I don’t typically focus on training muscles specifically, preferring, instead, to focus on training and improving movement patterns. Full-body, compound exercises provide you with the most “bang for your buck” and help you reach your goals in an efficient and effective manner.
However, there is nothing wrong with adding some muscle-specific movements into the mix every now and then. With the summer months upon us, now is as good a time as any to focus on blasting the guns so you can show them off poolside.
Here’s a quick “Gun Show” routine you can do before you lather up with sunscreen and head out. You will notice that it’s not just five variations of biceps curls. Using only “direct work” or “isolation exercises” is not the most effective way for building size or strength. In addition to a proper nutrition plan, you should include a combination of compound and isolation movements to get the best results.
Full-body: Front Squat 3x5
Compound: Pull-Ups (weighted if possible) 3x5
Direct: Biceps Curl 3x10
Full-body: Single-leg Deadlift 3x8 per side
Compound: Dips (weighted if necessary) 3x10
Direct: Dumbbell Hammer Curls 3x10
Compound: TRX Inverted Row 10 reps
Direct: TRX Biceps Curl 10 reps
*Alternate back and forth between the two movements for 4 rounds, resting as little as possible.(Do 10 reps of TRX Inverted Row, 10 reps of TRX Biceps Curl, then repeat.)
Why squats in an arm routine?! Because you need to approach strength training from a full-body standpoint by building your base with foundational compound movements and then incorporating isolation exercises to get the best results possible. For the front squat, take a slightly wider than shoulder-width foot position, with your toes pointed out slightly. Upon descent, keep your chest up, abs braced and push your butt back as you think about “opening your knees.” Keep your head position neutral (eyes looking forward) throughout the movement. Squat down as low as you can without breaking form (no lumbar flexion) and then return to the starting position by driving your hips through and standing up tall.
When performing pull-ups, remember to think about pulling the bar down to you. Drive your elbows down and back as you bring your chest toward the bar, and resist the urge to kick your legs or “kip” with the lower body. At the bottom of the movement, try to fully extend the arms without losing shoulder-joint integrity.
Bilateral barbell curls should be a staple in any arm-focused routine. To begin, grab the bar with your palms up and your hands about shoulder-width distance apart. Try to minimize excessive swinging or “cheating” with the body as you begin to curl the bar up toward your shoulders. Focus on using the biceps by moving only from the elbow joint. Lower the weight under control and repeat for the desired number of reps.
For our second “full-body” exercise, begin standing tall while holding two dumbbells by your sides. With a slight bend in one leg, lower your torso and upper body forward as you extend the opposite leg behind. Focus on hinging the body from the hip and glute and maintaining a neutral spine position throughout the exercise. Keep the dumbbells close to the body and lower them to around knee height. You should feel a stretch on the standing leg in the hamstring/glute area. To return to the starting position, actively squeeze your glute, pull the hips through and stand up tall.
Do not neglect the backside of the arms. To achieve full-looking guns, you have to train the “horseshoe” on the backside. As long as you have healthy joints (especially shoulders), dips are an awesome exercise for the triceps. To begin, grab the bars* and keep your head and chest up. Slowly lower your body as low as you can go while maintaining control throughout the movement. Push your body back to the start by extending your arms from the elbow joint.
*I prefer using parallel bars or even rings to perform this exercise. Use caution if using a chair or bench as it’s not the most biomechanically friendly position for the shoulder joint.
Dumbbell Hammer Curls
This dumbbell curl variation targets the brachialis and brachioradialis muscles a bit more than traditional curls and provides a more complete arm workout. Set up like a traditional dumbbell curl; however, maintain a neutral grip throughout the exercise, with your palms facing in toward each other the entire time. Bring the dumbbells up to the shoulders under control and then lower them back down by your sides.
TRX® Inverted Row
TRX rows are great because there is a quick learning curve for first-timers and there are plenty of variations for all levels. Begin by grabbing the handles and facing the anchor point of the suspension trainer. With tension in the straps and your arms straight, walk your feet toward the anchor point so your body is at approximately 45 degrees. Keep your eyes on the anchor point and, with a neutral grip, begin by flexing at the elbows and pulling your body up. Be sure to keep your shoulders down and back the entire time. Once your hands are just about in line with your chest, slowly extend your arms to return to the starting position.
TRX Biceps Curl
Begin in a similar set-up to the TRX Inverted Row exercise, but start at about a 60-degree angle and turn your palms up toward the sky. Next, bend your elbows until your hands are next to your forehead. Return back to the starting position with your arms extended. You can alter the intensity of either of these TRX movements by adjusting your foot positioning.