We all know, a well grown and defined bicep is something that every man would love to flaunt - in their arm tight t-shirts! But what does it take to have big and conditioned arms? Let us go through the hacks one by one.
Our arms are made up of two muscle groups- biceps and the triceps. Bicep muscle has 2 heads- biceps brachii (short head) and brachialis (long head). Tricep muscle has 3 heads- lateral, medial and long head. A lot of people make a mistake by not focusing on the triceps properly. Tricep muscles cover about 60-70% of our arm size.
So that takes us to the first hack:
#1 60-40 ratio:
I call this as a 60:40 ratio. 60 percent of the exercises for triceps should be compound exercises. For e.g., close grip bench press, parallel bar dips, close grip push ups, bench dips etc. And the remaining 40 percent can be the isolation exercises like skull crushers, cable triceps extensions, barbell triceps extensions etc. Now the catch here is, you could do just all the compound exercises and still have great triceps but including a couple of isolation exercises takes you past your failure and pumps in more blood into the muscle. This helps in stretching the fascia (the layer between your skin and muscle) and gives the muscle more room to volumise. Compound exercises, on the other hand, improves the ability to lift heavy, adds size and adds that functional factor to the muscle.
A lot of people do different variations to their bicep routine thinking it works the muscle in a different way. This is not true. Bicep muscle has two heads- the long head and the short head. The long head which is the brachialis starts from the mid-arm down to the upper forearm. The only way to train this muscle is by doing a hammer curl.
Curls: Dumbbell or barbell curls train the short head of the biceps. Dumbbell would be a better option as it adds isolateral benefit to the muscle- meaning, both the bicep muscles (left and right) will work the same weight but individually. With a barbell, the stronger side tends to dominate the exercise.
Preacher curls: This is not spoken much about in terms of the difference it has biomechanically on the functioning of bicep muscle. This exercise follows the principle of 'active insufficiency'. This means, when the muscle lengthens to its maximum across the joint it crosses, the head attached to the tendon against which it lengthens is active but insufficient to bear any workload. This is exactly what preacher curl does. They work the lower head of biceps brachii predominantly.
Bottom line: Do not waste your time in trying out different variations. Just make the muscle do its actual function in the simplest manner with the right load and volume.
#3 Advanced techniques:
To increase the total training volume, you can put into use techniques like supersets, drop set, blood flow restriction training etc. This helps build the lactate threshold of the muscles, increases blood pump into the muscles, packs in more training volume in lesser time and also does something called as the metabolic byproduct accumulation in the muscles. All these contribute to better growth.
#4 Periodising your rep range:
Rep range combined with the right load is a crucial determinant of hypertrophy (muscle growth). You should aim at working your muscles both in the strength phase and hypertrophy phase. Strength phase requires you to train with heavier loads for around 6-8 reps. This increases the load bearing threshold of your muscles over time. The gain in strength from the strength phase can be used in hypertrophy phase to use heavier weights and do volume sets (12-15 reps). This helps with targeted progressive overloading. Progressive overloading and training volume are the two key factors responsible for muscle growth.
- Week 1-3 (Strength phase): Heavyweights 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps
- Week 4-6 (Hypertrophy phase): Weights heavy enough to fail at around 12-15 reps
Let's say you lifted 15kgs for 12-15 reps in your hypertrophy phase. Going on a strength phase will add strength to your muscles and the next time you go back to your hypertrophy phase, you will be able to lift more than 15kgs for the same rep range i.e 12-15. This is called progressive overloading. Periodization is the way to achieve it.
5. Form and technique:
All of this only works if you are working your muscles and not just moving the weights. You could use all your body and move the weights but that is not going to target the intended muscle group. Keep your core tight, spine neutral and perform the reps using only the muscle. This helps in keeping the muscle under tension and isolates it from working along with other muscle groups. Try these for 6-8 weeks and let us know in the comments section if these hacks help you improve your arm size and strength. Remember, these are basic principles that can be applied to any body part you wish to train. They are not limited to just arms.