Over the past 12 years of training, one of the most common questions I hear from female clients is this:
“How do I get rid of this?” (Holds arm up and grabs the back of the arm)
“What can I do about my batwings?”
“Any good exercises for my charms?”
“Why does your left ear protrude way more than your right?”
While I don’t know the answer to that last question, I have a pretty good idea about how to handle the first three.
Let’s start off with what NOT TO DO. The average woman, from all of my conversations, seems to think 3-4 sets of 20-30 reps of triceps kickbacks with a 5 lb. weight is the key to achieving amazing arms. Like this:
While this may be a good exercise to isolate your triceps, it falls far down the list in terms of priority. There are three areas you want to hone in on to really start to see development in your arms.
1. Multi-Joint, Compound Exercises For The Upper Body
These exercises would include push ups, rows, bench presses, overhead presses, lat pull downs, and pull ups. The reasoning is simple: compound exercises engage multiple muscle groups. A push up, for example, forces you to contract your chest, shoulders, triceps, abs and glutes. By engaging more muscle, you BUILD more muscle, burn more calories, and turn up the testosterone and growth hormone response to your workout. Ladies – don’t be afraid of testosterone and growth hormone. You’ll never have enough in your body to look manly. What will happen – because of this hormonal response – is new muscle growth as well as a fat burning response. That’s right – both testosterone and growth hormone aid in fat burning – especially growth hormone. And guess what – the less the fat you have on your body, the more definition and tone you’ll see.
If you’re trying to engage your triceps with compound movements, my favorites are the decline close grip bench press, close grip push ups, and dips. For biceps, try palms-up and neutral grip (palms facing each other) variations of rows, lat pull downs and pull ups.
While these movements are great to engage the muscles of the upper body, they aren’t the the best choice for creating a fat burning, growth hormone response.
2. Multi-Joint, Compound Exercises For the Lower Body
Woah, woah wait a second. This is a post on how to get sexy arms. Why are we talking about leg training? Simple. The legs are the furnace of the body.
No, not literally. But the legs – specifically the glutes, hamstrings and quads, include some of the biggest muscles in the body. Contracting these muscles with heavy weights necessitates a lot of energy and thus burns a crap ton of calories. More importantly, heavy lower body training corresponds to a huge growth hormone response from the body. Much more so than upper body training. This hormonal response will assist your body in building a ton of muscle and ripping fat right off your body – more than you could ever imagine with upper body only training. Check out my post here for a little more in depth look at lower body training and hormones.
And remember – you can’t spot train fat off of your body. So if you want to see your arms “come through”, a good portion of your training should be dedicated to heavy, compound, lower body movements like squats, deadlifts, and single leg variations of these big movements.
You’ll also need to engage a lot of muscles in the upper body with your heavier leg exercises. Deadlifts require you to use your grip strength and will engage the muscles of the forearm quite a bit. In fact, any time you have to hold weights in your hands, you’re developing your arms. Goblet squats also require you to use your biceps to help support the weight.
3. Direct Arm Work
Once you’ve nailed down #1 and #2, you should definitely do some direct arm work. There is no secret rep range to work here. I like going as low as 6 reps and as high as 20. Going below 6 reps can start to wreak havoc on the elbows and shoulders once you get strong. No need to go lower. No need to go higher than 20 as -generally speaking – after 20 reps the weight is too light to elicit much of a muscle building response. As a general rule if your reps are lower, you should do more sets. Here are some good rules of thumb:
4-5 sets, 6-8 reps
3-4 sets, 8-12 reps
2-3 sets, 12-20 reps
It’s also a good idea to use different grips – palms up, palms down, and palms facing each other. Changing your grip slightly will turn on different muscle fibers – which will in turn lead to better arm development.
Some of favorite biceps exercises include EZ bar curls, dumbbell hammer curls, and EZ bar reverse grip curls. For the triceps, decline dumbbell skull crushers and rope extensions have always been my go tos.
That’s it, lickety split.
Hope you enjoyed and please leave a comment/question if you have one!