The New Bodybuilding for Old-School Results contains more than a
dozen two-page spreads that illustrate various parts of the book.
Above, a series of historic photos lead into the "Golden Age of Bodybuilding,"
which feature training stories from Muscle Beach
about Steve Reeves, John Grimek, Eric Pedersen, Clancy Ross, Vic
Tanny, George Eiferman, Marvin Eder, and Bill Pearl.
by Ellington Darden, Ph.D.
Arthur Jones always liked training his arms. And he was intrigued with building machines for the biceps and triceps.
"Because your arms, more than any other body part," Jones said, "provide relevant information you can SEE and FEEL. It only takes one workout to know if what you're doing is productive."
Jones was primarily referring to the pump – the pumped sensation you get in your biceps and triceps when they are worked repetitively. He also had a way to measure that pump and predict future arm growth.
All of us bodybuilders enjoy the "see" and "feel" of exercising our arms. Even today, at 62 years of age, I'd like to have more size on my biceps and triceps. And probably so would you.
In my latest book, The New Bodybuilding for Old-School Results, I have a chapter that describes and illustrates the most productive arm routine that I've ever utilized. It's also a workout that I've mentioned in some of my previous books.
My most productive arm routine consists of a one-repetition very slow chinup, immediately followed by a biceps curl for 8 to 12 repetitions. Then, there's a one-repetition dip, immediately followed by a triceps extension for 8 to 12 repetitions. That's it, four exercises!
If anything will rock your biceps and triceps into new growth, this routine . . . properly performed . . . will do it.
Never one to be satisfied with a particular cycle, however, over the last 20 years I've tried various versions of the workout. For example:
- Reversing the order, doing the curl and the extension before the chinup and the dip.
- Using Nautilus machines for the biceps and triceps exercises.
- Adding isometrics and infimetrics to the end of the machine movements.
- Expanding the routine to include a set of negative chins and negative dips, as well as few other exercises, at the end.
So far, at least, I still believe that the slow chinup and dip, followed by the curl and extension, combine to yield the best size-building biceps and triceps routine I've ever applied.
Recently, however, there's been considerable discussion on the Internet, including this Web site, concerning the effectiveness of a new technique called The Johnston Rep Method . . . or JReps. Brian Johnston, the author of JReps and the owner of the Web site www.i-a-r-t.com, notes that JReps are a way to divide an exercise's range of motion into zones.
Although Johnston says that there are eight different ways of doing JReps, the two that caught my attention are called "halves" and "thirds." Halves and thirds simply mean to separate the movement into two or three parts. You then do partial reps in each of the selected zones.
JReps, according to Johnston and some of his trainees, produce more thorough muscular stimulation than anything they've ever experienced.
Please note: I have NOT read Johnston's book. I am, however, planning on doing so soon. Until then, let me say that Johnston's JReps have caused me to do some experimentation on my own, especially as it relates to a method that I applied at the Nautilus Research Center in Lake Helen, Florida, in the 1980s.
Apparently, halves and thirds are similar to a technique that I named . . . Stage Repetitions. According to my book, Super High-Intensity Bodybuilding (1986), stage repetitions allow you to exercise with and around sticking points and lockouts, which are prevalent on many barbell exercises.
The existence of a sticking point – the point during a barbell exercise when the resistance feels heavier than it does at other points – makes it obvious that your muscles are being worked harder in some positions than in others. Likewise, when you lockout your arms or legs under a barbell in certain positions, you should be aware that your muscles are not being worked. Your bones are supporting the weight and your muscles are merely acting as stabilizers.
For example, let's examine the standing barbell curl. The barbell curl is a single-joint movement that allows your hands to rotate approximately 140 degrees around your elbows. The sticking point, or the most demanding position of the exercise, occurs when the forearms are parallel with the floor, or at a 90-degree angle with your upper arms.
Although in the 1980s I usually separated the movement into thirds, the following description deals with halves:
- Divide the barbell curl into approximate halves. I'm using the term "approximate" because from the sticking point up is about 75 degrees, which leaves 65 degrees for the bottom stage.
- Determine the hardest and easiest stage of the exercise. The top 75 degrees is harder than the bottom 65 degrees.
- Start with a weight you can handle for 20 seconds in each stage, or 40 seconds for the entire set.
- Perform the hardest stage first and the easiest last.
- Raise and lower the barbell slowly throughout each stage for approximately 8 to 12 partial repetitions.
- Increase the resistance when you can do 30 seconds or more on each stage, or 60 seconds or more for the entire set.
In the barbell curl, work the top 75 degrees (including the sticking point) first in a slow, controlled manner. Next, perform the bottom 65 degrees in a similar fashion.
Stage reps can also be applied to multiple-joint movements that involve lockouts. Once again you should work from the hardest stage (which includes the sticking point) to the easiest.
Let's return to the four-exercise arm routine.
What if I take my best arm routine and try to improve it by adding stage repetitions (halves) to the biceps curl and the triceps extension? That's precisely what I'd like to do . . . with many of the trainees involved with this Web site acting as guinea pigs.
Note: I tried several ways of applying stage reps to the slow chinup (as well as the dip), but splitting the exercise in half hurt my ability to concentrate and seemed to be less efficient than the old way. Thus, I did not modify the slow chinup or dip.
Here's a look at the revised arm cycle, followed by a description of each exercise:
- One-repetition chinup, 30-45 seconds up and 30-45 seconds down, immediately followed by
- Biceps curl, halves, 8-12 partial reps on both.
Rest for 2 minutes.
- One-repetition dip, 30-45 seconds up and 30-45 seconds down, immediately followed by
- Triceps extension with one dumbbell, halves, 8-12 partial reps on both.
You'll need a horizontal bar, plus a clock with a second hand in plain sight for the one-repetition chinup. Or, it's even better if you have an assistant who can call out your time (5, 10, and 15) as you move up and down. The idea is to do the positive part of a chinup as slow as you can, while still be able to make it to the top position. Then, however long it took you to get to the top in seconds becomes your goal as you're lowering to the bottom. If you can do at least 6 chinups on your own, then a good starting goal is 30-seconds up and 30-seconds down. If you can do 10 chinups, try 45-seconds on both the positive and the negative phases.
Grasp the overhead bar with an underhanded grip and your hands shoulder-width apart. From a dead hang, start the pulling up – ever so slowly. Move the first inch, then the second, and the third. Try to be half way up at the count of 15. Keep you face and neck relaxed and breath. It should be difficult to get into the top position, but not impossible.
Once at the top, there's a brief pause. Then, lower yourself . . . first one inch, then two, three, four, and so on. You may need to actually stop the lowering for a few seconds, if you're progressing too quickly. Again, keep your face relaxed and your eyes open so you can see the clock. Take it very slow . . . and go all the way down to that dead hang position and pause for a second.
Immediately, place your feet on the floor and move to the biceps curl with a barbell. The barbell should be near the chinning bar.
Remember the idea here is to perform 20 seconds, or 8 partial reps in the top position, followed by another 20 seconds or 8 partial reps in the bottom half of the movement. And believe me, if you've selected the weight correctly, this will be a cycle that's full of feeling . . . painful feelings. My suggestion is to start with a medium weight on the barbell – maybe no more than 50 to 60 pounds.
Stand with the barbell and curl it to the top position. You hands should be shoulder-width apart and it's important to anchor your elbows against your sides. Try to minimize the movement of your elbows throughout each partial repetition. Lower the barbell a little below half way and curl it back to the top. Try to make the movements continuous and knock out about 8 half reps in 20 seconds. On the last lowering rep go all the way to the bottom and prepare for the bottom half.
Continue curling, but this time stop before you hit the sticking point. Make a smooth turnaround and lower back to the bottom. Continue the bottom half reps for 20 seconds, or until failure. You'll probably experience a terrific burn during this phase. Take a short rest and ready yourself for the triceps exercises, beginning with the dip.
Perform the dip in a similar manner as the chinup. Start at the bottom and slowly . . . very slowly . . . move up inch by inch. Time yourself so you're in the halfway position at 15 to 20 seconds. As you lockout your elbows, pause briefly, and then begin the negative phase. Again, your goal is to take the same number of seconds lowering as you did raising.
Get a good stretch at the bottom, dismount the parallel bars, and grab one dumbbell for the triceps extension.
I prefer doing this movement seated, but you may choose the standing version if you like. Grasp one dumbbell and hold the top-end section in both hands. A 30 to 40-pound dumbbell may be all you can handle initially.
Press the dumbbell over your head and keep your elbows close to your ears. The idea now is to perform the top half of the triceps extension for 20 seconds or 8 partial reps. Make sure your upper arms are vertical and not leaning forward. You want to isolate your triceps as much as possible. On the final half repetition, let the dumbbell go all the way behind your neck.
For the second half of the movement, press the dumbbell halfway up and make a smooth turnaround and lower slowly. Again keep those elbows by your ears and your upper arms vertical. Only your hands and forearms should be moving. Lifting your chest and arching your back throughout the movement will help you to stabilize your upper body. Grind out those last one or two reps.
After the last rep, ease the dumbbell out of your hands and relax your arms. You deserve a drink of water.
If you have access to a Bowflex machine, you may want to incorporate some of the curling and triceps movements into the cycle, in place of the barbell curl and the dumbbell extension.
I have a Bowflex Ultimate and have been experimenting with a form of inclined angled curls. Here's what I recommend:
Attach the moveable bench to the leg unit, as if you're about to do a leg curl. But instead of lying face down on the bench, reverse your head and feet and lie face up so you're looking at the Power Rods. Bend forward and grasp the handles and lie back on the seat. Then stabilize your body by positioning your feet on the front of the machine. Do the top part of the curl first and then the bottom half – both for the required 8 or more partial reps. You'll really feel them after that one-repetition chinup.
Instead of the dumbbell triceps extension, I like the Bowflex seated triceps extension.
With Bowflex Ultimate machine, adjust the seat to the standard 45-degree position and sit facing away from the Power Rods. Grasp the handles and bring them to your shoulders. Straighten your arms up and over your chest. Move the handles together and keep them together. Notice the distance between your hands and the bridge of your nose and visually divide that range in half. Lower your hands to the halfway point and smoothly press the handles back to the top. Repeat for 8 strict half reps and transition into the bottom half of the range for another 8 or so half reps. Keep your elbows stable and focus on just your hands and forearms moving in a slight arc.
Okay, to that four-exercise arm cycle, add four other exercises and you've got an effective HIT routine. Do the four arm exercises first in the workout. My suggestions for the four other exercises are the following:
- Leg extension or Leg press
- Leg curl
- Calf raise with barbell or machine
- Side bend with one dumbbell
Thus, your entire routine would be:
- One-repetition chinup, immediately followed by
- Biceps curl, halves; Rest for 2 minutes.
- One-repetition dip, immediately followed by
- Triceps extension, halves; Rest for 2 minutes.
- Leg extension or Leg press
- Leg curl
- Calf raise
- Side bend
My advise is to experiment and practice with exercises 1-4 for a session or two, until you get the time, resistance, reps, and form just right.
But before you do that, find a tape and measure and record the circumferences (to the nearest sixteenth of an inch) of both your flexed arms. It's important to take these measurements cold, with no pumping beforehand.
Get out a calendar and mark off a two-week period that you can devote to this routine. It's your job to train twice a week for two consecutive weeks. That's four workouts.
Important: Go to momentary muscular failure on all the exercises and stages. Push yourself. Be progressive in every session. Give each of those four workouts your best effort.
Then, rest two days and the following morning retake your arm circumference measurements. Compare the after measurements to the before figures.
How much bigger are your upper arms?
I'm interested in hearing about your results . . . and what your opinion is of stage reps and this new arm cycle.