The Best Bicep and Tricep Workouts For Men To Get Massive Arms
There’s a bodybuilding mantra that was made popular in the 1960s that focused on the importance of the arms.
“Arms and chest are always the best!”
This mantra highlights the truism that when it comes to aesthetics, the arms and upper body are always the first to get noticed. Many men instinctively know this is true, but they overthink their plans for building arm muscles.
There is no argument against diet, rest, nutrition, and supplementation being important when focusing on building a great set of arms.
However, when it comes to training arms for massive gains, it’s important to consider the function and construction of arm muscles. These are some of the most versatile, yet mostly simply constructed muscles in the body. Take a few cues from some bodybuilders who were known for their incredible arms.
“… remember that once you get going, you must handle as much weight as possible, but always in good form.”
– Larry Scott, Mr. Olympia 1965-1966
“I don’t know; I never count sets.”
– Sergio Oliva, Mr. Olympia 1967-1969
“The cheating barbell curl stands alone for building mass.”
– Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mr. Olympia 1970-75, and 1980
Each of these champions were known for their incredibly well-developed arms and they approached arm training with a simple philosophy: lift heavy weights, aim for a maximum pump, and always train to – and even past – the point of failure.
This seems obvious to any man who has spent time in a gym. The most basic principle of muscle growth is breaking plateaus.
So why do so many men fail to grow massive arms?
It helps to first understand your arms’ general anatomy.
- Biceps: A two-headed muscle that lies on the upper arm between the shoulder and the elbow.
- Triceps: A three-headed muscle on the back of the upper arm, responsible for extension of the elbow.
The versatility of the biceps and triceps allows a man to perform nearly endless types of upper body motions. This versatility is also what allows the biceps and triceps to be worked easily in bodybuilding situations. The simple act of closing and opening the elbow joint fully engages all of the muscles in each group. Adding resistance recruits muscle fibers fully and efficiently.
Understanding this is the key element to developing arm size.
Men fail to add mass to their arms because they spend too much time on exercise variations, rather than simple weighted lifts.
With extremely light weights, fewer total muscle fibers are activated. With heavy weights, more total fibers are activated. As multiple lift sets are performed, some fibers become filled with waste materials like lactic acid and ammonia. When this happens, other fibers are recruited to complete the lifts. Heavy weights recruit the greatest number of total fibers in each muscle group.
And as these muscle fibers are stressed under heavy loads, they develop micro-tears. Blood is pumped into the muscle fibers to compensate for these injuries, and the fascia is stretched. When this stretching happens, minerals and nutrients are released to begin work on repairing the torn muscle fibers. As these micro-tears are repaired, the results are ultimately larger and stronger muscle fibers, meaning muscle growth.
In other words, you need to stress your biceps and triceps in order for them to grow.
To put this into practical terms, heavy pushing and pulling from the elbow joint provides maximum stimulus for bicep and tricep growth.
Think about it.
20 minutes of heavy barbell curling will certainly stress arm muscle fibers to the point of micro-tearing far better than an hour of performing sign language.
In short, if a man wants his arm muscles to grow, he must subject both the triceps and biceps to weight loads that provide the necessary muscular challenge and stress.
The Most Common Arm Mass Myth
When a man flexes his arms, he holds his arms outstretched and flexes from the elbow. This causes a contraction in both the biceps and the triceps. The bicep contraction is greater because the elbow joint is activated and shortens the bicep head. Magically, a bicep peak is seen.
Psychologically, humans perceive the bicep as the more prominent and aesthetically appealing part of the arm. Overall mass is certainly important to developing an impressive peak.
Despite the attractiveness of a peaked bicep, it is the triceps that provide the majority of the arm’s bulk.
Even in men with underdeveloped arms, the triceps account for two thirds of the upper arm’s total mass.
This underscores another reason why many men fail to grow impressive arm mass. They concentrate almost exclusively on building a bicep peak.
Instead, they should focus the greatest amount of work on the muscle group with the most potential to become huge, the triceps complex. Adding mass to the triceps will increase arm size quicker than through the biceps, adding a more definitive visual dimension. Keep this old-school Venice Beach mantra in mind when building arms.
“Biceps are for the eyes, but triceps are for size!”
Programs for Building Arm Mass
Every arm workout should begin with a short series of acclimatization movements. Warm the arm muscles with a couple of sets of 15-30 repetitions of movements like:
- Floor push-ups
- Wall presses
- Assisted chin-ups
- Very light standing dumbbell curls
Biceps and triceps are also intertwined with muscle groups like the deltoids in the shoulder and the pecs. Loosen the shoulder girdle and upper chest with several minutes of circumductive band stretching and bodyweight hangs from a bar using overhand and underhand grips. Since an effective arm mass workout involves lifting heavy weights, lower back, glute, and hamstring stretching is also advised.
Then begin the workout. Remember, keep it simple and challenging.
Straight Bar, or EZ Bar Curls
- 2 sets at 50 percent max load for at least 25 reps
- 4 sets at 70 percent max load to failure
Barbell Curl 100 Rep Strip Set
- Start with a barbell loaded with a number of small plates, like five 10-pound plates each side.
- Cheat curl this weight until failure.
- Remove a plate on each side and continue curling to failure. Repeat if needed.
- Rest for no longer than 10 seconds between each weight tier.
- Do not stop until 100 reps are complete, but once 100 is reached, continue lifting until failure.
That’s it! With three minutes between each failure set, and a concentration on maximum pump, the biceps will be fully stimulated for gaining mass. The trick is to experiment with load amounts over the course of several workouts to achieve true muscle failure. This will ensure complete muscle fiber activation.
Pressdown/Pushdown (cable, machine, platform, other variations)
- 2 sets at 50 percent maximum for at least 30 reps
- 4 sets at near maximum until failure
- 4 sets to failure
Overhead Rope Pull
- 4 sets to failure
This exercise involves full stretching and flexing of the triceps. Allow the arms to stretch behind the head, and rotate the wrists outward when the arms are fully extended.
Bodyweight Bench Dips
- 2 sets until failure
* Special note: Some men increase the intensity and power in their heavy arm workouts by wearing a cinched weight belt. Wearing a belt increases valsalvic blood and air pressure, which encourages pumps in the upper body. It also provides support when attempting certain “cheat” exercises.
Recovery Nutrition To Maximize Growth
Another mass secret that most men neglect is post-workout nutrition. After a body part is put under extreme stress, there exists a window to introduce nutrients that are essential in the fiber-healing, size-building process.
Drink plenty of water and eat a calorie-dense meal. Or, if you’re like most guys and want to get this over with quick, down your favorite protein shake after your workout to get a blast of protein.
Part of adding mass is prompting the body to constantly repair itself, and good post-workout nutrition is vital.
Arm Mass Workout Summary
Size and mass are interchangeable terms when applied to muscles. Arm muscles are no exception. In order to increase in size, arm muscles must be stimulated according to their most basic movement ranges. This is achieved with heavy weights, under the force of gravity, being shifted with contraction and extension from the elbow joint.
The vast majority of men who achieve incredible arm mass rely on one workout indicator to measure progress: creating a pump that leads to muscle failure. Most men never experience an arm workout that includes muscle failure. They always frame their workouts around a strict set and rep combination. While this promotes strength gain, it doesn’t always promote size increase.
The problem with muscle failure is that it’s more mental than physical. Left alone, the body as a machine can perform lifts until it literally shuts down, or stops because of injury. It’s the mind that convinces a lifter to stop before reaching failure.
When performing a set, a good indication of failure is when the force of gravity completely overpowers the force of a muscle. This means lifting until reps have almost no positive/concentric phases, and only powerful negative/eccentric phases. Experienced mass monsters know that even after failure, with a breath of air, at least one more rep can be squeezed out. That extra effort beyond what seems to be a limit is where growth happens. That push beyond the perceived norm is where muscle fibers are commanded to become more massive.
When performing an arm muscle set, pick an ideal number of reps at which to fail. Once that number is met, go past it with abandon. True failure, and the coinciding growth, will come as a shock. Increase weight loads over time to achieve true failure with less reps. This is the formula that allows arm muscles to reach their size potentials.