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Grow Your Guns with Phil Graham

By Phil Graham

Renowned competitive body builder and Sports Nutritionist Phil Graham (BSc, CSSN) has established himself as one of UK’s leading fitness educators and coaches.…
Read more.

It’s coming up to beach body season, folks, and we bet that your gym is currently packed with people trying to get that muscle bound physique which wouldn’t look out of place at Muscle Beach.

You can also be certain that the most common exercise to be, well, exercised, is the humble bicep curl in a vain attempt to gain some gunage, but it’s going to take a lot more than curling 18kgs to grow those arms.

That’s why we asked Phil Graham – renowned competitive bodybuilder – to give us his top tips for bigger, better, stronger arms to help you turn those chicken wings into bulging biceps (and triceps) you can flaunt with confidence…

Phil Graham Lifting Weights

Building bigger and stronger arms is actually a lot easier than some trainers, magazines or blogs would have you believe.  You simply need to train them more frequently and vary exercise selection!

Although arms are recruited during many key compound lifts, extra isolation or accessory work can work extremely well at speeding up development.

Realistically, arms can be trained up to 2 times per week, on top of other major muscle groups.

Training more can carry over fatigue and reduce performance in key lifts. For example, biceps in pulling exercises, triceps in pressing exercises. The best way to grow your guns is to find out what works for you by keeping a close tab on your performance and recovery.

I recommend a combination of strength-focused training in the lower rep range (<8) and hypertrophy based work in the higher rep range (8-20).

The strength-focused work will come from major key lifts:

  • Biceps - Pull/Chin Ups and Row Variations
  • Forearms - Deadlifts/Weighted Carries
  • Triceps - Bench Press/Military Press/Dips

For the Hypertrophy-focused work you will need to be more tactful in your exercise choice. I have outlined which exercises wok best for each particular muscle group below.

Triceps Training

The triceps (or below extensors) are comprised of three heads:

  • The Long Head
  • The Lateral Head
  • The Medial Head

The triceps actions include:

  • Extension of the forearm
  • Adduction of the arm
  • Extension of the shoulder
Phil Graham Exercising

Their Antagonist muscle group is the Biceps brachia muscle, which does exactly the opposite.

The triceps join at a common tendon and insert at the elbow bone (ulna), as such it is impossible to purely isolate one single head of the triceps. However, by changing the orientation of your upper arm in relation to your torso and the force of gravity, you can increase the proportion of work each head can perform.

The Long Head of the triceps is recruited more during overhead pressing work.

Key Exercises Include:

  • Overhead DB Skull Crushers
  • Lying Ez Bar Extension

The Lateral Head of the triceps is recruited more when using a flat bench especially when the upper arms are internally rotated.

Key Exercises Include:

  • Decline close grip bench press
  • Lying dumbbell triceps extension
  • Straight bar press downs

The Medial Head of the triceps is considered the main workhorse of below extension and is recruited in all triceps exercises. It’s worth noting that as the arms get closer to the torso, there is increased activation of the medial head at the end range of motion.

Key Exercises Include:

  • Standing Barbell French Press
  • One arm triceps pushdown
  • narrow grip bench press

Biceps Training

The biceps (or elbow flexors) are comprised of four main muscles:

  • The Biceps Brachii
  • Brachialis
  • Brachioradialis
  • Pronator teres

The biceps actions include:

  • Flexes elbow
  • Abducts shoulder
  • Supinates the forearm
Phil Lifting Weights

Their Antagonist muscle group is the Triceps muscle, which does exactly the opposite.

The bicep has two heads, the short head - which originates at the top of the scapula (at the coracoid process) - and a long head - which originates just above the shoulder joint (supraglenoid tubercle).  Both heads are joined at the elbow.

To maximize hypertrophy, you need to work all four elbow flexors with different exercises and training methods.

To work the Short Head of the biceps use exercises that curl with the elbows in front of the body in a narrow grip fashion.

Key Exercises Include:

  • Close Grip EZ Curls
  • Scott Curls

To work the Long Head of the biceps use exercises where the elbows are behind the body and turned outward

Key Exercises Include:

  • Seated Incline Curls
  • Standing cable incline curls

To work the Brachialis and Pronator Teres perform curing movements with a pronated grip (palms facing down), which takes the biceps brachii out of the equation

Key Exercises Include:

  • Hammer Curls
  • Reverse Curls
  • Zottman Curls

Forearms and Grip Strength

Strong forearms and grip are essential to any hard training individual. They look good, allow for more load to be used during exercise, especially movements that require pulling or carrying. And, they also can safeguard against tendonitis in the elbow flexors.

Forearms get a great deal of indirect work simply through gripping and squeezing. However, they can be isolated further by adding in additional grip work.

Typically I’ve found Plate Catches and Captain of Crusher hand grips the best tools for the job. I keep the reps fast and powerful with a second or two squeeze.

General Tips

Phil Graham Arm Exercises

  • By intelligently selecting exercises you can ensure all points of the strength curve have been adequately trained resulting in superior development.
  • Changing your body position can affect the contribution of each muscle
  • Adding bands or chains makes an exercise more effective; these should only be added once you have mastered the movement basics first.
  • Incorporate the odd isometric pause for two to four seconds at any point during below flexion (biceps) or extension (triceps) to stimulate an additional adaptive growth response.
  • Focus on quality of contractions over weight lifted. Many gym goers train their ego by going to heavy; the end result is less stress on the intended muscle group, crappy growth and increased risk of injury.
  • Look after the health of your tissue with regular deep tissue massage and application of transdermal magnesium. Biceps, in particular are renowned for getting tight and causing pain, tightness and discomfort in the shoulders.
  • Try to train without lifting straps to build your grip. I only advocate lifting straps on the heaviest set of all out effort rack pulls or if someone’s back development is severely lacking and they want maximum attention to detail.
Phil Graham

About Phil

Renowned competitive body builder and Sports Nutritionist Phil Graham (BSc, CSSN) has established himself as one of UK’s leading fitness educators and coaches.  He has helped coach and inspire a diverse range of clientele ranging from personal trainers, everyday members of the public right through to professional athletes across a wide variety of sports.

Phil educates 1000's of personal trainers each year through his seminars, workshops and attendance at some of the world’s largest health and fitness exhibitions. He actively writes for almost every major fitness publication, hosts the ever popular Podcast Elite Muscle Radio Podcast (available on iTunes) and works as Genetic Supplements resident nutrition expert for product development. He is also in the process of writing his first book, The Diabetic Muscle and Fitness Guide.

Phil’s coaching and personal training is based in Belfast Northern Ireland, he also offers online consultancy for those that cannot reach him locally.

You can visit Phil’s website, or connect on FacebookTwitterYouTube and Instagram

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