Get Extraordinary Arm Growth by Deviating from the Norm

March 22, 2012

By Johnnie Jackson, IFBB Pro

[Q] Johnnie, everyone talks about your legs and your back but you also have some of the best biceps in the sport. What’s your secret ingredient for building those peaks?

[A] First of all, thanks — I appreciate that. Until this year, I felt they were one of my problem areas, but they responded pretty well to what I started doing. Before every workout, no matter which bodypart I train, I do 1–2 exercises, 3–4 sets each of biceps and triceps to get some blood flowing to those muscles and to break down some additional tissue during the workout. This allows me to get some extra work for these bodyparts without really overtraining them. I started doing that last year in the offseason. As far as building peaks like this, the shape is the shape — that’s genetic. But you can change the size and when you get leaner, you show a bit more definition.

[Q] Aside from heavy barbell curls, is there an exercise that you like to lead your biceps training with?

[A] You don’t always have to start out with barbell curls — no one can progress forever doing the same exercise first. Today I typically start out with standing dumbbell curls. To be honest, I can’t stand them, but by doing them you let each individual biceps generate more force to pull the weight. Also, you let each side adapt itself and put itself into the best position to move the most weight possible. When you do barbell curls, you’re locked into a position that may not be ideal for each arm and allows little variation in arm position. Doing exercises unilaterally, where my arms don’t have help from the other, has helped me greatly.

[Q] What has worked best for developing your triceps? Heavy compound movements like dips or isolation exercises like pressdowns?

[A] This should come as no surprise but the answer is a combination of both. Genetically, my triceps are a lot stronger than my biceps. I can even do 315 pounds with skullcrushers. You have to worry if you’re only isolating with pressdowns because you’re limiting the amount of weight you can use. You have to step outside of that box and use heavy compound movements (dips are multijoint movements whereas most triceps exercises like pressdowns are single-joint moves) to challenge your triceps further. If you just do compound movements, on the other hand, then whatever head is the strongest is the one that’s going to get the biggest and the other ones will fall behind. So single-joint moves have their place too.

[Q] I’ve been training triceps hard for months now and I can’t find that good soreness anymore. What’s your favorite way to shock your tri’s into new growth?

[A] Giant sets. We do 5–6 exercises in a row, without rest, from a variety of angles. Then we rest 45 seconds and do it again. It’s tough but that’s why it’s called “giant.” It’s very rigorous; maybe that’s one reason not many people in the gym are doing them! The triceps are a relatively small muscle group and your body can get used to the movements relatively quickly, so shocking them with something new and different has to be a priority. Try something different to make them sore.


Giant Triceps

Johnnie uses this six-exercise giant set to bust out of a triceps plateau.

 Exercise  Sets†  Reps
 Rope Pressdown
 3-4 15
 Overhead Rope Extension
 3-4 15
 Straight-Bar Pressdown
 3-4   15  
 Close-Grip Bench Press
 3-4   15  
 Bench Dip
 3-4 15
 Seated Two-Arm Overhead Dumbbell Press
 3-4 15

†Johnnie moves from exercise to exercise without rest. At the end of the giant set, he rests 45 seconds. He performs the entire giant set 3–4 times.