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As you’d expect, building huge arms requires a solid foundation of free-weight exercises over the course of years, including moves like close-grip bench presses, dips, and French presses, as well as barbell, dumbbell, and preacher curls.
Yet Elssbiay—guided by his trainer, Ahmad Alaqi, in the $17 million workout oasis in the desert, Kuwait City’s palatial Oxygen Gym—dramatically changed his arm approach, striving for maximum pump instead of traditional heavy, strength-oriented lifts. A key component? Cable exercises, which offer a trifecta of benefits for optimum stimulus.
Heavy, compound pressing and pulling exercises Elssbiay does throughout the week—incline and at presses for chest, seated presses for shoulders, rowing for back—also secondarily stimulate the arms, meaning his arm day can focus on forcing as much blood as possible into the biceps and triceps.
His arm day usually involves rotating between biceps and triceps exercises, all in the name of the pump, expanding the sheath surrounding the muscle, potentially prompting a hormonal recovery response, and flooding the area with vital recovery nutrients. Also, by striving toward momentary muscular failure through rep ranges as high as 15, he also stimulates physiological adaptation, i.e., growth.
Mixed in with exercises like preacher machine curls, EZ-bar curls, and lying triceps extensions, Elssbiay will mix and match a variety of cable moves, including the following seven that have proven to be especially beneficial. He tends to do about eight to 10 exercises in a workout, for three sets of 10 to 15 reps apiece, striving for complete failure on the last of the three exercises.
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BENEFITS OF CABLE EXERCISES
BENEFIT NO. 1: CONTINUOUS TENSION
When doing free weights, the pull of gravity is altered depending on the position of the weight throughout the rep. At certain points, the tension can even go slack. Not so with cables, which are constantly pulling against the working muscle at every point of the range of motion.
BENEFIT NO. 2: UNILATERAL FOCUS
When holding a barbell, a stronger arm can compensate somewhat for a weaker one. But, as with dumbbells, you can easily switch out a bilateral exercise—like barbell curls or extensions—for a unilateral variation, like one-handed cable curls or one-arm pushdowns.
BENEFIT NO. 3: ANGLE VARIETY
Cables offer a number of angles, and adjustments can be as signi cant or as minute as you’d like. For instance, when doing a pushdown for triceps, you can use a straight bar with a close, medium, or wider grip on the bar, a rope that allows for a palms-facing grip, an angled attachment that puts the palms at 45-degree angles from the oor, or an underhand grip. Each of these variations slightly changes which part of the triceps is emphasized—an overhand grip hits the long and lateral (outer) heads, as does the hammer-style grip, while underhand grips target the medial (inner) head.
1: ONE-ARM CABLE CURL
TARGETS: BICEPS BRACHII
Stand holding a D-handle attached to a low pulley cable with an underhand grip, arm extended— you can brace yourself by putting your free hand on the machine. Keep your abs tight, chest up, and head straight. Contract your biceps to curl the handle toward your shoulder, hold and squeeze at the top, then slowly retrace the same path downward. Repeat for reps, then switch arms.
We all have a more dominant arm, and when doing two-arm exercises, that stronger arm tends to take on more of the load. That makes unilateral exercises key for development, because it allows for direct focus on your weaker side.
2: ROPE HAMMER CURL
TARGETS: BICEPS BRACHII, BRACHIALIS, BRACHIORADIALIS
Stand holding a rope attachment attached to a low pulley cable with each hand at the knot at the end of either side, palms facing each other. With your core held rm, chest elevated, and eyes straight ahead, initiate the movement with your biceps to bend your elbows, keeping your elbows at your sides. Hold and squeeze when you reach full elbow flexion, then slowly extend your arms. Don’t let the weight stack touch down between reps.
You can twist your wrists into a supinated (palms up) position at the top, which activates more biceps bers than if you keep your hands facing throughout.
3: HIGH-PULLEY CABLE CURL
TARGETS: BICEPS BRACHII (SHORT HEAD/PEAK)
Stand in the middle of a cable crossover holding two D-handles attached to the high pulley cables. Keeping your elbows high, curl the D-handles toward your ears. Squeeze hard at the apex of the rep, then slowly extend your elbows as you release the contraction in your biceps. Keep a slight bend in your arms at the start of each rep.
This is basically the front double biceps pose against resistance. It’s a perfect opportunity to practice that mandatory pose and focus on building a burn in your biceps peaks.
4: ONE-ARM HIGH-PULLEY CABLE CURL
TARGETS BICEPS BRACHII (SHORT HEAD/PEAK)
This is similar to the two-handed high-pulley curl, except you’ll perform it unilaterally. Grasp a D-handle attached to a high pulley and stand so that same side is facing the weight stack, elbow extended. Place your free hand on your hip. Now, keeping an upright stance throughout, bend your elbow to bring the D-handle toward your head–when your elbow is fully bent, flex the biceps for a one count, then slowly extend back to the start. Don’t let the stack touch down between reps.
This move can feel awkward at first because you have to hold your body in position as you rep—there’s nothing to grab on to with your free arm to brace yourself. But it’s a good exercise for a full biceps stretch and contraction, and tensing your whole body is great practice for the stage.
5: V-HANDLE PUSHDOWN
TARGETS: LATERAL (OUTER) TRICEPS HEAD
Stand in front of a high pulley cable and grasp an angled close-grip attachment with an overhand grip. With your knees loose, lean forward slightly at the waist and position your elbows close to your sides while bringing your forearms parallel to the floor to begin. Flex your triceps and press the bar downward until your elbows are fully extended. Flex your triceps and hold for a one count before returning to the start position, stopping just before the weight stack touches down.
Don’t rock your body into the rep as you’re pushing down to gain additional leverage—keep your torso still to put the most tension possible on the triceps.
6: REVERSE-GRIP PUSHDOWN
TARGETS MEDIAL (INNER) TRICEPS HEAD
Stand in front of a high pulley cable and grasp the straight-bar attachment with an underhand, supinated grip. With your legs slightly bent, lean forward slightly at the waist and position your elbows close to your sides while bringing your lower arms parallel to the floor. Flex your triceps and press the bar down toward the floor until your arms are fully extended. Squeeze your tri’s and hold for a brief count before returning to the start position.
Reverse-grip pushdowns hit the medial triceps head (the one you see on the inside of your arm when it’s at your side), which tends to be harder to activate. For balanced development, you should include a reverse-grip move in every triceps workout.
7: ROPE PUSHDOWN
TARGETS: LONG AND LATERAL TRICEPS HEADS
Stand in front of a high pulley cable and grasp the rope attachment with a neutral grip. With your legs slightly bent, lean forward slightly at the waist and position your elbows close to your sides while bringing your lower arms parallel to the floor. Flex your triceps and press the rope down toward the floor until your arms are fully extended, pronating your hands at the bottom. Squeeze your tri’s and hold for a brief count before returning to the start position.
Don’t let your elbows drift forward, which tends to bring in more delts and takes some pressure o your triceps. Imagine a rod running through your body holding your elbows in place.
SAMPLE CABLE ARM WORKOUT
Although Big Ramy will mix in regular free-weight and machine exercises with cable moves, you can create a whole arm workout at the cable station. This sample routine starts with triceps followed by biceps, but you can also alternate back and forth between bi’s and tri’s if you prefer.