Arms… Bi’s, Tri’s, Forearms

Mar 18 2008 |

Who wants to train arms? They’re called bi’s and tri’s, which stands for biceps and triceps, for those of you perverts who immediately thought bisexual and trisexual! What exactly would trisexual be anyway?

OK, sorry, arm training. Arms are usually considered bi’s and tri’s, but your forearms on both sides are included, too. First I’ll get rid of the forearms, since most guys aren’t particularly concerned about their forearms anyway, and justifiably so. They usually grow as a result of lifting weights for everything else. You involve your forearms to some degree when you’re doing bi’s, tri’s, or even gripping the bar or handles while using free weights or machines for other body parts. And it’s usually enough to keep them strong. If you’re a workout freak or bodybuilder, you’ll work forearms regardless. For the rest of us, a set or two after arm workouts is enough.

The arm muscles are small compared to the rest of your body, so they fatigue faster. As a result, you should plan on doing fewer sets for bi’s and tri’s than you would for your chest or legs. I bring up the point because it’s not uncommon to see guys torturing themselves to get bigger arms. They do so much for their arms that they neglect other parts of their bodies while actually overtraining their arms.

Over training causes you to LOSE muscle. You put such a strain on the body that it goes into a defense mode, and actually gets rid of some of that muscle for you, then you won’t be able to place as much of a demand on its repair mechanisms.

So take it easy with the arms. Train them heavy if you want them to grow, and find new ways to fatigue them by doing exercises in different ways. You’re always looking for the feel. If an exercise starts to feel too good, and too comfortable, then it’s probably time to recall how long you’ve been doing the exercise that way. Usually it’s been a month or so, and that’s too long. Pick something else, or change your weight, set, and rep scheme. But keep the sets to 10 or less for bi’s and tri’s. Keep the pace going, and throw calves into your arm day if you think you need to stay at the gym longer.

Two other things that deserve mentioning are your grip and the stretch. When you’re doing arms, your forearms will be activated more if you grip the bar or handle with your thumb around the bar, literally gripping the bar. Some guys keep their thumb on the same side of the bar as their palm. Try it both ways, but gripping around is best.

Last is the stretch, which I’ve mentioned before, but working any muscle under load while in the stretch position will stimulate it more than any other way. So if you can find a way, a safe and comfortable way, then do it.

As for biceps or triceps, you can work them safely over an extreme range of motion without difficulty. That means going from full stretch to full contraction. And the stretch position is one that’s usually avoided. Get comfortable with it and you’ll make more progress than otherwise.

Bi’s and Tri’s are perfect for super-setting together, but you can mix and match however you wish. Sometimes I work bi’s with shoulders or chest, because the biceps pump helps resist your arms from bending when the bar comes down during bench or shoulder presses. It’s sort of a cushioning effect that feels pretty cool. And you’ll be able to lift more weight, and easier.

Bi and Tri basics:

Biceps Free Weight Curls – whether with dumbbells or barbell, it’s a staple for bi’s. Change from one to the other periodically, but include one for every workout. In addition, there are variations of dumbbell curls that you can substitute. Sitting on an inclined bench at approximately a 30 degree angle, and curling the dumbbells up one at a time will allow you to use an extreme range of motion, so you can feel the stretch at the bottom.

Preacher Curls – You can do these two-handed with a bar, or one-hand at a time using a dumbbell. Again, just change periodically. This is a great exercise for getting the extreme stretch at the bottom of the movement. It’s best to adjust the preacher bench pad is digging right into your armpits. You won’t be able to cheat with your shoulders as much this way. Concentrate on really controlling with your bi’s, and develop your power with your bi’s in the bottom position.

When you do Preachers one-handed, try to use a bench that you can adjust to about almost shoulder height. Perform reps with one arm, and then the other. You’ll be able to concentrate on each contraction more with this method, but you might need a spot at the bottom of the movement. Keep it light and work your way up in weight. You don’t get the leveraging across arms, shoulders, or torso, so it makes each biceps really do it alone.

There are various machines for working bi’s and tri’s. Use the ones that feel like they allow you to isolate the muscle, but feel comfortable even as you increase the weight to a heavy load. Most of the machines are a variation of what you can do with free weights. When you find a jewel that feels better than free weights, use it often, but still change it up.

A biceps machine that I use at my gym is a preacher bench machine, but the biomechanics built into the machine are awesome. The seat adjusts to any level, and the angle of the rounded bench and cushioning under the armpits and triceps is perfect. I don’t get that smashed triceps feel when I go heavy, and the stretch position is as comfortable as the contraction.

Triceps basics:

Lying triceps extensions – This is the exercise that affects the tri’s the most because it allows the most stretch, but it’s not easy to do because of the positioning. You lie on a bench face up, and have a partner hand you a short, curved barbell. You start with the bar over you eyes with arms vertical. Bend at the elbows, and allow the weight to descend until your shoulders start to rotate back and your upper arms start to drop. That’s the position where you’ll feel stretch in the triceps.

If you allow your shoulders to rotate, you’ll be transferring stress to them instead of the tri’s. Keep the stress in the tri’s, and make them stretch. Work the weight out of the stretch position with your triceps. And keep your elbows from dropping too far out to your sides. The nice thing about this exercise is that even if you do it sloppy, you’ll still probably get enough stretch and overall stress in the triceps that you’ll get sore, and stronger.

Variations of this movement are overhead presses with a dumbbell, or rope or bar at the high pulley station.

Pressdowns – Another basic exercise for tri’s, with many variations. Again, change it up and look for the exercise that feels good, but a little new. You can use a rope or short bar for this one, and everyone does them.

Dips – Bench dips or dip machine dips are also a great basic movement that involves the shoulders and chest. Including these is a wise choice because it involves numerous muscles.

Again, as far as machines go, try them all, but be smart. Don’t pick the ones that feel the easiest. Pick the ones that feel like they work the best. You shouldn’t feel awkward using it, but the muscle should be allowed to feel the tension, isolated tension without stress to other body parts.

Bon appetite,

Scott