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  1. #1
    Registered User John700's Avatar
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    Big Arms Without Direct Work?

    Hi guys,

    Not counting the genetically gifted, is it possible for a normal/below average trainee to get big arms without performing any isolation exercises or direct arm work at all?

    Like a lot of people with small arms I am always drilling isolation exercises to no avail, so I wondered if it was worth taking an unconventional approach to arm training by not focusing on them at all. My plan is to just concentrate on big compound movements (bench, deads, squats, pullups, dips etc) and leave out arm isolation exercises like curls and tri extensions etc.

    Does anyone here train like this, or know of anyone who does that has had good results?
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  2. #2
    Milk does a body good. Sir_Malak's Avatar
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    I would credit the 'non-isolation but growth' to genetics. You can grow the biceps/triceps easily without isolations but I believe unless your freaky with genetics the growth will be slower.


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  3. #3
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    Well i believe you can develop good upper body all together just from simple compoud exercises (bench, pullups, dips, military press). On pullups for example depending on how you do them you can make them a great bi exercise. Also the same goes for dips. They will get worked when doing compound movements, but not at the same extent. I only do two direct arm workouts plus compounds and i have 14.5 inch arms at 160 lbs. This isnt normal, but my arms tend to take over a lot of movements. Thats why i dont have the chest development i would like. I think the main thing is how you perform the exercise. For example when doing dips staying straight up will make it a direct tri exercise, while leaning forward will make it secondary arm workout. My suggestion would be to stick with compound movements and a couple isolations at the end.

    I do 2 sets of straight bar curls for 8,6 and for tri's i do two sets of weighted dips for 10,8. These have done great for me i would suggest them to anyone who has trouble with arm growth.
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  4. #4
    grow stronger comrade rockhuddy's Avatar
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    I think that when you're just starting to train, direct arm work should be kept to a minimum, but after a while isos need to be added to stimulate the muscles adequately to inspire growth. Some people claim to not have to do it, but if I did no direct arm work, mine wouldn't be growing.
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    I have small arms that often seem out of proportion with my chest and back growth. I am not overly concerned with aesthetics, focusing more on strength and bodyweight manipulation. I was doing a routine that basically was free of isolation movements, so my arm work came from deadlifts, chins, dips, and my pressing movements.

    Just for kicks I started doing 1 set of curls to failure during all my workouts. Some days barbell, some days dumbell, others ez curl. Depends on where I am in the gym at the time. I keep them strict and use a weight that I can rep at least 8 times and no more than 15 or so.

    I am happy with the results.
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  6. #6
    I need to eat darklight79's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by John700
    Hi guys,

    Not counting the genetically gifted, is it possible for a normal/below average trainee to get big arms without performing any isolation exercises or direct arm work at all?

    Like a lot of people with small arms I am always drilling isolation exercises to no avail, so I wondered if it was worth taking an unconventional approach to arm training by not focusing on them at all. My plan is to just concentrate on big compound movements (bench, deads, squats, pullups, dips etc) and leave out arm isolation exercises like curls and tri extensions etc.

    Does anyone here train like this, or know of anyone who does that has had good results?
    Currently experimenting cutting off direct bi work and focusing on heavy back work, with just 1 or 2 sets of hammer curls. My bis are growing.
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  7. #7
    Registered User Naturally Huge's Avatar
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    My arms grow like weeds compared to my chest and back. I've considered cutting out all direct arm work since my biceps and triceps are stimulated indirectly with chest, back, and delt work.
    "He who would accomplish little need sacrifice little; he who would achieve much must sacrifice much. He who would attain highly must sacrifice greatly."

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  8. #8
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    Originally Posted by darklight79
    Currently experimenting cutting off direct bi work and focusing on heavy back work, with just 1 or 2 sets of hammer curls. My bis are growing.
    Your experiment should pay off quite well as I did the same thing a few months back and my arms are much bigger now. One of the biggest fallaceis that I think exists is that to get big arms, you need to do a lot of curls and pushdowns. To get big arms, you need to bench, do pullups, bent over rows, and other heavy compound exercises.
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  9. #9
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    Originally Posted by John700
    Not counting the genetically gifted, is it possible for a normal/below average trainee to get big arms without performing any isolation exercises or direct arm work at all?
    No. If arms are not a strong point, I believe they need direct work.
    A winner is someone who recognizes his God given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills, and uses these skills to accomplish his goals. - Larry Bird
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  10. #10
    Registered User crc04f's Avatar
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    Give it a shot.

    Personally, I just spent around 13 months w/o any direct arm work. Of course, I did weighted dips, heavy rows, weighted pull-ups, etc. But, have just recently incorporated direct arm work to see if it helps much. I am 6'4" and presently have bulked to 261 (will continue until Feb). My biceps did not grow much at all even w/ the bodyweight gain (as compared to pretty much everything else), triceps grew nicely though......I have thought that my biceps would have grown a bit more during that time period had I not used a thumbless grip on all rows and chins, but time will tell I suppose.

    I think no direct work at least for spells in a year or 6 month intervals are a great idea, but my biceps just will not grow at the pace of everything else without direct work now and again. (maybe my biceps just won't grow much period). Hope this helps at least somewhat.
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  11. #11
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    My personal opinion is that people shouldn't be doing any direct arm work until they can do at least 10-12 "FULL" pullups and dips with bodyweight.
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  12. #12
    E-A-T is for GROW Big Jeff's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by John700
    Hi guys,

    Not counting the genetically gifted, is it possible for a normal/below average trainee to get big arms without performing any isolation exercises or direct arm work at all?

    Like a lot of people with small arms I am always drilling isolation exercises to no avail, so I wondered if it was worth taking an unconventional approach to arm training by not focusing on them at all. My plan is to just concentrate on big compound movements (bench, deads, squats, pullups, dips etc) and leave out arm isolation exercises like curls and tri extensions etc.

    Does anyone here train like this, or know of anyone who does that has had good results?
    I took a few months off from direct arm training. Prior to that break I gave my arms there own day when I would train tris then bis.

    Anyway, during the break, I worked on a three day split, chest back and legs. My arms might have grown a bit, but it was not noticeable. I recently switched up my routine, to include a day strictly for shoulders. I also started training arms again, with tris after chest and bis after back. My arm growth has never been better. I attribute this burst in growth to the fact that I took time off from direct arm training. So in effect, indirect arm training had a good indirect effect on my arms.

    Just a note: you also should figure out how best to train your arms directly when you choose to hit them directly. That sounds funny, here's what I mean. Do you want to give them their own day, or do you want to train them after a large muscle group? I used to give them their own day, but now that I realize that they need more recovery time, I add them in at the end of other workouts.
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  13. #13
    Watch Me Shine Worldwide's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by J.L.C.
    My personal opinion is that people shouldn't be doing any direct arm work until they can do at least 10-12 "FULL" pullups and dips with bodyweight.
    I bet 75% of all bb.com members can't do 12 "FULL" bodyweight pull-ups.
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  14. #14
    Squats traps to grass Defiant1's Avatar
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    My arms are my best bodypart.

    Sometimes they get out of proportion.

    So I STOP doing direct arm work. But I continue to do compounds like DB presses, hammer chins, rows, squats, etc.

    Now, since I have good arm genetics, and I am doing compounds only, by the "compounds only argument", shouldn't they get BIGGER, not SMALLER? But that is not what happens.

    I have yet to see the guy with TRULY big impressive arms that doesn't train them directly.

    I am not saying "do 300 sets for bis", but I am saying train them directly.
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    Worked for me.

    Take this advice with a grain of salt. I'm a pipsqueak, I admit it -- my diet has been **** for years but I know my training works because I still make gains.

    Anyway, I'm 155lbs, 13%bf, 14" arms. I don't train arms at all. The comment the guy made above me is funny -- 12 pullups in one set is my max currently.

    Anyway, my back workout is quick and brutal. Three sets of chins, three sets of barbell rows, and three sets of deadlifts, all 6-8 reps.

    Now tell me that curling 30 pounds is going to hit your biceps harder than a 150lb barbell row. Seriously, get real.

    P.S. no need to give me **** about the diet -- I'm turning it all around as of this evening when I hit the grocery store!!
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    Squats traps to grass Defiant1's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by Bucket of Speed
    Now tell me that curling 30 pounds is going to hit your biceps harder than a 150lb barbell row. Seriously, get real.
    Not trying to argue, just trying to educate.

    Resistance doesn't matter. Targeted resistance does.

    One, if you are rowing 150, you should be curling more than 30.

    But, to illustrate, does a 400 pound calf raise translate to more arm size than a 30 pound curl? Of course not. Why? Because the target is totally different.

    Ok, different example. If weight is the prime factor, then why do FULL squats build more size than HALF squats? You can use more weight on the half squats.

    See my point? It is TARGETED resistance.

    BB curls and Skulls build size, make no mistake. The arms recover quickly and can take lots of work.
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    Originally Posted by Defiant1
    Not trying to argue, just trying to educate.

    Resistance doesn't matter. Targeted resistance does.

    One, if you are rowing 150, you should be curling more than 30.

    But, to illustrate, does a 400 pound calf raise translate to more arm size than a 30 pound curl? Of course not. Why? Because the target is totally different.

    Ok, different example. If weight is the prime factor, then why do FULL squats build more size than HALF squats? You can use more weight on the half squats.

    See my point? It is TARGETED resistance.

    BB curls and Skulls build size, make no mistake. The arms recover quickly and can take lots of work.
    First, about the curling weight: My back is my best bodypart.

    Okay, now, you're welcome to your opinion, but I just think you're wrong. The arms vs. calf exercise is too obvious to even refute in detail. Your arms get no work at all so they won't grow. We all know that.

    Full squats build more muscle because there is more focus on eccentric contraction which is where the vast majority of microtears are generated. It has nothing to do with "muscle targeting."

    Maybe rows was a bad example. I'm still moving a ton more weight with my chins than I am with any curl, and the focus is far greater on the eccentric portion of the exercise, plus my back allows me to complete the concentric portion of the exercise better, thus allowing me more eccentric work, which is where the real magic happens.

    So I still think direct arm work isn't necessary.

    Then again, in bodybuilding, physiology differs vastly from person-to-person, so your mileage may vary.
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  18. #18
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    Originally Posted by Defiant1
    Not trying to argue, just trying to educate.

    Resistance doesn't matter. Targeted resistance does.

    One, if you are rowing 150, you should be curling more than 30.

    But, to illustrate, does a 400 pound calf raise translate to more arm size than a 30 pound curl? Of course not. Why? Because the target is totally different.

    Ok, different example. If weight is the prime factor, then why do FULL squats build more size than HALF squats? You can use more weight on the half squats.

    See my point? It is TARGETED resistance.


    BB curls and Skulls build size, make no mistake. The arms recover quickly and can take lots of work.


    what kind of frequency do you do, once per week or more when it comes to your body parts in general?
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  19. #19
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    yes, but i'd never give up my curls or extensions
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    I know this isnt a debate, but I would prefer chest growth over arm growth why? imagine huge arms with a puny chest...it just does not work. Same goes both ways but I think the the smaller arms look a little more normal with a bgiger chest.
    I need to gain mass, and start pushing some mad weights - Check out my journal!
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    Squats traps to grass Defiant1's Avatar
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    Smile

    Originally Posted by Bucket of Speed
    First, about the curling weight: My back is my best bodypart.
    So you are saying that your back is doing the work........



    Full squats build more muscle because there is more focus on eccentric contraction which is where the vast majority of microtears are generated. It has nothing to do with "muscle targeting."
    You are talking to someone with an extensive background in physiology, and a ton of experience in training.

    First, I'm not really following your explanation, though I know what the terms mean. That is a nice way of saying it is not correct. Eccentric or concentric, it would still have to be targeted, right? Actually, what you are saying is not TOTALLY incorrect but way oversimplified. A full squat offers no more eccentric difference than it does a concentric difference to a half squat, and more resistance can be used.

    Maybe rows was a bad example. I'm still moving a ton more weight with my chins than I am with any curl, and the focus is far greater on the eccentric portion of the exercise, plus my back allows me to complete the concentric portion of the exercise better, thus allowing me more eccentric work, which is where the real magic happens.
    Eccentric or concentric, it still would have to be targeted. The evidence that eccentric contraction is the key to growth is limited at best. If it were true, than O-lifters who do almost NO eccentrics would have no development. The growth mechanism certainly isn't that simple.

    Again, look at the real world results. Where is the big arm guy who does no direct work?
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  22. #22
    Squats traps to grass Defiant1's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by nads786
    what kind of frequency do you do, once per week or more when it comes to your body parts in general?
    Though I used to 1x per week, I now do a minimum of 3 and up to 6 during a ramp.

    2-3 when tapering.
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  23. #23
    Fatter Than You Think nads786's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by Defiant1
    Though I used to 1x per week, I now do a minimum of 3 and up to 6 during a ramp.

    2-3 when tapering.
    direct and indirect are you counting it like that, or are you doing like several fullbodys or just chest and tris then a day lata chest and tris
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    Moderator Dominik's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by John700
    Hi guys,

    Not counting the genetically gifted, is it possible for a normal/below average trainee to get big arms without performing any isolation exercises or direct arm work at all?

    Like a lot of people with small arms I am always drilling isolation exercises to no avail, so I wondered if it was worth taking an unconventional approach to arm training by not focusing on them at all. My plan is to just concentrate on big compound movements (bench, deads, squats, pullups, dips etc) and leave out arm isolation exercises like curls and tri extensions etc.

    Does anyone here train like this, or know of anyone who does that has had good results?
    I've seen better results doing compound work for the arms almost exclusively. Weighted chins and dips are my two weapons of choice along with training back and chest more frequently. I think incline DB curls and overhead triceps extensions are very effective but they're more like icing on the cake.

    There's nothing wrong with direct arm training, so long as it doesn't compromise the most important aspects of your routine IMO. I mean there are guys dedicating an entire workout to arms and therefore doing the most important back and chest exercises like rows and presses once a week. If you asked them why they'd probably say they have no room in their schedule because they need a couple of days either side of the arm workout for recovery. See the problem?
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    Registered User V1PER's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by Defiant1

    I have yet to see the guy with TRULY big impressive arms that doesn't train them directly.
    How about gymnasts? They may not have arms to your standards but to me they have pretty impressive arms and they don't train them directly.

    Just stick with compound only exercises until your arms plateau. Then you can start adding direct training. That's why people that have huge arms like Defiant1 need to add direct arm work or they'll lose arm size. Newbies on the otherhand can add much size with only compounds to a certain point at which they must add direct arm training.
    "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
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  26. #26
    Wat J.L.C.'s Avatar
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    Originally Posted by Worldwide
    I bet 75% of all bb.com members can't do 12 "FULL" bodyweight pull-ups.
    Then people need to stop typing and start lifting.

    Originally Posted by Defiant1
    Though I used to 1x per week, I now do a minimum of 3 and up to 6 during a ramp.

    2-3 when tapering.
    Do you program your training from a strength or hypertrophy perspective. When you say tapering, is that for a contest....PL, or Bodybuilding? Just curious...
    Last edited by J.L.C.; 11-22-2005 at 07:27 PM.
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  27. #27
    Milk does a body good. Sir_Malak's Avatar
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    12 bw pullups to a <180 pound man is much easier than a 220+ pound man regardless if he's all muscle or not.

    That makes me wonder how many pullups can Ronnie do ? rofl
    Sometimes you just need to lift.....
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  28. #28
    <3 Tea Zensuji's Avatar
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    i dont get it when people say no direct arm work. people dont refer to squats as not doing direct quad work and its the same thing.

    i think pull ups and dips etc.. hit the arms pretty directly lol but i do agree with aj i would never drop my "direct" stuff
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  29. #29
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    Hey bud, do Deads and Squats and u'll get big arms with little trouble
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  30. #30
    No cardio No cry RU4A69's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by J.L.C.
    My personal opinion is that people shouldn't be doing any direct arm work until they can do at least 10-12 "FULL" pullups and dips with bodyweight.


    We'll have half the people do it your way, and I'll have the other half doing lying extensions and barbell curls AND dips/pullups-we'll see who wins.
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