Want sympathy? Stumble around the gym with a cast covering your broken leg or tear a pec doing heavy benches. Brother, I can feel your pain. But you’re not getting any sympathy from me if you mutter these pathetic words: “I’m doing only a few sets for arms because they grow too big.”

Geez! Talk about a burden, having to buy all new T-shirts every couple of months, not to mention the worry that your oversized biceps make your delts look small by comparison. Surely that’s why I’m heaving and groaning on set after agonizing set on the preacher bench. If only my problems more closely resembled yours!

Fact is, some guys just have big guns, period, and it seems all they have to do is look at a barbell and their arms grow an inch. Yet I’ve learned that the guys with great genetics are the last ones you want to talk to about how to build big arms. Rather, it’s the guys with mediocre genes like mine who’ve had to resort to extraordinary methods to bring up their arms inch by quarter-inch. Guys who are hardgainers know what it takes to squeeze every ounce of effort out of every set through years of trial and error, tinkering with routines and high-intensity principles to induce an acidlike pain flowing through their veins.

That’s why we sought out four competitive bodybuilders—guys with not only big arms but big-time commitments to overcome average genetics. Here they share their personal arm-building strategies, including what worked for them and the roadblocks they had to overcome.

Arm-Building Tips for Hardgainers 

Based on the in-the-trenches experiences of the four athletes featured, here’s a roundup of what builds sleeve-busting bi’s and tri’s.

1. Train arms on a separate day, not after training a larger bodypart. That way they’re fresh and ready to push some heavy weights.

2. Back off the weight occasionally. Try taking 10% off your working weight, slowing down the reps and working for the pump. Keep the reps within 8-15.

3. Focus on building a stronger mind-muscle connection. With less weight, focus on feeling the burn, not counting reps.

4. Every rep should be a quality rep. That means controlling it on the way up, pausing and squeezing the muscle briefly at the top, and lowering in a slow and controlled manner to emphasize the negative.

5. Use a variety of exercises that hit the biceps and triceps from different angles.

6. Consider training arms more frequently than other bodyparts for a period.

7. Use high-intensity techniques such as forced reps, drop sets and negatives.

8. Don’t get locked into a particular routine. Experiment with exercises, rep ranges, rest periods and other training variables. What works for someone else may or may not work for you. Try new approaches to spur growth.

Contributing Athletes: George Farah, Peter Putnam, Lou Joseph, Mike Ergas