Developing an arm workout program should always begin with a weightlifter defining his or her goals. Although most people will likely have several goals, best-selling author Frédéric Delavier says they will have difficulty setting up an optimal program if they don't define those goals well before getting started. “Write down your goals on paper so that you can read them before every workout,” he recommends. “This will help motivate you.”
In Delavier's Anatomy for Bigger, Stronger Arms, the French powerlifting champion describes several steps people must take, or questions they should ask themselves, in order to develop effective and personalized programs. Delavier and co-author Michael Gundill believe that when people have completed the full 20 steps, they will have addressed all possible questions about developing a training program.
- How should you define your goals? After defining your goals, you need to quantify them, such as “gain half an inch on my arms in two months,” “get stronger so I can lift 10 pounds more during curls after one month,” or “double the number of sets I can do in 10 minutes so I can increase my endurance in 15 days.” Delavier says that the time frame and how much you hope to achieve should be reasonable and realistic.
- How many arm workouts should you do each week? Two workouts per week provide an excellent base for your workout program. However, Delavier recommends that beginners do no more than three arm workouts each week. “Keep in mind that overtraining is more damaging to your progress than undertraining,” he says.
Which days should you work out? Ideally, you should be able to alternate one day of training with at least one day of rest. Here again, this might not work well with your schedule. In that case, you have to find a balance between the ideal and the feasible. With a program that includes one arm workout per week,you can choose any day you like.With a program that includes two arm workouts per week,those workouts should be spaced out as much as possible, such as Monday and Thursday or Tuesday and Friday.
- Should you work the biceps and triceps separately? Some weightlifters work the biceps and forearms in one workout and then do the triceps another day. This is called an advanced split. But Delavier advises against the practice, at least at first. He recommends working the biceps, triceps, and forearms in a single session.
What time of day should you work out? Some people are stronger in the mornings and weaker in the afternoons. For others, the opposite is true. These fluctuations are completely normal, and it is rare to find people who have consistent strength throughout the day. Ideally, you should train when your arms are the strongest. The majority of athletes are strongest around 6 to 7 p.m. This works out well since many people are free to exercise at that time.
- How many sets of arm exercises should you do for each muscle? The volume of work for the arms is determined by the number of sets of each exercise and the number of exercises per workout. Delavier says the number of sets is an important factor for muscle growth. “If you do too few sets, then the muscles will not be stimulated optimally in order to grow rapidly,” he comments. “If you do too many sets, then overtraining will prevent the arm muscles from growing.” Your fitness level dictates the number of sets you should do. At first, do no more than four sets per muscle.
- How should you adjust your volume of work? The number of sets is the first variable to adjust. As you become stronger, and when you feel ready, you can add a set here and there. “The best thing is to let your arms tell you how many sets they want to do,” says Delavier. An abrupt loss of strength means that you have perhaps done one set too many. You will know this when you do your next workout.
- How many exercises should you do during each workout? When you first start, it is better to stick with a single exercise—one for the biceps, one for the triceps, and one for the forearms. Delavier says that for each muscle you should choose the exercise that is best suited for you and later add other exercises to increase workout intensity.
- When should you change exercises? As your muscles grow, you must constantly switch your workout program. But keep in mind that beginners make fast progress, especially when doing the same workout week after week. As long as a routine is producing results, it makes absolute sense to keep it the same. Changing the structure too often creates negative interference, slowing motor learning and preventing a gradual increase in the intensity of the workout.
How many repetitions should you do in each set? Delavier says there is no magic number of repetitions for improving results. More than repetitions, what really counts is the intensity of the contraction. Altering the number of repetitions is just a way to make progress, not an end in and of itself. Still, you should adjust the number of repetitions to match your goals.
In Delavier's Anatomy for Bigger, Stronger Arms, Delavier and Gundill offer more details on these steps and 10 others designed to get weightlifters properly prepared for an effective arm workout program. The book offers dozens of exercises, each accompanied by step-by-step instructions, anatomical illustrations, and callouts for variations, programming, and safety considerations. For more information, see Delavier's Anatomy for Bigger, Stronger Arms.