I preach that you need very limited direct arm work to get big and strong arms. And I live by this dogma.
Now I am not saying that a volume of sets for biceps and triceps won’t work; far from it. I am merely saying it’s not needed. You can believe me, or call me insane. But at least finish reading this article.
I haven’t trained biceps heavily in 14 years.
Yes, you read that correctly. At most during the last 4 years I have perform 3 direct sets for biceps per week. I rely on heavy barbell and dumbbell rows as my bicep builders.
Before you assume I am a genetic freak, I need to remind you of my background. I am small-boned (6.4 inch wrists), which for those of you keeping score at home, is not exactly the size you want if you desire to be as massive as possible.
I am also a hardgainer, if ever there was one. I weighed 145 enterting college and ate everything within site. I couldn’t gain weight. I trained during my teens, but had no idea what progression of weight was, so my muscle mass was epic fail.
Lastly, I am naturally weak. After years and years of benching during my teens, I was still unable to push more than 95 pounds for reps during my first college lifting session.
So put aside the notion that I have uber genetics. I may not be a hardgainer, but I am surely not an easy gainer.
Anyway, back to my story…and dogma…
Today I wanted to test my bicep strength. It was a good time to do so because I had so much working against my success:
- I don’t perform more than 3 sets of direct bicep work per week.
- I haven’t trained my biceps with heavy weight in 14 years.
- I am just coming off a 2 week battle with a lung virus, and didn’t train at all during this time.
- During a recent road trip for work, I heavily strained (or fractured) my collarbone during a heavy shrugging session of 765 pounds x 5 reps.
- Before my lung virus, I was on the road for work and didn’t train biceps at all for a month.
- I didn’t sleep well this weekend because my wife and children were gone and I stayed up too late enjoying some man time.
- I eat Paleo style, meaning very low carb. If you believe the hype this is supposed to make me weak.
- I am on a cutting diet.
Did I Choke On My Dogma?
So, with everything seemingly against me, I did a couple minor warmup sets and loaded a barbell with 135 pounds. How well did my session go?
I was able to perform 26 reps with 135 pounds.
It should be noted that these weren’t performed using a conventional set and rep structure. I performed them cluster set style over a 10 minute period.
Every rep felt easy, and relatively light. I am comfortable that I could have handled 155 or 165 without issues. This certainly isn’t record breaking weight, or anything mind blowing, but under the circumstances I feel I performed fairly well.
But this isn’t about me, so let’s move on. This story is about my dogma. Let me repeat it:
I believe you can build big and strong arms with very little direct arm work.
Today I decided to test my dogma, and my dogma passed the test. So the next time you are tempted to ram out 20 sets of curls because you want potent biceps, remember this article.
My barbell curl max is somewhere between 175-185 pounds. My arms are 19 inches, but would probably come in around 17 inches at a low bodyfat. My point is not to brag. My point is to show you that another way of training exists.
You can continue to buy into the volume training mindset and ram out 20+ sets of direct arm work each week, or you can get massive and powerful arms by using heavy compound lifts like rows and pull ups. The choice is yours.
If you are persistent, you will be successful with either method. My method saves you minutes and sets, allowing you extra time during the week to do other things you enjoy…like eating, spending time with your kids, and watching movies.