Most guys want jacked arms.
But most guys don’t want beat up elbows and shoulders.
Unfortunately, when you hump the air to train your biceps or slam your elbows into extension to train your triceps, beat up joints come with the territory.
To add insult to injury, your biceps and triceps' growth is minimal when trained that way.
If you’re like me, I’m sure you want to be jacked for the long haul. You want to hold onto that hard-earned muscle, stay lean and strong so you can do the things that you want, regardless of your age. If so, keeping your joints healthy so you can keep training the way you like is a must.
Whether you’re already a beat-up meathead with achy joints or a young, strapping, twenty-something who wants to keep packing on more muscle, this article is for you.
I want you to understand that getting jacked and strong does not have to come at the expense of throbbing joints. In particular, this article covers direct biceps and triceps work; however, these same principles can be applied to other exercises.
Common Training Mistakes
First, let’s go over the common mistakes made that will inevitably wreck your joints and slow down the growth of those arms.
1. Ego Hump Sets
Ego Hump Sets refers to curls and is a direct result of using a weight that’s too heavy for you to handle. If you’re going to save your joints and actually get those gunz to grow, you gotta drop the ego and use an appropriate training load.
Trust me. The girls don’t give a shit about how much weight you’re using. No one does.
Those violent love thrusts you’re throwing to heave up that weight add unnecessary stress to the low back and provide so much assistance that the biceps are hardly doing any work.
This is comparable to your buddy pulling the bar off of your chest on a bench press. The muscle groups that you think you’re training aren’t doing anything.
Use a weight that can be performed with strict elbow flexion while maintaining good positioning (which we’ll discuss in a bit).
2. Having No Eccentric Control
This can either be a byproduct of using a weight that’s too heavy or simply because you don’t give it the attention it deserves. Either way, it’s a problem.
The eccentric portion of the rep (or lengthening phase) actually creates more muscular damage, leading to greater hypertrophy.
Most people don’t focus on proper control during the eccentric phase and allow gravity to pull the weight back to the starting position. This lack of control not only places unnecessary stress on the joints; it takes away from your gains!
If you want your arms to grow, slow down the eccentric.
3. Not Enough Squeeze to Make the Juice
To target the biceps and triceps even further, I prefer an intense squeeze in the shortened position. This helps create a better mind-muscle connection to help target the prime movers during isolation exercises.
Most people don’t put in the effort to do this, but I guarantee you’ll notice a difference even after just a few weeks.
4. Poor Shoulder Position
The position of the shoulder is commonly overlooked when it comes to performing direct biceps and triceps work.
What typically happens when performing a curl is the shoulder ends up pushing forward when the biceps contract. This creates sheering forces on the shoulder joint due to the angle of the humerus.
To perform curl variations optimally you need to prevent this from happening by pulling the shoulders back and down and lock them into a good position.
This not only creates a safer environment for the shoulders but also allows the biceps and elbow flexors to do the majority of the work, which again, leads to greater gains.
5. Turning the Muscle Off
Finally, another huge mistake is turning the muscles “off” in the lengthened position.
In the curl, this occurs in the bottom position when your elbows are extended. In a triceps pushdown, this would occur in the “top” when your elbows are flexed.
Most people place their arms at an angle that when in these positions, the muscles are no longer active, allowing them to rest in that position.
For a greater hypertrophy effect, you’ll want to keep those muscles working in those positions.
Get Jacked Arms
Now that you’re aware of these common mistakes, let’s tie this all together so you can put all of this into use and enhance your growth.
Let’s walk through step by step.
Step 1: Select an Appropriate Training Load
This may seem obvious, but for most people, it’s not. Select a weight that you can handle with strict technique. I’ve seen guys grab 50s when they should’ve been using 20s. Be smart about your weight selection so you can actually see real growth.
Step 2: Set Up Correctly
Start by setting up in an optimal starting position and flex your abs, glutes, and quads intensely before you begin if you’re standing.
If you’re seated be sure to brace your abs.
This helps you maintain a better spinal position throughout the exercise, so don’t lose your brace.
Next, pull your shoulders back and down and flex your lats tightly to lock them into position.
Taking an extra second to set up will save your joints in the long-term and speed up your progress in the short-term.
Step 3: Position the Humerus at an Optimal Angle
This is part of setting up correctly, but should come after bracing and locking the shoulders into position.
To prevent the muscle from turning off in the lengthened position, you’ll need to align the humerus (upper arm) correctly in relation to your torso.
Let’s use a standing DB curl as an example.
After getting into a good position, slightly shift your arms forward. Note that this is not a drastic shift. It should be just enough to where you feel the biceps “turn on” as soon as you shift the arms forward.
Since you’re using DB’s in this example, think of starting with the bottom head of the DB just in front of your thigh.
Doing this correctly keeps the biceps working at all times and makes the exercise increasingly more difficult.
Step 4: Focus on Strictly Flexing or Extending the Elbow
Once you’re in the right position, we need to talk about proper execution.
Most guys mindlessly just “curl” or “push down” the weight. This lack of focus leaves us with a lot of growth on the table.
Instead of simply moving the weight, focus on the muscle groups that you’re actually trying to target. In the case of a curl, focus on strict elbow flexion.
Hug your elbows tight to your rib cage, keep your wrists tight and neutral while your shoulders maintain their proper position and flex the elbow. Think of bringing your forearms to your biceps and don’t worry about where the barbell or dumbbells finish.
Step 5: Squeeze Like Your Life Depends on It
Once the muscle is contracted (or in the shortened position) focus on squeezing to really target and feel the muscle.
Step 6: Control the Eccentric
As you return to the starting position take full control over the movement and lower the weight over two to three seconds.
Trust me, this is a big difference compared to the half- or one-second eccentric that’s typically used.
These adjustments have been a GAME CHANGER for me, my training partners, and my clients.
Personally, martial arts put enough of a beating on my joints. The techniques I gave you in this article have limited much additional joint stress while still giving me my meathead fix of direct arm work.
Give this a try. Your joints, and your gunz, will thank you for it.
If you have any questions feel free to message below or DM me @chris_tutela on IG.
Thanks for reading.