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How much rest do I need between sets of arm exercises?
The arms are relatively small in size and have a smaller motor pool recruitment, so they require less rest time between sets than larger muscle groups such as the legs. As a more specific guideline, when you pair a biceps and a triceps exercise into a superset, use the following table to determine how much rest time you need between sets:
Note that this table also describes the inverse relationship between sets and reps: The more reps you perform, the fewer sets are required to achieve an optimal training effect.
Do you see any value in partial-range exercises in your workouts? Partial-range training was a popular method to use in the early days of modern bodybuilding, and I learned about this rep style from the writings of bodybuilding writers Don Ross, Bill Starr, and Anthony Ditillo. This type of training is valuable for producing rapid gains in both strength and size.
One reason I like isometrics is that a muscle can produce 10–15% more force during isometric contractions than during concentric contractions— and the greater the force, the greater the training stimulus. Further, a muscle will gain strength not only at the specific point that the isometric contraction occurs but also at plus or minus 15 degrees. So when you perform an isometric contraction at 45 degrees of elbow flexion, you will gain strength throughout 30 to 60 degrees of elbow flexion.
I like to combine isometrics with conventional lifting. German strength experts Jürgen Hartmann and Harold Tünnemann call this method auxotonics, but in the U.S. it’s called functional isometrics (FIC). More specifically, you prefatigue the muscles with short-range reps in a power rack and then perform full-range exercises.
I’m going to share with you an FIC biceps workout that I’ve found very effective. In about three to four weeks this workout will increase the average intermediate-level bodybuilder’s standing biceps curl by 10 to 25 pounds.
For the first phase of this exercise you perform three curling exercises in a power rack using these ranges of motion: start range, midrange, and end range. You perform three sets at each range. In all three ranges you will select a weight that you can move from the bottom range of motion to the top range.
On the last rep you make contact with the top pins and apply as much force as possible for six to eight seconds. Do not hold your breath during the isometric contraction; instead, alternate between short inhales and short exhales. If you’re working hard enough on the set, really trying to blast through those top pins, you should not be able to complete another partial rep. A word of caution, however: To avoid injury, due to the higher level of force produced by the muscles, when you perform an isometric contraction there should be a gradual “tensing up” of the muscle followed by progressive relaxation.
-Long-Range Barbell Curl Adjust the pins so they are set at a point where the barbell travels 45–50 degrees of your range of motion, starting with your arms extended. Perform four to six partial reps using a 2/0/2/0 tempo (two seconds down, no pause at the bottom, two seconds up, no pause at the top).
-Midrange Barbell Curl Adjust the pins so they are set at a point where the barbell travels 80–90 degrees of elbow flexion—this is the range where most individuals encounter their sticking points in a barbell curl. The tempo for this exercise is 3/0/2/0, so you are lowering the bar in three seconds (the first number always represents the eccentric, or lowering, portion of the exercise).
-Top-range Barbell Curl Adjust the pins so they are set at a point where the barbell travels 130–140 degrees of elbow flexion. The tempo for this exercise is 2/0/2/0. It’s common to lean back as you fatigue during this exercise, but this is a bad idea because it can lead to lower back pain. A simple way to prevent swinging the weight is to have a training partner support you with their back against you.
After you perform these nine sets, you will perform two full-range exercises. Use any one of these three combinations:
I’ve found that many trainees are prone to intense shaking at the completion of this routine, which is evidence that your nervous system is shot. For this reason, this routine should be performed only once every two biceps workouts. On the alternate biceps training day, you can perform four sets of four to six reps of barbell curls at 4/0/1/0 tempo, resting 75 seconds between sets; follow with option A, B, or C.
Isometrics is not commonly used by today’s bodybuilders or athletes who are striving to increase their strength, but I believe this is a mistake. If you have a stubborn sticking point in an exercise, isometrics is the fastest way to help you blast through it. What’s more, the powerful muscular contractions that occur during this type of training will help stimulate your muscles to achieve higher levels of strength and size.