Big arms. All the guys seem to want them–as evidenced by the amount of young men I get asking me about the best bicep workout for size–and nobody seems to want to do what they need to to actually get them. The truth is that there is no supplement, program, or magic pill that is going to make your arms bigger. The best thing you can do for your biceps is to get bigger everywhere. This is something that has been on my mind recently since reading John McCallum’s wonderful book The Compete Keys to Progress.
In story after humorous story, the gym owner, who is almost certainly McCallum himself, is accosted by eager young muscle builders who have been doing too many bicep curls. Why? Because that’s what the magazines say to do, of course. And to them all, he responds with something like, “How much does Reg Park weigh? Well, if you want arms like Reg Park’s, you’re going to have to weigh as much as he does.” This is disheartening, but seems to be common sense.
How could you make your arms gigantic by only doing arm work? Well defined? Sure. Impressive? Probably. But as Marty Gallagher says in The Purposeful Primitive, “Who cares about defining a 14 inch arm?”
So what is a young musclebuilder to do? Simple, but not easy: lift heavy in the biggest lifts possible, get bigger, and eat a ton of good, healthy food. My biceps are nothing to scream about, but they have gone from 14″ to 16″ on squats, deadlifts, and kettlebell clean and jerk long cycle. And I throw in the occasional chinup session.
I eat about 4,000 calories every day, which, believe it or not, isn’t that many for me. And I grow. As long as I’m getting enough sleep and I’m always getting stronger, I grow.
So start there. If you know you want arms like Arnold Schwarzenegger, start with the idea that you might need to weight as much as he did to look like he did. You’ll put on size all over if you’re moving as much weight as possible, which will usually mean barbell work.
Isolation movements do have their place, but my favorite quote I’ve ever heard on the subject comes from Dave Draper. He calls isolation movements “boring and inexpressive.” Beautiful. If lifting weights is an expression of ourselves and our potential, there is more to be inspired by during a heavy clean and jerk or Olympic snatch or heavy barbell back squat than in all the biceps curls in the world.
And anyways, even if you could build huge arms without being big everywhere else? Would you want the best biceps if everything else was lagging behind? It would look ridiculous.
Strength training for body and mind.