When I was quite new to being a personal trainer, I once overheard another personal trainer talking to his client. His client had just asked him, ‘how do I get my upper body to grow – especially my arms?’ The reply I heard from the personal trainer, who was a massive bodybuilder, was the following, and at the time I cringed a bit inside. He said this back to his client: ‘You see mate, if you think about it, the arms are just the legs of the upper body’. His client looked as confused as I felt.
BUT, he was absolutely right. What he meant, was that everyone always bangs on about leg day. About how hard they’re going to train their legs. Until they’re burning, so hard they can’t walk the next day kind of hard. But no one pushes themselves that hard when they train their arms. There seems to be a different kind of mind-set when people walk into the gym to train a legs session compared to an upper body or arms session. In my view, you don’t need to absolutely go mad in every gym session you do. But what you do need in each and every session in the gym, is a purposeful mind-set. There seems to be a lack of focus when actually executing the movement. Let’s take something as simple as a straight bar bicep curl with dumbbell skull crusher superset, and break down what I’m talking about. For those I train through online personal training or in the studio, this is nothing new, and is actually the first thing I teach a new client, which is how to understand the importance of tempo.
In my programmes, I will write into the tempo section the length of time I want each of my clients to spend on each part of the rep. For example, I will write a tempo as follows (in red):
Each of the four numbers represents a different part of the movement, starting with the eccentric (stretching) phase of the lift. I choose 3 seconds for the ‘down’ part of the movement for a few reasons. The first is muscle damage. To make your muscles repair themselves, you have to damage them – you have to tear the muscle tissue- and this only happens as the muscle fibres are stretched under load. So 3 seconds on the way down is the first crucial bit. The next number is a 0, which means there is no pause between completing the ‘down’ phase of the lift and beginning the ‘up’ (concentric) phase. The ‘up’ phase is marked as a ‘1’, which means that it should take one second to move the weight up. This isn’t done by swinging the weight up. If you squeeze your biceps hard enough, the weight will move back up to the top position (That’s how you should determine the weight of your dumbbells by the way). You then squeeze as hard as you can at the top position, because it’s marked as another ‘1’ before you start the ‘3’ phase again. You squeeze so you can drive as much fluid and swelling as possible into the muscle, which is another way it will grow. Imagine you are pumping a bicycle tyre up with every rep.
So, each rep should actually take 5 seconds to complete. There are 12 reps in the set, so that’s 1 whole minute of constant tension and squeezing that is going into the bicep. Then you follow the same tempo, same stretch and squeeze, with the triceps exercise. The rest time is 45 seconds – and then you go straight back in to the first exercise. So in total, you will have put each muscle through 4 minutes of constant tension. That’s the most crucial thing if you want to grow a body part. After that, as long as you progress your weights gradually, maintain the same form and the focus, they will develop. Train them 2 or 3 times a week like this, and you will see results.
Try this arms workout below for maximum results: