Arm Annihilation: Straight-Up Arms Workout

Nothing beats arm day. Like our Sunday appointments with Homeland and Game of Thrones, we truly look forward to hitting our biceps and triceps. The skin-stretching pump and vascularity are immediate, visual indicators of a job well done. It should be noted, however, that the presence of a pump alone does not constitute the promise of growth. Training heavy will never go out of style, but when it comes to arm day, we (sometimes) smartly show restraint on load selection. A barbell curl where we sloppily swing the weight from A to B rarely does as much good as performing a rep precisely and with control. Adding weight in a safe manner allows us to build up our strength and heaps of dense, gravity-defeating muscle. Any good routine should include heavy and lighter work to target more total muscle fibers.

Most routines begin with the barbell curl, but you may be able to place an even greater demand on your biceps by simply switching to the one-arm dumbbell curl. Studies show that unilateral training helps working muscles generate up to 20 percent more force than when training with the support of the other limb. This means that you can handle slightly greater loads, which can lead to more growth over time.

In this routine, you’ll alternate between single-arm curls and single-arm lying extensions. You can self-spot with your free hand to muscle through an additional 2–3 reps on your last set or two.

Supersetting increases the intensity of your workout and makes for shorter training sessions, but it also allows
you to take advantage of the agonist-antagonist relationship between muscles around a joint. Research shows that a muscle is stronger when trained immediately after its antagonist (opposing) is hit.

But we haven’t forgotten the finishers. Doing some higher-rep work at the end of your workout—in this case, the Tabata method—brings tons of blood to working muscles, and the nutrients that make them grow.

The Basics

Continuous Motion Mass Building: The biceps and triceps are smaller muscles that recover fairly quickly between sets. On your first two moves, because you are training only one side at a time, you can skip the rest period.

Tabata: Tabata calls for you to perform eight, 20-second segments of work, each followed by 10 seconds of rest. Select a weight that you can handle for 12–15 reps and use the same weight throughout. Your reps will likely decrease in each work segment. If you can still perform 10 reps by the eighth segment, you should go heavier the next time.




Standing Single-arm
Dumbbell Curl



-superset with-



Lying Single-arm Dumbbell Extension



Incline Dumbbell Curl



Body-weight Bench Dip



*Use your free hand to get through 2–3 extra reps after reaching failure on your last 1–2 sets.
**Perform curls on each side before moving on to lying extensions. Start your extensions on the same side as you did with curls to ensure recovery. Do not rest between supersets.

NEXT: The Moves >>

Standing Single-arm Dumbbell Curl

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Leading off with this move, hold a dumbbell with a palms-up grip and curl from there throughout the set. This supinated grip allows you to keep your bi’s engaged from start to finish.

Tip: If you normally do bilateral curls with 100 pounds for 10 reps, a 50-pound dumbbell seems to make sense for one arm. But since you can generate about 20% more force unilaterally, try a 60-pounder.

Lying Single-arm Dumbbell Extension

Dumbbell extension

Slowly lower the dumbbell so that it almost touches your shoulder. This places you in perfect position to use your off hand for a spot.

Tip: Keep your upper arm perpendicular to the floor throughout the set. If you normally do skull crushers with 100 pounds for 10 reps, for example, try starting with a 60-pound dumbbell and self-spot as needed.

Incline Dumbbell Curl

Incline curl

Performing your curls on an incline switches the muscular emphasis to your biceps’ outer heads. Here, you’ll perform your curls bilaterally, moving both dumbbells at the same time.

Tip: If you’re new to this move, start with a slightly higher angle to minimize the stretch placed on the shoulders and biceps at the start of the move. You should be able to keep your upper arms comfortably perpendicular to the floor throughout the move.

Body-weight Bench Dip

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This can be done with plates laid across your lap at the start of a triceps workout to build mass. Done with only your body weight, it serves as a great finishing move to flush your triceps with blood. And because you get an assist from your delts and pecs, you can get plenty of pump-inducing reps.

Tip: Start with your feet extended out in front of you. As fatigue sets in, you can move your feet in toward the bench to lighten the load.