In this week’s instalment of our fitness and performance series, Rory McInerney of FFS Gyms provides expert insights on how to grow bigger arms.
Writing an article on a topic as important as this is certainly an honour; ‘How To Get Bigger Arms’ is something I would have Googled for years in my teens in the quest to pack some size onto my skinny arms.
There are countless articles available with advice on a number of aspects; exercise type, frequency, intensity, etc that will all help you to get bigger arms, but the focus of this article is to shine a light on some of the less frequently discussed topics.
This is undoubtedly your biggest area to improve. One of the most over looked facts in all aspects of training is the importance of sleep and sleep quality.
When I heard about this for the very first time as a young Health and Performance Science Student in UCD, I laughed. How could sleep be more important than lifting and eating if I want to get big?
Well, it is.
If you aren’t packing on size the way you would like or feel like you aren’t getting the gains you deserve, then take a look at the number of hours sleep you are getting each night.
If the answer is 5-6 or lower, then you are struggling. Your cortisol levels are sky high and your body is in a continuous catabolic state, the last thing it will worry about is growing your arms.
If the answer is 6-7 you have an increased chance, assuming you are ticking all the other boxes, but it is still not at the optimal level.
8-10 hours of sleep is the magic number for developing strength and size (as well as a host of other physical and mental benefits). Improve your amount of quality sleep and you can literally get bigger by doing absolutely nothing. Simple, right?
2. Do The Damage
Let’s get one thing straight; if you want your muscles to grow you have to put in work and ‘do the damage’. Muscles only grow as a repairing response to damaging them.
After you train, your body repairs or replaces damaged muscle fibres to form thicker muscle with more strands of muscle fibres.
If you do not damage the muscles, your body has no reason to produce new fibres and as result you do not grow.
3. Lift Heavy
When people think bigger arms they always think bigger biceps. This is a mistake. Your triceps are 2/3s of your arm, and it’s important not to neglect them.
With the aim of increasing the size of your overall arm, my two big exercises are chin ups and push ups.
There are tonnes of variations you can do here, but to really hammer your biceps the traditional underhand chin up cannot be beaten.
They will provide a heavy stimulus that recruits maximal muscle fibres and hits both the long and short head of your bicep (i.e. thickness and height of the muscle). If you cannot do chin ups (check out this article immediately), you can always regress the movement by adding power bands or choosing a TRX Row.
Push ups are a big movement exercise that target the chest and triceps. People rarely get the most out of their push ups due to poor technique or not seeing them as a viable alternate or supplement to a bench press.
At FFS we rarely let people bench press/dumb-bell bench press until they can execute push ups with good form. If you can bang out 5 sets of 30 PERFECT push ups, I would say with a degree of certainty that you have a solid set of arms!
– Chin Ups – Perform 4-5 sets X 6-10 reps.
– Push Ups – Perform 4-5 sets x 10-20 reps
On both exercises, if you already find them easy, try the following progressions to help pack on the muscle:
- Eccentrics – Extend the lengthening portion of the movement
- Tempo’d Reps – Add in a tempo for each portion of the lift. For example, on a chin up, lift yourself up over 5 seconds, pause at the top for 5 seconds and lower for 5 seconds, this would read as 5:1:5.
- Resistance – Throw a weight on your back for the push up or add some weight to your chins by popping a dumbbell in between the thighs. You do not need a fancy weight vest.
4. Assistance Exercises
I am a big believer that lifting heavy is the best way to pack on muscle size, but I also know that there is a place for assistance exercises to stimulate extra hypertrophy. Some of my favourites are:
Biceps – Preacher curls, Dum Bell Hammer Curls, Incline Dumb Bell row
Triceps – Dips, Skull crushers, Band tricep extensions
Perform 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps of each of the above.
If you want to get bigger muscles you have to increase your calorie intake to ensure that you grow. Most of your increased calories should come from protein and carbohydrate.
If you want to pack on that size you have to be in a calorie surplus. Ideally all of your food comes from really high quality food sources, see Ciaran Ruddock’s blog on the topic here.