A commonsense workout to help you win the arms race

By Strength Sensei CP


It’s been said that trying everything under the sun only gets you sunburn. It’s an appropriate motto for those new to the Iron Game who are trying to increase their arm size.

When trainees become frustrated with their arm workouts, often the best approach is to take a step back and keep it simple with multi-joint exercises. Two of the best are dips (for the triceps) and chins (for the biceps). These exercises offer the highest levels of cross-sectional muscle fiber recruitment. For beginners, a good goal before performing specialized exercises for the elbow extensors (triceps) and flexors (biceps) would be to perform 12 full-range chin-ups and 20 full-range dips. For how long? Three months is standard.

After this introductory period, one effective training system is to perform a workout consisting of two supersets, each with an isolation movement and a multi-joint exercise. The supersets are performed in a post-exhaustion fashion.

For review, a post-exhaustion superset involves performing a compound exercise immediately (i.e., no rest) followed by an isolation exercise. The multi-joint exercise recruits the maximum number of motor units, and the isolation exercise taps into the motor pool of muscle that you want to focus on. Thus, chin-ups could be followed by 45-degree incline curls, and dips could be followed by the overhead rope extension. In fact, I first wrote about this workout in the early 90s (with slight modifications), and the feedback I’ve received has always been positive. Here are the details:


A1. Parallel Bar Dips, 4 x 4-6, 3210, rest 10 seconds

A2. Overhead Rope Extension, 4 x 6-8, 3210, rest 120 seconds

B1. Close-Grip Chin-up, 4 x 4-6, 4210, rest 10 seconds

B2. 45-Degree Dumbbell Curl, 4 x 6-8, 3210, rest 120 seconds

Note that each exercise has a 2-second pause after the eccentric contraction to create tremendous micro-trauma at two insertion points. Expect to be sore.


Pausing at the bottom of dips creates a high level of micro-trauma that will help your triceps grow!


Rather than giving you a single repetition number for each exercise, I use a range, such as 4-6 reps. If you reach a point where you cannot perform the lower number on a subsequent set, terminate the workout. The focus is on quality, not quantity.

If you want to start stretching your shirtsleeves, give this workout a try — then get to work on your tan!

— Photos by Miloš Šarčev
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