What lifts do you do for your biceps? What about your triceps? All too often the answer is some form of single joint, isolation exercise. Maybe you do some preacher curls and triceps rope pushdowns. Now don’t get us wrong, these isolation movements have their place. But not if they come at the expense of compound, multi-joint exercises.
Compound moves for arms? Really?
Yes, really. A compound exercise is one that uses multiple muscle groups and multiple joints (i.e. deadlift, squat, power clean, pull-up, etc.). Compound exercises force your body to recruit a much higher number of muscle fibers to complete the lift and the recruitment of these fibers leads to more testosterone naturally produced by the body. More testosterone production leads to bigger, stronger muscles. This outcome is desirable whether you’re training the large muscles of your back or the relatively smaller muscles of your upper arm.
Close-Grip Bench Press
This should be a staple of any serious gym-goer’s routine. This is just a variation of the standard bench press. For this variation you want to move your grip in about two to three inches on each side. The closer grip will help you activate your triceps more than a standard grip bench press. Not surprisingly, because of the minimization of the contribution from the pecs, the weight will be less than lifted during a traditional bench press. You can’t completely un-involve the chest or the delts, so this spacing adjustment merely makes the triceps the main mover. Start with 4 to 5 sets of 8–12 reps.
Dips (bodyweight or weighted) have been a fundamental movement for physique-minded individuals since the dawn of time. Why? Because they work! Start with bodyweight dips, then, once you can do four sets of 12 reps, you can begin to add weight to the movement. As with the close-grip bench press, you will receive some contribution from the chest and delts. In order to make triceps the main focus, keep your body positioning relatively vertical while keeping your elbows tight to your body. Keep the reps in the 10 to 20 range for maximum triceps growth.
Chin-ups are performed like a pull-up except your hands are supinated (palms facing you). This exercise is a great biceps builder. While doing chin-ups for bicep growth make sure you lift in a “muscle intention” style, which means that you want to think about contracting the bicep during the movement. Do 3-4 sets to failure using just your bodyweight. Once you can get 15 clean chin-ups (or “chins”), you can begin to add weight. If you have trouble doing chin-ups, you can start by just doing the negative portion, jumping your way into the fully contracted position and lowering yourself down slowly for 3 to 5 reps at a time.
Reverse-Grip Bent Over Row
This exercise is performed just like a barbell row except your palms are facing away from your body (supinated). The change in grip, as with the chin, allows your biceps to be activated to a greater degree because it will allow for greater flexion at the elbow. Because it allows for slightly farther travel of the elbow, you also get the added benefit of working the muscles of your lower lats. All of the muscle fibers recruited during this movement result in a very favorable hormonal response, which leads to bigger, stronger biceps.