Training Tips for Bigger Arms

Q: I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to do pushdowns. I see some people at the gym standing up straight, using very strict form with elbows pinned at their sides, while others bend forward over the bar with elbows away from their sides. Which is best?

A: They’re both pushdown movements, but they’re actually two different exercises. When you do pushdowns with strict form, elbows pinned at your sides, torso perpendicular to the floor, you’re isolating the triceps and getting them closer to their completely contracted position. I suggest you do them one arm at a time with a rope or crossover handle so you can pull your arm back behind your torso at the finish of each rep and squeeze hard. That’s the triceps’ true fully contracted position.

The other, less-strict version-bending forward, elbows flaring-is a compound movement for the triceps, in which you more or less simulate a close-grip decline-bench press. This exercise brings in the pecs and front delts so you attack the muscle with synergy, or muscle teamwork, and you can use much

Which is better? For most people the strict version is best because you get plenty of compound triceps work with standard bench presses and incline presses. You can, however, work both pushdown movements into a POE triceps routine, as follows:

Bent-forward pushdowns 2 x 8-10
Overhead extensions 2 x 8-10
Strict pushdowns 2 x 8-10
(preferably using one arm at a time)

Q: When I do incline curls, I really feel them stretching my biceps, but I have one question: Should I be supinating my hands as I curl?

A: The incline dumbbell curl is a stretch-position movement for your biceps, so you want to do everything possible to emphasize the stretch. Supination, or turning your hands from a knuckles-forward position at the bottom to palms up at the top, emphasizes contraction, not stretch, and the knuckles-forward position at the bottom of an incline curl actually reduces the biceps stretch.

With that in mind, keep your palms facing forward throughout the set on incline curls. This will cause more elongation at the bottom, stretch position, the part of the rep that’s most important on this exercise. Also remember not to pause in the stretch position; keep the weight moving. Pausing at the bottom can cause the biceps to relax, deactivating muscle fibers.

As for supination, use this technique on concentration curls, where you want to emphasize biceps contraction. Twist your hand so your little finger is higher than your thumb at the top of each rep, and squeeze the heck out of your biceps for a good second or two before lowering the dumbbell.

Q: I’ve been training hard for about six months, but I haven’t worked my forearms at all. I would like to use the POF forearm routine. Do you have any suggestions?

A: Yes, don’t do the complete POE forearm routine. I suggest you do one exercise for your forearm flexors, the muscles on the undersides of your lower arms, and one for your forearm extensors, the muscles on the tops of your lower arms.

For example, after your biceps work, do one set of reverse curls-with an EZ-curl bar if you have one-and one set of wrist curls. Remember, you get plenty of indirect forearm work from all the gripping you do during other exercises. You can do the full POE forearm routine after you’re more advanced, when and if you need lower-arm specialization, but I don’t recommend the full routine even for most advanced bodybuilders. Two exercises usually does the trick because of the amount of indirect forearm stimulation bodybuilders get.

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