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.

Fitness Quest: October 2017 and Olympic Goals

A little late on my update for last month – but it’s been a busy week so this update will flow into the first part of November as well:

Crohn’s Update: things are going very well with my Crohn’s. I’ve had only one or two days where I got off to a slow start do to the disease. I believe that being regular with my vitamin regimen, staying active as possible, keeping up with my weight training, and watching my diet are all helping. If I feel better over all, my Crohn’s stays quiet.

Workouts: progress continues! I’m gaining strength, slowly but surely, and stamina. My arms are a little larger, my chest is larger, my shoulders more defined, my waist is shrinking, and my weight is decreasing.

I did spend the first week of November in Colorado Springs at the Broadmoor Resort no less (one of America’s true luxury resorts) at a business conference (NACAS – where I was inducted as the board President). Though I suffered early on a brief attack of altitude sickness, several gallons of water and many deep breaths later I was feeling positively energized in the thin mountain air. So good that by the end of my stay I was lifting weights in the fitness center each night – including 250 on the bench for three reps. Twenty five more pounds than at home – it was on a machine though so it didn’t require as much use of the stabilizing muscles as a “true” bench press. Still felt good though!

Cardio: most of the month was ho-hum in this area. Being in a play (mentioned in the last post) did slow me down somewhat. However, one the play was finished I was able to step things back up so to speak. Also, as I mentioned above,  I took a trip to Colorado Springs. Nothing like a stay in the thin mountain air, hikes up a couple of hills (and 224 steps to the top of Seven Falls and another 185 to the Eagles Landing) and walking all over a spread out resort (the Broadmoor) and conference center to get those steps in!

Nutrition: I’m doing pretty well in this department. I hit my protein goals most days and stay below my carb goals. Fats, still an issue, but getting better. I’m finding some supplementation with protein drinks is really helping. I’m making my own smoothies starting this week as well. Now that my weight is down, I’m considering adding a few more calories per day to see if I can spur some additional muscle growth without adding fat. A challenge for anyone – let alone a middle age man with a history of being fat prone. But, if you don’t experiment you don’t learn, right?

Other Cool Things this Month: the biggest cool think I did this month was visit the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs as part of the aforementioned conference. Here I got to meet several Olympic and Paralympic athletes and I’ll post more about that later. But what a thrill it was to participate in an Olympic Flame lighting ceremony and meet so many athletes. If I needed any more motivation to keep working out, I got it that night. I may never have the body of a gymnast – the shoulders and biceps on those guys – but I can keep pushing my own personal limits.

And so can you.

Onward!

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Olympic gymnast Sam Mikulak having fun with a fan.

When Is a Man’s Arm Considered Big?

Over the years I’ve often wondered how do my overall measurements compare to the average guy – specifically my arms (I know how my weight compares). As I probably  stated before, I’ve always wanted to get my arms to 18″ (flexed, cold) and always seem to fall just short of my goal. Yeah, sometimes life just works out that way.

Now 18″ sure seems a reasonable size when you read about pro bodybuilders with 20, 21, or even 22″ arms. Granted, the pros are more than likely exaggerating their size to maintain a certain mystique, maintain their ego, and even to “psyche” out the competition.  Also, their size is very likely beyond the normal, non-chemically enhanced person. There are also experts, such as Ellington Darden – one of my favorite workout “gurus” of the eighties, who say that because of improper measuring almost all arm sizes are exaggerated (especially with a cloth tape which can add a quarter of an inch to the circumference because of the width of the tape itself).

Anyway,  finding out the stats on the average male arm was tougher than I thought! There are several articles and discussions on the web and they mostly point back to the same one or two sources – Men’s Health magazine among them – and the answer seems to be that an American man of 5’9.5″ at a body weight of 175 has arms which are 13″ in circumference. What I can’t find is if that’s a flexed or unflexed measurement. My guess is unflexed since 13″ seems a bit on the small side to me for a flexed arm of a fully grown man, but I could be wrong.

Now granted I’m a little taller and a lot heavier than the so-called “average” man I’ve referred to above, but in any case my arms are significantly larger than 13″ even unflexed (about 14.75″ unflexed – 16 flexed as of this morning). I, of course, don’t think my arms look that big, but I imagine that’s common among those of us who workout to get both bigger and stronger, and hanging around gyms and guys who workout does mean that I tend to be around people who are, on average, larger than average. Heck, my former training partner’s arms taped at around 18″ and I’ve compared myself to him for years – even when his arms where “only” about 16″ and mine where in that average neighborhood of 13″ (was I really that “small” once?).

My own personal obsession with big arms, and bodybuilding in general,  was probably strengthened when I was first diagnosed with Crohn’s and my weight dropped to below 140 lbs and my arms shrank to 11″ (flexed! – I was literally skin and bones at that point).

However, all the above are just statistics. I think ultimately, a man’s arm is considered big simply when it looks big. I know men who are relatively short (below 5’10”) and have arms that appear massive (Google any male gymnastic team). But in reality, they don’t tape over 16″. Likewise, there are tall men (6′ or more) who appear thin, but their arms tape at over 17″ (think basketball players). Perspective plays a big role in appearance. That along with bodyfat percentage and muscle shape (see examples below). 

Keep lifting, watch your diet so that your bodyfat stays low and ignore the tape. You’ll be surprised at how big your arms look. If you want to find out how big you are compared to other lifters and “recreational” bodybuilders check out my blog post here and participate in my survey to add to the data I’ve collected on this topic.

Oh, and wear shirts one size too small. That’s the fastest way to get big arms. But for the secret to building big arms (which isn’t a secret) look here.

I’m curious as to what other people think. When do you think an arm is “big?” And I, of course, mean in a solid, muscular way.

Onward!

NOTE: In September 2018 I researched average arm size again and found that 13″ still appears to be the standard for a 20 – 29 year old man. However, this number moves closer to 14″ in middle age (50+) presumably due to an increase in body fat however, not an increase in muscle mass. The 13″ arm is also based on a man of average height (in the USA about 5’9″. No doubt taller men may have naturally larger arms and there’s always that one guy out there who never trains but has the arms of a Mountain Gorilla anyway).

Olympic gymnast Jake Dalton. Noted for the size of his biceps – but at a height of 5’5″ his arms likely do not tape over 16″ (couldn’t find anything on Google). However, proportionately to his physique his build is impressive. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
The impressive arm of Peter K. Vaughn (@peter.kv on Instagram – check out his website ). On it’s own it appears big, but check the tape. At 16″ it’s not big by most traditional bodybuilding standards. However, excellent definition and muscle shape – particularly the peak of the bicep – contribute to the appearance of appearing larger than it is.
Here’s my arm at about the same size as Peter’s. It doesn’t appear as big due to my much higher bodyfat percentage and the relatively flat shape of my biceps. My forearm looks good though. For reference Peter and I are just about the same height (5’10” and 5’11” respectively).
Here’s my friend Ty Clifton, who is 6’3″ with a long, lean overall physique. On the left his arm measures 18″ and on the right 17.5″. Notice that the smaller arm looks larger due to the increased definition. Because of his height his arm needs to be larger than any of the others I’ve used as an example to appear to be big – which they are! (Photo courtesy of Ty Clifton on Instagram @bigcherryfit).