How To Build Big Arms

Just about every guy who works out wants bigger more muscular arms.  Here’s a guide to making that happen.

Before we delve into details, let’s talk for a moment about realistic expectations and genetics.  While everyone can build more arm size, not everyone can build massive muscular 20 inch arms like you’d see on a pro bodybuilder.  For most of us, the upper limit is going to be more like 16-18 inches.  Keep in mind a lean highly developed 17 inch arm is still really big by most standards, and in my opinion looks much better than a 20 inch blob of an arm.

Okay, now that we have that out of the way, let’s get into three different approaches to building big arms:

The “Get Big All Over” approach

This approach involves doing heavy basic compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, presses, rows, and curls, and eating a lot of quality food to rapidly gain muscular bodyweight.  The idea is that the growth stimulus of heavy lifting and high calories will affect your entire body, with some of the added bodyweight going to your arms.  This approach works especially well if you’re skinny all over or if your arm progress has stalled and you’ve never seriously worked your lower body.

Sample workout routine (sets x reps):

Monday: squat 5 x 5, front squat 3-5 x 10-15, glute ham raise 3-5 x 10-15, calf raise 5 x 20

Tuesday: bench press 5 x 5, incline DB press 3-5 x 10-15, lying tricep extension 3-5 x 10-15, barbell curl 3-5 x 10-15

Thursday: deadlift 5 x 5, bent over row 3-5 x 10-15, pull-up or lat pulldown 3-5 x 10-15

Friday: military press 5 x 5, close grip bench press 3-5 x 10-15, rear delt flye 3-5 x 10-15

On the main lifts where you’re doing 5×5, rest 3-5 minutes between sets and try to add some weight to the bar each week.  On the assistance exercises where you’re doing higher reps, rest 1-2 minutes between sets, and add weight when able.  Eat a caloric surplus of 300-500 kcals per day.  Your whole body including your arms will grow.

The “High Set Heavy Weight” approach

This approach involves doing at least 20 sets for biceps and 20 for triceps with as much weight as you can handle for 6-10 reps per set.  Work your arms 1-2 times per week depending on your recovery ability.  This approach has been used by countless bodybuilders over the decades including those with the best arms in the business such as Arnold and Lee Priest.  It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s the most straight forward approach to building up your arms.

Sample workout routine (sets x reps):

Bicep day: barbell curl 5 x 6-10, preacher curl 5 x 6-10, concentration curl 5 x 6-10, cable curl 5 x 6-10

Tricep day: close grip bench 5 x 6-10, skull crusher 5 x 6-10, pushdown 5 x 6-10, tricep machine 5 x 6-10

Rest one to two minutes between sets and use as much weight as you can for the prescribed reps.  Be aware that this approach can be tough on the elbows.  If you start running into elbow troubles, try backing off on the number of sets and building back up gradually or switch to one of the other approaches I’ve described.

The “High Volume Pumping” approach

This approach also uses high sets in the range of 15-25 sets for biceps and the same for triceps.  However, it uses higher reps (15-20) and shorter rest periods (30-45 sec) with a focus on feeling the target muscles working and getting the maximum possible muscle pump. This approach works well for people who’ve already built up some arms size with heavy lifting and are looking to take it to another level, or for people who do heavy lifting for their chest and back and find that heavy direct arm training is redundant.  When using this approach, you can also incorporate supersets or drop sets for an even greater pump.

Sample workout routine:

Bicep day: EZ bar curl 5 x 15-20, cable curl 5 x 15-20, superset machine curl 5 x 15-20 & DB hammer curl 5 x 15-20

Tricep day: pushdown 5 x 15-20, overhead cable extension 5 x 15-20, superset kickbacks 5 x 15-20 & skull crusher 5 x 15-20

All three of the approaches I described will work, provided you put enough effort into them and recover properly outside of the gym.  Pick one that suits your needs and temperament and get after it.  Good luck!

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