You Want Bigger Arms? Read This.

“Guns for show, Bi’s and Tri’s for a pro!”

Ah the tickets, the python’s, the cannons, the swans and the list goes on…

What am I talking tosh about? The Arms of course!

What follows is hopefully a wee bit of information to add to your science of shirtsleeve-stretcher-y.

Lets increase the ammo in your arsenal…..Bring forth the cannons.

What do we need to do to stretch sleeves? – grow muscle, also known as hypertrophy.

But what do we know about muscle growth (hypertrophy)?

Hypertrophy occurs when the contractile elements (stuff that contracts, see image) enlarge and the extracellular matrix (other stuff) expands to support growth.

when we train, skeletal muscle is subjected to an overload, it causes perturbations (damage) in myofibers (stuff that contracts) and the related extracellular matrix (other stuff that doesn’t contract)

The stimulus provided from training ultimately leads to an increase in the size and amounts of the myofibrillar contractile proteins actin and myosin (2 little things that contract), and the total number of sarcomeres.

This increases the diameter of individual fibers and thereby results in an increase in overall muscle size.

check out Enrique below;

And a little deeper we go….

Zatsiorsky – science and practice of strength training

The figure above shows 2 types of hypertrophy…

Sarcoplasmic (other stuff) and Myofibrillar (stuff that contracts)

1. Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy of muscle fibers; this is the growth of the non-contractile “other stuff”, the fluid and protein between the myofibrills. This basically means whilst the actual cross-sectional area (overall size) of the muscle fibers increases, this doesn’t come with an accompanying increase in muscle strength.

2. Myofibrillar Hypertrophy; this is where we increase muscle fiber size via gaining more myofibrils (stuff that contracts) and, at the same time, more actin and myosin filaments. Furthermore, contractile proteins are synthesized and filament density increases. This type of hypertrophy leads to increased ability to produce force.

Although we will stimulate both types of hypertrophy we are obviously more interested in the myofibrillar kind that gives us an increase in strength.

How does the actual hypertrophy occur?

We know thanks to the recent research from guys like Brad Schoenfeld and Bret Contreras that hypertrophy occors via 3 main mechanisms.

Muscle damage – this will make sense. You can probably relate to the muscle damage and repair pathway because of how you feel the days following a tough or new session, usually 2 days later. the damage occurs when you apply an unfamiliar or new stimulus, like a change in your training program or quite simply the addition of a new exercise, we also know that negatives or an increase of the eccentric phase of a lift adds to the tension and strain a muscle is subjected during a lift, this increases the magnitude of muscular damage.

Mechanical tension – makes logical sense too, as you perform your biceps curl with full range of course your muscles go through passive and active tension through the stretch and flex cycle, and a high magnitude of tension through out full ROM also creates the greatest muscle magnitude of damage, going through full range prolongs the tension thus increases the metabolic stress also, you see all these 3 mechanisms are interrelated.

Metabolic Stress – this is the one you may not be aware of directly, but you will know the feeling. Think about when you’re nearing the end of a tough set of incline curls for example and the burning in your biceps begins intensifying as you fight to complete the set, upon release the pain subsides and you notice the pump in your arms as they feel twice the size. The burning sensation you probably know as lactic acid and the good old pump are two factors of metabolic stress.

Basically, while performing muscular contractions the blood is prevented from leaving as the veins are constricted or “occluded” adding to the intra workout pumps you experience, this occlusion of the veins that supply the muscle means that the supply of oxygen is also reduced known as hypoxia. These two factors contribute to the increase of metabolic byproducts that cannot be cleared and also leads to a further pump.

How does the pump lead to hypertrophy?

As the metabolic by-products and fluids build up the swelling increases and places more and more tension upon the muscles cell membranes, this is perceived as a threat to the structure of a cell. This threat signals what are known as satellite cells (muscle stem cells) and these are then “aroused” and become active when enough mechanical stimulus is placed upon the muscles, the satellite cells then provide the stimulus for repair and growth of new muscle tissue.

These factors all combine to aid in hypertrophy.

Looking at the 3 pathways above we can see that tension is very effective at damaging fibers as long as the muscle is stretched while being activated.

So high tension sets combined with full range of motion also produce high levels of metabolic stress, as the time under tension is prolonged and the veins are constricted preventing the escape of blood and metabolic by-products which induce an increased pump and stress intramuscularly.

OK, so how do we go about putting those factors together to create an environment conducive to growth?

If we put them together we end up with a systematic approach to programming that allows increases in strength, combined with creating high tension sets, and also sets that increase the time under that tension (TUT) to induce the metabolic stress.

We have to attack muscle growth from all the pathways. Some argue to focus solely on getting stronger and some say you have to get the pump.

Looking at the above its probably a more wise decision to include all pathways and training like more of a hybrid of a Bodybuilder and a Powerlifter.

So how do we create hypertrophy?

– Create mechanical tension
– Create metabolic stress
– Create muscle damage
– Create the right environment

Eat – hypertrophy occurs when protein synthesis exceeds breakdown. I don’t think I need to tell you that you need to eat enough food and especially enough protein to make this a possibility. Take a look at this article for getting your protein.

Get busy getting strong – this is what the powerlifter brings to the table; progressive overload for the win, how you achieve that can be argued until the cows come home and leave again because they are bored of the discussion.


Put simply, if you systematically focus efforts to get progressively stronger year on year and you will find it hard not to gain muscle, so in some way shape or form try periodizing your training (article coming shortly).

Getting stronger is where a good portion of your focus needs to be. Focus on the big compound moves such as squats, deadlifts, bench and chins etc with near full recovery and setting new records, this will provide most of your gains going forward. With regards to arm size/strength you won’t go far wrong with heavy pressing and pulling moves like close and neutral grip chins, rows, heavy presses and dips.

But remember, strength doesn’t just increase via muscle size alone, we can increase strength without a subsequent increase in muscle via an increased ability to recruit the muscle we have via up-regulating the nueral pathways and simply the skill of a specific lift. So as important as gaining strength is, its one part of the spectrum, we cant ignore high intensity techniques in the quest for hogan arms too.

Search for blood – this is where the bodybuilders adds their flavour. Now the heavy stuff has been taken care of its time to get the pump and you know how important that is, as Arnold said “can you imagine how I am feeling”.

This is where we work to failure, use higher rep sets and add intensification methods that increase total time under tension (TUT) to induce that skin splitting pump! The pump that draws herds of lads to the preacher bench on their weekly migration to club-flex in that overly tight new shirt come Friday night, but of course you have never done this though!…….

When searching for the pump use medium to high reps, drop sets, rest pause, super slow, pre exhaust, take your pick but focus on sqeeeezing hard through each rep, taking only short rest periods for some partial recovery. The heavy work took care of recruiting all available fibers now its time to fatigue them, so be sure to settle in, create as much of a pump and metabolic stress as you can with a dumbell or whatever equipment you choose to do the job…

…Search for blood and embrace the burn!

Out Angle

Stretch and squeeze! by changing the angles we perform work at we can target both tension and the pump, for optimal coverage we need to hit the working muscles in both their stretched and shortened positions.

Stretch for tension

We know full ROM is vital to create optimal tension, but we can take this a step further by changing the angles we work at. To create the most muscle damage we need to create tension. This is achieved when the muscle is put through its greatest lengths under load, in terms of the biceps and triceps this basically means hitting them in a stretched position.

For the Biceps, try – DB inclined curls; this will ensure you place the most tension from your set onto the biceps in their most lengthened position.

To hit the triceps in their most stretched position requires you to get over head, so try overhead triceps extensions using the rope attachment to allow some movement and get most out the contraction. If you should happen to have a set of olympic rings or a trx you can also try overhead triceps fallouts to feel as if you have been kicked by a horse in the arms the following days.

Squeeze the pump

We know how great the pump is for hypertrophy, so in addition to stretch based exercises we should also include moves that hit the muscles in the shortened or contracted position too. This is easy try by adding preacher or concentration curls but also try different implements to curl with, bar, Db, KB or especially the cable.

And for the triceps, try single arm cable pushdowns or kick backs to get as much pump as you can muster.

Strengthen the mind – create a solid mind muscle connection.

The mind-to-muscle connection is scientifically referred to as neuromuscular communication, neuromuscular control, neuromuscular concentration or neuromuscular innervation.

The concept involves increasing the focus on the working muscle by actively concentrating on the singular contractions of the targeted muscle.

The power of the flex is a result of the output signal from your brain, commonly referred to as neural drive, another term (yes another) for the mind muscle connection. A strong connection gives you the ability to enhance the signal being sent and recieved for a stronger contraction, much like upgrading from a standard Internet cable to super fast fibre-optic broadband.

That signal travels down the spinal cord to the motor neuron that heads to the biceps where the electrical impulse sent by the brain reaches the space between the neuron and the muscles. This is where that impulse triggers a release of chemicals known as neurotransmitters that attach to specific receptors in the muscle where a transfer of more chemicals triggers filaments within the muscle cells to attach and cause your muscles to contract.

Go ninja turtle on them!

It wasn’t just pizza that got the turtles arms so jacked, they are reported to have used Kaatsu training also called occlusion training and Blood flow restriction training. This method not only helps you beat up shredder but it is also highly effective at inducing a pump and thus high levels of metabolic stress even though it uses lower loads and generates less muscular tension like with traditional methods.

What does KAATSU training involve?

Basically, Donatello got the boys to tie a cuff tighly around the arms near the shoulder preventing the blood from leaving the working muscles, the key word is leaving the muscle not preventing blood getting to them. This causes the the blood to build up or pool within the muscle.

And as we have spoken about previously, this pooling creates an increased amount of metabolic by-products to accumulate within the muscles that usually get flushed out and increases metabolic stress. This is thought to be the primary pathway via which occlusion training stimulates hypertrophy

But i’m gonna leave that one with you for now, so i’ll dedicate a whole article to Occlusion or Kaatsu training for next time.

There you have it. Hopefully that will help you create a great gun session all by yourself or at least add something to your own training,

In my next post i’ll share one of my tried and tested arm sessions with you.

Until then…