3 Beginner Arm Training Mistakes to Avoid in Your Workouts

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FROM THE MOMENT that many guys pick up a weight for the first time, their primary goal is to build our own set of action-hero arms like Rambo or the Terminator—so the first instinct is to do curls, curls, and more curls.

Sadly, instead of producing pipes worthy of Schwarzenegger or Stallone, most of men who take that path wind up were scratching their heads, looking at the same noodle arms in the mirror despite the thousands of reps they’ve put their arms through. From that hard early lesson, it should be clear that more arm work is not necessarily better when it comes to adding size to your biceps and triceps. The key to effective arms training, according to Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., starts by eliminating any rookie mistakes.

“That’s something that happened to me when I started in the gym,” he says. “I was stacking arm day after arm day after arm day, and I kept asking myself the same question after months and months of training: ‘Why are my arms not growing?’”

The key to answering that question is to avoid what Samuel refers to as these three cardinal sins of training, and your arms will be popping in no time. “The best part of this is once I got away from those, I was able to make a lot of progress,” Samuel says. “So avoid them now and I guarantee you will see your arms grow.”

3 Arm Training Mistakes You Need to Avoid

You’re Training Too Heavy

To build muscle, you have to move heavy weights. One problem though: As you continue cranking up the weight on isolation movements like biceps curls, you’re more likely to shift out of proper form and allow your arms start sharing the work with other muscle groups. Those times you were swinging the weight up on the final reps of a heavy set—that was your shoulders getting more involved. By the end of the set, all the work that was intended for your biceps or triceps can be significantly reduced.

First rule: Learn the foundations of proper form, which in the case of arm workouts is knowing that the elbow is your starting point, according to Samuel. “That is our key pivot point,” he says. “So think about making sure that all your movements, whether you’re doing skull crushers, bicep curls or hammer curls, start at the elbow. If you’re moving from the hips because we’re rocking up with a biceps curl, that’s not going to create the effect you want for your biceps. It’s not going to grow your arms.”

You Put Too Much Focus on Your Arms

Logically, if you want big arms, you should train arms. How enticing was it early on to sometimes stack three or four arm days in a row—usually at the expense oftentimes of missing leg day or skipping chest workouts?

However, despite all that volume, it should never be at the expense of the heavy-hitting compound exercises—think deadlifts, presses, and rows. By training these exercises hard and heavy, you’re working several muscle groups at a time, including your arms.

The best approach is to avoid overdoing your arm focus, Samuel says. Add a triceps exercise or two following chest training, or using the same approach for biceps on back day will go a long way. By the end of the week, you’ll have three or four smaller arms workouts in the books while not skipping out on the heavy exercises that stimulate muscle growth. “We’ve got to get that total body stimulus because that’s what’s going to be key to helping you grow,” Samuel says.

You Work Through the Motions Too Quickly

With all the time and effort devoted to growing your arms, why would you waste just one rep going through the motions of performing lazy curls or sloppy pushdowns? Instead, it’s imperative to focus on time under tension. This means that you slow down the movement to increase the amount of time your muscle spend under load. “I want you to think about squeezing on every single rep,” says Samuel. “If you skip that squeeze, you’re not going to get the most out of your arms. We want to think about slowing things down and appreciating the negative. That’s also going to help us take other body parts out of play and help us prevent cheating.”

So, for every rep, strive for peak contraction while squeezing at the top as hard as possible. Hold it for a split second before lowering (a two count works here). This helps pile on additional time under tension. “Because we’re working with smaller muscles. We can’t go as heavy but what we can do is pile up a little bit more time on every single rep with that lighter weight. It’s gonna develop the mind muscle connection you need.”

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