Advice to Youth – Part 2: So You Still Want to Get Big…

Timo before and after. Photo courtesy of Timo Eherer.

If you read part one of this blog, The Matter of Size, you already know that as much as we like to get big that lifting, bodybuilding, pumping up, whatever you want to call it, is much more than the quest of always having to turn sideways to enter a room. Through weightlifting and bodybuilding you have already gained confidence, better health, focus, and discipline (or you are about to).

But as someone who has always chased those fabled 19″ (50 cm) arms – I get it. Strength and flexibility are fine but sometimes you just want to be able to flex and watch your sleeves start to rip under the strain of your massive arms to the amazement of onlookers. Intimidate or attract others with your Thor like physique.

Okay, fine. So how do you achieve this? Well, I’ve covered it to some degree in earlier blog posts including The Secret to Building Big Arms. But why should you listen to some fat old guy who doesn’t look like he could find a gym let alone bench press more than his bodyweight?

First of all, I can bench more than my bodyweight which, yes, is considerably more weight than it should be. But I get your point – you want to hear from some juiced up 300 pound genetic anomaly or the latest Tik Tok influencer. Someone who looks how you want to look.

So let’s compromise. Let’s hear from someone who is about your age and has achieved a great deal of size and strength.

Meet Timo Eherer who is a young German bodybuilder who I somehow befriended on Instagram (find him @new.teemo). He’s been at the iron game for a little over 5 years and is a natural athlete. From his before and after pictures (above left) I think he’s clearly learned a thing or two about how to gain mass over the years. Agreed? Good, keep reading for a few tips on how to grow.

Eat Big, Get Big?

There’s a saying in bodybuilding circles that to get big you have to eat big. This has led to many a young bodybuilder stuffing himself with all sorts of food and not necessarily healthy food. So the result is a lot of fat strong guys out there (I say looking in the mirror and pointing at myself). While it’s true that in order to gain mass you need to increase your caloric intake, it’s not true that you can eat anything you want because it’s “bulking season.” Though calories per se don’t make you fat, eating extra fat seems to do the job pretty well. This is because fat is calorically dense. It doesn’t take much to deliver extra calories but the volume will leave you less than satisfied with your meal causing you to eat more than you plan. And where do all the calories your body doesn’t use go? That’s right – fat.

As Timo says:

“Do not dirty bulk! It’s just a waste of time. You won’t build more muscle with a caloric surplus of 1000kcal compared to 200-300. in the end, you just get fat.”

Trust me on this one – he’s absolutely right. I have spent a lifetime essentially dirty bulking (see Confessions of a Junk Food Junkie for details) and the results are not pretty.

So what to do? It’s pretty simple actually. Here are Timo’s 5 top lessons – so far – from his bodybuilding journey:

Do not dirty bulk
It’s just a waste of time. You won’t build more muscle with a caloric surplus of 1000kcal compared to 200-300. in the end, you just get fat.

Always train harder is bull****
You also need breaks! Sure, Training hard is very very important. Going close to muscle failure to damage your muscle for growth is necessary. BUT you still need breaks. Deloads. Essential when you want to grow in the long run.

Protein is overrated
More protein means less carbs and carbs are the main energy source. You DONT need more than 2-2,5G of protein per kg bodyweight. Everything else is junk. Better get those carbs.

Alcohol won’t kill your gains
Sure, alcohol is bad in general. But you should not fear it. One drink here and there won’t do anything to your gains or performance. Just don’t consume it on a regular basis. That’s bad and a waste of money.

The weight you lift doesn’t matter
It is what it is. I had to mention this at the end now. Mind muscle connection and technique is EVERYTHING. If you have to drop your weights for a better feeling and technique then always do it! Progression is important. Doesn’t matter what’s the base weight. 100kg doesn’t mean it’s better than 80kg. It matters how effective your training is!

But I Want Big Arms!

Don’t we all? But okay, arm development is something that Timo has clearly figured out. As he says:

“I told you guys, 3x arms per week is the key. Arms can’t be big enough, right? Destroying arms one time per week might be fun but it isn’t effective at all. Also, don’t use too much weight, go lighter and maintain control. Train them 3-4x/week, use lower weights and get a good pump due to a good feeling and you’re fine. Watch them grow and thank me later.”

No Magic Potion

So there you have it. Some advice from a peer. In the end I think it’s most important that you learn to listen to and learn from your own body. Record workouts, take measurements, figure out what you respond to and more importantly what you don’t respond to. I’m all for learning as much as you can about proper technique and even at my ripe old age I check out various YouTube videos, blogs, etc. on how to lift. But, you also have to learn to separate the hype from the facts. The more you know about basic anatomy and muscle structure the better you’ll be able to avoid injury.

There is no magic serum, vitamin, pre-workout, or protein mix out there. In fact, my suggestion is to get your nutrition figured out before you resort to trying any of that stuff – and yes, I have some protein supplement in my kitchen right now. But I don’t depend on it for my basic needs.

I think that you will gain a lot from your bodybuilding journey. Do it right and the weight room will be your home from a long time to come.

Good luck – and don’t be afraid to let me know what you’ve already discovered works and doesn’t work for you. It may help someone else along the way someday!

Onward!

Curls for the girls – and bigger biceps! Photo courtesy of Timo Eherer

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright by David P. Wahr

The Secret to Building Big Arms Which No One Else is Willing to Share Is…

If there’s one thing that I think we can be sure of is that most guys who start lifting are interested in building big arms. In fact, based on ads and “click bait” on social media you might presume that most lifters are obsessed with arm size (I’m one of them).

Add an inch to your arms in 24 hours! The secret to bigger biceps! This routine is guaranteed to add inches to your arms! The pitches go on and on and with good reason and have been going on for as long as I’ve been aware. It can be argued that Joe Weider built an entire industry with ads for bigger biceps in the back of comic books.

Heck, the number one most viewed blog post I’ve written is When Is a Man’s Arm Considered Big? (followed closely by How Much Can the Average Man Bench? But we’ll investigate that another time).

So in my mind there is no doubt that men in particular want to have pumped up “guns.” They want to be asked to “make a muscle” for the admiring kids or be asked the ever popular “let me feel your arm” by an attractive young lady when hanging out and are just waiting for that subtle brush of their arm and the soft cooing from a potential romantic encounter.

Even though, more often than not, the comments come from fellow gym rats. However, “brah, how’d you build them pipes?” and “nice veins dude” comments are not unwelcome (just don’t interrupt during the set please).

Chances are if you’ve read this far you are one of the many men in search of the perfect exercise to build peaks high enough to get snow on them and triceps so full and well defined you can shoe a horse with them.

So what’s the secret? What’s the one thing I can do today to have bigger arms tomorrow?

To find out, I decided to take a completely unscientific survey of men I know who happen to have what I consider to be great arms. This group included gymnasts, rugby players, recreational lifters, and competitive bodybuilders. I asked a simple question: what is your favorite arm exercise and why?

And do you know what I found that these men all said was their favorite exercise? The one thing they did to build their enviable arms?

NO, JUST TELL ME ALREADY!

In no particular order the secret move they did was:

  • Barbell Curls
  • Hammer Curls
  • Spider Curls
  • Bent over DB Curls
  • Every other kind of curl
  • Tricep Extensions
  • Tricep Push-Downs
  • Pullups
  • Chinups
  • Every other kind of up
  • And on, and on, and on (okay, not that far on. I don’t know that many guys with jacked arms).

Many of the responders had very logical reasons why their move was a favorite. For example: Olympic gymnast, and all round nice guy, Jake Dalton said, “my favorite arm exercise is bent over db curls with drop sets. I like it because it is a difficult challenge and it also creates a lot of blood flow and it is also very specific to that muscle. It’s specifically bicep and that’s what I like about it.”

Jake Dalton

A friend and colleague of mine, Bodie Bankey (on Instagram @bbankey58 ), who is a competitive bodybuilder (and huge and also an all round nice guy) has a very specific routine that covers all the muscle angles because he has found that his arms seem to respond best to very controlled form and a mix of rep ranges.

Bodie Bankey in competition shape

So you can’t argue with the results these guys have gotten despite having different favorite exercises.

if there is noT one move OR ROUTINE to get big arms, How do I get my twigs to grow into logs?

There are only three real things all the guys I surveyed had in common: 1) a commitment to working out; 2) consistency in their work outs; and last but not least, 3) patience. In my opinion, all three of these things are of equal importance. Commitment to working out should be obvious. But what isn’t obvious is that the type of workout may not be critical between strict weight training and bodyweight exercises.

For instance Jake Dalton (did I mention that he is a former Olympian? Really, you should give him a follow on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/user/jdflipkid/videos ) who has extremely well developed arms, even for a gymnast, didn’t specifically train his arms for size and strength. They are the product primarily of bodyweight exercises, done from a young age, and favorable genetics.

Bodie Bankey, like most bodybuilders, on the other hand trains specifically with weights for size and strength. Unlike Jake he didn’t start training for his sport specifically until late in his teens and though he clearly has a propensity for building muscle it took him years to attain his current size and strength. Read that again – years.

So to sum up, if you want big arms there are no shortcuts. You need to pick up a weight, curl and press it using good form, measure your results to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t, and have patience. Biceps, like Rome, aren’t built in a day or even a month. But give it a year or so and your arms will get bigger. So get ready for the comments and treat yourself to that new wardrobe.

So what’s your favorite arm exercise?

NOTE: results vary. Not everyone has the potential to grow 20 inch arms with freaky peaked biceps with or without chemical assistance. But that’s a subject for another blog entry (like this one).

Opinions in this blog are my own. I don’t have an editor and don’t know how to use commas. So if you find a mistake feel free to let me know. If you choose to follow any advice in this blog please be aware that I am not a medical professional or a professional health care/exercise science/therapist of any kind. Always consult a doctor before beginning a program of vigorous exercise.