Why Everyone Should Train Their Arms Directly


Friday at the gym…it’s arm day. #FatArmFridays #ArmDay #BisandTrisForDayz

The above would describe my 4 years of high school, and most of my college years as well. Most guys who are into working out will agree with this statement to some extent. Fridays were always the day where your would hit every variation of biceps, and every variation of triceps exercise you could think of.

Fast forward to post-college. Reading articles, endlessly self studying, and digging deep into the training world through continuing education, and working with mostly “general fitness/weight loss” clients lead me to the close minded conclusion of:

Direct arm work isn’t “functional” nor does it demand a lot of effort (calorie burn), and as long as you do heavy rows and presses, you don’t need to train the arms directly.

Fast forward to now.

Here is what I know:

  1. If you want to train arms directly, go for it. It’s your choice, and there is something that science can never “prove” about the good ol feeling of a great arm pump.
  2. Physiologically and anatomically speaking – if you have shorter arms, and are of shorter stature, you can more likely get pretty solid arm development through rowing and pressing movements – but this is still dependent on tendon lengths.
  3. If you have longer arms and want to build your arms up, you probably need to focus a little more on direct arm work.
  4. Last, but not least, direct arm work is indeed VERY functional…

This last point is what I would like to focus on.


Let’s look deeper:

Image result for arm muscle

Triceps – Function – The triceps is an extensor muscle of the elbow joint and an antagonist of the biceps and brachialis muscles. It can also fixate the elbow joint when the forearm and hand are used for fine movements.

So even if your goal isn’t to develop some sexy horseshoe triceps, they help tremendously with extending at the elbow – any time you straighten your arm – OR – they work to help fixate the arm for fine motor skills with the wrist or hands – like while writing, knitting, typing, opening jars of pickles, etc.

In other words, pretty important.

Biceps – Function – The biceps has three primary functions. The most important of these functions is to supinate the forearm (rotate forearm to palm up position) and flex the elbow (pull the hand towards the shoulder). It also contributes slightly to flexion at the shoulder (raising the arm forward and overhead).

Again, even if you aren’t trying to build a solid set of 22″ pythons, the biceps are very important when it comes to lifting anything up, and overhead – along with rotating and performing fine motor skills of the arm.

So why can’t you just focus on heavy presses and rows or pulldowns/chin ups?

There are plenty of factors that could be named here, but the biggest one is some people just aren’t ready or physically able to row or press heavy without potentially hurting other parts of their body – in other word usually the shoulder health or their grip strength is limiting.

So train your arms directly.

1-3 times per week – for 6-12 total sets of each per week – 8-20 reps per set- and that should be the sweet spot that most people need to get the minimum effective dose for overall functional benefits.

On a final note: you don’t need to train the arms super heavy – but focus more on getting maximum contraction of the target muscle.

When performing tricep exercises, get full extension (straightening) at the elbow, and squeeze our triceps HARD, then try to keep tension while returning to a flexed position.

When performing biceps exercises, focus on controlling the weight, and squeezing HARD when the elbow joint is fully flexed (forearm close to your bicep) AND slightly flexing at the shoulder joint when at the top (think about driving your elbows up an inch or two at the top end of the curl). Control the weight down, and keep tension in the bicep the whole time.

There you have it, why the arms should be trained directly – whether or not you want them to look better – but really, who doesn’t?

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Stay healthy my friends,

Published by Mike Gorski

Registered Dietitian and Fitness Coach OWNER OF MG FIT LIFE LLC

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