If you were to survey a population of women and ask which bodyparts concern them the most, chances are a vast majority would answer legs and glutes — and understandably so. Frankly, more men should feel this strongly about their lower bodies instead of focusing so much on their pecs and abs. That said, ladies would serve themselves well to act a little bit more like guys when it comes to arm training. Just as a man looks better in a T-shirt or tank top when he’s got a great pair of guns, a girl who puts in more time and effort on arm day will pull off a bikini top or strapless dress that much better.
To help ensure your biceps and triceps — as well as shoulders because the deltoids cap off the arms — get the love they deserve, we enlisted Liz Jackson, a Figure competitor, co-owner of The Rack Gym in Ponca City, Okla., and owner of Jackson Nutrition, to design a workout that would chisel detail into even the most stubborn pair of pipes.
Jackson’s routine pulls no punches. It’s high in volume (30 sets total), which is the most effective way to spark new muscle growth and transform a bodypart, and it consists almost exclusively of free-weight exercises that have been proven time and again to produce results. The prescribed sets all fall within the eight- to 12-rep range, the range most often used for hypertrophy (muscle building). But don’t mistake this for a routine that will bulk up the arms and shoulders at the expense of your femininity. Yes, you’ll build some muscle, but you’ll also be shaping and defining those muscles without adding too much size.
“Don’t be afraid to lift heavy,” Jackson says. “You won’t sculpt your arms if you don’t challenge yourself. You should be squeezing and holding every movement at the top for one to two seconds and releasing slowly back to your starting point. The last two reps of every set should be pretty difficult to complete. Push through that burn and focus. This is where the magic happens!”
In Jackson’s workout, delt training comes before arms because shoulders are a bigger muscle group than biceps or triceps. Generally speaking, larger bodyparts should be trained before smaller ones in the same workout, but individual strengths and weaknesses also should be considered. “Remember to start with the bodypart you want to improve on the most,” Jackson says. “That way you have the most energy and are at your strongest when training it.”
The arm portion of the routine is made up entirely of supersets to increase intensity while also saving you time in the gym. Jackson purposely designed the workout so that the triceps (which are larger than the biceps) come first in two of the three superset pairings. This, she says, will provide “maximum benefit for your biceps while still hitting the larger muscles of your arms with good intensity. The size of your arm comes from your triceps. If you want your arms to have a great shape, don’t neglect your tri’s.”
Girls’ Guns Workout
- Liz Jackson recommends warming up on the treadmill for five minutes at 4 mph before starting the lifting workout.
- For each bodypart (shoulders, triceps, biceps), perform one light warm-up set of the first exercise listed before performing working sets.
- For shoulders, rest 60 to 90 seconds between sets; for arms, rest 10 to 20 seconds between exercises within a superset (about as long as it takes to move between exercises) and 60 to 90 seconds between supersets.
- Perform this routine one to two times per week, waiting three to four days before repeating it.
8-10 per arm
Seated Barbell Shoulder Press
Lying Triceps Extension
Alternating Incline Dumbbell Curl
10-12 per arm 10-12
Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Stand holding a pair of dumbbells at shoulder level with your elbows bent, palms facing forward and knees slightly bent. Keeping your core tight, press one dumbbell straight up toward the ceiling until your elbow is extended but not locked out, then slowly lower back to the start position. Repeat with the opposite arm and alternate sides every rep.
Training Tip: This exercise also can be performed pressing both dumbbells up simultaneously, which will make the set go faster when you’re short on time.
Sit on an upright seat with a rack and grasp the bar with a wider-than-shoulder-width grip. Unrack the bar and slowly lower it down in front of your face until it’s below chin level. Forcefully press the bar up and over your head without locking out your elbows at the top. Slowly lower the bar back to the start position.
Training Tip: It’s advisable to use a spotter when doing this exercise in the event that you’re unable to complete the set on your own. If no spotter is available, feel free to do machine shoulder presses instead.
Stand holding a pair of light dumbbells at your sides (palms facing in) with your elbows and knees slightly bent. Maintaining only a slight bend in your elbows, raise the dumbbells up and out to the sides by contracting your deltoids. When your arms reach parallel with the floor, pause for a count, then slowly lower the dumbbells back to the start position.
Training Tip: Don’t shrug your shoulders at the top of the rep; keep them depressed throughout to keep all tension on the deltoids, not the traps.
Dumbbell Lateral Raise
Hold a pair of dumbbells and bend over at the waist with your back flat and your eyes facing the floor. (Your torso should be close to parallel with the floor.) Begin with the dumbbells hanging straight toward the floor, palms facing each other and elbows extended. With only a slight bend in the elbows, contract your rear deltoids to lift the weights out and up until your upper arms are parallel with the floor. Hold the contraction for a count, then slowly lower to the start position.
Training Tip: For variation, rotate your palms to face forward so that as you lift the weights, you lead with your thumbs toward the ceiling. Squeeze at the top of the movement for maximum muscle contraction.
Lying Triceps Extension
Lie back on a flat bench holding an EZ-curl bar with a shoulder-width, overhand grip. Begin with your arms extended toward the ceiling and the bar directly over your face. Keeping your elbows in and your upper arms stationary, bend your arms to lower the bar to your forehead. Just before it touches, contract your triceps to extend your arms back to the start position.
Training Tip: To make the exercise more challenging and hit the triceps from a slightly different angle, keep your upper arms at a 45-degree angle with the floor throughout (as opposed to perpendicular) and lower the bar behind your head.
Stand holding a barbell with a shoulder-width grip and your arms extended, hanging down toward the floor. Keeping your torso erect (don’t lean back while lifting the weight), contract your biceps to curl the weight up. Make sure your elbows remain at your sides throughout — don’t let them flare out or lift up. Slowly lower the weight to the start position.
Training Tip: If curls with a straight bar put too much strain on your wrists, use an EZ-curl bar instead, during which the hands are shifted slightly inward.
Lie back on an incline bench holding a pair of dumbbells hanging straight toward the floor with your arms extended and your palms facing in. Keeping your elbow stationary, curl one dumbbell up, turning your palm up and out as you do so. At the top of the rep, your palm should be facing slightly outward. Squeeze your biceps for a count, then slowly lower the dumbbell back down. Repeat with the other arm, alternating arms every rep.
Training Tip: To save time, perform this exercise by curling both dumbbells up simultaneously.
Overhead Triceps Extension
Sit on a low-back seat holding a relatively light dumbbell in each hand. Begin with the dumbbells overhead and your arms fully extended toward the ceiling. Bend your arms to lower the dumbbells behind your head. When your elbows reach just past 90 degrees, extend them to return to the start position.
Training Tip: As you lower and lift the weights, keep your elbows pointed forward; don’t let them flare out to the sides.
Secure a rope attachment to a high pulley cable. Stand facing the weight stack and grab the bottom ends of the rope with your palms facing each other. Begin with your forearms just above parallel with the floor and your elbows in close to your sides. Keeping your elbows in, contract your triceps to extend your elbows until your arms are straight. At the bottom, squeeze your triceps for a count, then slowly return to the start position.
Training Tip: For variety, alternate between rope, straight-bar and V-bar attachments. Cable pressdowns also can be performed one arm at a time with a D-handle.
Sit on the seat of a preacher-curl bench and grasp an EZ-curl bar with a shoulder-width grip. Begin with the backs of your upper arms flat against the pad and your elbows just short of fully extended. Keeping your upper arms against the pad, curl the bar up as far as possible. Squeeze your biceps for a count at the top, then slowly lower the bar to the start position.
Training Tip: If your gym doesn’t have a traditional preacher-curl bench, do machine preacher curls instead.