Strong and well-defined arms are wanted by most, but achieved by few. Which is why men the world over are queueing up at the dumbbell station in a quest to build bigger biceps and triceps that test the elasticity of their T-shirts.
But what if I told you they’re wasting their money? You can achieve all this without ever visiting a gym. As real-life Action Man and fitness expert Ross Edgley shows here, understanding some basic bodyweight training (along with some tips and tricks), building bigger arms from your home is entirely possible. Combine the six moves below into a workout that will bring the gun show to your front room.
Why: Contrary to what many who spend hours curling in the squat rack believe, to increase the size of your arms you must first understand a basic fact of human physiology: your arms are roughly two-thirds triceps. Why biceps get so many column inches in fitness magazines, I don’t know. In the quest for bigger arms, it makes sense to train the majority of muscle mass in them, which is found at the back.
How: Performing diamond push-ups is easy. It’s the same pressing movement as a conventional push-up, but you bring your arms in closer together to form a diamond shape with your hands on the floor. This alters your biomechanics and movement patterns and in turn, places less emphasis on the chest and puts more strain on the triceps. If they get too easy, try elevating your feet on the sofa or stairs for each rep.
What: Perform four sets of 10 repetitions with 120 seconds rest in between to allow time to recover and maintain good form.
Why: Bear crawls are a primitive (but effective) movement pattern that is easy to learn, but hard to sustain because of the stress it places on the triceps. This is why they’ve been favoured by the military and strength and conditioning coaches for so long. Research published in The Journal of Physiology found the body doesn’t solely count repetitions or weight. It also counts time under tension, which can be equally as valuable in building muscle.
How: Get in a normal push-up position with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width. Your hips should be raised relative to how they would be if you were in plank position. Your back should be flat and straight, and your legs should be straight as well. Now simply walk forward on your hands and feet, alternating each side just as if you were walking or crawling normally.
What: Perform five sets of 10m bear crawls with 90 seconds rest in between to generate lots of time under tension and train the triceps.
Why: All because research from the Department of Kinesiology at Pennsylvania State University showed small variations in technique can train different muscle groups. By using an overhand (pronated) grip, you target the muscles in the back. But if you use an underhand (supinated) grip, you train the biceps.
How: Pull-ups are arguably the world’s most tried and tested exercise. Just grip a bar with your hands, lift your feet off the floor then repeatedly pull your chin above the bar. The secret to building bigger arms is proper grip and using variations to hit the muscles you want to train.
What: Perform five sets of five repetitions with 120 seconds rest in between to allow enough time to recover and maintain good form.
Why: It’s that time under tension again. This move keeps your favourite T-shirt muscle working for longer.
How: Taking inspiration from Strongman competitions, the plate carry typically involves gripping a 40kg disc (in a ‘bear hug’ type position) against the chest and walking a set distance. There’s nothing stopping you from using the same principles in the comfort of your own home by carrying a weighted backpack up the stairs or covering the distance of your living room with a week’s shopping.
What: Perform five sets of 10m weighted carries with 90 seconds rest in between, focusing on keeping the biceps strong and in tension.
Towel Grip Curls
Why: Research published by the National Strength & Conditioning Association Journal found that the forearms are in a constant state of contraction when lifting with a thicker bar. They noted this was especially true during the eccentric phase (the lowering part of the lift) where a thinner bar allowed an athlete’s muscles associated with grip to rest.
How: Bicep curls can be performed anywhere and with anything. Chairs, bags or even a willing and cooperative baby. But did you know your grip will have a direct impact on the size and strength of your forearms? So try performing your ordinary curls but wrap a kitchen towel around it to create a thicker grip or put a towel through a plate or kettle bell to lift.
What: Perform five sets of 12 repetitions with 90 seconds rest in between.
Why: Too often people train their forearms by performing wrist curls that are unnatural and not exactly functional. This plate pinch variation is fun, functional and you’re free to perform it anywhere. Even better, it fatigues your forearms in a completely different way. It can also be used to go head-to-head with a training partner to see who drops first (just watch your toes.)
How: This is far from conventional, but it works. Known as the plate pinch, it’s usually performed in the gym and involves picking up two or three 5kg plates with your thumb on one side and your fingers on the other. But what works just as well is using a thick wooden chopping board from the kitchen. Simply pinch it between your thumb and fingers and hold it there or pass it around your body
What: Perform five sets of 10 oscillations around the body (without dropping it) with 90 seconds rest in between. And that’s it. Repeat this workout often and you’ll be fully armed in no time.
Ross Edgley is considered one of the world’s most travelled fitness experts. Chief sports scientist at The Protein Works, he specialises in pushing the boundaries of human physical potential and exploring uncharted territory in the world of sports science, fitness and nutrition.