It's likely that Santa is right now knitting you a new garment that'll look great with a set of Christmas cannons. And because summer is a time where you'll have a chance to show them off, this article will outline a challenging arm workout to ensure you look your best!

Training the arms: How can you achieve maximal results?

A lot of beginners make the mistake of training biceps constantly, thinking that will bring them bigger arms. Whilst that helps it's worth noting that triceps are 2/3 of your arms. 

So focusing on your triceps is a more effective use of time.

Moreover, your triceps boasts one of the largest volumes of all muscles in your upper body: even more than your lats and chest (1-3).

That might sound unbelievable, but muscle size is measured on the 3-dimensional amount, not just it's surface area. So you can see why a solid routine will be critical for your arm progress.

So how many sets and what exercises?

Well, a recent landmark study found that 10+ sets are the best for muscle growth (4), so here we'll be sticking to that for triceps and biceps.

The science has always been clear: more volume means more gains.

Know your triceps for optimal growth:

Whether it's wearing a sundress or a tight t-shirt, a well-defined set of triceps is the goal for many. It pays to know a little about their anatomy, so you can understand why we do the exercises we do:

The name "triceps" derives from the fact there are three heads. Below is precisely where these heads are located:

tricep dips

So now we know what we're targeting, you'll see why we've chosen the exercises we have.

Moreover, it's critical we acknowledge that the triceps are made up of ~67% type II muscle fibers (5), which science currently indicates is best stimulated with a heavier weight (6). So we'll be performing rep ranges from 6-10 some of the time for optimal results.

The Christmas Cannon Tricep Routine:

rope tricep extension

1. 4 x cable press downs (with a rope, straight bar, or V bar as seen in the below images).

First set= 12 reps

Second set set= 12 reps

Third set = 12 reps

Fourth set = 8 reps

Data shows that the pushdowns are the best isolation exercise for the lateral head (7), so that's why we'll begin with this. This exercise will also work the medial head.

bench dips

2. 4 x Weighted Triceps dips

First set= 12 reps

Second set set = 10 reps

Third set = 8 reps

Fourth set = 8 reps

Studies show that as far as bodyweight exercises go, weighted dips are the best when it comes to stimulating the lateral head (7). Add some weight to this, and you're really putting your triceps to work. This too will work your medial head.

Once you've warmed up, start adding weight with the aim of failing on the aforementioned number of reps. For example, you might need 20 kilograms to fail at 8 reps.

IMPORTANT: Don't go any lower than the final position of the image above on the right. It decreases muscle activation and puts unwanted pressure on joints which can cause injury.

dumbbell kickbacks

3. 4 x Dumbbell kickbacks

First set= 12 reps

Second set set = 10 reps

Third set = 10 reps

Fourth set = 8 reps

Compared with 9 tricep exercises, the dumbbell kickback scored the highest when it came to activating the long head.

Make sure the weight isn't too heavy, and squeeze and contract the weight at the final stage of the movement before returning to the beginning.

Training the biceps

Now that we've smashed out our tricep workout, we're ready to attack the biceps.

But first, some quick anatomy:

 bicep curlLike what we did with the triceps, we want to hit all heads here throughout the workout.

And we'll be fitting in the one exercise that science has twice found to be the best exercise for biceps: The concentration curl (7,8).

In fact, the above reference measured how much each exercise worked the biceps, and ranked them in the following order:

1. Concentration curl (~98% activation)

2. Cable curl (~81% activation)

3. Chin-up (~80% activation)

4. Barbell curl (~76% activation)

5. EZ curl (wide grip) (~75% activation)

6. EZ curl (narrow grip) (~72% activation)

7. Incline curl (~71% activation)

8. Preacher curl (~70% activation)

With this is mind, out workout will be as follows:

barbell bicep curl

1. Standing Barbell curl

First set= 12 reps

Second set set = 10 reps

Third set = 8 reps

Fourth set = 6 reps

Fifth set = 6 reps

Remember: Slow on the way down (the eccentric contraction) and explosive on the way up.

Seated concentration curls

2. Seated Concentration Curls

And here it is, the finest bicep exercise of them all!

First three sets:

First set= 12 reps

Second set set = 10 reps

Third set = 10 reps

Then we move into the final three sets, and there's a very specific way we'll do this. We'll call them the assisted concentration curls:

Step 1: Use a weight that's around 20-30% heavier than you'd normally use

Step 2: Use your free hand to lift it up on the contraction (so in the above image, the model would use her left hand to help life the weight up).

Step 3: Lower the weight as slowly as possible using ONLY the arm you're training (the right arm in the model above).

Why do we do this? Research found it increased bicep activation by 40 per cent! (7).

First set= 8 reps

Second set set = 6 reps

Third set = 6 reps

So to recap:

The Christmas Cannon Routine:

Triceps

1. 4 x cable press downs (with a rope, straight bar or V bar as seen in the below images) (12 reps, 12, 12, 8).

2. 4 x Weighted Tricep dips (12 reps, 10, 8, 8).

3. 4 x Dumbell kickbacks (12 reps, 10, 10, 8).

Biceps

1. 5 x Standing Barbell curl (12 reps, 10, 8, 6, 6).

2. 3 x Seated Concentration Curls (12 reps, 10, 10).

3. 3 x Assisted Concentration Curls (8 reps, 6, 6).

So there it is! Perform this workout 1-2 times per week, and you'll be gifting yourself the best set of Christmas cannons you can.

References

(1) Holzbaur KR, Murray WM, Gold GE, and Delp SL. Upper limb muscle volumes in adult subjects. J Biomech 40: 742–749, 2007.

(2). Langenderfer J, Jerabek SA, Thangamani VB, Kuhn JE, and Hughes RE. Musculoskeletal parameters of muscles crossing the shoulder and elbow and the effect of sarcomere length sample size on estimation of optimal muscle length. Clin Biomech 19: 664–670, 2004.

(3) Vidt ME, Daly M, Miller ME, Davis CC, Marsh AP, and Saul KR. Characterizing upper limb muscle volume and strength in older adults: A comparison with young adults. J Biomech 45: 334–341, 2012.


(4) Schoenfeld BJ, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Sports Sci. 2017 Jun;35(11):1073-1082. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2016.1210197. Epub 2016 Jul 19. PMID: 27433992.

(5) Srinivasan RC, Lungren MP, Langenderfer JE, Hughes RE. Fiber type composition and maximum shortening velocity of muscles crossing the human shoulder. Clin Anat. 2007 Mar;20(2):144-9. doi: 10.1002/ca.20349. PMID: 16795030.

(6) Grgic J, Schoenfeld BJ. Are the Hypertrophic Adaptations to High and Low-Load Resistance Training Muscle Fiber Type Specific?. Front Physiol. 2018;9:402. Published 2018 Apr 18. doi:10.3389/fphys.2018.00402

(7) Boeckh-Behrens & Buskies. 2000.

(8) https://www.acefitness.org/about-ace/press-room/press-releases/4989/new-study-reveals-best-biceps-exercises/