First Step is Focus
I describe training arms as jumping off a cliff. Once you do your first set, don’t stop until you hit the bottom. This analogy deals with focus, which is probably any bodybuilder's strongest asset in making gains.
On arm day, once I begin my first set for biceps, I don’t stop until I’ve finished my last set for triceps. I don’t notice anybody who comes into the gym and I don’t talk to anyone - unless you count screaming at my training partner!
Shock-Set Arm Workout
My typical arm workout consists of three sets each for biceps and triceps. It's a shock-set routine I use to push my arms through growth plateaus. The key isn’t poundage or volume, but intensity. Rest periods are kept to a minimum, roughly the time the previous set actual took.
Arms are well suited to this style of training because, unlike larger body-parts, working them doesn’t really stress out the central nervous system or respiratory system. In other words, you don’t need much time to bounce back between sets.
Alternating Dumbbell Curls: I start the arm workout with standing, alternating dumbbell curls. With my palms facing my quads, I begin curling one weight upward. I supinate my wrist during the first half of the contraction phase, so that halfway up my palms face up. Continue the rep by bringing the dumbbell up to shoulder level, where I squeeze and hold for a second.
Instead of lifting the weight directly into my shoulder, I move my elbow forward slightly and keep the dumbbell in front of my body. This keeps the tension on my biceps. I then complete a similar rep with the other arm and so on.
I’ll start with two warm-up sets to get the blood flowing, then one heavy working set. I would use the heaviest weight that allows me to reach 10 reps before failure, then add two forced reps from your training partner (assisted reps). If you train alone, you could use partial reps instead (half or quarter reps).
I follow that with a drop-set of the same exercise. I do the same number of reps, including the two forced, as the first set. When I put down that weight, I will pick up two dumbbells 2/3 or ½ the initial weight and take the set to failure.
Superset: I follow the alternating dumbbell curl drop set immediately with a superset that combines preacher curls and dumbbell concentration curls. For variety I sometimes substitute standing E-Z bar curls for the preacher curl.
Preacher Curls: Using a relatively light weight, I start the superset with a set of preachers for 12-16 reps. After I extend my arms over the pad of the preacher bench I try to get my elbows as close together and my hands far apart as possible. Its an awkward position to sustain, but if my elbows are wider than my hands, I feel it more in my brachialis and forearms than I do in my biceps.
Dumbbell Concentration Curls: From there I immediately pick up a dumbbell and do a set of concentration curls off the edge of a bench. With my elbow resting against my inner thigh and my arm fully extended so that the dumbbell almost touches the floor, I raise the weight upward without supinating my wrist, leaning into the curl so that the dumbbell comes right up to my forehead. I aim for about 12 reps, then tack on several partial reps to really burn my biceps before duplicating the set with my other arm.
Without resting, it’s back to the preacher bench for the beginning of another superset. Once I finish that second set of concentration curls, my biceps are completely spent for the day.
There’s still plenty of work to be done, though. Without resting, I go straight into working my triceps, beginning with dumbbell French press overhead.
French Press Overhead: My triceps are already warmed up, so for the first set I go as heavy as I possibly can. I shoot for 10-12 reps (10 alone, with 2 forced).
I follow that with a drop set; same exercise. Same weight, but this time I’ll complete only 8-10 reps on my own. As I reach failure, I will drop the weight to ½ my starting weight and carry on for 5-6 reps and failure.
Superset: As with biceps, I follow the drop set with a superset, his time alternating lying tricep extensions (using an E-Z bar) with rope pushdowns. If I’m going to do three exercises for a body part, I want to try to hit it from three different angles. I’ve already done the overhead, so now I’ll combine a lying movement with a standing one.
Lying Tricep Extensions: I’m aiming for high reps on my first set of extensions, about 12 to14. I include two forced, using a weight that’s not too heavy. Lying flat on the bench and holding a cambered bar above me at arms length, I’ll lower the bar down to my forehead. I am keeping my upper arms stationary, before pressing the weight back up.
Despite conventional wisdom, I’m not super strict about keeping my elbows parallel on these: I find that doing so places a lot of stress on them. Flaring my elbows out slightly is the most comfortable position for me. As long as I’m not feeling the movement in my front delts or my chest instead of my triceps, I just go with it.
Rope Pushdowns: Once I’ve done that set, I get up immediately and perform rope pushdowns. I start relatively light for an initial set of 12 reps, the last two being forced reps. As with the lying tricep extensions, I’m not a fanatic about strictness with these. I stand my back to the cable apparatus, but instead of standing upright, I lean slightly into the rope handles as I drive them downward. It’s a personal quirk: I suffered a hernia when I was younger and as a result its painful if I stand up straight while doing pushdowns. Experiment to find the groove that’s most comfortable for you.
From there I return immediately to the extensions. I never go heavier than I did on the first set. I always start with the heaviest weight for the first set for any body part, but I might go a bit lighter on certain days, depending on how I feel. I finish the cycle with a second set of pushdowns. For each of these last two sets, its 10 solo reps followed by two forced reps to finish the arm workout.