Big Ramy's Planet-Size Pipes

You’re the biggest bodybuilder on the planet. You’re so big you are a planet. You’re training in Oxygen Gym in Kuwait City, pumping up the two best arms in at least the Middle East, driving yourself ever onward, bigger and better, bigger and better. 


Sometimes you remind yourself just how good you’ve got it. You toil in arguably the best-equipped muscle-making space in the world, the $17 million Oxygen Gym in Kuwait City. Its neon flourishes give it an ultra-modern ambiance, and owner Bader Bodai has filled it with so much cutting-edge equipment that striding into the gym for your daily workouts sometimes feels like time traveling into a utopian future. As just one example of Oxygen’s abundance, it has 45 leg machines—enough for someone to choose a different four each time for 11 straight workouts!

Today, you meet with your trainer, Ahmad Alaqi. He’s brought a progressive system to your leg, back, chest, and shoulder work, going from sets of 15 reps to sets of six reps, lowering the reps weekly over five weeks and then starting over again at 15. But today is different. Today is arm day. For you, arm training is about maximizing the pump.

“We get the heavy lifting from pressing and pulling during chest and back workouts, “Alaqi tells the curious journalist. “So for arms, we don’t need to go as heavy and risk injury. We try to fill the arms with as much blood as we can.” That’s why you alternate biceps and triceps exercises. “I think this is better [than working biceps and triceps separately] because you fill the whole arm with blood,” Alaqi states. You tighten up your wrist straps, as a precautionary measure to fend off tendon strains. It’s time for work.


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To make sure your biceps are warm before moving on to free-weight curls, you start with one of Oxygen’s multitude of curling machines. The selected device mimics a preacher curl with a narrow and sharply cambered grip. When your thumbs are higher than your pinkies during curls, as they are throughout your four, increasingly heavier sets of this exercise, you’re targeting your outer biceps heads.


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Injuries are the one thing that could derail your career. So after your initial warmup set of rope pushdowns, you cinch up your lifting belt. Not only does this protect your lower back, even when doing a seemingly safe exercise like pushdowns, it also reminds you to keep your waist tight at all times—a practice that can pay dividends on a bodybuilding stage. For a 300-pound “planet,” you have a remarkably svelte middle, and you intend to keep it that way.

As you grind out each rep, you remain bent forward so your torso is at about the angle of a clock’s hour hand at 10:30. Simultaneously, your upper arms are always perpendicular to the floor. This arms-in-front position focuses a little more stress on your triceps’ long heads. “Squeeze, squeeze,” Alaqi instructs, reminding you to pull the rope ends apart as far as possible at each contraction. For all 15 reps, you maintain meticulous form: elbows unwavering, fists together at tops and eight inches apart at bottoms.


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With two machine exercises out of the way, you move to a rack loaded with fixed-weight EZ bars. After a first set of EZ-bar curls with 90 pounds, you go up to 110. “The important thing is to stay strict,” you say, “Maintain all the tension on the biceps from start to finish.” And that’s exactly what you do. Keeping your elbows locked, you seem to glower at yourself in the mirror throughout each set. You’re actually intensely focused on only your muscles and paying no attention to the metal moving. Your trainer will correct your form on those rare occasions when it starts to waver.


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You position your gargantuan frame in a seated triceps extension machine, and your trainer helps you grab the short, cambered handle from behind your head. This is a French press with a cable machine, and you let your elbows flare out at the bottom of each rep to maximize the stretches. Your eyes are clenched shut for nearly the duration of the set. With your hands going behind your head and with no mirror in front of you, you fixate entirely on feel. “Come on, two more!” Alaqi encourages. Your face is contorted with torment. “Come on, one more! One more, Ramy!”


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For your third biceps exercise, you’re once again holding an EZ bar, which means that once again your thumbs are higher than your pinkies, targeting the long heads of your outer biceps. However, unlike the standing EZ-bar curls, you take a narrow grip and you position yourself facedown on an incline bench. Lying takes your legs out of the lift, thus removing any sway. Your upper arms stay locked in place, perpendicular to Oxygen’s floor, and you get such an intense peak contraction on every rep that only 50 pounds feels like three times as much. It’s not about how much you lift; it’s about how much you look like you can lift.


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Your reputation for favoring machines over free weights is well deserved, but, in the heart of today’s arm routine, three out of four consecutive exercises are performed with a cambered barbell. This is No. 3, and it’s your only free-weight triceps lift—the skull crusher. Once again, you’re not out to set any strength records (or crush your skull). Your trainer hands you a 90-pound EZ bar for your first set and a 110-pounder for your final two sets. You take a narrow grip and let the bar drop to just above your forehead before powering it back up for a brief lockout on every rep. “It’s important to keep a steady pace going,” you say. “I don’t want to rest long at contractions, because I want to keep tension on the triceps.”


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“Dropsets and rest-pause sets—we do them only at the end of the workouts,” Alaqi states. And so it is for your final exercise of the day, which includes both reductions in weight (drops) and brief hiatuses (rest-pauses). You’re back at a pushdown station and, as with the rope pushdowns that kicked off your tri work, you stay bent forward at the 10:30 position. But this time you take an underhand grip on a cambered bar. Going underhand places more stress on the oft-neglected triceps medial heads.

During the final two of the three sets, you reach failure thrice. The first time you pause for a few seconds and then go again, scowling and moaning. The second time you pause, Alaqi quickly moves the pin to a higher slot in the stack, selecting a slightly lighter weight. Then you go again. Another rep. Another. Another. Grimacing, growling. One more. Finally, you can’t quite lock it out. You’ve failed for the third and last time—until next time.


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Of your eight arm exercises today only one is unilateral. It’s your final biceps lift: one-arm machine curls. The selected contraption has angled pads that elevate your elbows above your shoulder joints. During many reps, you’re not even holding the handle. Instead, your wrist wrap is braced against the handle as you curl, allowing you to focus only on the working biceps. After you reach failure, on the third and final set for each arm, Alaqi helps you with a couple of forced reps. You grimace and grunt, grinding out the last torturous rep—with a little help.

“We don’t use forced reps a lot,” your trainer tells the curious journalist. “But we push the last set of each exercise to failure, and sometimes I help with forced reps near the end of the workout. Also, sometimes we finish the workout by supersetting the last biceps and triceps exercises. We do that every third arm workout.”


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Afterward, while your arms are engorged with blood, you strike a front double biceps pose.  You’re the biggest bodybuilder on the planet. And you want to be the best.


Preacher Machine Curl: 4 sets, 10–15 reps

Rope Pushdown: 4 sets, 10–15 reps

EZ-bar Curl: 3 sets, 10–15 reps

Seated Cable Triceps Extension: 3 sets, 10–15 reps

Incline EZ-bar Curl: 3 sets, 10–15 reps

Lying Triceps Extension: 3 sets, 10–15 reps

One-arm Machine Curl: 3 sets, 10–15 reps

Underhand Pushdown: 3 sets, 10–15 reps