If you want a bigger more dense upper body musculature, i.e. bigger biceps, triceps, forearms, back, and chest, then you need to do compound lifts. Not just any compounds, but exercises like, bench press, overhead press, barbell rows, and deadlifts. Look if you’re a beginner, you simply don’t have the muscle mass to waste time with isolation exercises, like curls, extensions and other machine chest and back exercises. Build strength and mass first, then worry about aesthetics. You cannot isolate what you don’t have.
Do compound lifts to work smaller muscles also
Remember, if you increase your strength and lift heavier, you will add mass and get bigger. The best types of exercises are compound lifts. They work multiple body parts and will save you a lot of time in the gym. All you need is 4 or 5 key exercises and you’re set. They work all the small muscles like the triceps, biceps and forearms. Forget isolation exercises. These don’t translate into useful strength for everyday activities anyway. The main exercises for increasing size of the upper body and targeting the smaller muscles are: deadlifts, barbell rows, bench press and overhead press. Lets look at some of exercises and the ancillary muscles targeted.
- Do barbell rows. The curling motion when pulling the bar towards your torso, works the bicep. Because the movement engages the lower back, upper back and hips, it allows for the use of heavier weights than with bicep curls.
- Triceps. Both bench press and overhead press engage the triceps as you push the weight away from your body. Multiple muscles support this motion, which allows for the use of heavier weights, in a safer manner, than tricep extensions or skull crushers. Off course, bench press will help build a bigger chest and overhead press will work your shoulders.
- You must do deadlifts. This will increase the size of your forearms by virtue of gripping the bar, as hard as possible, when doing the exercise. This means, it will also increase grip strength, which helps with other exercises, like the barbell row. Plus, you will build your back and hamstrings.
Proper execution of each exercise is important to remaining injury free, and ensuring you work the body part that we you want to. Let’s look at each exercise in turn.
In addition to working the back, and hamstrings, deadlifts also work the forearms as stated earlier. The key here is not only to have a strong grip, but good grip technique as well.
How to grip the bar…and build forearms of steel
The preferable grip is a mixed one. Mixed is simply one hand overhand and the other underhand. This prevents the bar from rotating out and breaking your grip. It is important to hold the bar closer to your fingers than lower on the palm towards the wrist. This prevents pinching of the skin below the fingers, and formation of calluses. If it feels uncomfortable at first, that’s okay, stick with it and eventually you’ll get accustomed to it.
It is important to use your bare hands and not wraps or gloves, which results in a weaker grip. I’ve done it with gloves at lower weights, but as soon as it started getting heavier, I could no longer keep the bar from slipping out. Ditching the gloves made a huge difference and allowed me to pull heavier weights.
Grip the bar as tightly as you can, when pulling and lowering the weight. Really squeeze here. Aside from preventing the bar from slipping, this is where the forearms get a huge workout. Now you’re ready to perform the deadlift.
General Deadlift Technique
Deadlifts start with the bar on the floor. To practice the form, add the least heavy plates you can find in the gym to the bar, that is as big as the 35 or 45 lb plates. If none are available, then either use the adjustable arms on the squat rack, or build up the height from the floor using plastic steps/risers. This is an exercise that you can’t really practice without the bar being the right height off the ground.
Step 1 Start by standing with your shins almost touching the bar. Feet should be shoulder width apart and turned outward slightly. The bar should be just above the center of your feet (if your feet are 10 inches long, bar should be over the 5 inch point).
Step 3 Keep your back neutral (flat), hinge forward at the hips and grasp the bar with both hands (just outside your legs). Use the mixed grip to pull.
Step 4 Lift your chest and keep the back and head neutral. Grip the bar and take the slack out of it.
Step 5 Take a deep breath and hold it. Pull the bar whilst standing up straight. Exhale slowly as you past your sticking point. Lock out the knees and hips as you straighten up. Breathe in again at the top.
Step 6 Lower the bar whilst hinging forward at the hips and bending the knees again. Hold your breath as you lower the bar and exhale at the end of the movement. DO NOT let the bar bounce. Allow it to come to a dead stop and pull again.
Just remember a good grip with deadlifts also helps with barbell rows and allows for the use of heavier weights.
Doing barbell rows will target the biceps, in addition to your lower back, upper back and forearms. The pulling motion is similar to that of a bicep curl. However, you can use heavier weights, due to the fact that multiple muscle groups work together to perform the movement. The grip is different from the deadlift, and should be a double overhanded grip. If you use a mixed grip, you will end up working the biceps in an uneven manner. Doing it underhanded will utilize the bicep more, but will result in pain and injury of the wrist and elbow. The general technique is as follows:
Step 1 Start by standing with your shins close to, but not touching the bar. The bar should be just above the center of your feet as with the deadlift. The width of the stance is wider than in a deadlift, about shoulder width. Your feet should be angled out at 30 °.
Step 3 Your torso should be parallel to ground to start. Keep the head and back neutral, so they are in a straight line to your hips.
Step 4 Breathe in and hold. Pull the bar towards your lower chest, with the elbows moving upwards. Don’t allow the bar to crash down to the floor. Lower it under control and exhale at the bottom of the movement.
With heavier weights, it is normal for your torso to raise slightly, about 15 °. To accommodate this rise you should be hinging at the hips and not arching the back. Beyond 15 °, you need to lower you weight to ensure you use good form.
Step 1 Start by lying on the bench with the eyes in line with the bar. Keep the feet flat on the floor, about shoulder width apart. Press the shoulder blades into the bench and arch the back, whilst keeping your butt on the bench.
Step 2 Grab the bar with a medium grip, outside of shoulder width. The grip is different from the deadlift and barbell row, in that it is further away from the fingers, and closer to the wrist. Keep the wrist straight and avoid bending backward.
Step 3 Unrack the bar by extending your arms and moving it over the shoulders. Take a deep breath.
Step 4 Lower the bar until it touches the mid chest region. Keep the elbows in at 45 – 75 ° whilst lowering. Hold your breath at the bottom.
Step 5 Without pausing, push the bar back up and at the same time exhale. With the feet planted drive through them into the ground. Squeeze your glutes to tighten up your hips and lock them into place. The elbows will flare as you go back up to the starting position. This is normal. Lock the elbows at the top of the movement without hyperextending to prevent injury to the elbow and dropping the bar on your torso.
Another great exercise for building the triceps is the overhead press. Between overhead presses and bench presses, there really is no need for supplementary exercises. The basic technique for the overhead press is given below:
Step 1 Start with a squat rack and place the bar at the height of the collar bone.
Step 2 Grab the bar with a medium grip, outside of shoulder width. The grip is similar to the bench press in that it is further away from the fingers, and closer to the wrist. Keep the wrist straight and avoid bending backward.
Step 4 Stand with your chest up and out with your shoulders back. Slightly arch the upper back to accommodate this position. Tuck your chin to your chest to avoid hitting it when pressing.
Step 5 Take a deep breath and press the bar upwards. Move your torso forward as the bar passes your forehead. This will ensure that the pressing motion is done in a straight line. Lock out the elbows at the top of the movement.
Step 6 Hold your breath at the top of the movement. Lower the bar back down to your starting position while leaning the torso back as the bar passes the forehead. Exhale at the bottom of the movement. Now rinse and repeat.
If you want bigger arms, forget about doing isolation exercises. Build mass and strength with compound exercises . The following table summarizes the exercises and the smaller, ancillary muscles worked.
So, you not only gain the benefits of working the large muscle groups in the upper body, but indirectly the smaller muscles without having to do separate isolation exercises. You cut your gym time considerably and still increase your muscle mass and strength.
P.S. The Healthy Goat was last seen sleeping in a corner of the local gym. Watching other people do compound exercises can sure drain a goat’s energy.