I could lie and tell you I've got a list of magical exercises. But frankly, any arm workout that suggests simply following a list of exercises without much thought to anything else is going to fall short of success.
There are at least five critical variables linked to muscle growth you need to consider when designing an arm workout. Choosing the best exercises is just one of those factors.
IFBB pro physique competitor and Cellucor-sponsored athlete Craig Capurso incorporates all of these variables into his sleeve-splitting biceps-and-triceps routine. In addition to the exercises, he gives you a bunch of bells and whistles aimed at igniting anabolism through volume, reps, loads, and a range of intensities. Capurso's approach, which is geared toward experienced lifters, will give you an edge in your quest for ultimate arms.
For the moment, set aside your 4-sets-of-10 mentality. Let Capurso walk you through the highlights of the workout that's guaranteed to supercharge your gains!
The Power of Progression
You'll progress the workout by performing your heaviest sets with your 6RM first, then reducing the weight as your muscles grow fatigued. This method will help you generate a massive muscle pump by the end of your session.
Supersets are also a key component of this workout. A superset is a pair of exercises—in this case, one for biceps, then one for triceps—you perform back to back with no rest period between the two; you rest only after you complete a pair of movements. The biceps and triceps are antagonist muscle groups, so fatigue caused by the first move in each superset shouldn't impact the second one. "You should also generate greater blood flow in the form of a significant pump." Bonus: You'll finish the workout faster."
For each pair of movements, Capurso offers a different prescription.
1. Start With a Heavy 5x5 Superset to Signal a Greater Strength Stimulus
Stepping outside the hypertrophy rep range of 8-12, Capurso intentionally increases the load on the initial superset based on the popular 5-sets-of-5-reps strength-building scheme. "That delivers a stronger strength stimulus than a lighter load would, which helps set the foundation for the volume to come," says Capurso. "Choose a weight at which you can complete just six reps with good form—your 6RM. Leave a rep in the tank."
Load isn't the only anabolic factor at work here; so is the choice of exercises. Standing EZ-bar curls and EZ-bar skulls are both movements that allow you to load up more weight than you can on a number of other arm movements, making them solid choices to do early in your workout.
2. Increase Volume With a Moderately Loaded Superset
Next, you'll progress to relatively lighter weights, this time based on your 8-rep max (8RM). "Work through the entire rep curve, so you get strength, hypertrophy, and endurance all in a single workout," he says. The rep target here is at the lower end of the muscle-building rep range.
To account for accumulating fatigue, Capurso makes a further adjustment to the load based on testing he's done with clients he trains. "There's about a 15 percent degradation in strength, given the rest intervals and built-up fatigue, so I compensate by backing off a strict 8RM," he says. "If you take 80 percent of your 8RM, that'll serves you better to complete all 4 sets at the rep target." For example, if you normally do 80 pounds for 8—and only 8—clean reps of one of the given movements, use 68 pounds instead. Round up to 70.
The movements Capurso includes in the second combo are the incline-bench dumbbell curl (not alternating; lift the dumbbells simultaneously), which emphasizes the biceps' long head; and the seated overhead dumbbell extension, a long-head triceps movement. You'll have to split the weight in half in the above example for biceps, so use 35-pound dumbbells instead of 40s. With the triceps exercise, if your 8RM was 80 pounds, use 70 instead.
3. Use Ladders in This Body-Weight Superset
The Smith machine is your next destination for a pair of alternating bodyweight movements. Instead of loading the bar, combine push-and-pull bodyweight movements in a ladder-type sequence, which is essentially a dropset scheme. (The dropset increases the biomechanical advantage because the second half is easier than the first.)
You'll need to watch the accompanying videos to nail this move. Once you complete 10 reps of a given movement, move the bar on the Smith machine up 1-2 notches, which essentially makes the movement a little easier, or bring your feet a little closer to the bar. Either way, do 10 more reps. You'll string together two segments in the ladder, doing 10 reps at each stop but stopping short of failure. If you can't reach 10 reps, adjust your foot position or starting bar level to ensure you can.
For the biceps sequence, start in a supine position and pull yourself up. The triceps extension is done in a prone position.
4. Follow With High-Rep Rest-Pause Supersets
Feeling a pump yet? It's about to get a whole lot worse! Capurso heads over to a cable station and attaches a rope to an adjustable pulley. (He uses the bottom and top positions). For the biceps portion, wheel over an incline bench or use the steep side of the preacher bench for what are called spider curls, a more difficult short-head variation of the standard preacher curl. The pulley should be set as low as the apparatus allows.
Here, the load and rep schemes are a bit tricky. For every pound you use for both arm moves, you'll have to do that same number of reps. So if you use 30 pounds, your rep target is 30. As a starting place, Capurso recommends beginners choose 20, intermediates do 30, and advanced lifters start with 40. Don't expect to make it all the way. When you don't, incorporate rest-pause sets until you reach your rep target. Say you do only 30 reps, but your goal is 40. Well, take a 15-second break, and do as many more as you can. Continue alternating rest and work until you reach your rep target.
On the triceps half of the superset, reposition the pulley to the top and do push-downs, an effective lateral-head move. Use the same rest-pause approach you used with the spider curls.
5. Tabata Finishing Superset to Leave You Limp
If your feel like your arms are about to explode, you have them right where you want them, according to Capurso. He has one more superset in store, and this one is done Tabata-style, meaning 8 20-second segments of work, each separated by 10 seconds of rest. This protocol lasts 4 minutes before you switch to the antagonist muscle group.
"It's the perfect finisher; your muscles are already pumped, and this will squeeze out every last bit of energy they have left," he says. "The pump will be more pronounced than anything you've ever achieved in the past."
The biceps movement, which Capurso calls the "Craig curl," is unusual, so check out the accompanying video. After you complete the 4-minute assault on your biceps, do diamond (close-grip) push-ups. Follow the same 20-seconds-work/10-seconds-rest treatment.
Making the Ultimate Arm Workout Fit for You
A high-octane arm assault requires a commensurate approach to post-workout nutrition and recovery. Even if you address those appropriately, you may be so sore that further upper-body training the following day will be adversely affected. Inserting a rest or even leg day here might work best.
Consider the first time you do this as a test run, so you can determine the appropriate loads while still ensuring you're not swinging the weights, suggests Capurso. He emphasizes this should not be a sloppy effort. Keep strict form—that's one reason he's backed off strict weights at the beginning of the workout. Jotting down your loads will help you better determine where to start the next time through.
Admittedly, this approach is high volume. But high volume is a proven method to break down muscle fibers and stimulate growth. Capurso suggests you do this program just two times a month on consecutive weeks. Next month, he says, try it again, albeit with slightly heavier loads.
Sure, it's an unconventional approach to brutalize your arms, but that's sometimes what you have to try when conventional strategies fail.