Bulking up your arms like an entertainment wrestler is no easy task, but it's possible. Consistent training, proper recovery and strategic food intake are all key to getting the job done. Since there are many exercise modalities to choose from, the best way to get bigger arms depends on your fitness level, equipment accessibility and exercise experience.
Lower It, Don't Drop It
Regardless of which exercise modality you do, focus on the lowering phase of the lift -- eccentric contraction -- in which your muscle fibers lengthen while they're under tension. Because the force in eccentric contraction is higher than concentric contraction, which is the shortening of muscle fibers under tension, the size of the micro-tears are greater as the muscle is stretched. In a meta-analysis that was published in the November 2008 issue of "British Journal of Sports Medicine," researchers reviewed 20 randomized controlled studies that compared eccentric training and concentric training effects and concluded that eccentric training produced greater increase in muscle growth than concentric training. The rate in which you lower the weight should be longer than the lifting rate. For example, when you do an arm curl, lift the weight for two seconds and lower the weight for four to five seconds.
Muscle Overload: Novice and Advanced
Beginners should start with the multiple-set system in which you perform several sets of an arm exercise with a period of rest in between. Beginners in weight-training should use this method to get familiar with the exercise and build a foundation for strength adaptation. In a meta-analysis that was published in the April 2010 issue of "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research," researcher James Kreiger reviewed eight studies and compared the effects of muscle size after single-set training and multiple-set training. He concluded that multiple-set training resulted in an estimated 40-percent higher increase than single-set training. For more experienced weightlifters, use the drop-set system, in which you perform a set of exercise to muscle failure followed by another set of the same exercise with a lower weight. For example, if you do one set of 10 reps of triceps extensions to failure with a 60-pound weight on a cable machine, immediately do another set of two to four reps with a weight that is between 5 to 20 percent less.
Save Time With Supersets
Another way to work both your biceps and triceps simultaneously is to do a superset in which you perform both exercises back-to-back with minimal rest in between. This allows one muscle group to take a break while the other one works. For example, do a set of dumbbell biceps curls followed immediately by a set of dumbbell triceps extensions. The muscle group that performs second in a superset tends to receive extra strength after its opposing muscle group have worked. Therefore, in each superset, alternate which muscle goes first so that both muscles gain the benefit of the extra strength boost from being trained second.
Time Your Meals
The formula for bulking up your arms isn't complete without proper nutrition and food intake timing. Within 45 minutes after your workout, exercise physiologist Len Kravitz, Ph.D., recommends that you eat a light meal consisting of carbohydrates and protein at a 4-to-1 ratio. A sample meal that contains 10 grams of protein should have 40 grams of carbs. Within the next one to three hours after exercise, eat a meal with a protein and carbohydrate ratio of 1-to-3. Work with a registered dietitian with a background in sports nutrition to help you customize your meal and special needs to fulfill your goals.
- British Journal of Sports Medicine: The Effects of Eccentric Versus Concentric Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Mass in Healthy Adults: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis
- University of New Mexico: Eccentric Exercie: A Comprehensive Review of a Distinctive Training Method
- NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training; Michael Clark et al.
- Human Kinetics: Increase Workout Intensity with Supersets
- University of New Mexico: Nutrient Timing: The New Frontier in Fitness Performance
- Journal of Strength and Conditoning Research: Single Vs. Multiple Sets of Resistance Exercise for Muscle Hypertrophy: A Meta-Analysis