Unless you can complete a set of five chin-ups and eight dips, you should limit exercises that isolate your arms, such as biceps curls and triceps extensions. “Your arms will grow best when you focus on the basics,” says Kelly Baggett, a certified personal trainer with the International Sports Sciences Association.
The basics, he explains, are compound exercises – such as the chin-up and dip – that force you to move at more than one joint. These movements allow you to use heavier weights than you would with single-joint isolation exercises, while also training either your chest or back.
So don’t worry: by using these moves, you’ll fully engage the muscles of your arms with each repetition, and you’ll also shore up any weaknesses in the larger muscles of your upper body.
Negative Chin Up
Do It: Set a bench under a chin-up bar, then stand on the bench and grasp the bar with an underhand grip (palms facing you) and your hands about shoulder-width apart. Give yourself a boost from the bench so you don’t have to use much effort to pull your chest up next to your hands. Slowly lower yourself for a count of six seconds. Then hop back up to the bar and repeat.
Perform five or six repetitions. Rest for 90 seconds, then move to the next exercise.
Related: The Year To Destroy Your Chin-Up Max
Do It: Grab parallel dip bars and use your legs to boost yourself up so your arms are straight and all your weight is resting on your hands. Keeping your elbows tucked close to your body, slowly lower yourself by bending your elbows for a count of six seconds. Your upper arms should be parallel to the floor at the end of the move. Place your feet on the floor to boost yourself back up and repeat.
Do five or six repetitions. Rest for 90 seconds, then perform a second set of negative chin-ups. Continue alternating between exercises for a total of four or five sets of each movement, resting for 90 seconds between sets.
Close-Grip Bench Press
Do It: Lie face up on a bench with your feet flat on the floor. Grab the bar with an overhand grip, your hands shoulder-width apart. Keeping your elbows tucked at your sides, lower the bar to your chest, then press the weight overhead.
Perform six to eight repetitions. Rest for 60 seconds, then move on to the next exercise.
Do It: Stand holding a barbell in front of your thighs with an underhand grip, your hands shoulder-width apart. Keeping your back straight and your elbows at your sides, slowly curl the bar up in a semicircular motion until your forearms touch your biceps. Pause, then slowly lower the bar to a few centimetres in front of your thighs before repeating the move.
Perform eight to 10 repetitions. Rest for 60 seconds, then do a second set of close-grip bench presses. Alternate between exercises for a total of three or four sets of each move, resting for 60 seconds between sets.
Fuller Biceps: This routine places your arms in front of you during some arm curls and behind you or at your sides during others. Varying arm positions build the biceps evenly. As a result, you’ll raise your peak and build thickness throughout your arms.
Stronger Triceps: Your triceps consist of three distinct muscles – the lateral head, on the outside of the arm; the long head, which provides bulk; and the medial head, which lies between the other two. This plan develops all three.
A Bigger Upper Body: The chin-up and bench press in this workout develop your arms with help from your back and chest, respectively. The benefit: you’ll build a bigger and more balanced upper body to support larger – and stronger – arms.