triceps training light— three to five sets of eight or more reps per set, up to three times a week. Heavy triceps work, especially on isolation exercises, can hurt your elbows and restrict all your training. Prioritize your arm training with this advice for a month, and you’ll see results. 

Sean Hyson, C.S.C.S., is the Men’s Fitness training director and author of 101 Best Workouts of All Time, available at E-mail your questions to him at

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