4 arm strength training mistakes to avoid for biceps and triceps

BUILD A SET hooky (and massively strong) arms isn’t as simple as just hitting the gym and doing barbell curls until it all hurts. If it were that simple, everyone would have Captain America-level biceps popping out of their t-shirts.

If you really want to develop big arms, it’s all about focusing on the small details. Your goal with each rep is to challenge the muscles you’re training without straining your joints. it will keep you healthy and fresh so you can tackle your arm workout day after day. You will also need to choose the right exercises to strengthen your arms. Again, this means more than basic loops and skull crushers. To stimulate arm growth, you may need to vary your arm positioning, resistance style (spoiler alert: don’t just use dumbbells!), and the tempo of each movement.

90 Day Men’s Health Transformation Challenge: Arms

90 Day Men's Health Transformation Challenge: Arms

90 Day Men’s Health Transformation Challenge: Arms

The good news: you don’t have to figure this all out on your own. That’s why I put together the 90 Day Arm Challenge with men’s health, a book that gives you a complete 12-week program focused on your edification. It’s a set plan that will have you challenging your arms nearly every day for three months, with an eye on serious bicep and tricep growth.

4 arm training mistakes to avoid

Your arm workout is too basic

Curls, pressdowns, and lateral raises are all great exercises, but they can quickly take you to the dreaded training plateau.

For what? With muscle development comes a steady increase in stress and intensity that you can handle in a workout. To build muscle and change your physique, you need to push your body hard enough to force it to adapt. That adaptation, in this case, is muscle growth. And for that adaptation to happen, you’ll need to change your exercises, reps, and weights to constantly force your body to adapt and get stronger. This can’t happen if you keep doing curls, tricep presses, and lateral raises the same way you’ve always done them.

How to fix it

The variation doesn’t have to be complicated. Just remember to change the angle of your arm with each exercise – moving your elbow closer or further from your torso can change how an exercise engages your biceps or triceps. A standard bicep curl, with your elbow close to your torso, for example, challenges our biceps the most in the middle of the movement and at the end when you squeeze your biceps. A preacher curl, which has your elbow in front of your torso, is hardest when you start the curl and easiest at the very top of the movement.

You can easily alternate between six of your favorite arm exercises (three for biceps and three for triceps) in each workout. Just make sure everyone has your elbow in a different position. Do two to three exercises at least twice a week.

You rush your reps

“Mechanical tension” may seem like a technically advanced concept, but it’s a concept that every athlete should learn. In its simplest terms, it is the force you apply to your muscles through resistance (weight). This strength can be essential for stimulating muscle growth.

In practice, you will feel the tension as you use your muscles to apply force to complete a movement. But very often, as you use heavier and heavier weights, you lose that feeling, as your form breaks down and you begin to use other muscles (and momentum) to complete the movement. To build targeted muscles more effectively, especially in your arms, you need to focus on creating mechanical tension, regardless of the weight of the weight. Yes, “progressive overload” is important. But to really build muscle, you have to gradually overload yourself – and always feel it.

Understand this: you can get strong without building your arms. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of strong people who don’t have the aesthetic to match their strength. You also see guys curling with 15-pound dumbbells that have their arms up. For what? Because they focus on mechanical tension.

How to fix it

Follow a tempo for each repetition, regardless of the weights you use. Try to take one to two seconds to raise your weight, pause at the most difficult part of the exercise, then come down with control, counting one to two seconds. Getting into this habit will help you focus all of your arm exercises on (you guessed it!) your arms.

You stick to the same grip

Curls, palms up. Triceps, palms up. If you keep the same hand position over and over again in your movements, you’re creating a key problem: you’re repeatedly using your muscles in the same way. While you’re looking to build two muscle groups in your biceps and triceps, these muscles have different parts, all of which are responsible for different tasks.

This is important for two reasons: your maddening potential and your joint health. If you want superhero-sized arms, adjusting the position of your hands through exercise changes the impact on your muscles. Your biceps, for example, will distribute the stress differently even if you only slightly rotate your palms to face each other. This can lead to more balanced forearm development, which can keep you healthier in the long run and also complement your arm game.

How to fix it

Vary the position of your hands by training your biceps and triceps. Play around with three different ideas (palms facing up, palms facing down, and palms facing down) on all variations of bicep curls and skull crushers as well. With each workout, aim for at least two of these positions.

You don’t train your arms enough

Bodybuilding splits could be the downfall of your arm workout success. For what? Because they often require you to train each body part once a week. For guys who don’t stay in the gym for three hours to hit all the curl variations in the book on arm day, that won’t be enough. You need more consistent stress to master your key arm exercises or to boost overall growth.

The good news: your arms can take more than one training day per week. Unlike exercises like bench presses, squats, and deadlifts, most arm exercises have you using relatively lighter weights. Add to that the fact that they rarely engage your whole body, and you’ll find that arm exercises can be done multiple times a week. Think about it: no matter how hard you push yourself, two to three sets of curls won’t crush you as much as two to three sets of squats.

How to fix it

Train your arms on at least two to three different days. Try doing this on upper body days. For example, on days when you do pull-ups, you can easily include some biceps exercises. Do you do bench press or shoulder press one day? Add some triceps exercises, since you’re hitting your tris when you bench press anyway. Keep one dedicated arm day per week (arm days are fun!); you will suddenly push your arms to grow three times a week.

The truth is, if you’re smart and focused, you can actually train your arms almost every day. All you need is the right strategy, and you’ll be well on your way to getting pumped up.

For more how-to tips, exercises, and full workout splits, check out the 90 Day Men’s Health Transformation Challenge: Arms training book.

Profile of David Otey, CSCS

David Otey, CSCS is a New York-based fitness writer, strength coach, and men’s health advisory board member who specializes in strength and hypertrophy protocols as well as athletic performance. To learn more about Otey, visit www.oteyfitness.com.

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