Welcome to the ultimate gun show. Each of the 20 top gunmen have something to teach you about arm training. Carry their advice to the trenches, and you’ll be well on your way to heavily arming yourself.
Britain’s Brian Buchanan had a brief but promising IFBB career, placing in the top five in half of the dozen IFBB contests he entered in 1988 and ’89, before retiring at age 27 (he made two even briefer comebacks in the ’90s). His ridiculously small waist garnered much attention, but his vast globular arms were equally preposterous. His high-volume workouts emphasized heavy weights for six to eight reps.
“Let’s be blunt and define the two qualities that a bodybuilder needs if he’s to have any chance of reaching the very top. First, he must be born with outstanding physique genetics — a natural ability to respond to training and build muscle. Second, he must have the mental tenacity, the will, to harness and develop that physical potential.” — Brian Buchanan
BRIAN BUCHANAN’S UPPER ARM ROUTINE
- Barbell Curls: 5 sets, 6-8 reps
- Seated Dumbbell Curls: 5 sets, 6-8 reps
- Cambered-Bar Preacher Curls: 5 sets, 6-8 reps
- Concentration Curls: 5 sets, 8-10 reps
- Lying Triceps Extensions: 5 sets, 6-8 reps
- Bench Dips: 5 sets, 6-8 reps
- One-Arm Dumbbell Extensions: 5 sets, 8-10 reps
- Rope Pushdowns: 5 sets, 8-10 reps
Unlike the others here, Albert Beckles didn’t grow his way into our top 20 until well past his 40th birthday. At various times, Beckles has claimed birth years of 1930 and 1938, but even if the more recent date is true, it still means he placed second in the 1985 Mr. Olympia at age 47 and he won his eighth IFBB pro show at 52. Despite high biceps and forearm attachments, evergreen Beckles triumphed with history’s most freaky peaky bis, coupled with a devastatingly delineated side tri shot.
“I like to place special emphasis on the peak contraction of curls. I often resist supinating until I get very close to contraction. Then I twist my wrists outward as far as they can go just as I reach the top of the curl. This creates a tremendous contraction, and I hold it for a second or two.” — Albert Beckles
ALBERT BECKLES’ BICEPS ROUTINE
- Seated Dumbbell Curls: 4 sets, 8-10 reps
- Cable Curls: 4 sets, 8-10 reps
- Concentration Curls: 3 sets, 8-12 reps
- One-Arm Cable Curls: 3 sets, 8-12 reps
Touted as an Olympia favorite in the early ’80s, Fox never won an IFBB show, but he was second twice. Unfortunately, he’s currently serving a life sentence on the island nation Saint Kitts and Nevis after being convicted of double murder. In better times — focusing purely on his bodybuilding exploits — Fox sported bis and tris so thick from every angle it was as though two large legs were attached to his shoulders.
- Use maximum weights for relatively low reps.
- Rest for one and a half to two minutes between sets.
- Train with high volume (25-30 sets for biceps and triceps, respectively).
- Use forced reps to eke out one or two final repetitions.
BERTIL FOX’S TRICEPS ROUTINE
- Lying Triceps Extensions: 5 sets, 6-8 reps
- Bench Dips: 5 sets, 6-8 reps
- One-Arm Dumbbell Triceps Extensions: 5 sets, 6-8 reps
- Cable Pushdowns: 5 sets, 8-10 reps
- One-Arm Pushdowns: 5 sets, 8-10 reps
Throughout his pro career, the eight-time Mr. Olympia has showcased two of history’s biggest and baddest arms. In fact, in Coleman’s first years as a pro — before the rest of his body caught up and he started winning Sandows — he was known for his mountainous arms. He trains his biceps and triceps separately and works them both twice per week.
COLEMAN’S ARM RULES
- Never do the same workout twice in a row.
- Focus on free-weight basics.
- Cheat slightly at the end of sets to help squeeze out another rep or two.
- Use supersets and trisets to boost intensity.
RONNIE COLEMAN’S TRICEPS ROUTINE
- Seated Cambered-Bar Triceps Extensions: 4 sets, 10-12 reps
- Seated Two-Arm Dumbbell Triceps Extensions: 4 sets, 10-12 reps
- Close-Grip Bench Presses: 4 sets, 10-12 reps
Coe first took to a bodybuilding stage at the 1964 Mr. Louisiana, finishing third, and over the course of the next 30 years, he would compile nearly two dozen wins. Known for a stellar physique, top to bottom, his biceps, which he trained twice weekly, often garnered attention because of his uncanny knack for showcasing their pronounced biceps split. A few weeks before that first contest, he was practicing posing. “I started goofing around with some awkward arm poses, when all of a sudden I noticed I was contracting my biceps in such a way as to actually bring out a split. I could feel that I was controlling each side of my biceps,” he says. If the rest of us could only be so gifted.
“I remember reading a copy of Joe Weider’s MUSCLE BUILDER magazine and seeing an article by Steve Reeves on biceps training. He wrote about doing dumbbell curls while sitting on an incline bench. That advice was good enough for me, so the first exercise I ever did for biceps was that incline dumbbell curl. As a matter of fact, it was the only biceps exercise I did for almost five years. All I did was eight to 10 sets of the good old incline curl, then I’d move on to triceps.” — Boyer Coe
BOYER COE’S BICEPS ROUTINE
- Standing Barbell Curls: 3* sets, 8 reps
- Incline Dumbbell Curls: 3 sets, 8 reps
- Machine Curls: 3 sets, 8 reps
- Standing Cable Curls: 3 sets, 8 reps
- Reverse Incline Dumbbell Curls: 3 sets, 8 reps
NOTE: Coe also would superset biceps exercises, as well as exercises for biceps and triceps.
* Preceded by two warm-up sets of 15-20 reps apiece
Thirty-five-year-old photos of the three-time Mr. Olympia (1967-69) known as the Myth still astonish viewers today. The sheer hamlike bulk of Oliva’s bis and tris was stupefying even when his arms were posed unbent. His workouts focused on heavy volume (up to 60 sets for biceps and triceps together) and maximizing blood volume through minimum rest and techniques such as supersets.
“My favorite triceps exercise is the French press [a.k.a. triceps extensions]. Don’t let your upper arms move; your elbows should remain pointing directly upward. Always lock out the movement at the top for a peak contraction. The descent should get slower as you go, really feeling the weight stretch your triceps as you resist.” — Sergio Oliva
SERGIO OLIVA’S UPPER ARM ROUTINE
- Barbell Curls: 6 sets, 8 reps
- superset with Standing Barbell Extensions: 6 sets, 8 reps
- Cambered-Bar Preacher Curls: 6 sets, 8 reps
- superset with Cable Pushdowns: 6 sets, 8 reps
- Dumbbell Preacher Curls: 6 sets, 8 reps
- superset with Cable Kickbacks: 6 sets, 8 reps
The Blade is so frequently praised for his crisp conditioning and pleasing proportions that it’s easy to overlook the fact that he owns two of the world’s best guns. Jackson is frequently the lightest man in posedowns and, yet, his curvy bis and tris compare favorably with those of any other bodybuilder. Currently, his arm workouts feature mostly machines, but he used the biceps routine here to pack on mass.
“I find that posing improves the shape and hardness of my arms. Before a contest, all the posing practice I do improves my arms day by day. Try flexing your arms after each set to push more blood into your muscles.” — Dexter Jackson
DEXTER JACKSON’S BICEPS ROUTINE
- Standing Barbell Curls: 4 sets, 6-10 reps
- Cambered-Bar Preacher Curls: 4 sets, 8-10 reps
- Seated Dumbbell Curls: 4 sets, 8-10 reps
Virtually everything about the 1999 Night Of Champions winner was so outlandishly inflated as to appear unreal, but his monstrous arms — veiny, grainy and zany — may have been the freakiest parts of the man known as Freakenstein. Reportedly measuring a ridiculous 24″ in diameter (3″ larger than the average male thigh), Dillett’s arms were so big they seemed to have been grafted together from the muscles of a half-dozen mortals.
“I like using a rope instead of a handle for triceps movements. The rope pushdown is more of an isolation movement than a mass builder, because you can twist your arms out away from your body at the bottom. You’re not able to go as heavy with a rope as with a handle, but you get the full muscle-shaping and separating benefits.” — Paul Dillett
PAUL DILLETT’S TRICEPS ROUTINE
- Seated Machine Dips: 4 sets, 12 reps
- Cable Overhead Extensions: 4 sets, 12 reps
- One-Arm Reverse-Grip Pushdowns: 4 sets, 10 reps
- Rope Pushdowns: 4 sets, 12 reps
Whether he was winning the 1973 and ’74 Mr. Universe contests during his early twenties or making his Olympia comeback during his early forties, 6’5″ Lou Ferrigno’s arms were incredibly hulking. They were touted as measuring 23″, and the cephalic veins that traversed them looked like garden hoses. He trained biceps, triceps and forearms together.
“I certainly don’t agree with the bodybuilders who say you can get big forearms just by squeezing the dumbbell handles when doing curls. In a few cases this may be true, but those guys would build big forearms by merely eating eggs in the morning. Most bodybuilders, myself included, have to work very hard for any kind of meaningful forearm development.” — Lou Ferrigno
LOU FERRIGNO’S FOREARM ROUTINE
- Barbell Reverse Curls: 3 sets, 10-12 reps
- Barbell Wrist Curls: 5 sets, 15-20 reps
- Barbell Reverse Wrist Curls: 5 sets, 15-20 reps
The four-time Mr. Olympia champ has cartoonishly exaggerated upper limbs to go with his superhero physique and jawline. Cutler trains biceps and triceps separately and with high volume and moderate reps, and he is one of the few modern champions who directly stresses forearms within his workout scheme.
“Most people do reverse curls with a narrow grip or shoulder-width grip. I like a grip a little wider than shoulder width. I feel the curls more in my forearms that way and less in my biceps. It’s those little tweaks and angles that make all the difference in a lift.” — Jay Cutler
JAY CUTLER’S FOREARM ROUTINE
- Standing Behind-the-Back Wrist Curls: 3-4 sets, 8-12 reps
- Reverse Curls: 3-4 sets, 8-12 reps
The first Mr. Olympia (1965-66) had unparalleled fullness in his bis, tris and forearms. Scott often posed an arm with the elbow nearly straight, and his long biceps seemed to leap out of his forearm and balance on a triceps of equal size and shape. The effect was like three hams suspended in space. He so favored preacher curls that the exercise is still sometimes called “Scott curls” in his honor.
“I used the preacher bench almost exclusively for my biceps workouts. During each rep, it allowed me to stretch my biceps and keep tension on the bottom half of the rep. The preacher bench also locked my arms into place so I couldn’t cheat. Every set of each biceps exercise got six to eight full-range repetitions, followed by four ‘burn’ reps (quarter-rep movements).” — Larry Scott
LARRY SCOTT’S UPPER-ARM ROUTINE
- Dumbbell Preacher Curls: 6 sets, 6 reps
- superset with Barbell Preacher Curls: 6 sets, 6 reps
- Reverse Barbell Curls: 4 sets, 8 reps
- Close-Grip Bench Presses: 6 sets, 8 reps
- superset with Cable Extensions: 6 sets, 8 reps
- Dumbbell Kickbacks: 4-6 sets, 8-10 reps
The one quality that most separated the Maryland Muscle Machine from the challengers who saw him win 20 IFBB pro contests was his fullness. Levrone’s biceps didn’t peak, but they didn’t need to; they remained at the same lofty height from shoulder to elbow, as if he had filled in the valleys beside the mountains. Coupled with his tremendous triceps, he seemed to have cinder blocks for arms.
“It’s important that you do full movements for your triceps, because locking out is when your triceps work their hardest. Flex and squeeze at the contraction of each rep to hit all three triceps heads.” — Kevin Levrone
KEVIN LEVRONE’S TRICEPS ROUTINE
- Close-Grip Bench Presses: 4 sets, 6-8 reps
- Lying Triceps Extensions: 4 sets, 6-8 reps
- Cable Pushdowns: 4 sets, 20-25 reps
- One-Arm Dumbbell Triceps Extensions: 4 sets, 6-8 reps
When he won the 1991 NPC USA Championships and for the next 10 years on pro stages, Matarazzo’s prodigious upper limbs were notable for their density. It seemed as if all the fibers of his biceps, triceps and brachialis were straining to push their way out of his skin, shoving out the tangle of snaking veins. He trained with high volume and a wide variety of exercises.
“Larry Scott told me about sideways one-arm dumbbell preacher curls when I first turned pro. I tried them, got tremendous results, and I’ve been using them ever since. Sit or stand sideways in relation to a preacher bench. This locks your arm in position, away from your body. I also supinate each rep, which tends to pull the dumbbell even farther away from my body.” — Mike Matarazzo
MIKE MATARAZZO’S BICEPS ROUTINE
- Cambered-Bar Preacher Curls: 4 sets, 10-12 reps
- Seated Alternate Dumbbell Curls: 4 sets, 10-12 reps
- Concentration Curls: 4 sets, 10-12 reps
- Sideways One-Arm Dumbbell Preacher Curls: 4 sets 10-12 reps
- Reverse Cambered-Bar Preacher Curls: 4 sets, 10-12 reps
At 5’5″, Puerto Rican-born Freddy Ortiz was the Lee Priest of the ’60s. In an era of height classes, he dominated his fellow short men, and his sharply cusped biceps and deeply horseshoed triceps dwarfed those of much taller bodybuilders. Forty years later, the dense detailed arms that were arguably the best in the world then still appear distinctly modern today.
Training in gyms without today’s modern machines, Ortiz favored the heavy basics. Here’s how to pack on tri mass with only dipping bars and barbells.
- DIPS To focus dips more on your triceps and less on your chest and delts, stay as upright as possible throughout each rep.
- CLOSE-GRIP BENCH PRESSES Grip a barbell (or cambered bar) with your index fingers approximately 6″ apart. Go to full lockout for each rep.
- LYING TRICEPS EXTENSIONS Use a cambered bar to lessen stress on your wrists. Try doing extensions before doing dips or close-grip benches; in this way, you pre-exhaust your tris and focus the compound lifts more on your arms.
FREDDY ORTIZ’S TRICEPS ROUTINE
- Dips: 6 sets, 12 reps
- Close-Grip Bench Presses: 5 sets, 10 reps
- Lying Triceps Extensions: 5 sets, 10 reps
Even in his teenage years, the future winner of seven Mr. Olympia contests had fantastic arms, and many contend that the biceps standards he set at his peak in the ’70s have yet to be superseded. Schwarzenegger’s right biceps, especially, reminded one of a mountain in the Alps of his native Austria. A typical biceps routine consisted of barbell curls, incline dumbbell curls, concentration curls and standing alternate dumbbell curls.
“The reason I was able to devastate the other champions is simple: I did not leave things to chance as they did. Forearm work was always as important to me as, say, biceps or calf work. Usually, I worked forearms after biceps, though sometimes I did them after triceps, because the gripping involved in curls tired the forearms. My favorite forearm movements were reverse barbell curls and end-of-bench wrist curls.” — Arnold Schwarzenegger
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER’S FOREARM ROUTINE
- Barbell Wrist Curls: 4 sets, 10 reps
- Reverse Curls: 4 sets, 8 reps