Although the concept of “muscle confusion” has gained in popularity recently, most trainees seem to adopt the complete opposite approach to training – sticking to the same old exercises week after week…month after month…even year after year, with little in the way of gains to show for it.
Now, if you’re genetically blessed like legends Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ronnie Coleman or Larry Scott, you can just stick to a handful of hallmark arm exercises and experience above average gains in size and strength. Most of us however, are individuals who have to get increasingly creative and use a variety of methods in order to fend off plateaus and keep the gains coming.
What most often happens is the program worked well early on, however as time progressed, your gains stalled and your growth plateaued. If you are currently maintaining muscular size rather than experiencing growth, this post is for you. Even if you are someone who can just look at weights and grow, the following tips will add serious gains in size and strength. Working with a wide variety of exercises and angles will lead improved results.
The biceps are commonly the center of attention when it comes to the arms; however the triceps actually account for 2/3 of your arm, so here is where we’ll start.
It is the muscle principally responsible for extension of the elbow joint (straightening of the arm). The triceps are composed of three heads – the long head, the lateral head and the medial head. Although there are three heads to the triceps, they join at a common tendon, which makes it nearly impossible to isolate one singularly. This is not to say that we can’t alter the percentage of contribution depending on body positioning and the exercise implements used.
The Medial Head
Key Exercises: triceps pushdown variations, close grip bench press and dumbbell kickbacks.
Positioning: during exercises where the arms are closer to the torso, the involvement of the medial head takes a front seat.
Anatomy Buffs: this muscle is considered by many as the powerhouse of the triceps, meaning that it is involved in all exercises. The muscle is located near the midline and mostly covered by the lateral and long heads.
The Lateral Head
Key Exercises: close grip elbows out bench press, lying cross body triceps extension and standing dumbbell French press.
Positioning: movements that occur with the upper arm internally rotated (elbows pointing out) will increase the percentage of the lateral head.
Anatomy Buffs: located on the outward side of the humerus.
The Long Head
Key Exercises: overhead cable triceps extension, overhead dumbbell reverse grip triceps extension and lying EZ bar triceps extension.
Positioning: activation for this muscle is at its greatest when the arms are farthest from the belly button.
Anatomy Buffs: the long head forms the other main half of the “horseshoe” look closest to your armpit.
The biceps make up the other 1/3 of your arm (obviously) and consist of; the short head, long head, brachialis and pronator teres. To maximize your full potential for size and strength, all four of these muscles must be trained in the most effective manner.
The Short Head
Key Exercises: Scott curls, Arnold’s popular concentration curls and spider curls.
Positioning: the elbows need to be in front of the torso.
Anatomy Buffs: biceps short head is located on inside part of humerus.
The Long Head
Key Exercises: incline curls, standing pulley curls and standing barbell curls.
Positioning: for the long head it is just the opposite, this muscle is best activated when the arms are behind the torso.
Anatomy Buffs: biceps long head is located on the outside part of the humerus.
Brachialis and Pronator Teres
Key Exercises: reverse curls, Zottman curls and hammer curls.
Positioning: having your grip set in a neutral or pronated (palms down) position will transfer the workload from the biceps to the brachialis and pronator teres.
Anatomy Buffs: the brachialis can be found beneath the short and long head. The pronator teres is located just below the elbow while the palm is facing up.
There it is! A whole toolbox full of exercises and the arm muscles they activate. To keep the arms balanced and enhance forearm growth, always lift with thick grip implements. If your gym doesn’t provide them you can purchase a set of Fat Gripz.
As a rule of thumb it is best to change your exercises every six sessions to avoid accommodation. Try working a different angle of the strength curve every sixth session and track your progress.
You could also work the entire strength curve within a single workout. This is one of my favorites:
A1. Close Grip Chins x 4-6 reps | 4010 tempo | 10s rest
A2. 45º Incline Curl x 10-12 | 3010 tempo | 10s rest
A3. Standing Hammer Curl x 20-25 |1010 tempo | 2min rest
* 3-4 sets
A1. Flat Close Grip Bench x 4-6 reps |4010 tempo|10s rest
A2. Lying Cross Body Tri Ext. w/Chains x 10-12 | 3010 tempo | 10s rest
A3. 45º Lying DB Extension x 20-25 reps |1010 tempo|2min
* 3-4 sets
Brigham Van Etten is a certified strength and conditioning specialist based out of Cleveland Ohio. For more information on him and additional training tips, refer to http://www.thegymtraining.com