How to Get Bigger Arms: From 12-17 Inches
Having jacked arms is a must if you want to turn heads, whether that’s on a beach or a bodybuilding stage.
They are the icing on the cake, often being the difference between a good physique and one you’ll remember forever.
It’s no coincidence that Arnold Schwarzenegger, considered the king of bodybuilding, had the greatest arms ever, with gym rats still admiring his biceps 50 years later.
Were his legs as well-developed?
No, Arnold surely had chicken legs compared to the likes of Tom Platz. However, all is forgotten because his arms were legendary.
Arnold had huge bulging biceps, with peaks resembling small mountains and road-map veins spiraling through his deltoids down to his forearms.
However, it’s not just professional bodybuilders who want big arms; average Joe’s also covet them to get more respect from their peers and more attention from the girls.
Although a typical bodybuilding split caters for all muscle groups, arms are the most visible muscle when wearing a t-shirt; thus, it makes sense that most guys want to show off their most-viewed asset.
Big arms represent strength, power, and dominance.
From a functional point of view, strong arms are also very beneficial for hitting new PR’s on big compound movements (such as dips, bench presses, pull-ups, lat pull-downs, rows, etc.), which require strong triceps and biceps.
- 1 My Transformation
- 2 5 Tips for Big Arms
- 3 1. Increase Time Under Tension
- 4 2. Eat big to get big.
- 5 3. Shock Your Arms
- 6 4. Use Fat Gripz.
- 7 5. Cut (lose fat).
- 8 Summary
If there is someone qualified to write about how to get big arms, it is me.
Here is my transformation from many years of hard work, dieting, and training.
This transformation was 100% natural (no steroids).
My small shoulders transformed into boulders.
My spaghetti arms transformed into pythons.
Believe it or not, the before picture (above) was how I looked after regularly lifting weights and following a bodybuilding split for 4 years.
The truth is, I had awful genetics for building big arms (or muscle in general). I was a classic hardgainer/ectomorph, struggling to gain any mass, no matter how hard I lifted.
Here is another picture of me having little to show for my bodybuilding endeavors (below).
In this article, I’ll reveal how I grew my arms from approximately 12 to 17 inches.
I say ‘approximately’ because I’m uncertain of the exact measurement of my arms before I started lifting; however, going by pictures, they look around the 12-inch mark.
Below is a photo of my arms recently (17 inches cold—possibly 17.5″ here with a pump”).
To put my 17-inch arms into perspective, this is a cold, flexed measurement, and my height is 5 feet 8.
In comparison, Frank Zane, one of the greatest bodybuilders of the golden era, had 18-inch arms at 5 feet 9 inches. However, Frank was known to have taken anabolic steroids in order to reach this size.
How was I able to overcome my hard-gainer genetics and get big arms naturally? Read my tips below.
5 Tips for Big Arms
The following tips are listed in order of importance:
1. Increase Time Under Tension
By this, I am referring to the view of:
“Training your arms (or other muscle groups) in the gym for over an hour is counterproductive and overtraining”. This is completely false.
My Crazy Arm Experiment
I’ll let you in on one of my crazy, secret experiments and my results.
6 months ago, I trained my arms for 8 hours a day, 5 times a week (from Monday to Friday).
I would train for 2 hours straight, have a small break (15–20 minutes), and train for another 2 hours.
So, after 4 hours, I would go home, eat a ton of food, then repeat for another 4 hours and go to sleep.
Thus, I clocked in 40 hours of arm training in just 5 days. The next week, I would train other muscle groups as usual so they didn’t deflate, and the week after, I did the same again for arms.
In total, I did this crazy arm week five times over the course of 12 weeks or so. I called it Armageddon.
What were my results?
I gained 0.75″ on my arms. They went from 16.5″ to 17.25″. After this, they decreased to 17″ after cutting and losing some fat.
This increase in size was lean muscle that stayed with me permanently, not merely inflammation that blew up my arms temporarily and then shrank back down later.
The truth is, I knew my arms were going to respond incredibly well to this crazy volume because I’d done smaller experiments like this in the past, which were also successful. For example, I trained my arms for 2 hours a day, 5 times a week, and had great results.
How was I able to do this experiment without overtraining?
I only used super light weights (2.5kg for dumbbell curls), did many reps (50+ per set), and went nowhere near failure. My training intensity was very low, which was why I was able to complete this crazy experiment. This test also proved that you don’t need to lift heavy to build muscle (or have high intensity).
This experiment worked because there was excessive time under tension (1), the most important component for muscle growth.
Other Examples of Time Under Tension
Olympic gymnasts are a great example of this time-under-tension principle at work. Gymnasts train by lifting their bodyweight for several hours each day. Bodybuilders would say this is overtraining; however, their body has slowly built up to this incredible volume over several years, and as a result, they have incredible muscularity.
The ironic thing about gymnasts is that they don’t care one bit about muscle size. Their goal is actually to be as light and strong as possible, so gaining muscle is actually counterproductive (as it is dense, causing their weight to increase).
Other examples of time under tension are rock climbers’ backs, cyclists’ calves, and swimmers’ lats.
Increasing time under tension is by far the best way to gain size in your arms quickly.
Note: You do not need to train your arms for 40 hours a week like I did in order to see exceptional gains. I understand that people don’t have the time in the day to do this; however, applying this principle of increased TUT will be very effective. Therefore, if you currently train your arms for 1 hour a week, increasing this to 3 hours a week will be enough to see a noticeable increase in size. My advice is to do as many hours as time will allow (which won’t put your health at risk).
Bill Pettis was a bodybuilder from the 1970s who had a reputation for having the ‘biggest arms in the world’ and performing marathon arm workouts.
Bill would train for 6 hours on average each day, sometimes training arms for as much as 10 hours (even longer than me!) and consuming milk and honey for energy. However, Bill needed several days to recuperate after doing this arm-athon, sometimes suffering from exhaustion (don’t try this at home, folks).
Arnold said this about Bill after he sadly passed away:
“Bill Pettis was one of my favorite training partners. He had the biggest arms I’ve ever seen, but more importantly, he had the biggest heart. I’m going to miss him”.
Bill’s arms weren’t just massive but also incredibly strong, with people witnessing him do a 375-pound standing tricep extension when working out at Venice Beach. This was done at a body weight of around 250 lbs.
Bill’s arms measured 22 1/8″ cold and 23 1/4 with a pump. This was at a height of 5 feet 10.
In comparison, Phil Heath’s arms today measure 21 1/4″ cold and 22 3/4″ with a pump (2).
The most crazy thing out of all of this is that Bill was known to be natural.
At the age of 16, he already had a 20″ arm and a body weight of 158 lbs.
At 18 years old, his arms measured 21″ at roughly 195 lbs.
He cannot be classified as a lifetime natural because he admitted to experimenting with steroids for 5 days (the culprit most likely being dianabol). However, apart from that time, he’s believed to have never taken anything again.
I know from personal experience how much you can grow as a natural when you do crazy volume. Throw into the mix that Bill had freakish genetics, and it’s reasonable to believe that much of his arm size was truly natural, especially as much of it was already attained before he finished puberty.
Imagine being at school as a 16-year-old with 20-inch arms.
2. Eat big to get big.
Food is anabolic.
Everyone knows of a dude who used to be super fat but has lost weight and is now jacked.
Those twinkle rolls have seemingly transformed into slabs of muscle—with arms, everyone is admiring.
How does this work?
In bodybuilding, ‘experts’ tell you that if you eat a small surplus of calories (+500), you’ll build small amounts of muscle while keeping fat at bay. Equally, if you eat a large surplus of calories (anything over 500), the rest of the weight you gain will be fat.
Thus, the common protocol is to do a ‘lean bulk’, only eating in a 500 surplus.
This is all wrong.
Firstly, it doesn’t matter if you eat with a 500-calorie surplus or a 5,000-calorie surplus; the weight will be distributed proportionally.
For example, if you gain 10 pounds, roughly 6 pounds of this will be fat and 4 pounds will be lean mass.
Research on the effects of overeating has found that the percentage of fat-free mass gained (on average) is 50–68% (3).
68% was recorded in individuals who were sedentary (4), meaning that even if you grossly overeat, binge eating on Doritos and pizza from your couch, you’ll still gain more muscle than most bodybuilders would in a year from lifting weights.
Right now, your mind should be blown.
I can explain the results from studies that seemingly indicate that ‘eating in a small calorie surplus results in 100% muscle gains’. In these studies, the participants have previously lost muscle at some point in the past. Thus, by overeating, they are simply restoring the mass they previously lost.
For example, if you underate at some point in your life and lost 6 pounds of lean mass, you could overeat by as much as you want, and you’d gain that lean mass back (with no fat whatsoever) until you regained the 6 pounds. Then, once you got to this point, the weight you gained would be distributed proportionately again, with the most weight gain being fat mass.
This restoring of previous muscle (from overeating) is a form of muscle memory that I used to gain huge amounts of size in a short period of time on my arms before (see my post here). Christian Bale also utilized this methodology to regain large amounts of lost muscle from The Machinist to Batman Begins.
My Binge-Eating Experiments
In my testing, I’ve noticed that roughly 60% of the weight I gain is fat and 40% is lean mass, correlating with the above-mentioned studies.
I would typically eat 6,000–7,000 calories a day, gaining as much weight as possible in roughly 40 days. Then I would spend 6–9 months dieting, stripping away the fat I gained.
So, I would typically gain 45 pounds from a bulk during these 40 days (don’t try this at home; it’s not healthy), and by the end of the year, I would gain roughly 13 pounds of lean mass.
That might not sound like much, but in the mirror, that’s a big difference.
Note: If you cut and eat in a small calorie deficit (-25% of your maintenance calories), you’ll be able to maintain muscle mass while stripping away fat. Slow weight loss = muscle retention (5).
By the way, I was dirty bulking to the max during this period of obese eating. I would shovel down pizza, nachos, and endless amounts of chocolate every day, basically resembling Ben Stiller at the end of Dodgeball. I ate until I felt sick, and then I ate some more. My insides must have been screaming.
I was risking my health in the short term in order to make rapid muscle gains. Although everyone around me didn’t understand my plan and just thought I was getting fat.
I have performed about five of these bulks in my lifetime, gaining roughly 65 pounds of lean mass for my ectomorph frame.
I’d say roughly 4 inches of the 5 inches I’ve gained on my arms can be attributed to this overeating hack. This has taken me many years of hard work overeating and then dieting down, losing roughly 10% of body fat with each cut. This truly is an amazing way to build unlimited amounts of muscle; however, it requires a lot of dedication to perform constant cuts and lose the fat. It also requires sacrifice, as you won’t be staying shredded with abs all-year round.
If someone were to ask you, “Who are the most muscular people on the planet?”. You would probably answer professional bodybuilders, who are juiced up to their gills on steroids.
However, that would be wrong.
The correct answer is sumo wrestlers.
Believe it or not, these seemingly obese dudes have more muscle mass under all that chub, even compared to IFBB pros such as Phil Heath.
In a study, researchers compared the fat-free mass (FFM) of 37 Japanese sumo wrestlers to that of 14 highly trained bodybuilders (6). As you can imagine, sumo wrestlers had the highest body fat percentage (26.1%) compared to bodybuilders (10.9%).
However, this is where it gets interesting: sumo wrestlers had significantly more fat-free mass compared to bodybuilders, with six of the sumo’s having over 100kg of fat-free mass. The largest sumo had 121kg of fat-free mass!
To put this into perspective, when Phil Heath competes at the Mr. Olympia, he weighs roughly 240 lbs (109kg). He comes in at approximately 4% of body fat, meaning he has a fat-free mass of around 230.4 lbs (104.5kg).
This was the best bodybuilder in the world, with 7 Sandow trophies matching Arnold, yet he’s completely out-muscled by just one of the sumo’s in this small study (of just 37 wrestlers). In fact, Phil would be dwarfed by the largest sumo in the study, who’d be carrying over 16kg more lean mass. If he were to execute a successful cut, he would look like a giant next to Phil on stage.
Some people might say that these sumo’s wouldn’t be able to lose that much fat without losing their muscle. This is wrong. In my experience, when you cut slowly, it is very attainable to lose large amounts of fat without losing any muscle size. The study cited earlier in this article also backs that up.
However, even in a worst-case scenario where someone did lose muscle when cutting, this is still only temporary, as when the person overeats again, their body will restore 100% of the muscle they lost while dieting (via the process of muscle memory).
Takeaway: Food is anabolic. If you want much bigger arms, you may need to perform several bulks and cuts until you’re happy with your size. This doesn’t mean you need to eat 6,000+ calories eating tons of junk food like I did (although it was very successful); instead, you can do it slower and be kinder to your organs.
Some people ask me whether eating clean will inhibit fat gain when bulking; in my testing, it doesn’t matter; opting for dirty or clean foods made little difference. Instead, it was the calorie count that was crucial, so definitely don’t feel bad for eating your favorite cheat meals when bulking; it doesn’t mean now you’re going to gain more fat and build less muscle, despite what the ‘gurus’ of the fitness world will tell you. However, from a health point of view, it is better to eat nutritious foods.
The best part about gaining muscle through the principle of overeating is that the muscle you build will be 100% permanent.
For example, if you go to the gym and start lifting weights, you’ll build muscle. However, if you stop lifting weights, you’ll shrink back down to your former size.
However, when you overeat to build muscle, this is permanent and thus will stay with you forever, regardless of whether you train or not.
For those who don’t believe me, I am the real-life case study (check it out below).
In the first picture (below), I’d been lifting weights regularly for a few years, and in the after photo, I hadn’t been lifting weights at all for a lengthy period of time.
3. Shock Your Arms
Should you train high reps or low reps?
Fast or slow?
Heavy or light?.
Answer: All of them.
Not at the same time (obviously), but you should incorporate all of these different training styles into your routine.
A common mistake when trying to get big arms is sticking to the same workout you’ve been doing for months or years.
There is no single workout that’s magically going to give you big arms.
However, if you constantly change up your workouts, you’ll create a new stimulus each week, and your arms will adapt by growing bigger and stronger. This is called shocking your arms into growth, and it basically means keeping your muscles guessing.
How to shock your arms into growth:
- Super slow reps
- Light weights
- Heavy weights
- Different exercises
Super Slow Reps
Performing slow reps is my favorite way to shock my biceps and triceps and add a little extra size to my arms. I typically lift for 3 seconds during the concentric part of the movement, then 3 seconds during the eccentric part.
Bodybuilders usually lift for 1 second up and 1 second down; thus, by adopting this 3-second strategy, you increase the time under tension by 3x.
Research has shown that performing slow reps like this can triple muscle gains over a 12-week period, with participants completing 3-second eccentric reps while performing Scott curls (7).
From this study, scientists concluded that using lighter weights and performing slower reps is more effective for building muscle size and strength compared to lifting a heavier weight faster. This is because slow reps increase tension and stress on the muscle fibers (particularly fast-twitch ones, which are responsible for hypertrophy).
Also, this training style compresses blood vessels for longer, resulting in bigger pumps and helping to stretch the muscle fascia.
Don’t be afraid of using light weights when working out; as mentioned in the previous study, lifting lighter resulted in not only greater muscle gains but also increased strength. The key is time under tension, not showing off how much weight you can lift.
When I gained 0.75″ on my arms during my crazy arm experiment (training 8 hours per day), I was only lifting 5kg on tricep pushdowns, doing 60 reps per set, then resting for 20 seconds and repeating. This is proof that you don’t need to lift heavy to build the muscle you want—leave your ego at the door.
If you’ve spent the last few sessions lifting light and doing super slow reps, mix it up again and lift heavier weights and do fast reps.
If I had to pick between slow reps and fast reps, if I could only train one way, I’d choose slow reps because they produce better arm gains. However, combining the two is the perfect balance to keep your biceps and triceps guessing.
Arnold famously used to perform cheat curls, where he’d stack up the barbell with a large amount of weight; then he’d intentionally arch his back and swing (using momentum to help him complete the reps). This is intentional poor form that can overload the muscles and help you complete more reps (when otherwise you wouldn’t be able to with strict form). Just be ready for the form-police to show up at your doorstep.
Switching up exercises from one session to the next is a great way to force your arms to grow.
Here is a list of different tricep and bicep exercises. Click each link for a pop-up demo on how to correctly perform the exercise.
- Dips (parallel bar)
- Diamond push-ups
- Tricep extensions
- Rope pushdowns
- Close-grip bench press (hands 6 inches apart)
- Skull crushers
- V-Bar pushdowns
- Tate press
- Underhand kickback
- Weighted bench dips
- Low Cable V Bar Overhead Press
- Reverse tricep pushdowns
- Hammer curls
- Barbell curls
- Preacher curls
- Reverse barbell curl
- Standing plate curl
- Standing dumbbell curls
- Dumbbell hammer spider curls
- EZ bar spider curl
- T Curls
- Drag curls
- Dumbbell cross-body curls
- Chin ups
- Cable curls
- Cable hammer curls
Supersets and tri-sets are another great way to shock your arms.
A superset is when you complete one working set and then complete another one immediately after (on another exercise).
Thus, you may do 30 reps of dips (parallel bar), then 15 reps of weighted bench dips with no rest in-between—this is one superset.
A tri-set uses the same principle as a superset but with another exercise added after the second. So, essentially, you will be performing three exercises one after another, with no rest.
Supersets and tri-sets fatigue the muscles more than usual, which will overload the muscles and result in increased hypertrophy.
Your workouts will be shorter than usual when doing supersets because you’ll be doing the same volume in roughly half the time.
Due to the increased intensity of this training methodology, you may only be able to perform 30 minute workouts (as opposed to 1 hour). If you usually train for 40 minutes, then your sessions may only last 20 minutes.
You can choose to superset bicep exercises together or tricep and bicep exercises together; the latter is my favorite, giving your whole arm a massive pump.
4. Use Fat Gripz.
Another way to shock your arms is to increase the thickness of the barbell or dumbbell handle.
Thick bar training is proven to increase muscular strength and size and used to only be viable for elite athletes. This is because dumbbells and barbells tailor-made for extra thickness are very expensive.
However, Fat Gripz changed the game by bringing out a rubber attachment that can easily be placed on a dumbbell or barbell, increasing the thickness by 2.25“–2.75“, depending on what attachment you use.
Thus, there’s no need to spend thousands or tens of thousands of pounds on tailor-made equipment, with Fat Gripz costing just $39.99 for the standard blue grip (2.25”).
How does Fat Gripz work?
A thicker bar causes more muscle fibers to activate during each rep, causing more motor units to be recruited, resulting in stronger muscular contractions and increased size.
Your grip strength and forearms may begin to resemble Popeye, which indirectly may increase the size of other muscle groups as well. For example, if you deadlift 300 pounds and your grip fails before your lats and legs, you’re not giving your lats and legs the best workout possible. However, if your grip strength improves and now fails at the same time as your lats or legs, you’ll undoubtedly add more size to these muscle groups (indirectly).
I recommend using the 2.25″ grip (blue) to begin with. Then, after using this for several months, move up to the 2.75″ grip (red).
After using the Fat Gripz Extreme (red attachment) for a few months, you’ll almost certainly be unbeatable in an arm wrestle.
I’d been using this red attachment for years (I’d never trained without it; it was my baby), then I asked to arm wrestle the biggest guy my dad knew down his pub. After a monster of a man came and bashed his hands down on the table like the Hulk, we put our “hands” together (his were double the size of mine). A few seconds after thinking that this was a mistake and I had zero chance of winning, I slammed his arm down.
In that victorious moment, my dad’s face was a picture, and it was all because of Fat Gripz (and hard training, of course).
Who would’ve thought of the incredible difference a little rubber attachment could make?
The only disadvantage with Fat Gripz is that you can’t use it for leg day.
5. Cut (lose fat).
Cutting is the phase when a bodybuilder eats in a small calorie deficit to burn fat while retaining muscle mass.
This may sound like a contradiction to my earlier advice of ‘eat big to get big’, but hear me out.
When you eat big to get big, what’s happening is that you’re growing.
However, when you lose fat on your arms, they may decrease in actual size, but they will look a lot bigger.
It’s an illusion—due to a smaller waist and increased muscle definition, your arms will look dramatically bigger (and more impressive).
It’s ironic because people who are big don’t want to cut in case they lose muscle; however, they’d actually look a lot bigger after a cut. If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me, “Wow, Erny, you look bigger, are you bulking?“, for me to reply, “No, I’m cutting“.
There are some bodybuilders who you think look swole, but when the measuring tape comes out, you’re surprised at how small their arms actually are. This is the illusion that comes with being very lean.
So, eat big to get big, and then cut. Repeat this process as many times as necessary until you’re satisfied with your arm size, which is likely to never happen.
- Increase time under tension (more frequency or volume).
- Eat big to get big.
- Shock your arms (switch up your training).
- Use Fat Gripz.
- Reduce your body fat.
There you have it; my arm-building, genetically defying arm secrets are public.
These are possibly the top 5 tips ever for how to get bigger arms (based on 10 years of testing in the gym).
If you adopt these 5 training principles, your arms will certainly grow bigger (and fast).