Doing the same old arm workout will get you the same old arms you’ve always had. If you want to get a pair of muscular arms and put a new stretch on your T-shirt sleeves, it may be time for a new approach — a more scientific approach.
It won’t take long to realize the following workout is NOT your same old arm workout. Sure, the sets and reps (3 sets of 12 across the board) may not blow you away, but the menu of exercises is anything but typical. Chances are, you’ve only heard of one or two of these moves at most.
The workout in question comes from strength and conditioning expert David Barr, C.S.C.S. — aka “David Arm Barr.” Not only does Barr sport an impressive pair of guns himself and a distinguished résumé training athletes and physique pros, he literally wrote the book on building massive, muscular arms.
It may take you a minute to get the form down on some of the moves (like JM presses or treadmill presses for triceps and Harski hammer curls for biceps), but it will be worth the extra effort.
“Polls show that arm musculature is the sexiest body part on a man, but its surprisingly complex anatomy creates a challenge for maximal growth,” says Barr. “To solve this, my goal was to do the heavy lifting and create an easy-to-use program custom tailored to your own anatomy. By accessing more muscle fibers in different ways, the program is both fun and massively effective.”
David Barr’s Massive, Muscular Arms Workout Routine
Putting the workout into context
In his book, Barr programs the above workout as part of an advanced-level 10-week hypertrophy and strength arm routine. Here are more programming details of the routine:
Days and reps: The following workout is scheduled for Monday of Week 1. On Mondays during Weeks 2-4, the exercises and set counts stay the same, with reps decreasing to 10, 8, and 8, respectively. Week 5 is a deload week (lighter weights, sets not taken to failure), then the reps for Weeks 6-9 change to 12, 10, 8, and 8. Week 10 is an off week for recovery.
Weight selection: When choosing training weights, Barr prescribes a “relative intensity” of 70% for this workout, as well as in Weeks 2 and 3. In Week 4, it increases to 80%. Following a lighter deload week, the relative intensity is during Weeks 6-9 is 70%, 70%, 80%, and 80%, respectively.
Rep tempo: For all sets, Barr prescribes a tempo (aka, time under tension/TUT) on each rep of 2/0/1/0. This means a 2-second negative, 1-second positive, and no pause at the top or bottom of the rep.
Friday strength workouts: The 10-week routine also includes strength-focused arm workouts every Friday. Those workouts consist of sets of 6, 5, 3, and 3 reps, respectively in Weeks 1-4; a deload for Week 5; then reps of 5, 5, 3, and 3 reps in Weeks 6-9. Relative intensities in those workouts are 70/80/80/90 for Weeks 1-4, then again for Weeks 6-9.
Warmup: Make sure your triceps, biceps, and forearms are sufficiently warmed up by doing one or two moderately heavy sets of 10 to 15 reps each of a triceps and biceps exercise, stopping short of failure. For triceps, any cable pushdown or free-weight extension exercise will work; for biceps, any standard dumbbell or barbell curl will do.
Excerpted with permission from Massive, Muscular Arms by David Barr (Human Kinetics, 2021).
Equipment needed: Cable station
This is a three-phase exercise that starts by adopting a split stance with the low cable attachment behind you.
The hand on the side of your back leg starts at — or just behind — your hip.
Imagine a pin connecting your elbow to the side of the body and maintain this position as you flex the elbow to peak contraction.
For the eccentric phase, you can imagine pushing your hand down just forward of your hip, moving toward your front pocket.
Push your elbow forward slightly as your hand moves down an imaginary vertical line.
At full extension, allow your hand to return to the starting position behind you, to perform another rep.
Equipment needed: Barbell (squat rack preferred)
Lie faceup on the bench, grab the bar with a shoulder-width grip, and extend at the elbows to bring your hands over your shoulders.
Perform the eccentric part of the rep by resisting the load as the elbows flex and the shoulders slightly extend, bringing the bar toward your chin.
Your elbows will move outward (aka abduct) at roughly a 45-degree angle from the midline of your body.
As the bar descends, progressively flex your wrist to create maximal tension at the bottom of the movement. This wrist cocking is the difference maker for this exercise. You have to experience it to appreciate it.
Ideally, you will let the end of the eccentric part of the rep occur naturally when the forearm hits the biceps, but if not, end the eccentric part when your forearms are nearly horizontal and your elbows are just above chest level.
Harski Hammer Curl
Equipment needed: Light barbell (mace bell preferred), resistance band
One hand serves as support for the immobile end of the barbell, while the hand of the working arm is supinated, gripping the other end of the bar.
The elastic resistance is looped over the end of the bar with the hand of the working arm and is anchored low and in front of you so that it produces maximal tension (i.e., it has the greatest amount of stretch) at the top of your flexed ROM.
For example, if you were standing in the center of an imaginary clock face (or compass) on the ground, the anchor would be at the 1:30 position for your working right arm (alternative: NE position on a compass).
The support arm is locked with its hand holding the immobile end of the bell.
Curl the bar with the working arm, slightly crossing the bar toward the center of your body. As a cue, the hand of your working arm will complete the concentric portion near the center of your chest.
Reverse the motion for the eccentric portion.
Equipment needed: Barbell, squat rack
Place the safety bars of your squat rack at a height that will allow you to perform roughly the top third (or less) of the movement.
Place the bar at this height as the starting position.
Follow the bench press checklist for your whole-body setup.
Starting from the bottom position, perform the concentric end-range ROM of the bench press. Reverse the movement for the eccentric part of the rep.
The bar should stop dead on the safety bars at the end of each rep (i.e., no bouncing).
X-body Hammer Curl
Equipment needed: Dumbbell (alternative: low-cable rope or resistance band)
At full elbow extension, pronate the wrist holding the dumbbell, so that your elbow is pointing away from your body (i.e., internal rotation). This is the starting position.
Flex the elbow to bring the dumbbell across your body so it ends near the center of your chest.
Resist the load to reverse the movement for the eccentric phase.
Treadmill Press (aka Tread Press)
Equipment needed: Treadmill
While standing on the treadmill, set it to one mile per hour or slower and carefully step off without changing direction (as though you were running on the belt), and set up in quadruped stance (i.e., on your hands and knees). Place the hand of your working arm on the moving belt toward the head end of the treadmill (where the control panel is).Your other hand can serve as support on the side of the treadmill, safely away from the moving belt.
Begin with your shoulder flexed and your elbow at maximal extension (i.e., the top of the ROM), just as in the top of a shoulder press.
As you push the palm of your open hand into the belt, try to concentrically flex the shoulder and extend the elbow.
Allow your hand and arm to be forced backward, replicating an eccentric portion of a one-arm shoulder press.
When the desired ROM is complete, simply lift your hand from the belt.
Rest as long as necessary to perform the next rep with full focus, and then repeat.
Behind-the-back Wrist Curl
Equipment needed: Barbell
Rack a barbell just below waist height and face away from the bar.
Turn your palms toward the bar (i.e., pronate them), back yourself into the bar to grab it, brace your core, and unrack the barbell.
The movement begins with your wrist in line with your forearm (i.e., straight), from which you perform a concentric wrist flexion.
While maintaining a stable body position squeeze your forearm flexors to curl the bar.
Reverse direction of the movement for the eccentric portion.
Wenning Wrist Flicks (aka Handshake Curl)
Equipment needed: Kettlebell or dumbbell
Imagine that you lock the flexed elbow at 90 degrees and perform a handshake motion at the wrist, with an open hand and neutral grip. When you point your fingers up and your thumb toward you, this is known as radial deviation. The opposite motion (in which you point your fingers down) is called ulnar deviation, and these movements are a great way to think of this next exercise.
Sit on a bench with your forearms wresting on your thighs so that your wrists are free to move.
Grab a kettlebell by the horns with a neutral grip so that it is inverted. This is the radially deviated starting position from which you begin the eccentric portion of the rep.
Resist the eccentric ulnar deviation so that the bottom of the bell dips downward and faces away from you.
Reverse the direction for the concentric portion of the rep.