Our arms comprise a few different sets of muscles, namely the biceps, triceps and what we commonly call the forearms. These muscles are small compared to the rest of the muscles in our body—chest, back—that we have already tackled in this series. “Our arms hold our accessory muscles, so called because they are needed in exercises to work our bigger, primary muscle groups. For example, biceps become the accessory muscles in the bench press and pull-ups. The triceps perform that role while doing pushups and ring dips,” says Mumbai-based celebrity trainer Preetesh Manas. “So, you need these muscles to be strong to do other exercises but since they are rather small muscles, it is not advisable to spend long hours just working on your arms,” says Manas, who is an American Council for Sports and Medicine-certified personal trainer.
However, the lure of big biceps is strong, he admits. “The first time I went to the gym was because of biceps I had seen on a hero in a Bollywood film,” he recalls. “Bicep curls was probably the first exercise I did back then. But with time and knowledge, I realised my error and now set aside a lot more time working on the bigger muscle groups.” To work your arms, you need to turn to isolation exercises such as bicep curls and tricep extensions, which involve the use of just one joint and one muscle or muscle group.“Due to their specific nature, isolated movements help achieve greater gains on the muscle that is worked both in terms of strength, endurance and size,” explains AK Abhinav, founder of Bengaluru’s NammaCrossfit and strength and conditioning coach at Life of Tri, a triathlon training centre.
When it comes to arms, men generally tend to have goals such as size gain, better definition and cuts and improved strength, while women generally look for strength and well-toned arms. No matter the goal, the exercises for the arms are pretty much the same for everyone: variations of bicep curls and tricep extensions, skull crushers, tricep push downs and the closed grip bench press. The upside of doing arm workouts is that the more strength you gain in your arms, the better you will get in exercises such as pushups, pull-ups and other moves for your chest, shoulders and back.
The general rule for arms day is to first train the bigger muscles, i.e. triceps, and then move onto the smaller ones, i.e biceps, advises Manas. “However, if your biceps are weaker than your triceps, then it is best to start with bicep workouts before moving onto tricep exercises,” he adds. It is best to do arms along with a primary muscle group exercise, he says. For example, work on your triceps the day you do your chest; and biceps on the day you do legs or back. However, if you prefer to do biceps and triceps together, club it with a core workout. “We already lead busy lives and we need to make the best use of our time in the gym. So, either club arms workouts with other days you work other muscle groups or do it on the day you set aside for core. That would be the wisest use of your gym hour,” suggests Manas.
Personally, Manas prefers supersets—where you alternate between two different exercises—for arms. He does supersets of bicep curls and tricep extensions and a couple of other arms exercises before moving to core or other muscle groups. “This takes a lot less time because the rest between sets is low. Since you are working the front and the back of the arm simultaneously, it ensures maximum blood flow to these muscles and that make the pump and size very noticeable. And underneath it all, it also does wonders for your strength,” he says.
Arms workout from Preetesh Manas
Closed grip bench press (20, 16 and 12 reps with increasingly heavier weights). Followed by a superset of closed grip pull-ups till failure.
Double dumbbell triceps extension superset with Barbell curls (20, 16, 12at increasing weights)
Triceps push-down superset with Hammers curls (20, 16, 12at increasing weights)
Reverse push-down superset with Reverse curls (20, 16, 12at increasing weights)
(5 supersets with light weights till failure)
Closed grip bench press and pull-ups
Barbell curls and lying triceps extension
Hammer curls and triceps push-down
Preacher curls and dumbbell tricep kick-backs
Cable curls and reverse push down
(Three sets of 4-8 reps of each exercise unless specified)
Closed grip bench press
Lying triceps extension (10, 8, 6, 4 at increasing weights)
Cable triceps push down (10-8-6-4at increasing weights)
Cable reverse Push down (10-8-6-4at increasing weights)
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.