All too often, people get in a rut at the gym. Arms day equals standing dumbbell curls and cable tricep extensions. Back day is pulldowns and seated rows. While these are great exercises, they can leave a lot of stimulus on the table. Reach your hand over your head then try to scratch the opposite shoulder blade. Then, extend your elbow to lock out your arm. This motion of your arm is FAR from a typical arms at your side cable tricep extension. It even hits the heads of the triceps in a different way. Mixing up the angles at which you attack a muscle group may very well help you bust through a plateau in muscle development. Let’s discuss a few angles to add to your arm workout for today and if you want some ideas for other body parts, feel free to reach out on our Instagram and we can produce more articles on this topic!
First, triceps. They make up the bulk of your arm size... hopefully. We can help guarantee that by hitting it from all important angles.
Exercise #1 - Behind the head tricep extension
On a cable machine with a rope attachment, raise the cable to just above waist height. Grasp the rope with both hands and turn around with your elbows overhead and hands behind your neck. This setup gets a little precarious so practice with light weight first. Step forward and lean forward, preferably in a staggered stance to balance better. Keeping your upper arm by your ear, lock out your elbow, not letting your shoulders cheat and help you. This will target the triceps in their most stretched position.
Exercise #2 - Skull crusher
Begin by lying on a bench with dumbbells held above you with palms facing. Keeping your upper arm pointed toward the ceiling, lower the dumbbells to the outside of your head by bending your elbows. With the dumbbells, you can get greater range of motion compared to a bar because you get to avoid your face. I hear that’s for the best. Once you get a healthy stretch in your tricep, extend your elbow back to the locked out start position. Think about leading the way with your pinky finger on the way up and squeeze that tricep at the top.
Exercise #3 - Single-arm cable tricep extension
Using a handle attachment on a cable set to at least head height, back slightly away from the cable machine. Hold the handle with palm facing the ground and lock your upper arm into your side. Lock out your elbow with a big tricep squeeze, pausing to ensure maximal contraction. Return the handle back up with your upper arm still tight to your body until your forearm touches your bicep then repeat!
Now for biceps. Just like with triceps, we want a few exercises which hit it in a variety of angle.
Exercise #1 - Heavy close-grip supinated (palms open) pulldown or chin up
Whether you are using a chin up or heavy pulldown, make sure your palms are facing toward you. This supinated position will help target the biceps more. Give the biceps a little extra squeeze at the top of each chin up/bottom of each pulldown.
Exercise #2 - Preacher curl
A preacher curl is a curl performed with your elbows resting on a bench that keeps your arms at an angle in front of you. Your gym may have a preacher curl bench or preacher curl machine. If not, use one arm at a time and a bench. Simply set an adjustable bench to an incline position and stand behind it, then reach over with the working hand, place the upper arm on the bench to anchor it and curl away! This variant will work the bicep in its midrange.
Exercise #3 - Incline bench seated dumbbell curl
Now for the stretch exercise for the biceps. One of my absolute favorite arms exercises, it will humble you so start light. Sitting on a bench set at 15-30 degrees from totally upright, lean back against the pad. Let your arms dangle toward the ground with dumbbells in hand. Feel the slight shoulder and bicep stretch. Keeping your upper arm strictly pointed toward the ground, curl the weights up until your forearm touches your bicep. The shoulder WILL try to help by running your elbow forward under the weight early but don’t let it. Control the weight back to the start, get that stretch and repeat. You’ll hate this exercise but love the soreness.
Set and Rep Scheme
For all 6 exercises, use the classic 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps. To help you improve incrementally, use the just as classic double-progression. Achieve more reps within the 4 sets of 8 to 12 until you get 12 reps for all 4 sets. Then add weight and keep progressing. Rest a strict 45 seconds of rest between sets to keep things nice and standardized.
Give it a try and let us know what you think!