flexing biceps

“Circumstances — what are circumstances? I make circumstances.” ―Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon may not have been speaking about arm size when he so summarized his resolve but, centuries later, we can definitely put this conqueror’s mentality to work for us in the gym. We are going to create circumstances that will set free even the harshest prisoners of poor arm genetics.

If you have the work ethic, we’ve got the plan. The definitive “gun show” training program for those willing to step out of their comfort zone and suffer their way to new size.

Far too many folks have continued to overindulge on the “pump” Kool-Aid, insisting that the greatest determining factor in gaining size involves set after set of high reps with pygmy weights. To be fair, science confirms that the pump does contribute to muscle growth – which is why we’ve included some higher-rep work here – but good, old fashioned, progressive, mechanical tension (read: heavy weight) remains the most important factor.

The following two workouts can be employed right away in your quest for greater arm measurements. Forget what you think you know about modern biceps and triceps construction and get ready to dive headlong into this throwback methodology for fully loaded guns.

Barbell Curl 4 14

Workout 1




Tri- Set






Decline Skull Crushers



Overhead Rope Extension            






Hercules Chin-Up 



Narrow-Grip Barbell Curl



Towel Hang


20 sec

For the tri-set, move from one exercise to the next, without rest. Between tri-sets, take a full five minutes of rest. Rest 1-2 minutes between all other sets and exercises.

1 After reaching initial failure, perform two negative reps, taking about five seconds to lower yourself from the top position.

2 Use a decline bench set at a 15-20 degree angle.

3 This set should take 90-120 seconds to complete. If your reach failure before 40, lower the weight and continue immediately.

4 Using an underhand grip, pull your chin above the bar, hold for two seconds, then proceed to perform six reps from this point to the halfway point (upper arms parallel to floor, elbows bent at 90 degrees).

>> Backstage at the Gun Show: The opening “tri” set – pun intended – is a calculated exercise in self-torture. Using a heavy, low-rep set, a moderate set in the traditional hypertrophy and a very high-rep set is a concept introduced by Fred Hatfield. It’s purpose is to tax as many motor units as possible, from the high threshold motor units to the small ones. Maximum muscular development requires a holistic, totalitarian-type approach, best achieved by using a wide variety of rep ranges, increasing time under tension and mixing up intensity levels.

Besides the countless anecdotes of dips being a can’t-miss mass-builder, they are also one of the few exercises that provided significant overload to all three triceps heads as demonstrated by MRI scans in Per Tesch’s epic classic Targeted Bodybuilding. Because triceps make up two-thirds of the upper arm, we will start with what’s most important first.

For dips, you’ll do three sets of five. Go as heavy as possible on each set, going to failure on the final set. Upon failure, do two more dips negatives-style, stepping back up to the extended position and lowering yourself for a steady five-second tempo until reaching the bottom position (arms parallel to the floor). The bonus to adding the negatives is that we can do more work eccentrically. So using this approach after initial positive failure helps to breakdown even more muscle tissue. Make sure you stay as upright as possible to emphasize the triceps – excessive forward lean tends to favor the pecs and front delts.

Like dips in the MRI work by Tesch, decline skullcrushers provided significant overload to all three heads of the triceps. Using a 15-20 degree decline bench and focus on keeping the elbows in, bringing the barbell to the forehead or slightly behind it. Each set should be performed as heavy as possible going to momentary muscle failure, without sacrificing technique. If your elbows begin to flare or your reps become sloppy, reduce the weight. Also, this provides significant overload for the meaty, long head of the triceps.

You’ll finish the giant set with a high-rep flush on the overhead rope extension, which also targets the triceps’ long head. Using a slow, rhythmic style, the set should take at least 60 seconds to complete – ideally between 90 seconds and two minutes. Do not stop — keep continuous tension on the triceps. Make sure you get a good stretch each rep to maximize muscle fatigue. This is a long range of motion move designed to enhance the size and appearance of your tri’s, so don’t cheat with partials. If you fail before 40 reps, turn around, set the pin to a lower weight and continue immediately.

After three tri-sets focusing on your triceps, you’ll move to biceps. Happily, science indicates that training a muscle immediately after it’s antagonist – in this case, biceps after triceps – that it is actually stronger because of the inhibitory response. The shocker here is that you won’t start with curls – you’ll report directly to the pull-up bar.

The Hercules chin-up is a creation of the Jailhouse Strong training system that uses incremental movements to build Herculean biceps. Pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar and hold for two seconds. Then, descend halfway down and hold for two seconds. Then repeat this movement for the prescribed number of repetitions before lowering yourself to the start. Add weight if necessary to keep within the rep ranges listed. Between sets take a two-minute rest interval. Make sure chin is completely over the bar and focus intently on the bicep contraction. This is essentially a compound move for the biceps that provides heavy overload with the assistance from other muscle groups. This larger muscular demand also acts favorably on anabolic hormones like testosterone and growth hormone.

IFBB Pro Cory Matthews Demonstrating Hercules Chin-ups 

Next comes the Gironda “perfect” curl, named after bodybuilder Vince Gironda who used this version of the curl to slightly increase his range of motion on this staple biceps builder. It is akin to a normal barbell curl with an incline stretch at the top. To do it right, bring your upper torso backward (shifting your weight toward the heels) at the start of a normal barbell curl. The shoulders are now aligned behind the hips and knees in the starting position in a slightly stretched position. From this position, slowly curl the weight upward; as you lift the weight slowly, bend the torso forward so at the end of the movement the shoulders are in front of the knees and the hips. In the finish, your elbows should be ahead of your shoulders, as if on top of an imaginary preacher bench. Lower in the opposite motion back to the starting position. This is not a cheat curl – the reps should be very deliberate and there should be no swinging of the torso. The concentric should stake three seconds, the eccentric four seconds and hold the top position for one second.

Incline curls target the outer head of your biceps because of the pre-stretch that they are exposed to at the start of each rep. Hold each rep in the bottom position for one second, emphasizing the stretch, and hold weight for one second in top contracted position—range of motion should never be sacrificed for weight. Also, be sure not to overset the incline on the bench, which can expose your shoulders to injury.

After your biceps tri-set work, you’ll move on to triceps. Again, you’ll start with a compound move in order to overload the triceps while enhancing hormonal response. For the close-grip bench, take a narrow, shoulder-width grip, using 75 percent of your flat bench max and perform reps to failure. Repeat the process next with 65 percent of your max and finish your last set with 55 percent of your maximum lift.

Four-way forearms simply calls for you to do four distinct forearms movements in a row, ideally from a seated position.

Radial Deviation: Holding the dumbbells at your sides at full extension, with your grip slightly toward the rear of the handle so that the front part of the dumbbell is heavier, use your forearms to lift the front part of the weight up. Squeeze, lower and repeat.

Ulnar Deviation: Holding the dumbbells at your sides at full extension, with your grip slightly toward the front of the handle so that the rear part of the dumbbell is heavier, use your forearms to lift the rear part of the weight up. Squeeze, lower and repeat.

Forearm Curl: With the wrist, from a supinated position, flex the dumbbell toward your body, then go back to the starting point and repeat.

Forearm Extension: With the wrist, from a pronated position, extend the dumbbell toward your body, then go back to the starting point and repeat.

Punch Your Ticket

Give this routine a shot for 4-6 weeks and bust through your arm development stalemate. Use this routine in a bulking phase, eating a minimum of 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight and abstain from alcohol, which can interfere with the muscle-building process. Perhaps most importantly, sleep a minimum of 7-8 hours nightly and take 72-96 hours between training sessions. Rest is the key when it comes to adding size. Training is just the stimulus. And with the Gun Show program, you’re guaranteed to have all the stimulation your biceps and triceps need to start raising the eyebrows of the lesser armed.


Josh Bryant, MFS, CSCS, PES, is the owner of JoshStrength.com and co-author (with Adam benShea) of the Amazon No. 1 seller Jailhouse Strong. His new book, Built to the Hilt, is now available at Amazon and EliteFTS. He is a strength coach at Metroflex Gym in Arlington, Texas, and holds 12 world records in powerlifting. You can connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or visit his website at www.joshstrength.com.