Arm Exercises

The Gun Show Workout

Get ready to punch your ticket. This grueling, gym-tested routine will help you dig deep for bigger peaks and beefier triceps.

josh bryant thumbnail by CSCS, MFS, PES

flexing biceps

“Circumstances -- what are circumstances? I make circumstances.” ―Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon may not have been speaking about arm size when he so summarized his resolve but, centuries later, we can definitely put this conqueror’s mentality to work for us in the gym. We are going to create circumstances that will set free even the harshest prisoners of poor arm genetics.

If you have the work ethic, we’ve got the plan. The definitive “gun show” training program for those willing to step out of their comfort zone and suffer their way to new size.

Far too many folks have continued to overindulge on the “pump” Kool-Aid, insisting that the greatest determining factor in gaining size involves set after set of high reps with pygmy weights. To be fair, science confirms that the pump does contribute to muscle growth – which is why we’ve included some higher-rep work here – but good, old fashioned, progressive, mechanical tension (read: heavy weight) remains the most important factor.

The following two workouts can be employed right away in your quest for greater arm measurements. Forget what you think you know about modern biceps and triceps construction and get ready to dive headlong into this throwback methodology for fully loaded guns.

barbell curl

Workout 1

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Tri- Set

 

 

Dips 

3

51

Decline Skull Crushers

3

102

Overhead Rope Extension            

3         

403

 

 

 

Hercules Chin-Up 

2

64

Narrow-Grip Barbell Curl

2

15

Towel Hang

2

20 sec

For the tri-set, move from one exercise to the next, without rest. Between tri-sets, take a full five minutes of rest. Rest 1-2 minutes between all other sets and exercises.

1 After reaching initial failure, perform two negative reps, taking about five seconds to lower yourself from the top position.

2 Use a decline bench set at a 15-20 degree angle.

3 This set should take 90-120 seconds to complete. If your reach failure before 40, lower the weight and continue immediately.

4 Using an underhand grip, pull your chin above the bar, hold for two seconds, then proceed to perform six reps from this point to the halfway point (upper arms parallel to floor, elbows bent at 90 degrees).

>> Backstage at the Gun Show: The opening “tri” set – pun intended – is a calculated exercise in self-torture. Using a heavy, low-rep set, a moderate set in the traditional hypertrophy and a very high-rep set is a concept introduced by Fred Hatfield. It’s purpose is to tax as many motor units as possible, from the high threshold motor units to the small ones. Maximum muscular development requires a holistic, totalitarian-type approach, best achieved by using a wide variety of rep ranges, increasing time under tension and mixing up intensity levels.

Besides the countless anecdotes of dips being a can’t-miss mass-builder, they are also one of the few exercises that provided significant overload to all three triceps heads as demonstrated by MRI scans in Per Tesch’s epic classic Targeted Bodybuilding. Because triceps make up two-thirds of the upper arm, we will start with what’s most important first.

For dips, you’ll do three sets of five. Go as heavy as possible on each set, going to failure on the final set. Upon failure, do two more dips negatives-style, stepping back up to the extended position and lowering yourself for a steady five-second tempo until reaching the bottom position (arms parallel to the floor). The bonus to adding the negatives is that we can do more work eccentrically. So using this approach after initial positive failure helps to breakdown even more muscle tissue. Make sure you stay as upright as possible to emphasize the triceps – excessive forward lean tends to favor the pecs and front delts.

Like dips in the MRI work by Tesch, decline skullcrushers provided significant overload to all three heads of the triceps. Using a 15-20 degree decline bench and focus on keeping the elbows in, bringing the barbell to the forehead or slightly behind it. Each set should be performed as heavy as possible going to momentary muscle failure, without sacrificing technique. If your elbows begin to flare or your reps become sloppy, reduce the weight. Also, this provides significant overload for the meaty, long head of the triceps.

You’ll finish the giant set with a high-rep flush on the overhead rope extension, which also targets the triceps’ long head. Using a slow, rhythmic style, the set should take at least 60 seconds to complete – ideally between 90 seconds and two minutes. Do not stop -- keep continuous tension on the triceps. Make sure you get a good stretch each rep to maximize muscle fatigue. This is a long range of motion move designed to enhance the size and appearance of your tri’s, so don’t cheat with partials. If you fail before 40 reps, turn around, set the pin to a lower weight and continue immediately.

After three tri-sets focusing on your triceps, you’ll move to biceps. Happily, science indicates that training a muscle immediately after it’s antagonist – in this case, biceps after triceps – that it is actually stronger because of the inhibitory response. The shocker here is that you won’t start with curls – you’ll report directly to the pull-up bar.

The Hercules chin-up is a creation of the Jailhouse Strong training system that uses incremental movements to build Herculean biceps. Pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar and hold for two seconds. Then, descend halfway down and hold for two seconds. Then repeat this movement for the prescribed number of repetitions before lowering yourself to the start. Add weight if necessary to keep within the rep ranges listed. Between sets take a two-minute rest interval. Make sure chin is completely over the bar and focus intently on the bicep contraction. This is essentially a compound move for the biceps that provides heavy overload with the assistance from other muscle groups. This larger muscular demand also acts favorably on anabolic hormones like testosterone and growth hormone.

IFBB Pro Cory Matthews Demonstrating Hercules Chin-ups 

The narrow-grip barbell curl puts all of the elbow flexors under extreme duress, a good thing for building the prize show guns. Taking a narrow grip, with hands spaced approximately 6-8 inches apart, perform strict, full range of motion barbell curls as heavy as possible. Use a straight bar because this keeps your hands supinated (underhand grip) throughout the entirety of the movement, which keeps the biceps fully engaged throughout.

A towel hang may not seem like a very attractive arm-building move – at least, not until you get up there and try it. Muscled-up forearms make you a double threat: they ooze out an aura of power and scream ‘don’t screw with me!’ To do it, simply drape a towel over a pull-up bar, grasp each side and hang from the towel for 20 seconds. , this should be difficult, if it is not, add weight. Heavy is the objective!

Up Next: Gun Show Workout 2

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