So you want sick arms: A guide

In honor of the new year, we’ll be posting a series of articles over the next month to help you look and feel the best you’ve even been.
Arms are kind of like your emissaries. You probably wear t-shirts and tank tops before you wear shorts, so these are an immediate indication that you give a shit about your body. They aren’t the final word on your fitness, but they’re a good indication to the world that, “Yeah, I work out.”

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Ladies, STOP being afraid to bench.
Bench press

Ah yes, the king of bro-xercise. Everyone wants to know, “How much you bench?”. It is actually a very good all-around measure of upper body strength. It’s not the end-all, be-all that old men across the nation make it out to be, but it’s a good exercise for everyone. It hits your triceps hard, as well as shoulders, back, and chest.

Ideally, you want to lay on the bench, back arched, with your feet on the floor behind your knees. If you can’t get them back there, it’s OK, but don’t be one of those people that keeps their feet off the ground when they bench. Lower the bar just below your breast (on your sternum, and don’t bounce the bar), arms at roughly a 45 degree angle from your body. Don’t let those wings flap out! Your hands should grip the bar where the outer notch is in the knurling. If you don’t have that notch, have your hands about a fist’s width outside of the shoulder. Men should aim their one-rep max to be 1.5x their bodyweight and women should want to press .9-1x their bodyweight for their 1RM.

No gym? No problem! Just do push-ups and graduate to harder variations for more resistance.

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An Iraqi recruit performs a training test with good form.
Pull-ups

Pull-ups are hard. So hard, that the vast majority of women and most men are unable to do a single strict-form one. So if you can’t do at least 3 (no kipping!), start with your feet on the ground. Beginning here, you can build up to the real thing. There’s no shame in it. Everyone starts somewhere.

These will work every part of your arms, as well as your traps and give you very pleasing definition in your upper back. I recommend using the true pull-up (palms facing away from you), but if you want to focus more of the work on your arms, versus your lats, chin-ups (palms facing toward you) work as well.

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This is both much easier and much harder than it looks.
Tire pulls (or Cable pulls)

You want to look like a badass? Attach a thick rope to a tractor tire and pull it around. Their execution is simple, but challenging. Feet planted, both hands on rope, one arm pulls, and you keep going, hand over hand.

If your gym doesn’t have tires, they’re too massive for you at this point, and/or you don’t want to buy your own, one-handed cable pulls will emulate it (though won’t look as awesome), and allow you to adjust the weight a lot easier. Hopefully, your gym would have a rope handle attachment for the machine, but if not, use whichever is most comfortable.

Photo by Harley Madden
Yep. There it is. A curl.
Curls: The elephant in the room

So obviously, I didn’t cover this one, and chances are, you’re wondering why. Well, there’s the saying “curls for the girls,” meaning that curls are to show off to women. If you’re reading this, you may very well BE a woman. No matter your gender, the other exercises listed should take care of your arms, as well as adding to overall strength and aesthetics. That’s really my biggest problem with curls: they’re just a little too focused on a specific body part.

However, I will say that they are an excellent complementary exercise, and if you want some serious mass in your arms, 8 to 12 reps per arm is solid hypertrophy range. If you are more focused on performance, crank out 5 reps/arm and cycle with 20-25 reps per arm (using different weights for each, duh). This will give you a nice mix of strength and endurance, without adding a ton of bulk.

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