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February 16, 2022 11 min read

Maybe you just flexed in the gym mirror, and you're not loving what you see. Or maybe you're getting ready for a big beach vacation coming up, and you want to pack on some muscle.

Either way, you want your arm muscles to pop and your t-shirts to fit better. We all love the deadlift and squat, but isolating the arms more can help build the bigger arms you've been striving for.    

Barbell Curl

Muscles for Big Arms 

There are several muscles in your upper body that contribute to strength and size, but if your focus is on bigger bicep peaks, capped shoulders, and defined triceps, there are important muscles to target and isolate for just that.

In addition working these muscles, you can bulk up your arms by taking our VEG-PRO vegan protein powder.

Biceps

The biceps can be considered just one of the "glamor muscles" because you can see them in the mirror, and flexing them makes for great gym selfies. Big, defined biceps make for even better selfies.

The biceps are the muscle in the front of your upper arm, and they are responsible for arm flexion and supination. This muscle group is made up of a long head and a short head. The long head is what makes up what is called a bicep peak, or the visible muscle that pops out of the upper arm. 

Besides looking good, the biceps help to move the arm and stabilize the shoulder, so keeping them strong is more important than just contributing to a beach bod. They are important in pulling movements like deadlifts, and when carrying or lifting something.

The biceps can play a significant role in shoulder joint movement and stability,and when rehabbing shoulder injuries, bicep training can contribute to recovery when trained at a certain angle and extent. 

So, it may have been obvious that bicep exercises would be included in the build bigger arms list, but it's important to also understand their functional role. 

Triceps 

There's a theory that says the bigger the biceps, the bigger the arms.

Although this isn't necessarily untrue, it's the triceps that contribute most to arm muscle mass.

The triceps are the muscles on the back of the upper arm, an antagonist of the bicep, and they are responsible for arm extension. Three heads make up the triceps: the medial, lateral, and long head of the triceps. Together, they help contribute to upper body strength, as well as shoulder and arm movement and stability. 

The triceps play a role in stabilizing the shoulder joint, specifically when the arm is abducted, such as in lateral raises.

The triceps are important for pushing movements like push ups and bench press, specifically in the lockout phase, or when the arms are fully extended. 

If arm size is your goal, training the triceps should be in your workout routine. There are plenty of tricep exercises, but we'll narrow down some of the best ones. 

Deltoids

When you think about arm workouts, you probably go straight to biceps and triceps, but the shoulders also play a role in arm size and strength too.

The largest muscles in your shoulders are the deltoids, and they are made up of three heads: the anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoid. Together, they are responsible for arm abduction, rotation, and stabilization of the rotator cuff.  

Rounded shoulders can contribute to a good-looking upper body, and strong, sculpted arms.

It's not just about how you look, though. Strong shoulders are involved in several arm exercises, such as overhead tricep extensions and pull ups. They also help to protect your upper body from injury. 

Shoulder injuries are common in overhead athletes, as well as recreational athletes, and proper training and rehabilitation may help reduce the risk of injuries.

Next time you're in the gym trying to build muscle in your arms, don't forget about the shoulders. 

10 Effective Exercises for Bigger Arms 

Getting bigger arms means exercising regularly and establishing a consistent routine. Below are the best exercises for growing arm muscle. 

Barbell Curl 

One of the most popular arm exercises might just be the bicep curl. Although the barbell curl is  similar, you're using a barbell or an EZ bar instead of dumbbells. This can allow you to pull heavier weight and build muscle hypertrophy.

The barbell curl is great for the biceps, but the secondary muscles in your hands, wrists, and forearms also play an important role.

These muscles contribute to grip strength, and without a strong grip, you may not be able to lift as heavy. After all, you can only lift as much as you can hold. 

Since the biceps can help improve pulling strength, athletes like powerlifters or Olympic weightlifters that are pulling heavy weights in deadlifts, cleans, and snatches can benefit from the barbell curl. 

How to do the Barbell Curl: 

  • Hold a barbell with an underhand grip with your arms extended at the sides of your body.
  • Keeping your core tight and chest up, curl the weight towards your shoulders, all the while keeping your elbows glued to your sides.
  • Slowly lower the bar back to the starting position. 

Chin-up 

Unlike its cousin, the pull-up, the chin-up puts more load on the biceps since your forearms are supinated. The different hand positioning of these two similar exercises makes the difference of what muscles are worked. Since your hands are facing you for the chin-up, you get more emphasis on your chest and arms, specifically the biceps muscles.

Although the chin-up is not an isolation exercise like some of the other bicep exercises, the flexion of the elbow and supinated grip requires the biceps to work harder, resulting in greater strength and hypertrophy.

Chin-ups also target the long head of the biceps, helping to create the bicep peak. 

Being able to pull your own bodyweight is impressive, but it can also be crucial for athletes like gymnasts and CrossFitters. Any regular gym-goer can benefit from chin-ups for the potential to improve pulling strength. 

How to do a Chin-up:

  • Grab a pull up bar or a stable apparatus with an underhand grip.
  • Pull your shoulders down and away from your ears and hang bodyweight from the bar.
  • Without using momentum, pull yourself up to the bar until your chin reaches the top.
  • Slowly lower back down.
  • Don't be afraid to use a resistance band or extra support if you can't get full range of motion.  

Concentration Curl

Isolation exercises are popular in the bodybuilding community because of their ability to build muscle. 

Isolating a muscle during exercise can help build more muscle faster than compound exercises.

That's why the concentration curl is a great exercise because it has the ability to isolate the biceps even more than a conventional biceps curl can. The reason for this is because your arm is in a fixed position, eliminating any other movement or momentum to help curl the weight up. 

How to do the Concentration Curl:

  • Set yourself up on a bench and take a seat near the end of it. Hold one dumbbell in your right hand.
  • Place the back of your right arm on the inside of your right thigh and place the other hand on the other leg for support.
  • Curl the weight up towards your shoulder until your bicep is fully contracted.
  • Lower back down and get ready for the next rep.  

Cross-Body Bicep Curl 

Training the long head of the biceps can help increase the bicep peak, helping to create bigger arms. The cross-body bicep curl is similar to a hammer curl, but instead of moving in an up and down pattern, you lift the dumbbells across your torso, hence the name.

This exercise helps target the long head of the biceps more than a hammer curl, as well as the brachialis, and can help increase not only bicep but forearm mass as well. 

Anyone looking to build bigger biceps and forearms can benefit from this exercise since you can generally use a heavier weight than a standard bicep or hammer curl. Heavier weight with proper form can help build upper body strength and mass.

How to do the Cross-Body Bicep Curl:

  • Hold two dumbbells at your sides with your arms fully extended.
  • Keeping your elbows at your sides, curl your right arm up across your body to your left shoulder.
  • Reset and repeat the repetition on the other side.  

Tricep Dips 

The triceps help make up 2/3 of your arm, and training your triceps with dips are beneficial for arm growth and overall upper body strength.

One of the great things about dips is their ability to be modified, so if you need to build up to the most advanced versions, there are plenty of ways to do so.

Dips help target the long head and lateral head of the tricep muscle, and it is one of the most effective exercises for tricep activation. It also has the ability to work other muscles like the chest and shoulders, but positioning yourself properly can help target the triceps more. 

Powerlifters, weightlifters, and CrossFitters can benefit from dips because it can help strengthen exercises like the bench press or overhead press, specifically in the lockout phase.

How to do Triceps Dips: 

  • Press yourself up on a dip bar, so your arms are extended, and your shoulders are pulled down and away from your ears.
  • Keep your chest tall and your elbows pointing behind you as you slowly lower your body down.
  • Once your elbows hit a 90 degree angle, press back up to the top.   

Overhead Tricep Extension 

Unlike other tricep exercises, the overhead tricep extension helps recruit all three heads of the muscle to help build strength and hypertrophy.

Since it involves movement in only one joint, it is an isolation exercise, which is great for building muscle mass.

The shoulders act as stabilizers during this movement since you remain in an overhead position, and core engagement is needed to avoid arching the back. Compared to tricep kickbacks, you can use a heavier weight, which can help build more strength and size.   

How to do the Overhead Tricep Extension:

  • Stand tall with a weight placed in a diamond grip above your head.
  • Keep your core tight as you slowly lower the dumbbell behind your head, all the while keeping your elbows tight to avoid flaring out to the sides.
  • Once your elbows hit 90 degrees, press back up to extend.  

Skull Crushers 

Skull crushers may sound scary, but they can be beneficial for triceps strength and mass, as well as elbow and shoulder joint stability. This isolation exercise recruits only the triceps, which can increase muscle growth and overall arm size.

If overhead movements are difficult for your shoulders to handle, the skull crusher can be a great alternative to the overhead tricep extension, while producing similar benefits.

This exercise can target all three heads of the tricep, aiding in the strength and size increase. 

The skull crusher is a beneficial exercise to help improve lockout strength in the bench press and overhead press. Bodybuilders, weightlifters, and regular gym-goers alike can all find a place for this exercise in their routine. 

How to do the Skull Crusher: 

  • Lie on a flat bench with one dumbbell in each hand.
  • Fully extend your arms, so they are pointing up towards the ceiling.
  • Your elbows should stay tight and high as you slowly bend them.
  • Stop when your triceps are fully contracted and press back up to the starting position. 

Close Grip Bench Press

You may think the bench press is just good for building the pecs, but a simple change in elbow positioning can help target the triceps more. The close grip bench press can help improve pressing strength and overall upper body strength.

By positioning your elbows closer to your sides, you can help increase activation of your triceps, while helping improve the strength and lockout phase of other pressing exercises.

You may have to use a lighter weight than you would for a regular chest press, but your triceps will still get plenty of work. 

Anyone looking to build tricep mass or overall pressing strength can benefit from the close grip bench press and shouldn't be neglected just because you can't load the weight as heavy. 

How to do the Close Grip Bench Press: 

  • Lie on a flat bench with a barbell above your chest, high up enough that you can still grab it, but you can extend your arms.
  • Grab the bar with an overhand grip with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  • Keep your elbows tight to your sides as you slowly lower the bar down to your chest or a couple inches above it.
  • Press back up to the starting position.
  • Use a spotter if needed. 

Triceps Pushdown 

You can probably guess that the triceps are isolated in the triceps pushdown, but it's the lateral and medial head that are targeted.

The lateral head of the tricep is considered to be a large contributor to strength and mass of the upper arm, so targeting it can help grow your arm size. The medial head is important for elbow stability and for helping fill out the back of the arms since it lies more underneath.

This exercise is most commonly performed with a cable machine since you can load more weight on, but it can also be used with a resistance band. 

Bodybuilders or regular gym-goers looking to tone their arms can benefit from the triceps pushdown since it's healthy for the elbows and great at helping shape the upper body. 

How to do the Triceps Pushdown: 

  • Face towards the cable machine and grab the handle attached to the cable.
  • You can use the V bar, rope, or EZ bar depending on what you have available.
  • Make sure to adjust the machine if needed, so it's high enough you can push down from.
  • Bring your elbows in front of your hips and push the handle straight down to extend your arms.
  • Slowly come back up to the starting position.      

Arnold Press

Training biceps and triceps is important for arm size, but a good pair of rounded shoulders helps make the arms look beach ready. The Arnold press works the deltoids, but the triceps also play a role in the final extension at the top.

This exercise is beneficial for building muscle mass in the upper body, while helping improve strength for exercises like pull ups and chin-ups, deadlifts, and row variations. 

Although stronger shoulders help the appearance of the arms, it's not just about the aesthetic. Stronger shoulders are more stable shoulders, which can aid in pushing and pulling exercises that involve the biceps and triceps.

How to do the Arnold Press:  

  • Hold one dumbbell on each side and stand with your palms facing your face.
  • Keep your core tight and start to press.
  • As you press the dumbbells straight up, turn your arms out, so your palms are facing away from you.
  • Fully extend at the top and bring it back down to the starting position.    

Reps for Building Muscle 

Knowing how to do the exercise is just half the battle. It's important to also know how many reps and sets to perform to achieve your desired build. Arm training is more than just doing the exercise and going home. You should be counting your reps and walking into your workout with purpose. 

The American College of Sports Medicine has recommendations of sets and reps for beginners and more advanced lifters.

For beginners, it is recommended to perform 8-12 reps for one to three sets with a weight 70-85% of your one rep max.

For more advanced lifters, one to 12 reps for one to three sets with a weight 70-100% of your one rep max is recommended. 

It's also important to note that training to fatigue every workout session may not be necessarily or even safe. It has the potential to put even more stress on your muscle and can put you at a higher risk for injury or greater DOMs. 

Workouts such as supersets and pre-exhaustion techniques can also be utilized to help muscle growth.

Supersets are commonly known as performing two different exercises back to back that work opposing muscle groups or upper and lower body exercises. Two examples could be bench press right to bent over row, or bench press right to back squat. They're meant to be more efficient by performing more work in less time.

Pre-exhaustion technique is often used by bodybuilders to build muscle in a certain area. The goal is to perform isolation exercises before the compound exercises, such as the bicep curl before the bent over row. The idea is by performing the isolation exercise first, you can exhaust the muscle and increase its activation in the compound exercise. This is suggested to increase hypertrophy. 

Time to Build Some Muscle 

If you want the best biceps or the biggest arms in the gym, performing these exercises properly with intention can help you get there. You've probably heard it before, but don't forget that growing muscle only partly happens in the gym. What you do outside of the gym is what really can help get you there. 

Counting your macros to have the appropriate amount of protein, carbs, and fat in your diet is essential for building muscle and maintaining it. 

Muscle growth takes time, patience, and dedication. It means not snoozing your alarm in the morning or still staying motivated after work. Maybe you get the healthy option when you go out to dinner over the weekend. It's all about the right choices, and you'll be flexing those muscles in no time.