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Intelligent Arm Specialization

  • 7 min read


by Chris Marzarella

I usually don’t follow articles about arm workouts because I think that most of the articles written neglect other parts of the body, and usually, they write for one or two specialization days during your training week without any thought as to how long, how much or when to move on. As a trainer, I usually incorporate arm work into the workouts for both online and in-person clients. That is unless they want specific work done and I will write a protocol that has that in mind. The easiest example to illustrate is a bodybuilder, physique or figure competitor that needs to bring up symmetry to score higher, or, on the other end of the spectrum, just a girl or guy who wants to look good in short sleeves while on vacation.

This 4 week workout will cover all aspects of the body, but all emphasizes an importance on your desired area, the triceps, biceps and of course the forearms. If you want to do it for an additional month, go for it, but no more.

Some Science

The application of sets and repetitions we will use will incorporate some necessary components to induce hypertrophy (muscle growth). To induce muscle hypertrophy, 3 mechanisms of hypertrophy must be present and they are covered in this protocol. These mechanisms are mechanical tension, metabolic stress and muscular damage.

Mechanical Tension: The process of lifting heavy weights and the tension brought forth against it (also known as the contraction).

Metabolic Stress: Although not entirely understood by the scientific community, it appears that stress factors bring further stress to muscle fibers and that the more fibers recruited, the more favorable a condition for hypertrophy is to occur. A good example of this is a drop-set, where you finish the needed number of repetitions, then rest for a certain amount of seconds, and go back to the bar and try to match the number of repetitions done before the short rest period. Another example is going for “the burn” or a “pump” with high reps until another repetition cannot be fulfilled because of the muscle cell swelling with blood trapped due the multiple contractions.

Muscular Damage: When you perform enough muscle damaging volume, the muscle tissue hypertrophies, or repairs and grows stronger and larger to compensate for the next workload. This is easily accomplished with linear progression, or the act of increasing weight load every workout. A small increase is needed, but it can be anywhere from 1.5 lb. to a 10 lb. gain.

Different athletes train in different ways; bodybuilders train with loads at 60-70% of their one rep maxes, thus moderate loads with moderate to high volume, and multiple sets and repetitions with short periods of rest to create metabolic stress; powerlifters train with higher intensities than that of bodybuilders, use moderate volume but low sets and repetition loads. They also utilize longer rest periods to maximize strength potential. Neither is more effective than the other, they’re just different. However, they do use a different stimulus to create a desired effect, in this case strength and/or muscle hypertrophy gains. Interestingly, if you take the time to increase the other, the gains made from the other end of the spectrum will help the other.

In other words, it is better to use multiple methods, as muscular tissue with a bigger cross-sectional size allows for heavier weights to be handled, thus enabling the chance for increased muscularity. On the other hand, increased strength gains allow the use of heavier loads, enabling the athlete to increase muscle size when using longer repetitions and more sets with a heavier weight.

Brad J. Schoenfeld wrote a paper in 2010. The purpose of the study was twofold: (a) to extensively review the literature as to the mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to exercise training and (b) to draw conclusions from the research as to the optimal protocol for maximizing muscle growth. It has been shown that many factors mediate the hypertrophic process and that mechanical tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress all can play a role in exercise-induced muscle growth.

The Program

The sets and reps will change weekly. Pay attention to warming up, especially for the first exercise for each day. 1-2 warm-ups with 50% then 80% of of the work weight. Your Perceived Rate of Exertion (PRE) should be on a scale of 1 (being incredibly easy and you’re bored) all the way up to a scorching 10 (where you couldn’t do another rep with good form if you wanted to).

Week 1
All sets and reps: 3 sets of 10 repetitions, PRE of 7 on the 6th repetition. On the final set, wait 15 seconds and churn out as many more repetitions as possible.
Time under tension: 2 second count raising, 2 second hold, 2 second lowering.
Rest time: 75s

Week 2
All sets and reps: 5 sets of 5 repetitions, PRE of 9 on the 4th repetition. On the final set, drop 50% of the weight and complete a set of 20 repetitions.
Time under tension: 2 second count raising, 1 second hold, 4 second lowering.
Rest time: 90s

Week 3
All sets and reps: 4 sets of 8 repetitions, PRE of 8 on the 4th repetition. On the final set, drop 20% of the weight and do the same amount of repetitions completed in the set.
Time under tension: 1 second count raising, 3 second hold, 3 second lowering.
Rest time: 60s

Week 4
All sets and reps: 3 sets of 20 repetitions, PRE of 6 at the 12th repetition.
Time under tension: 2 second count raising, 1 second hold, 2 second lowering.
Rest time: 45s

One month later, repeat optional

Day 1
Deadlift (sumo or conventional style)
Push Ups
Preacher Curl
Overhead Dumbbell Tricep Extensions
Incline Dumbbell Curl
Overhead Tricep Extension with Cable
Roman Twists (3×50)

Day 2
Close Grip Bench Press
One Arm Dumbbell Bent Over Row
Chest Dips (use the assisted machine if you must)
Barbell Curl
Lying Barbell Tricep Extension
Hammer Curl
Bosu Ball Weighted Crunch (5×15-25)

Day 3
Chin Ups (use the lat pulldown if you must)
Floor Bench Press
Standing Wide D-Ring Cable Bicep Curl (use the cable crossover machine)
Skullcrushers with Dumbbells
Zottman Curls
Reverse Cable Curls with a straight bar
Cable Crunch (4×12-15)

Day 4 (Everything Else Day)
Back Squats
Standing Overhead Barbell Press
Walking Lunge
Bent Over Barbell Rows
Leg Raise (4×10-25)

-One the day before the very FIRST day of training, on each side of your body, measure the circumference of your bicep to your tricep at the widest point with a myotape or a tape measure.
-Take photos of the front, side and back wearing a short sleeve shirt or tank top. Make sure you record the time of day, the lighting and when you record again at the end of the 1 or 2 months, wear the same shirt.
-If an exercise hurts, check your ego at the door and go lighter.
-If the actual movement hurts, find a substitute. Google the exercise term and add “substitute” to the end (without the quotations).