Almost every gym newbie walks into the gym with hopes and dreams of building a barrel-chest and sleeve-stretching bulging biceps. There’s a lot more to fitness than building a chest and arms that leave your tops bursting at the seams; however, if what you’re after is an impressive set of guns, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll point you in the right direction and fill you in on how to grow bigger arms.
The muscles that make up the arm
Most of us think of biceps when we talk about arms but your biceps and brachialis (a muscle located beneath the lower half of the biceps) only form about a third of your arm. Where are the other two thirds? The bulk of your arm is actually on the back, and is called the triceps. Both the triceps (three: inner, outer and long head) and biceps (inner and outer) have more than one head. This is where the phrase “knowledge is power” comes to the fore. It makes sense then that targeting and growing your triceps is a sure-fire way to add significant mass to your arms. However, in order to maximise the size of your arms the best approach is to engage all the relevant muscles. This includes developing the brachialis, which effectively lifts your bicep and makes it look bigger. We’ll share an exercise with you later that specifically targets this muscle.
How to maximise growth to build bigger arms:
You can spend all the livelong day in the gym but without the right nutrients backing your workouts or even your recovery, your muscle growth will always fall short of its potential. Striking the right balance of carbohydrates, fats and protein will ensure your muscles have the macronutrients they need to grow. In order to give your muscles an adequate amount of protein to go beyond maintenance and pack on size, it is recommended to consume roughly 2-3 grams of protein for every gram of your overall weight.
Water for the win
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve probably heard it a million times; a significant portion of our bodies is made out of water. Why is that relevant to your sleeve-busting biceps? Both contractions and the bulk of protein synthesis take place in water. This means that both your performance in the gym and your recovery afterwards are heavily dependent on how hydrated you keep your body. In short, if you’re concerned about making gains then water is life.
This doesn’t seem like a challenging prospect but once the gym bug has bitten you, rest days can feel like wasted time. They’re not. In fact, your muscles are actually broken during training and grow as they recover during rest. This is because of protein synthesis. A host of processes critical for your muscle growth (including protein syntheses) take place during sleep and rest, so while you shouldn’t skip leg day, you’ll do well not to skip rest day too.
The intensity of your workouts is just as important as working out. This is because our bodies adapt to coping with the additional strain they are put under. We covered how best to increase the intensity of your workouts in a previous blog and it is these principles that need to be applied to help grow your arms. The increased stress on your muscle will boost GH (growth hormone) levels (Roelen et al, 1995) encouraging more recovery and growth.
Some of the principles that can be applied in your workout regime are:
- Focusing on the eccentric portion of your movements (also known as negatives)
- Incorporating drop sets
- Decreasing rest periods between sets
- Using super set exercises
- Incorporating forced reps
Stoppani explains that training can activate genes in your muscle fibres that enable muscle growth and increased strength. In addition, consistent training continues to activate these genes spurring on growth and size. Ultimately, if these workouts are timed appropriately then higher levels of activity can be reached for enhanced muscle growth.
Some great exercises to help you pack on mass in your arms include:
- The reverse curl (targets the brachialis)
- Close-grip barbell bench press (targets all heads of the triceps)
- Triceps cable push downs
- Seated overhead tricep press
- Skull crushers
- Barbell curl
- Incline dumbbell curl
- Preacher curl
- Hammer curls
- Triceps dips
C. A. M. Roelen et al, Plasma Insulin-Like Growth Factor-I and High Affinity Growth Hormone-Binding Protein Levels Increase After Two Weeks of Strenuous Physical Training, Int J Sports Med 1997; 18(4): 238-241
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