Adding An Inch To Your Arms

Submitted by SharpHealth Team on Tuesday 12th October 2010
In this article
  • Tricks of the trade.
  • The best exercises to add an inch.
  • Finding your niche: beginner, intermediate and advanced programs.
Adding An Inch To Your Arms

Have you ever noticed how most people equate how big your "muscles" are with the size and shape of your arms? Strange, isn't it? Especially considering how much smaller these muscles are as compared to your larger muscle groups: your chest, back and legs. Why is this? Probably because arms are the muscle group most often exposed by T-shirts and tank tops. Check out these SharpHealth tips. You’ll learn how to get a little more exposure and a lot more looks by adding an inch to the width of your arms:

Tricks of the Trade

Eat well.

If you're going to add size to your body, you’ll have to gain some lean muscle. How much? It'll take about seven to 10 pounds of lean muscle to add an inch to both your arms. And if you haven't heard it before, listen up: protein is responsible for building muscle, so your diet should consist of about 30 percent protein. To make it even easier, take in about .75 to one gram of protein for each pound of your bodyweight. Trust us, you'll grow like a weed.

Additionally, about 50 percent of your daily diet should consist of carbohydrates. You'll need these "carbs" for the energy to get through the arm-blasting workouts and to help you recuperate afterwards. Don't worry about the fat; the final 20 percent of your daily diet is usually made up of some fat from your protein and carbohydrate sources.

Work the long head of your triceps.

Your triceps muscles are made up of three "heads:" medial, lateral and long. The long head of your triceps is located on the back of your arm and goes from your elbow to your armpit. This head is the largest of the triceps muscles and since your triceps make up two-thirds of your upper arm muscles, it has a lot to do with the way your arms look. Got that? That’s right: if you target the biggest muscle in your arms, the bigger your arms will appear. The good news? The long head of your triceps is affected by any triceps exercise where your elbows are extended over your head. More on this later.


A key to building your arms is to push them to grow. And if "supersets" don't do that, they come very close. What is a "superset? Simply put, it’s a set in which you work your biceps and triceps back-to-back, with no rest in between sets. For example, try doing a set of dumbbell curls for 10 reps and then immediately do triceps pressdowns for 10 reps. (Now call 911 to help put out the fire burning in your arms.)

Lift heavy, rest a lot.

For some of us, the only way to get bigger is to lift heavier. So mix it up a little: do your supersets, but then choose a weight so heavy that you can only do six reps "to failure" with on the barbell curl. In between sets, rest up to five minutes. Heavy lifting may not get your heart pumping like the supersets will, but sleep on it, and I promise you'll feel a little "good" pain the next day.

The quad drop set.

Pick any exercise for your arms and then pick a weight with which you can only do about eight reps. As soon as you complete all eight reps, do another eight reps immediately, but lower the weight by five to ten pounds. Do this again and again until you've completed four drops or "quad" drops for a total of 32 reps in one set. Give it a try — you'll love it.

21s. Nope, not a blackjack game, but a great way to fry your biceps. Pick up a barbell with a weight that you can perform about 10 reps with in good form. Now curl the barbell from the bottom position to the midway point seven times. Then curl it from the top position to the midway position another seven times. Then let it all the way down and finish off the set with seven more reps — but this time do seven full curls. See why these are called 21s?

The Exercises

Since this isn't "Arnold's Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding," we'll just give you a quick overview of the best exercises to make your arms why these exercises work:


Barbell Curl: The Macdaddy of biceps exercises, this is known as a mass builder because you can use more weight on a barbell curl than any other exercise. The more weight used, the more muscle fibers stressed, and the more growth you get after you recuperate.

Stand with your legs slightly bent to take pressure off your lower back. Hold a barbell loaded with the desired weight using a grip that is about shoulder width. Curl the weight up, keeping your elbows close to your sides. Don't let your elbows come forward during the movement or you'll be incorporating your shoulder muscles too much. And finally, do not lean back or swing the weight to get it up. That could cause major damage to your lower back, and you won't be working your biceps much either.

Preacher curl: Again, you can use good (heavy) weight on this, but the difference is that since your arms are in a fixed position:

  1. you can't cheat; it's all about your biceps, and
  2. you're hitting the lower part of your biceps very hard.

Great for adding size. Sit on a preacher bench with the pad fitted comfortably under your arm pits. Use an E-Z curl bar. You can vary your grip on this if you like. A narrow grip will hit your outer biceps, while a wide grip will target your inner biceps. A middle grip will hit them all around. Allow the weight to come all of the way down at the bottom of the curl position. When you curl up at the top, keep constant tension on your biceps and flex or contract the muscles.

Seated dumbbell curl: When you're seated, again, you're less likely to cheat and if you supinate (or twist) the dumbbells on the way up, it'll help increase your biceps’ peaks.

Sit on a flat bench. Keep your elbows close to your sides and don't bring them forward. You'll start the movement with a dumbbell in each hand, with your palms facing your sides or turned into your body. As you curl the weight, on the way up, supinate the dumbbells so that your palms will actually be facing your chest/shoulders at the top of the movement. Again, squeeze at the top.

Incline dumbbell curls: You're seated and lying back on an incline bench. This position means that your biceps get even less help from other muscle groups — a really efficient biceps workout. Dig in and start building. Same movement as the seated dumbbell curl, but this is harder. Your biceps are isolated when you're lying on a 45-degree incline bench, so go a little lighter. Control the weight throughout the movement and don't swing it up. Anyone can use momentum to lift weights, but you're building your muscles, so make them do the work.


Overhead dumbbell extension: Remember what we said about the long head of the triceps? Here's your chance to make it happen. Grab a dumbbell with both hands and hold it from one end over your head. Begin with your arms straight in the air above your head, and slowly lower the weight back behind your head. The movement is similar to a "throw in" used in soccer, but your arms should extend directly above your head. Keep your elbows in tight and lower the dumbbell as far as you can behind your head. It's a great size builder.

Close grip bench press: If you want size, this exercise gives it to you. The close grip bench press works your triceps hard because the movement allows you to pack on heavy weight. Lying on a flat bench, load a barbell with the desired weight. Keep both feet planted on the ground at all times and do not lift your butt off the bench during the movement no matter what, or you could cause back damage. Grip the barbell just inside shoulder width, or go as close as having your hands six inches apart. This will force your triceps to do the work rather than your chest. Bring the weight down to your chest using the close grip and press it back up to the start position.

Triceps pressdowns: The focus is more on the lateral (outside) head, depending on your grip. But it's still great for size and adding some definition to that cool horseshoe muscle on the outside of your arm. Using a high pulley cable attachment, pick a straight bar and hook it on the high pulley cable. Grip the bar at shoulder width, keeping your elbows very tight against your sides. Begin with your arms at a 90 degree angle against your sides. Press the weight down or straighten your arms. Be sure to squeeze at the bottom. When you bring the weight back up, do not let your arms bend any further than the 90 degree starting point.

Vertical dips: Hold a dumbbell in between your ankles and the size will come almost instantly. It's a tough exercise to begin with, so take it easy at first and just use your body weight. On a parallel bar dip machine, grip each side and support yourself in the air. Keeping your legs bent at the knees, lower your body (or if you’re more advanced, have a partner place a dumbbell in between your ankles). Lower yourself until your arms are bent at or just below a 90 degree angle and then press back to the start position.

Finding Your Niche: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced Programs

Ready to get serious about your arms? Use the exercises above and the following base programs for beginners thru to advanced arm-building:

Beginner (0-6 months)
Biceps: Barbell Curl three sets x 6-10 reps
  Seated Dumbbell Curl two sets x 6-10 reps
Triceps: Vertical Dips three sets x 8-10 reps
  Triceps Pressdown two sets x 6-10 reps
Intermediate (6 months - 1 year)
Biceps: Barbell Curl two sets x 6 reps; rest 3-5 minutes in between each set and go heavy
  Incline Dumbbell Curl two sets x 8-10 reps
Superset: Seated Dumbbell Curl three sets x 8-10 reps
  Triceps Pressdown three sets x 8-10 reps
Triceps: Overhead Dumbbell Extension two sets x 6-8 reps
  Close Grip Bench Press two sets x 6-8 reps
Advanced (one year and beyond)
Biceps: Barbell Curl 21s two sets x 21 reps
  Seated Dumbbell Curl two quad drop sets x 32 reps
  Incline Dumbbell Curl one set x 12-15 reps
Superset: Preacher Curl two sets x 10 reps
  Vertical Dips two sets x 10 reps
Triceps: Close Grip Bench Press two sets x 6 reps; rest 3-5 minutes in sets and go heavy
  Overhead Dumbbell Extension two sets x 6-8 reps
  Triceps Pressdowns one set x 20 reps
This article last updated on Sunday 17th October 2010
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