5 Tips on How to Get Big Arms

By: Jeff Harder

This kind of growth takes time and effort.
This kind of growth takes time and effort.
Comstock Images/Comstock/Thinkstock

You probably already know that the secret to big arms isn't a secret at all. Just lift weights, eat nutritious food and repeat, right? Well, there are some helpful pieces of information that can move you closer to your objective in a shorter time. For example, you may not know that bicep development is not the key to "big guns." In addition, what you do in your kitchen can be as important as what you do in the weight room. And despite what some slick, late-night commercial might suggest, cranking out curls isn't the most effective way to put inches on your arms.

It won't be an overnight transformation but you can get big arms. All you need is motivation, discipline and the fitness wisdom accumulated by others who had the same goal and reached it. So let's get to work!


5: Work More Than Just Your Biceps

The biceps get all the attention but they're not the biggest or most important of the arm muscles. The arm muscles consist of:

  • The biceps brachii -- the hill-shaped muscles on the front of the upper arms
  • The triceps brachii -- the horseshoe-shaped muscles on the back of the upper arm
  • The forearm flexors -- the muscles found on the palm side of the forearm
  • The forearm extensors -- the muscles on the watch face side of the forearm.

The triceps actually take up approximately two-thirds of the real estate on the upper arm [source: Schlosberg, Neporent]. If you do nothing but exercises that isolate the biceps -- such as curls -- you're cheating yourself. Exercises like tricep kickbacks and tricep presses are also important to overall arm growth [source: Frisch].


4: Focus on Compound Movements

One example of a compound movement that can yield results.
One example of a compound movement that can yield results.

Whether you want bigger arms, thicker legs or a wider back, you need to incorporate compound movements into your workout program. Compound movements are exercises that engage multiple muscle groups. Examples of compound exercises include:

  • Dead lifts -- bending at the knees to pull a barbell from the ground to your waist
  • Squats -- literally squatting down with a barbell across your shoulders and pushing back to an erect posture using your legs
  • Pull-ups -- grasping a mounted overhead bar and pulling your chin above it

Compound exercises allow weightlifters to move more pounds than they would be able to do in an isolation-style exercise. That weight is important. Why? To adapt to the stress of weightlifting, the body produces testosterone and human growth hormone to stimulate muscle growth [source: Frisch]. This hormonal response produces muscular development all over the body. ''The people in the gym with the biggest arms are the people doing squats, dead lifts and the heavy compound movements,'' says James Malvesti, fitness director at Fuzion Sports Club in Braintree, Mass.


That's not to say that bicep curls, tricep extensions and other isolation exercises aren't beneficial. Just make sure you stick those exercises at the end of a workout -- after you've taxed yourself with dead lifts and squats first.

3: Perform Limited Repetitions

Weightlifting routines are built around repetitions (a single execution of a particular exercise) and sets (a group of successive repetitions). Lifting an amount of weight that you can handle comfortably for about eight repetitions in a set builds strength, or the amount of force the muscle can exert in a single contraction. When you limit the number of repetitions, the action produces hypertrophy, a condition in which the muscles grow larger. Performing with an amount of weight that allows you to complete 15 or more repetitions creates muscular endurance -- the ability of the muscle to repeatedly contract over a period of time without fatiguing. Guys looking to add size to their arms should spend the most time in the hypertrophy range [source: Malvesti].


2: Get a Grip

It may not be the first thing you'd consider but your grip has a major impact on your ability to strengthen your arms.
It may not be the first thing you'd consider but your grip has a major impact on your ability to strengthen your arms.
©Getty Images/Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Thinkstock

A strong grip is good for more than a firm handshake; it develops size and strength in your forearms. In addition, a weak grip can limit other weight room endeavors -- the amount of weight you can safely dead lift, for example, is dictated by how many pounds your hands can hold.

Jeremy Frisch, a USA Weightlifting-certified coach and owner of Achieve Performance Training in Clinton, Mass. recommends two exercises to improve grip strength: 1) Pinch two or more five-pound plates together between the thumb and the fingers on one hand. Hold them at your side for 30 seconds. Rest and repeat. 2) Grab on to a pull-up bar. Either hold it slack so your arms are above your head or hoist yourself into the top of a chin-up position. Hold the position for 30 seconds, rest and repeat.


1: Recover the Right Way

It's important to remember that your arms don't get bigger when you're throwing around heavy iron. It's during the periods of rest and recovery that growth occurs. Malvesti and Frisch both agree that three one-hour lifting sessions a week, each separated by a rest day is sufficient for most individuals. More time in the gym isn't necessarily better either: Overtraining, a condition in which athletic performance worsens, occurs as a result of too much exercise and not enough rest. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night [source: Morgenthaler].

What you're doing during the recovery periods is also important. Maintain a healthy diet centered on lean protein, fruits, and vegetables. Be sure to eat four to six times a day at regular intervals, especially after your workout. Your body can't properly rebuild without sufficient fuel.


No, there are no secrets to getting big arms but with a smart, disciplined approach you can do it. For lots more information, click ahead.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Duane, Daniel. ''Be Your Own Trainer.'' Men's Journal. April 8, 2010. (March 31, 2011) http://www.mensjournal.com/be-your-own-trainer
  • Food and Drug Administration. ''Dietary Supplements.'' Dec. 16, 2010. (March 31, 2011)http://www.fda.gov/food/dietarysupplements/default.htm
  • Frisch, Jeremy. Owner, Achieve Performance Training. Personal Interview. (March 31, 2011)
  • Kolata, Gina. ''When Training Backfires: Hard Work That's Too Hard.'' The New York Times. Sept. 3, 2008. (April 1, 2011)http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/04/health/nutrition/04BEST.html
  • Malvesti, James. Fitness Director, Fuzion Sports Club. Personal Interview. (April 1, 2011)
  • Morgenthaler, Timothy, M.D. ''How many hours of sleep are enough?'' MayoClinic.com. (April 1, 2011)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/how-many-hours-of-sleep-are-enough/AN01487
  • Schlosberg, Suzanne and Liz Neporent. ''Fitness for Dummies. Fourth Edition.'' Wiley Publishing, Inc. 2011. (March 27, 2011)
  • Schwarzenegger, Arnold and Bill Dobbins. ''The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding.'' Simon & Schuster. 1999. (April 3, 2011)
  • United States Department of Agriculture Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. ''Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010.'' Jan. 31, 2011. (April 3, 2011)http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/DietaryGuidelines/2010/PolicyDoc/Chapter2.pdf
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. ''Physical Fitness Components.'' (April 3, 2011) http://www.recsports.vt.edu/fitness/fitnessfair2.php