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3 Compound Exercises To Build Massive Biceps and Triceps


Barbell curls. Preacher curls. Extensions. Pressdowns. On arms day, these are a few of our favorite things. But why do so many guys use single-joint isolation exercises for biceps and triceps, and then bombard larger muscle groups, such as the chest, back and quads, with an array of multi-joint moves that allow for more weight? Is it possible to use that same strategy on your arms? Justin Grinnell, C.S.C.S., owner of State of Fitness, believes it is.
“When athletes think about developing ripped arms, they immediately think of isolation exercises, such as biceps curls and triceps pressdowns,” he says. “While isolation movements are great when trying to add some detail to a muscle group, for overall mass and strength gains, compound movements will always trump isolation movements.”

Grinnell says that multi-joint moves and heavier weight loads will lead to a greater release of your body’s natural growth hormone, testosterone, and IGF-1. Collectively, these hormones work to help you add size—everywhere. That includes your pipes. Just train, feed, and repeat. Here are Grinnell’s four moves to get you going.

1. Close-grip Chinup

Target: Biceps

When was the last time you did a full set of chinups to failure? If you have, then you are likely familiar with the ache in your biceps the next day. Turns out, the chinup isn’t just a back exercise—not by a long shot.

“Your biceps have to work so hard to grip and pull your elbow into flexion that there is a tremendous amount of muscle tissue that is stimulated,” Grinnell says.

How to train: Grip a pullup bar underhand with your palms 6″ apart, and, starting from a dead hang, “pull yourself up until your upper-chest comes in contact with the bar.” Pause for a full second and the top, and lower yourself slowly until your arms become totally straight. Pulling yourself up all the way to the bar, Grinnell says, slightly increases the range of motion, and thus the demand placed on the biceps.


2. One-arm hammer row

Target: Biceps

You likely already do hammer curls in your routine—but hammer rows? Grinnell says to think of it as a modified concentration curl, where you’re getting a bit of help from your back to complete heavier-than-normal reps of an already effective biceps exercise.

How to do it: “Grab a dumbbell that you can usually row for about 15 reps,” he says. “Assume the same position as a standard one-arm dumbbell row. Instead of pulling straight back, as you do when rowing, you will perform a hammer curl as you pull the dumbbell to the top, near your pecs. Pause and squeeze your biceps and then lower slowly until your arm is fully extended. Due to your position and the support from your back muscles, you are able to put more stress on the biceps due to the increased weight being use. Your upper-back will be fried as a byproduct.”

3. Close-grip ring pushup

Target: Triceps

A lot of mass-seekers tout the benefits of the close-grip bench press for triceps. They usually do this before rubbing their shoulders or elbows. Yes, it’s an effective exercise for adding three-head size to your tri’s, but there’s a better way to go if you want to avoid tender joints.

“I like close-grip bench presses, but with close-grip pushup variations you can increase your volume and frequency, due to less stress on the shoulder joints,” Grinnell says. “More training frequency and more training volume with better recovery equals increased muscle growth.”

Grinnell adds that weighted or elevated close-grip pushups are adequate substitutes if you don’t have access to rings or a suspension trainer.

The routine: Putting it all together

Isolation moves are so yesteryear. Try this compound-focused routine to wage a serious shock-and-awe campaign on your biceps and triceps. 

Close-grip chinup: 3 sets of 8 reps
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Ring dip: 3 sets of 8 reps

Close-grip ring pushup: 3 sets to failure
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One-arm hammer row: 3 sets of 12 reps

Cable curl: 2 sets of 15 reps

Rope pressdown: 3 sets of 15 reps