How to get bigger arms: How to get bigger biceps and triceps

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Kevin Mangelschots

Most men want to know how to build bigger arms, while the majority of women want theirs leaner.

Whether your goal is toning or increasing your arm size, the exercises remain mostly the same. The only thing that typically changes is the number of repetitions you perform. It is generally beneficial to execute a higher number of reps for toning, while a medium number of reps is better for gaining muscle mass.

Today, we’ll be talking about how to get bigger arms, which involves knowing how to get bigger biceps and triceps.

Upper arm muscles anatomy

A man flexing his right arm in front of a wall.

The upper arm is made up of 3 muscles in the anterior segment, also called the front. Namely:

  • Biceps brachii
  • Brachialis
  • Coracobrachialis

The function of these three muscles located in the anterior segment is flexion of the elbow. Or, in more plain language, bending of the elbow joint.

In the posterior segment, also called the backside, we have the:

  • Triceps brachii

The function of the Triceps muscle is an extension of the elbow, which translates to extending the elbow joint.

Which muscles make our arms look big?

Picture of a man in a tank top performing a biceps curl.

Before we go into how to get bigger biceps and triceps, we need to know which muscles are anatomically the largest and what their primary function is so we can train them appropriately.

The Triceps brachii and the biceps are anatomically the two biggest upper arm muscles.

  • TRICEPS BRACHII

    The Triceps brachii makes up for about 2/3 of the upper arm’s volume. 

    This logically means that, contrary to popular belief, it’s more beneficial to train the Triceps muscle rather than the Biceps if you wish to increase your arm size.

  • BICEPS BRACHII

    However, although the Triceps brachii is substantially larger, this doesn’t mean that the Biceps brachii should be neglected either. To create a strong, well-balanced look, we can’t have any muscles lagging behind.

    That’s why we should also be training our Biceps and Deltoids in order to get bigger shoulders. What good are large arms when our shoulders remain small? Proportions are important indeed.

Compound vs. isolation exercises to build big arms

To build larger arms, the main routine should always mainly consist of compound exercises.

Isolation exercises should only be added as accessory work and to specifically target the muscle(s) that are lagging behind. Like, for example, a dumbbell biceps curl would isolate and target only the Biceps brachii.

This can be perfectly viable as accessory work or for the rehabilitation of an injury or weak spot.

Compound exercises such as bench presses and dumbbell shoulder presses to target the Triceps muscles, and barbell rows and pull-downs to target the Biceps brachii should make up the bulk of the workout program.

The reason we want the largest part of our workout to be compound exercises compared to isolation exercises is because we can move a lot of weight with compound exercises. Much more so than singling out muscle groups.

Isolation exercises such as triceps extensions for the triceps muscle and dumbbell biceps curls for the biceps should be added in order to target one muscle specifically in order to train them to fatigue after performing our main compound movements.

Training to fatigue regularly will increase protein synthesis, which will lead to building bigger arms and hypertrophy in general.

Workouts for bigger triceps

Bench press

Picture of a man lying on a bench and bench pressing.

  1. Lie down on a flat bench. Use a medium-width grip. This means positioning your hands on the bar so that your elbows are bent at about 90° in the middle of the movement.
  2. Lift the barbell from the bench rack and lock your elbows. This is what we call the starting position.
  3. Breathe in and slowly lower the bar to your chest in a controlled manner. The bar should touch around the middle part of your chest.
  4. Breathe out while pushing the bar back upward toward the starting position. Lock your elbows again.
  5. Repeat for as many repetitions as necessary. When you are done, lock your elbows and place the barbell back in the bench rack.

→ The concentric part of the bench (pushing the barbell upwards) should be done around two times as fast as the eccentric phase, which is lowering the barbell to your chest.

→ Make sure not to bounce the barbell off your chest. This means you are cheating the movement and is most likely a symptom of using weights that are too heavy for you.

Dumbbell shoulder press

Image of a man shoulder pressing with a barbell.

  1. Stand up or sit down on a bench. Keep your back straight.
  2. Take a dumbbell in each hand and lay it down on your upper legs.
  3. Raise both dumbbells until they are in front of your shoulders. Your palms should be facing forward, away from your body.
  4. Push both dumbbells upwards in a straight line by extending your elbows.
  5. Lower both dumbbells in a controlled manner until they are back in the starting position. (In front of the shoulders.)
  6. Repeat for as many reps as needed.

Workouts for bigger biceps

Barbell row

Picture of a woman performing bent over barbell rows in the gym.

    1. Stand with both of your feet at shoulder width.
    2. Place both of your feet under the middle of the bar. The bar must be above your mid-feet.
    3. Bend over with a straight back and grab the bar with a full palm medium grip. Make sure the palms of your hands are facing towards your body.
    4. Unlock your knees. This means slightly bending your knees.
    5. Tense your abs to keep your back straight.
    6. Pull the bar upwards towards your stomach/lower chest.
    7. Lower the bar again in a slow, controlled manner.

    → Keep your back straight, you can do this by tensing your abs.

    → Make sure your knees are unlocked, so you can lift the weight upwards more easily. It’s also better for overall joint health and decreases the stretch/tension placed on the hamstrings, which could otherwise hamper your lift.

Lat pull-downs

Woman wrong and right lat pulldown posture, illustration

  1. Set up the pull-down machine and choose a weight to train with. Use a wide grip.
  2. Grab the barbell with an overhand grip. This means the palms of your hands are facing away from your body. Your hands should be positioned a little wider than shoulder width.
  3. Hold the barbell in your hands and take a seat.
  4. Keep your back straight and watch forward.
  5. Pull the barbell down towards your chest.
  6. Slowly let the barbell go rise again.
  7. Repeat for as many repetitions as necessary.

Triceps isolation exercises as accessory work

Triceps extension

  1. Take a dumbbell in your right hand.
  2. Put your feet at shoulder width.
  3. Lift the dumbbell above your head until your elbow is fully extended. The palm of your hand should be facing towards your body.
  4. Keep your upper arm close to your head and bend the elbow slowly until your forearms touch your biceps. Only your forearm should move. Your upper arm must remain stationary with your elbow always pointing straight to the ceiling.
  5. Return to the starting position by extending your right elbow again.
  6. Repeat for as many reps as necessary and proceed to do the same with the left arm.

Biceps isolation exercises as accessory work

Dumbbell biceps curl

A woman performing dumbbell curls in the gym.

  1. Stand up straight with a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Keep your arms close to your body. Rotate your hands until the palm of your hands is facing forward.
  3. Keep your upper arms stationary next to your waist and bend your elbows until the dumbbells are at shoulder height.
  4. Lower the dumbbells in a controlled manner.
  5. Repeat for as many reps as necessary.

Conclusion

A workout program should always consist of mainly compound exercises to build a solid base.

Isolation exercises surely have their place in a workout regimen to address specific weak points and to work a muscle to exhaustion effectively. Isolation exercises can also be utilized in rehabilitation efficiently.

Both forms of movement can be used to get bigger arms. Be it at home, in the gym, or even while traveling.

Many people make the mistake of relying solely on isolation exercises to gain muscle mass. Often reasoning that since isolation exercises target solely one muscle group, which in this case is the Biceps or Triceps, they must inherently be more effective at increasing muscle size.

However this is not the case since compound movements have the distinct benefit of allowing us to move a greater amount of weight, leading to more hypertrophy as a result of more muscle damage, more muscle groups being trained at the same time, and an increased training intensity.