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Do you want an arm-training secret from Mr. O? How about two? Forget that. Go big or go home. We’re going to give you 50.
These 50 (yes, 50!) arm-training tips helped Heath bring home six Sandows, so far. And he used his own advice as he prepared for the last Mr. Olympia.
1 | Train biceps and triceps together. Work your weaker muscles first when you have more strength and energy. You’ll notice I always do biceps before triceps. That’s because my tri’s grow more easily than my bi’s.
2 | The best thing about working out alone is I do it my way at my pace. I do exactly what I know works best for my arms, and I’m never waiting on anyone else.
3 | Standing dumbbell curls have always been the key exercise in my biceps routine. They give you a great range of motion and the ability to curl both arms independently.
4 | When doing dumbbell curls, I don’t alternate reps. I alternate every five reps. So I’ll do five reps on the right side, then five on the left, five on the right, five on the left. That way each side gets a longer rest during the set so you can get a couple more reps. Also, by not alternating every rep, you can focus more on each individual arm.
5 | It’s crucial with curls that you control the negative halves of reps. Lower the weight slowly. Remember, you’re working muscle fibers then, too.
6 | The shape of your arms, like how peaked your biceps are, is mostly genetics. But you can accentuate certain things. I like to put a lot more focus on contractions by holding them a little longer to bring out the peaks.
7 | A lot of what makes arms great is all the separation and the freaky details, those striations, and that only comes about from diet and cardio. Don’t get obsessed with measurements. A big fat arm isn’t nearly as impressive as a lean, somewhat smaller arm.
8 | Steady yourself when doing concentration curls so the elbow of your working arm doesn’t move. I brace myself against a dumbbell rack.
9 | I’m striving to get my arms as even as possible. Very few bodybuilders have ever had perfectly symmetrical arms, but I think it’s important to always strive for that goal of perfect left-to-right symmetry.
10 | I stick to 10 reps per set for biceps. That’s the ideal rep target for growth.
11 | I’ve never felt the need to go so heavy on arms that I can’t get 10 reps. That’s just opening yourself up to injuries that can throw of all your upper-body training. Be smart and be careful.
12 | The brachialis really sets of the rear double biceps shot. I work mine with hammer curls.
13 | Mostly my forearms have grown from just holding weights. But I do hammer curls sometimes, which hit my upper forearms more directly than other curls.
14 | One unique exercise I like is spider curls (done on the straight side of a preacher bench). They put a lot of tension on the contractions.
15 | Sometimes I’ll use a preacher curl machine and do one arm at a time. Curl machines aren’t always made for bigger guys to get in the ideal position to work both sides together. But if you work one arm at a time you can get your arm positioned just the way you need it to be comfortable and to focus only on your biceps.
16 | When I started bodybuilding, I did a lot of volume for arms. I’d do at least four exercises each for biceps and triceps with four or five sets per exercise. Now I recommend 12 sets for both bi’s and tri’s.
17 | If I do EZ-bar curls, I’ll usually do them at the end, because then I don’t have to go as heavy. The dumbbell work has already pre-exhausted my bi’s.
18 | I like to do EZ-bar curls with a narrow grip because that works my outer biceps heads more.
19 | Periodization has always been an important factor in my training. I have periods when I train heavier and others when I use higher reps. It’s a small difference for arms, but during the heavier periods I’ll do 10 reps per set and rest a little longer between sets. During the lighter periods, I’ll do 12–15 reps per set and work out faster.
20 | You don’t want to swing the weights and use your back, shoulders, and traps when you should be focusing on your biceps. Form is crucial when curling.
21 | A great way to ensure you’re using good form on curls is to use one of those arm blasters. That thing will keep your elbows locked and make 50 pounds feel like 100.
22 | An exercise I sometimes throw in pre-contest is the two-arm high-cable curl in a cable crossover station. It mimics the front double biceps pose. I like to do exercises that mimic poses.
23 | To keep growing consistently, keep mixing things up. Using a variety of movements is important for growth.
24 | In bodybuilding, you need to keep your arms in balance with the rest of your physique. Understand that biceps get worked with back, and triceps get worked with chest and shoulders. So take that into consideration when you’re figuring how many sets to do and what your workout split should look like.
25 | There are a lot of exercises for bi’s and tri’s that hit them in slightly different ways. So I like to do four exercises for both bi’s and tri’s every workout. Work those angles and hit every area of the muscles with a variety of dissimilar exercises.
26 | When I was young and playing basketball, I focused more on triceps than biceps because you use your triceps to shoot and dribble. Then when I started bodybuilding, I needed to focus more on bi’s so they could catch up. The lesson is you need to focus more on your weaker muscles than your stronger muscles.
27 | The mirror is your friend when training arms. Watch your form carefully to make sure you keep your elbows locked.
28 | Having said that, often I’ll close my eyes when training. You should be able to feel the muscle stretching and contracting on each rep. You want to build that mind-to-muscle connection. That’s crucial.
29 | I like to get a little higher reps for triceps, usually I’m in the 12–15 range.
30 | I prefer to do pushdowns with a rope so I can separate the ends and get that strong squeeze. It makes for a longer range of motion and better contractions.
31 | It’s easy to get sloppy with pushdowns. Don’t let the weight pull your arms up. Keep your elbows locked from the start of a set till the end.
32 | At Armbrust Pro Gym, I use a triceps pushdown station that has a padded back rest. That forces you to stand up straight and not get sloppy.
33 | Your body adapts to stimulus very quickly. So you need to shock it and get it to respond all over again. Sometimes, that’s as simple as changing your exercise order. Sometimes, it might take supersets or sevens or something like that.
34 | Even when I don’t do FST-7, I still work out pretty fast. I usually don’t rest much more than a minute between sets for arms.
35 | One unique triceps exercise I do is a two-arm dumbbell extension on an incline bench. I keep my elbows pointed out throughout the set, so at the bottom it’s kind of like doing a front double biceps.
36 | Find that body position that you’re comfortable with. When I do dumbbell triceps extensions, the main reason I keep my elbows out to the sides is because it feels better on my joints. I’m still careful to get a full range of motion, though, so my triceps are being worked the same as they would be if my elbows were closer to my head.
37 | Make your reps harder by making them stricter, not easier by cheating. Using more weight with worse form is not a good formula for growth, and, you know, those elbow joints and arm tendons are pretty fragile. Look at all the guys who have had torn biceps or triceps. That should tell you how important it is to be smart when training arms.
38 | I always encourage young guys to take a lot of photos. It’s the best way to keep track of your progress. A year from now you can look back at those shots and they’ll show you where you were and how far you’ve progressed but also where you haven’t progressed and where you may need to make changes to your workouts.
39 | I usually train alone, but if Hany (Rambod) is there he’ll help me with some forced reps.
40 | In the past year or so, I added close-grip bench presses to my triceps routine. I don’t go heavy, though. I aim for a minimum of 12 reps on every set.
41 | I like to pre-exhaust triceps. I do my isolation exercises—pushdowns and extensions—first and then end the routine with the compounds—presses and dips.
42 | I experimented with static holds last year to increase time under tension. I haven’t been doing it much this year, but now it’s another tool I can use if I need to.
43 | Use whatever photos or music it takes to inspire your workouts. When I was starting out, I would think about Kevin Levrone’s triceps whenever I trained tri’s.
44 | There have been times when I’ve done more reps for my left arm than my right because I’m right-handed and I’m always trying to keep the two sides in balance. That mentality comes from my basketball background, learning to dribble and shoot with your off-hand, eliminating weaknesses.
45 | Dips are always part of my triceps routine, either with a machine or dipping bars. The important thing is to stay upright, don’t lean forward, so you can focus more on the tri’s and less on the chest.
46 | Don’t be afraid to use machines. The technology of machines has improved a lot over the last 10–20 years and some of them hit your muscles better than any barbell or dumbbell can.
47 | Dips come last, and I go to failure on every set. I tend to get at least 15 reps on the first set but less on the last set. Dips to failure are a great way to wrap up the workout.
48 | To assure you get a great pump, end your biceps and triceps routines with sevens (seven sets of the same exercise with only 20-30 seconds of rest between sets). I haven’t been doing this as much lately, but this is another tool that I always have at my disposal to boost intensity.
49 | Don’t rush it. You need to just put the consistent work in. Keep doing quality workouts and eating quality food, month after month, year after year, and you’ll fulfill your potential in the long run.
50 | Posing practice is like another arm workout because arms get flexed in almost every pose. Even if you never compete, posing arms can strengthen the mind-to-muscle connection.
HEATH’S ARM ROUTINE
*Standing dumbbell curls with alternating, left-right, five-rep segments.