No good arm day is complete without the secret sauce to show off all your hard work at the gym. I recently recorded one of my arm day workouts so I could walk you through what I do if I’m crunched for time. The whole thing takes less than an hour.
Check out the video, or keep reading for a walk-through right here:
I started with a superset of dips and curls on machines, which I did to pre-exhaust everything instead of using them as my lasts lift like I usually do. So read this through and get ready to move quickly without resting!
Exercise 1: Machine Dips
The reason to sometimes do dips on a machine is so you can put more of the focus on your triceps. When you’re doing a normal dip, you’re going to feel more chest activation because of how you’re naturally going to lean. But, when you’re on a machine, you can angle your body to get the triceps activated more. That said, one downside of the machine is that it slightly limits my range of motion-- my elbows aren't able to come all the way back up to being parallel with my shoulders, so I have to stop just short of that to keep the tension going.
Exercise 2: Machine Curls
Next up are the machine curls. This video is angled so you can see the position of my elbows. They start behind me (as opposed to starting right by my side) and I make sure they never go past my waist. The goal of this is to keep the tension in the biceps down towards the elbow. The further forward your elbows are while curling, the higher up the tension is going to be on the bicep. When your elbows go out in front of you past your waist, the tension starts to move up to your shoulders. So keep those elbows back!
With exercise one and two, I move back and forth between each lift fairly quickly, not taking much rest and going up a weight every set.
Exercise 1: Tricep Extensions
Arms are great for supersets because they’re smaller muscles and they recover quickly. So after the first round of supersets, I move on to another, starting with a tricep press-down on the cable machine (with a rope this time).
I make sure my hands don’t come up past my elbows at all, because when they do, it takes the tension and focus off your triceps. I want to keep my triceps engaged the whole time—it’s part of why I use the rope, as I can also get a really good extension at the bottom with it and keep my triceps working by holding the extension.
You also want to make sure your body isn’t positioned over your hands when you start the motion. When that happens, it starts to turn into a chest exercise where you're just pressing down. I stay back from the rope and let my hands be the driving force of the motion so that my triceps do all the work.
Exercise 2: Cable Curls
The second part of the superset is—surprise!—more curls. I’m using the same rope and the same cable machine for this, so it's a great superset for when the gym is crowded and you can't really take up two pieces of equipment. With this exercise, I’m keeping elbows tucked into my sides so that my arms are touching my lats. Then, I lean back a little bit so I can get a full range of motion. If I stand straight up, the weight stack hits back down before my arms can fully extend, so I want to make sure I can get that full range of motion and actually start the curl at the bottom.
Then, if you want, you can supinate your hands at the top (turn your palms toward your face) to get an even better muscle contraction.
Lift #3 (Secret sauce!)
Exercise 1: Cross-body Hammer Curls
This isn’t a superset, but it’s the secret ingredient! Here’s why: the goal of cross-body hammer curls is to hit the brachialis, which is the muscle on the outside of your arm between the triceps and the outer head of your bicep. This exercise isn’t going to make you huge overnight, but it’s going to make your arms look a lot better even though it’s a small muscle.
There are two main reasons hitting the brachialis helps your arms look bigger. First, it gives you more width to your arms. If you’re looking at someone from the front and their arms look big, like they’re going outwards, that’s the brachialis showing. Second, it adds a look of having more separation. The bigger your brachialis is, the more separation you’ll see between the tricep, the brachialis, and the outer head of the bicep.
When I’m doing these, I just bring the dumbbell into my chest. In the video, you'll see that I tap my chest with the weight each time. I also lean forward turn a little bit so I can actually get the weight in front of me without it feeling awkward on my shoulders. Your shoulders might move up a little bit naturally while you’re doing these, but you want to try to minimize that. You don’t want your shoulders doing all the work; you want your brachialis to be doing it.
Exercise 2: Dip Burnout
I end this workout with a dip burnout to get a little more tricep work in. The goal is to do as many as you can while keeping decent form. You can see in the video that my muscles were getting tired and I couldn't come up quite as high near the end. But, the goal was for this to be a burnout set, so I wanted to do as many as I could without having to swing myself up. Once I was sufficiently “burnt out,” arm day was a wrap!
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