Bigger biceps and triceps are often on the list of many lifters looking to gain mass. While having big arms may not be indicative of how much you can lift, they surely can give you an added boost in heavy pressing and pulling movements.
So what does the best bulking arm workout involve? When looking to grow bigger biceps and triceps during a bulking process, it is recommended to include a variety of movements, including barbell curls, dumbbell curls, pull-ups, and dips, which span across the rep range (6-20 reps). Exercises should be spread out over 2-3 days for maximum growth.
In this article, I’ll review 13 must-do chest exercises if you’re wanting to build a bigger EMA while bulking. Additionally, I’ll share six arm workouts you can do to gain size and strength during your bulk or mass gain phase.
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13 Must-Do Arm Exercises for Building Bigger Biceps and Triceps
Below are my top biceps and triceps exercises to build bigger arms for any level of lifter.
I recommend training the biceps and triceps 2-3 times a week for most people, with each session lasting 6-10 total sets (no more than 20 sets per week for most people).
For best results, start training these movements in the full range of motion and track your progress. More training volume does not alway equate to more muscle growth.
Related Article: How Many Exercises Make An Effective Arm Workout?
The best arm exercises for bulking are:
- Chin Ups
- Barbell Curl
- Dumbbell Curl
- Seated Incline Dumbbell Curl
- Spider Curl
- Preacher Curl
- Cable Curl
- Close Grip Bench Press
- JM Press
- Tricep Pushdowns
- Overhead Tricep Extensions
1. Chin Ups
Chin ups are great for increasing upper body pulling strength. Unlike pull ups, they place more emphasis on the biceps due to the grip position (palms facing you as they grab the bar).
Training these with heavier loads often is limited by arm strength, whereas training them in higher rep ranges often comes down to grip strength and muscle endurance.
For those reasons, I really like training chin ups using lower rep ranges (5-8) to build arm strength. If you’re performing them for strength, then they should be placed first within the workout.
Related Article: Female Bulking Workout Plan (Complete Guide)
2. Barbell Curl
The barbell curl is an iconic bicep exercise that when done correctly (i.e. no heaving or swinging the weight) can build bigger, wider biceps.
Training these with heavier to moderate weights is a great option, as I find doing them for high-rep sets usually ends with sloppy reps, swinging of the body, and excessive momentum usage.
If you find yourself swinging, drop the weight, or move to one of the machine-based movements below where “cheating” is less likely to occur.
3. Dumbbell Curl
The dumbbell curl can be programmed and trained similarly to the barbell curl; however, it has the added benefit of allowing lifters to manipulate their wrist rotation.
Sometimes barbells can cause wrist pain, which I explain in my article 4 Reasons You Get Wrist & Elbow Pain Doing Bicep Curls.
Another benefit of the dumbbell curl is that you can train each arm unilaterally (one at a time), so you can work out any imbalances between the right and left side..
Related Article: How To Get Rid of Skinny Arms (Complete Guide)
4. Seated Incline Dumbbell Curl
Performing dumbbell curls from a seated incline position targets the biceps to a greater extent compared with other exercises because it increases the range of motion.
In doing so, you can get a full muscle contraction cycle, while also working to minimize momentum in the movement and isolate the biceps across the entire muscle belly.
This is often trained in the moderate rep range, but sometimes can be done with higher rep sets.
5. Spider Curl
The spider curl is a combination between a preacher curl and a chest supported curl.
By lying facedown on an incline bench, you increase the range of motion of the biceps and can minimize momentum.
This is a great movement if you feel strain in your shoulder joint when doing bicep curls because it essentially takes away the activation of the front delt that is usually present during other bicep variations.
This isn’t the first bicep exercise I would program for lifters since it’s slightly more advanced (combining two bicep variations), but if you have a few months of strength training under your belt, I would try it.
6. Preacher Curl
The preacher curl is an isolation exercise that has the lifter place their elbows and upper arms on an angled pad which supports them throughout the movement.
By having the shoulders fixed on the pad, you minimize the ability to use momentum of the anterior delt to lift the weight (just like the spider curl).
By increasing the range of motion, you are also able to get a deep contraction and target the “bicep peaks”.
You can use two different types of implements for the preacher curl, either the EZ curl bar or dumbbells. You can alternate between the two implements every 4-6 weeks to target the bicep in slightly different ways.
7. Cable Curl
The cable curl, often done from standing, is another curl variation that can be done similar to the dumbbell or barbell curl.
Unlike free weights, cables can keep tension on the muscle at all times, and stresses them the same throughout the full range of motion.
Free weights, as effective as they are, will lack muscular contraction near the top of the movement (past the sticking point).
So machine-based bicep exercises, like the cable curl, can keep tension at the top range of motion that doesn’t get activated to the same degree in other exercises.
8. Close Grip Bench Press
The close grip bench press is great for increasing upper body pressing strength. A “close grip” is usually defined by placing your hands shoulder-width distance, and keeping the elbows tucked underneath the barbell as you lower it to the chest.
Unlike the standard bench press, the closer grip places more emphasis on the triceps. Training these with heavier loads often is limited by the triceps, making them a great way to build tricep strength.
Since the triceps are responsible for locking the weight out in the bench press, training the close grip bench is a good idea if you find the top range of motion in the regular bench press is lacking.
Dips are great for increasing the size and strength of the triceps, specifically hitting the lateral aspects of the arm.
Dips can be trained with heavier loads or moderate loads. While some people do perform these with higher rep ranges (20-30 reps), I find that their triceps usually are not the limiting factor, but rather the shoulders and chest are, or simply maintaining good positioning and posture.
A word of caution, though, some people find dips to be uncomfortable, specifically on the shoulders. If that rings true, you can try three things: (1) limit the range of motion to only focus on the top half, (2) use a lighter load, or (3) lean forward slightly.
Although, if you need to lean forward slightly for dips to feel comfortable on your shoulders, you’ll target more of your pecs. So if you truly want to focus on your arms, then perhaps pick another exercise on this list.
10. JM Press
The JM press is a skullcrusher / close grip bench press hybrid exercise that can be helpful to swap in for lifters who have elbow discomfort when performing other movements.
This hybrid exercise can often be trained with heavy loads, and unlike the close grip bench press, can target the long head (instead of the lateral head) of the triceps. This will help give the triceps more shape and muscle from the rear view (back of the arm).
So my recommendation is to combine the JM press with a close grip bench press if you only have time in your workout for two tricep exercises.
11. Tricep Pushdowns
The triceps pushdown is a great isolation exercise that can be a key movement to get massive tricep pumps.
I like to perform these at the end of a workout as a ‘burn out’ method with moderate to high reps (15-30 reps).
Doing these with a straight bar, reverse grip, rope, or other attachments are all acceptable. With any of these variations, make sure that the elbow joint is the only joint going into full flexion and extension. Don’t start pivoting from the shoulder.
Skullcrushers can be done lying down flat on a bench, on an incline, or even on the floor. It can also be loaded using a standard barbell, EZ curl bar, or dumbbells.
My personal favorite is to use an EZ curl bar and perform this movement lying on the floor. The reason I like the floor version is because if I fail a rep I can simply lay the barbell on the floor behind me, which makes it a safer exercise.
This exercise is similar to the JM press, however the elbows stay more vertical and the load is lowered to the forehead versus the chin.
13. Overhead Tricep Extensions
The overhead tricep extension is a good option to increase muscle growth of the long head and can target the back of the triceps.
However, if you lack lat mobility, i.e. you have issues bringing your arms over your head, then this tricep exercise is probably not going to be for you.
You can do this exercise using dumbbells, barbells, bands, and cables (rope attachment). If you’ve never tried this exercise before, I would start with the rope attachment on cables, and then progress to the free weight (dumbbell and barbell) variations.
Are you training from home with limited equipment? Try these at-home upper body workouts to build muscle now!
Bulking Workout Routines For Arms
Below are six workouts (three workouts for biceps, and three workouts for triceps) you can do while bulking.
Personally, I do not train my biceps and triceps on the same day. That said, you can combine a biceps workout with a triceps workout if you would like. If you’re looking for more direction on how to set up your training split, then simply download the Fitbod app and we’ll design a structure that’s best for you.
The total training volume per week is roughly 16 total work sets, which falls within the normal effective training volume ranges for most individuals looking to maximize muscle growth while still being able to recover properly.
To progress this over the course of 4 weeks, you could simply add one or two work sets per week (choose one exercise from the entire week and add another set). This could look like the below work sets per week progression:
- Week 1 = 16 work sets
- Week 2 = 17-18 work sets
- Week 3 = 18-20 work sets
- Week 4 = 10-12 work sets (deload)
This is just one of several approaches you could take. Again, if you don’t want to have to think about ‘what to do’ or ‘how to do it’, then download Fitbod and we’ll guide you through everything.
“Heavy” Biceps and Triceps Workouts
The purpose of these workouts is to build strength. While we do not typically do less than sets of 5 reps for isolation exercises, it is beneficial to train with heavier loads to force adaptations to take place for muscle growth.
You still want to focus on good form and making sure that you are using the muscles to move the weights, rather than momentum.
You should feel the muscles having no strength left after each set, which may or may not be accompanied with a massive “pump”.
I often recommend doing these arm strength workouts first in the training week so that you can attack the muscle fibers with heavier loads earlier in the training week when you are more fresh and have less accumulated fatigue.
Both workouts are short (2 exercises) and can often be done on the same day or after other muscle groups.
Strength-Based Biceps Workout
- Chin Up: 3 sets of 5-10 reps
- Barbell Curl: 3 sets of 5-10 reps
Strength-Based Triceps Workout
- Close Grip Bench Press: 3 sets of 5-10 reps
- JM Press: 3 sets of 5-10 reps
“Medium” Biceps and Triceps Workouts
The purpose of these workouts is to build muscle in the moderate rep range (10-20 reps). It is an effective way to build strength, increase metabolite build up, and get a great muscle pump to increase size.
That said, when done in a program that also includes heavier and lighter days, you can take your arm training to the next level.
Be sure to focus on good form and making sure that you are using the muscles to move the weights, rather than momentum. You should feel the muscles giving out with their strength, and the muscles themselves starting to burn after these workouts.
I often recommend doing these arm strength workouts second in the training week so that you can be sure you build some strength from day one, however are not completely fatigued from day three.
Below is a hypertrophy-based biceps workout and a hypertrophy-based triceps workout. Both are short (2 exercises) and can often be done on the same day or after other muscle groups, however I tend to do biceps after legs, and triceps after upper body sessions.
Hypertrophy Biceps Workout
- Cable Curl 3 sets of 10-20 reps
- Spider Curl: 3 sets of 10-20 reps
Hypertrophy Triceps Workout
- Triceps Pushdown: 3 sets of 10-20 reps
- Dips: 3 sets of 10-20 reps
“Light” Biceps and Triceps Workouts
The purpose of these workouts is to accumulate a high amount of metabolites within the muscle. This will often leave you with a “pump”, which delivers large amounts of blood flow to the muscle.
I often recommend doing these high-rep workouts later in the training week so that you can attack the muscle fiber with heavier loads earlier in the training week when you are more fresh and have less accumulated fatigue.
Below is a high-rep biceps workout and a high-rep triceps workout. Both are short (2 exercises) and can often be done on the same day or after other muscle groups. I tend to do both of these workouts in the same session on the last day of the week.
High-Rep Biceps Workout
- Cable Curl: 2 sets of 20-30 reps, resting 45-60 seconds between sets, 0 RIR
- Reverse Barbell Curl: 2 sets of 20-30 reps, resting 45-60 seconds between sets, 0 RIR
High-Rep Triceps Workout
- Triceps Pushdown: 2 sets of 20-30 reps, resting 45-60 seconds between sets, 0 RIR
- Overhead Cable Triceps Extension: 2 sets of 20-30 reps, resting 45-60 seconds between sets, 0 RIR
Want more muscle building routines? Check out these one-hour muscle building routine guides and start building muscle today.
Arm Training FAQs
Do You Need to Lift Heavy to Get Bigger Arm?
No, you do not need to lift heavy weights to increase arm size, however lifting heavy (maybe 25% of your training volume), can help stimulate new arm strength and muscle growth. Heavy for arm training is typically 5-10 reps, with good form and little momentum.
Can You Train Arms Too Much?
Yes, you can overdue arm training, just like you can overdue training most muscles. Generally speaking, most lifters will get arm growth between 12-20 total work sets (weekly). The above routine delivers 16 total work sets per week, which could be enough for the vast majority of lifters.
Is It OK to Workout Arms Every Day?
Arms can usually handle a good amount of volume, and as long as you are monitoring overall training volume, you could train them daily. However, you may find it more beneficial to train them 3-4 days a week, and really dial in your form.
Should Beginners Do Isolation or Compound Movements for Bigger Arms?
Beginners should do both isolation and compound exercises for arms. Movements like close grip bench presses, dips, and chin ups are all great mass builders, but so are triceps pushdowns and cable curls. If you are doing some but not the other, there is a strong chance that you could get some new results by including both in your program (like the plan above).
About The Author
Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.