by Tony Gjokaj March 10, 2020 7 min read

The arms are one most heavily sought after muscles to grow, and it makes sense: it's typically the first muscles we see in a t-shirt.

Lean arms are visually appealing to both a man and a woman.

In this post, we will discuss the anatomy and function of the biceps, triceps, and forearms. In addition, we will go over the best strategies and exercises for overall development.

This is an excerpt from our Muscle Compendium eBook.

Biceps

Anatomy and Function of the Biceps

The Biceps are a muscle group that consists of two muscles, or “heads” that work together. These muscles control the motion of both the shoulder and elbow joints. Our biceps are used in both lifting and pulling movements, and allow us to bend the arm and rotate our forearms.

The biceps have three main functions:

  • Bicep Curling (elbow flexion)
  • Moving the arm up (shoulder flexion)
  • Turning your palm upwards (forearm supination)

Understanding these main functions, you can utilize the following balloon-building bicep strategies in the following section.

Bicep Training Strategies

According to a study by Oliveira (2009), it’s important to note that you should train them in various angles to achieve these functions. We will discuss this in this section!

  •  Do your pull-ups. One of the more underrated exercises for bicep development is the pull-up. This assists in the shoulder flexion portion of the movement, targeting the long head of the bicep. Remember that while you will get bicep development from doing a regular pull up, you may do an underhand (chin-up) to target your bicep more.
  • Full Range of Motion. Remember that the bicep assists with elbow flexion, so when curling at the top, make sure you extend at the bottom portion of the movement as well – extending your tricep. Do NOT hyperextend your elbow joint (for safety reasons).
  • Do curling exercises that bring the bicep in front of you.To describe more accurately, curling exercises that bring the bicep in front of you would be the standing Barbell Curl. In this exercise, you want to curl your bicep in a forward movement, similar to the shape of the letter “J”. At the top of this movement, you want to squeeze the bicep for just a second.
  • Do curling exercises that are “behind your torso”. To describe this accurately, picture an incline dumbbell curl where your biceps are behind your torso. The exercise starts at an extended position, so bringing it to the top portion of the movement will provide a strong contraction.
  • Do curling exercises that are “in front of your torso”. On the opposite side of the spectrum, doing an exercise like the preacher curl will help the bicep movement in the first part of the rising movement.
  • Find the exercise variations that cause better contractions for you. For example, I find that a standing barbell curl will give huge contractions and a solid workout for the biceps. However, when it comes to isolated exercises like the preacher curl, I feel the bicep being worked during a Hammer Curl variation.
  • Use higher rep ranges when it comes to isolating your biceps. When doing bicep exercises, use rep ranges of 8-12, 10-15, and 15-20 when you can. For the heavier bicep exercises, stay on the lower end. For cable exercises, stay on the higher end.
  • For optimal bicep training and recovery, do at least 6-16 sets per week. The reason for this is that biceps do tend to get worked when you’re working out your back, so they do tend to get overworked if you push past this amount of volume. Remember that these muscles are small and they respond quite easily.

The Triceps

Anatomy and Function of the Triceps

The Triceps are a muscle that allows for extending and bending of the forearm. In addition, the muscle itself serves as a stabilizer muscle for the shoulder joint.

The Triceps has the following main functions:

  • The short head allows for the arm to be stretched or extended (shoulder extension)
  • The long head allows for the arm to be extended overhead (shoulder flexion)

Keeping these movements in mind, we replicate these exact movements to strengthen the triceps. To build some horseshoes on your arms, check out the following section on Tricep strategies.

Tricep Training Strategies

  • Doing heavy flat bench pressing will develop the short head of the triceps significantly. As the bench press is a compound movement, this means it targets multiple muscle groups. Heavy bench presses will develop the triceps through heavier exercise loads.
  • When doing skull crushers or tricep overhead extensions, do this:When you bring the dumbbell or barbell to your forehead, move the dumbbells/barbell over your head and extend in a “tricep kickback” motion. Doing this will make the exercise more challenging and you’ll feel a massive pump through this range of motion.
  • Emphasize the long head of your triceps. When you bench and do pressing movements, the long head of our triceps doesn’t really get worked. With that being said, do overhead extension exercises to target the long head.
  • When doing dumbbell extensions, try using a kettlebell if you have them available. Want to feel a massive pump? Try using kettlebells for overhead tricep extensions. You’ll feel a massive pump and tension on your tricep muscles in this way!
  • Use higher rep ranges when it comes to isolating your triceps. When doing tricep exercises, use rep ranges of 8-12, 10-15, and 15-20 when you can. For the heavier tricep exercises, stay on the lower end. For cable exercises, stay on the higher end.

The Forearms

Anatomy and Function of the Forearms

Although the forearms are a smaller muscle group, they are pretty complex in that they consist of many small muscles. To begin, understand that the forearm muscles assist in moving the fingers. So it is important to improve these muscles so that grip strength is increased as well.

The forearm muscles in the front assist with the following:

  • Turning the wrist upwards (wrist flexion)
  • Gripping your fingers tight (finger flexion)

The forearm muscles in the back assist with the following:

  • Turning the wrist downwards (wrist extension)
  • Expanding your fingers outward (finger extension)

If you cannot open a jar of peanut butter or grip bags for long-distance, you may need to focus on the next section’s strategies for grip development.

Forearm Training Strategies

  • Perform a wrist flexion and extension exercise. This means you should finish an arm workout with a wrist curl and a wrist extension to give yourself effective forearm development.
  • Get some FatGripz to challenge your training. Use Fat Gripz during Farmer’s Walks, Hammer Curls, and even Bicep curls. Use these sparingly: they could cause wrist issues if overworked, AND they can minimize muscular development in other areas.
  • Reverse Grip or Overhand grips for forearm development. Using a reverse grip on a barbell or an overhand dumbbell curl will help target the brachioradialis muscle. Keep in mind that this minimizes bicep development.
  • Do heavy deadlifts for static grip strength and forearm development. Recall that heavy deadlift exercises will challenge isometric grip strength and even improve forearm development. Our grip tends to loosen up through Deadlift duration and maximal load, so using chalk rather than straps will help emphasize forearm development.
  • Remember to utilize farmer’s walks and shrugs! Recall in our trapezius section that farmer’s walks and shrugs stretch the trapezius muscles to provide additional back development. These exercises help improve grip strength and forearm development as well!

Effective Arm Exercises

When it comes to the most effective arm exercises for development, you will find that some compound movements from other sections will overlap. Some of these exercises will provide an indirect, but highly effective arm development (these exercises will be indicated with a *). 

For example, in the deadlift, we target our biceps and forearms, and they can provide great isometric development in these muscles in that the heavier they are, the stronger these muscle groups could get. Strength development does improve the opportunity for hypertrophic response (muscle growth), so training the arms in isolation will provide improved development.

Biceps

Remember that when it comes to the biceps, you want to have the following:

  • Curls in front of the torso, like the preacher curl.
  • Curls behind the torso, like the incline dumbbell curl.
  • Curls in front of you, like the standing barbell curl.

With that in mind, here are a few exercises you can target your biceps with:

  • Barbell Curl
  • Bayesian Curls:Try these. If you do it right, your biceps will be burning!
  • Incline Dumbbell Curl:never can go wrong with this exercise!
  • Preacher Curl:If done properly, it can help your biceps explode.
  • Chin-Ups*:Perfect for a “Pull Day”.
  • Inverted Barbell Row*:Pretty solid development for your back days. Perfect for a “Pull Day”.

Triceps

Here are some exercises you can use to push your development:

  • Flat Bench Press*
  • Close-Grip Bench Press*:Has recently become one of my favorite triceps exercises.
  • Dumbbell Skullcrushers:Great in isolating your triceps and putting less strain on your joints.
  • Dumbbell Overhead Extension:Try a kettlebell variation and FEEL the burn!
  • Cable Kickbacks:Highly underrated and have always done me well.

Forearms

  • Dumbbell Wrist Curls/Extensions
  • Reverse Grip Barbell Curls
  • Farmer’s Walks*
  • Fat Grip Wide Dumbbell Shrugs*:KILLER!
  • Deadlifts*:Deadlifts have given me my best forearm development.

Arm Training Summary

When it comes to training your arms, you can summarize it like this: they respond easily and recover quickly. Being that you utilize your biceps and triceps on your chest and back exercises, this provides us with the benefit of training our biceps and triceps with direct work. It’s important to note, however, that too much volume on your biceps and triceps can be detrimental to your chest and back exercises.

Biceps

In training the Biceps, 8-16 weekly sets are ideal. Since they recover quickly, you can spread your volume over 2-4x weekly. With the biceps, training in the 8-15 rep range and the occasional 20 reps can be used. For the best development, train using a variety of curls (Hammer Curls, Barbell Curls, Preacher curls, and so on).

Triceps

In training the Triceps, 10-14 weekly sets are all you need. This is because this muscle is commonly trained in pressing movements like the Bench Press or Shoulder press. If following the weekly set recommendations, you can recover quickly and can spread your volume of 2-4 days weekly. Finally, the best development occurs in the 8-20 rep ranges.

Forearms

In training the forearms, direct work might not necessarily be needed if you utilize Farmer’s Walks, Shrugs, and heavy Deadlifts. However, if you are emphasizing forearm development, be sure to take your weekly bicep sets into account. The biceps are also trained with the forearms.

An Al-ARM-ing Conclusion

I couldn't resist a cringe-worthy pun, but here we are.

With this conclusion, we really hope you understand everything you need in developing muscular and powerful arms. 

Have anything you would like to add? Throw them in the comments below and let's discuss!

Tony Gjokaj
Tony Gjokaj

Tony is the Owner of Reforged Performance Nutrition. He has been in the fitness space for over a decade, previously coaching individuals in body recomposition and strength training. His goal is to connect others with the knowledge they need to reach their greatest potential.


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