5 Reasons to Do Direct Arm Work (they lied to you…again)

| by Truth Seeker |

1. Arm Growth Optimization

Maximal results require a maximal focus.

Professional photographers produce stunning photos because they dedicate their lives to the craft.

Composers come up with otherworldly compositions because they obsessively polish their harmonies.

Painters give life to the blank canvas by spending most of their waking hours painting.

There are no coincidences. People develop high-level skills by working towards a specific goal instead of taking a roundabout way.

Of course, talent is of utmost importance. But even if you are talented, a stronger dedication will catapult you even further.

Why should arm development be any different? It really isn’t. If you want to maximize your arm size and strength, working the biceps and triceps directly makes perfect sense.

Instead of hoping that the big lifts will trigger alien arm growth, why not hit the area with the greatest possible intensity and accuracy?

2. Compound Movements Are Not Enough for Everybody

The muscle constructors who experience the greatest biceps and triceps hypertrophy from compound lifts are usually limb-dominant specimens a.k.a. lifters whose arms have a greater market share in the lift. More often than not, the men in that group have short arms.

If you don’t fall in that category, chances are that multi-joints exercises (e.g., chin-ups) will have a greater effect on your torso muscles (chest, lats, deltoids) than on the arms.

Somewhat ironically, as you become more advanced, the involvement of the big torso muscles during compound lifts increases.

For example, experienced lifters have a stronger mind-muscle connection with the lats and can generate greater explosiveness with the back which reduces the contribution of the biceps during the lift even more.

Most torso-dominant lifters have longer arms which are harder to fill out. Therefore, those men experience two strikes against them when trying to sculpt their arms solely with compound lifts.

If you have been working out for a while, and your arms are still small in relation to the rest of your body, or if you just want to maximize your arm growth to the fullest, ramping up the chin-up and bench press volume won’t do it.

If those movements have failed to provide optimal growth before why would they do it later?

Don’t Confuse Participation with Optimal Stress

The participation of a muscle group in an exercise does not guarantee growth.

For instance, the long head of the triceps works during pull-ups, but when was the last time you missed a chin-up because your triceps were fried?

If a muscle does not have a significant contribution to a lift, then that lift will rarely elicit optimal hypertrophy for that muscle.

3. Elbow health

Strength routines built around the squat, bench, and the deadlift often lack biceps work. As a result, some lifters experience instability and even joint pain during pressing exercises due to weak arm flexors.

This isn’t surprising. The biceps crosses the elbow and the shoulder and plays an important stabilizing role during pushing movements like the bench press, especially the wide grip variations.

When the muscle is weak, and the bench fails to strengthen it, it’s very logical to work it directly. A great deal of bench press specialists integrate curls in their routines for that reason.

Direct triceps work is beneficial too even though many people consider exercises like triceps extensions elbow destroyers.

It’s true that triceps isolation can impose unhealthy stress on the triceps tendons and the ligaments of the outer elbow, but when applied with proper methodology, it could turn into an elbow strengthener.

To avoid elbow pain from direct triceps work, consider the following framework:

  1. Do stressful exercises for higher reps.

One of the ways to mitigate elbow damage from triceps drills is to do the exercises that stress the connective tissues the most for higher repetitions.

This strategy forces the lifters to use lighter loads, warm-ups the area by pumping it with blood, and encourages stricter form.

Moreover, longer pump sets are considered connective tissue friendly because the tendons and the ligaments enjoy a supply of blood absent during low-rep strength work.

Or in simpler words, if a triceps isolation exercise is generating elbow pain, consider lightening the load and increasing the number of repetitions greatly to 12-20 per set. Also, limit the frequency of those movements to 1-2 a week.

Of course, you could also drop the movement if you want to.

  1. Do triceps friendly exercises.

Not every extension is an elbow killer. Most people can do the PJR pullovers without any issues. The movement is very good for hitting the long head of the triceps too.

List of elbow friendly triceps isolation exercises: PJR pullovers, straight arm pullovers, reverse triceps extensions (palms facing you).

Example triceps routine

Weighted dips or close grip bench press– 3×8-10

PJR pullovers – 3×8-10

Rope pushdowns – 3×15

4. Carryover to the Main Lifts

The professors always say how compounds movements build your arms. Well, the opposite is also true – strong arms have a great carryover to multi-joint exercises.

Direct arm work can boost your main upper body lifts.

5. Nothing to Lose

What is the worst that could happen if you introduce direct arm work to your training life?

At best, you’ll get bigger and stronger arms; at worst, you’ll get injured.

If you program your arm routine with respect to your abilities, arm movements are not that dangerous. The risk of hurting yourself during big lifts is greater.

Frequently Asked Questions

But they told me that arm exercises will interfere with my 5×5 routine and hinder my recovery!?

They lied to you. A few sets of curls will not destroy your recuperation capabilities. The arms are small muscles and recover fairly quickly.

Arm training is relatively easy on the CNS too. Don’t listen to the 5×5 maniacs who try to fix every problem by squatting more. This is a part of their marketing strategy.

What about the minimalist powerlifters? All they do is squat, bench and deadlift…and yet they have huge arms.

Firstly, many powerlifters do lots of “bodybuilding” exercises like curls. Secondly, the minimalist powerlifters who rely solely on the big lifts get their big arms not because they skip direct arm work but in spite of it.

Also, don’t forget that many of those powerlifters are on drugs allowing them to carry a greater percentage of muscle mass. When you are 240lbs, and most of it is lean body mass, your arms will be big even if you don’t hit them directly because the body grows proportionately.

Isn’t there something magical about compound exercises that triggers quicker arm growth?

No. It’s all in your head. You’ve been brainwashed. Compounds produce better overall gains but do not have the capacity to trigger arm growth that cannot be achieved solely through isolation exercises.

But they told me that big lifts cause greater arm growth because I can lift more weight!?

You can lift more weight because those lifts engage more muscle mass. For example, during chin-ups, you may be pulling your bodyweight, but you are not lifting it solely with your biceps.

If the biceps were that active, the pull-up masters should be able to curl a great percentage of their bodyweight, and yet this is rarely the case.

Is it true that squats and deadlifts will help me build my arms quicker?

Regardless of what the sellers of natty hope say, squats and deadlifts are leg and back exercises and do nothing to trigger arm growth. You don’t have to do either of those lifts to maximize your arm size.

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7 comments

  1. asdf

    Can I substitute Zercher squats for curls?

      1. Andy

        Truth Seeker, if my wrists are 15 cm, what’s the maximum arm size do you think I can get?

        1. Truth Seeker Post author

          No one can tell.

          Brutalize them for a year and you’ll get an idea.

  2. Zagor

    Unlike direct ab work, training your arms directly is non negotiable.

  3. Andy

    Truth seeker, the thing is: Brett has 17 cm wrista, and he has 15 inch arms. I doubt that I can have that in a lean condition with 15 cm.
    What’s your arm size and wrist size to get an idea, man. Than you!

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