There is a common saying among the so-called bodybuilding purists that goes like this – ‘Squat for big arms.’ Many programs built around the barbell back squat such as ‘Starting Strength‘ and it’s child ‘StrongLifts’ claim that squats will add inches to your arms faster than anything else. Similar statements, however, are deprived of logic and are based mainly on broscience and misinterpretation of facts.
You don’t need squats to develop strong arms regardless of what the 5×5 maniacs say. In order for a muscle to grow, there must be growth stimulation.
This means that if you want your arms to grow, you have to train your upper-body. You cannot expect lower body exercises to take care of your upper musculature.
When you squat your arms are not supposed to hold the weight – they act as balancers and stabilizers and you don’t need strong arms to squat heavy weights.
There’s also a common misconception that squats are somehow supposed to magically make the body release extra testosterone and promote overall growth.
It’s been proven that the amount of testosterone released after squats is not much different than what’s released after the performance of other ‘smaller’ exercises like bench presses, pull-ups, push presses…etc.
The squat will mainly build your spinal erectors and legs and hips. It’s a lower body exercise during which a heavy barbell is being supported by your spine. The portion of the upper body that gets the most growth stimulus would be the back. The forearms and upper arms are also important for the safe and proper execution but they are far from being the primary movers.
There are sports like gymnastics which are obvious evidence that big arms are not dependent on squats. Male gymnasts usually have big arms, chest and back and modest lower body development because the specifics of their sport require it.
They rarely squat, although there are documented cases of gymnasts being required to squat 2 times bodyweight. However, this is definitely not the norm and many gymnastic coaches try to limit leg hypertrophy to a minimum.
With that being said good squatters tend to have bigger arms than the arm isolation crew because they usually understand programming better and focus on specific goals.
People who are dedicated to squatting heavy and often are usually putting more effort in the gym than the spoiled ‘bros’ obsessing over arms day and night.
However, what really determines arm size is: genetics, experience, training, nutrition and status – natural or not. Squats are not a factor.