Super Sizing Your Arms With Supersets

Sometimes I wonder if I was picked up out of the golden age of bodybuilding (with its behemoth free-weight lifters and their megasets) and dropped into the year 2000. In this era, sleek bodybuilders are attached to strange and shiny machines and are programmed like computer systems to do only what some pointy-headed nerd has decided is “efficient.”

I look around the gym, listen to the advice of many modern pros, and all I hear is “Don’t overtrain” and “Do only enough reps to get a pump; anything more will put the muscle into a deficit, and it will never recover.

That’s not how I was raised, and that’s not what I learned from the bodybuilders I consider to be legendary, such as Sergio Oliva, Bill Grant, John Brown, Robby Robinson, Nasser El Sonbaty and Chris Cormier. I’ve studied these guys so I’ll take their advice, thank you, which is that there are no such things as an “optimum pump” or “too many sets.” To these guys, the only thing a limit stands for is a threshold over which you must step in order to see what’s on the other side. That’s the attitude I’ve had ever since age 11, when I read my first bodybuilding magazine and promised myself I’d be the most muscular man in the world someday.

In those days, I didn’t have any weights, so I did literally hundreds of pushups and pullups every spare second I had, from the moment I awoke to the time I went to bed. Too many sets? I doubt I could even count that high. Optimum pump? I must have done a hundred reps beyond the point where my muscles had become numb, but I still kept going.

By the time I learned what a bodybuilding workout was, with its different exercises, sets and reps, there was no way I could be satisfied with what modern bodybuilders were doing, which was only three sets of three exercises per bodypart. That wasn’t even a warm-up for me. Furthermore, I had been reading about how Bill Grant, John Brown and Robby Robinson used to train. Just sensing their enthusiasm when they recalled their supersetting marathons got me so excited that I wanted to feel the same way.

Those guys also had the greatest arms I had ever seen and I wanted those arms on me, so the obvious conclusion was to do what they did: superset.

The impression among modern bodybuilders is that supersetting is one of those rare specialized techniques you throw into your program every month or so. For the old dinosaurs, though, it was a way of life. That’s how they trained arms every time, because that’s what works best for arms.

An arm is not a biceps plus a separate triceps, but an integral unit of both muscle groups. One group (the biceps) contracts the arm and the other (the triceps) extends it, and building maximum arm size means getting as much blood as possible into both groups simultaneously, while also fatiguing those muscles so much that it’s no longer possible for them to twitch. I call that whole process “maximizing muscle volume,” and it works only by supersetting.

I’ve been supersetting my arms for eight years. Now, at age 27, I’ll put mine up against those of any bodybuilder, of any age, for complete density and biceps-triceps balance. It has been an educational experience, and I’d like to share what I’ve learned about supersetting.

Begin with plenty of warm-ups for your elbows. Triceps exercises involve torque stress that can result in tendinitis of the elbows if they’re not properly lubed with blood, so I grab a five-pound plate and do three sets of overhead extensions, strict and tight.

The goal in supersetting is to get an equal simultaneous pump in your biceps and triceps, so the order in which you hit those muscles doesn’t matter as much as the combinations of exercises. For some workouts, I use a triceps-biceps order; in others, it’s biceps-triceps. The exercises I use together, however, are of equal difficulty; in other words, I won’t combine heavy barbell curls with one-arm cable extensions, or one-arm cable curls with heavy cambered-bar extensions.

I decide what superset combinations to use for that day, then set up the equipment so I don’t waste even a second going back and forth from one exercise to the other. If I’m supersetting barbell curls with pressdowns, I put the barbell on the floor near the pressdown machine so I can immediately turn around and grab it. If I’m doing cambered-bar curls and cambered-bar triceps extensions, I either use the same bar with the same weight or, if the poundages are different for the two movements, I load up a second bar and have it within easy reach.

The idea is to do one set to failure for biceps, followed immediately by another set to failure for triceps, or vice versa, for five nonstop supersets, a total of 10 nonstop sets.

The routine I’m giving you here comprises three different superset combinations, each composed of one biceps exercise and one triceps exercise. If you go to failure with every set, I guarantee you will have tears in your eyes from the pain long before you’re even halfway through; once you see the results, you’ll never want to return to straight sets for your arm workouts.


First, place the barbell on the floor near the pressdown machine you’ll be using so you will be ready to move back and forth quickly. Before you begin, concentrate on the areas that will be worked in each muscle group.
These are essential mass-building exercises; the curls build overall rounded biceps fullness, or volume, and the pressdowns pop out the wraparound effect of the horseshoe area of the triceps.

Barbell “21” curls consist of 21 total reps performed as three different nonstop movements of seven reps each: The first seven are only the top half of the curl (from half extension to full contraction); the second seven are complete curls (from full extension to full contraction); and the third seven are only the bottom half of the curl (from full extension to half contraction).

To equalize the pump throughout the arms, the pressdowns need to be heavy but performed with relatively high reps to burn the horseshoe. I do 15, but as I approach failure, I bias my body over the cable to utilize every last ounce of power.


These are both classic muscle-belly movements: the curls building maximum mass from the lower insertions to the upper insertions of the biceps and the extensions creating that hanging weight in the center of the triceps.

While every repetition should be felt precisely in these areas, it doesn’t hurt to add some body thrust, without cheating, to keep the set going as long as possible. Power the rep upward, but resist during the descent, tightening as the weight is lowered.

I recommend 10 reps for each movement in the superset.


With these unilateral movements, I superset one arm at a time, performing a set of cable curls for the right arm followed by a set of pressdowns for the right arm. Then I move to the left arm.

As the last superset in the workout, I use these movements to isolate as much power as possible into the peaks of both muscles. I squeeze hard at the top of the curl for a peak contraction in the apex of the biceps and crimp hard with a slight twist outward at the bottom of the pressdown to totally fatigue the inner triceps. Don’t use power thrusts with the body here; only the arm should move, squeezing all the way.

The best pump comes from 15 reps per set of curls and 10 reps per set of pressdowns.

I love to superset arms, so I use many different combinations; this workout is one of the cruelest and, therefore, one of my all-time favorites. There’s no way you
can cheat your way through this one. Even if you throw the weight around in a sloppy manner and stop before failure, you’ll still get a burn if you complete all your sets and reps. That’s the great thing about supersets: They are your boss, not vice versa.

Standing barbell “21” curls
Standing cambered-bar curls
Seated cambered-bar extensions
One-arm cable curls
One-arm pressdowns

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *