By Josh Bryant, MFS, CSCS, PES ProSource
Anyone that can judge true power knows large forearms mean power.
Big forearms establish respect right off the bat. Bullies know the difference between the pec and bi warrior and the "old head" that can pull out your pancreas through your nose. Goals ranging from a tighter grip on belligerent patrons at a kick-and-stab juke joint or just looking better can be served by the outlined strategy.
Anthony Ditillo Forearm Routine
Powerbuilding legend and iconic strength author Anthony Ditillo wrote a fantastic article in 1969 entitled "developing the lower arms." Ditillo had a goal of increasing the size of his forearms. In Ditillo's own words, here's how he trained his forearms:
"I train my forearms 4 times per week; twice at the end of my upper-body training days and again twice at the onset of my lower-body training days. I perform the Reverse Curl first, doing 5 sets of 10-8-6-4-15 repetitions using progressively heavier weights each set (excepting the last). In between each set I perform the massaging method using 'Ben-Gay Lotion' as mentioned in previous articles dealing with the A.A.C. philosophy. I then perform the seated wrist curl, palms up, for 5 additional sets of 20 repetitions using the same weight, increasing it whenever possible. I also followed proper diet principles."
Sidenote: A.A.C-Applied Artificial Circulation. Between each set and between each group of exercises while resting, Anthony's training partner would rub Ben-Gay on his arms. The idea was to create heat, bringing added blood to the area. If that seems weird, the results bear him out. Anthony put over a half inch on his forearms in less than two months. Anthony deadlifted heavy and did strict curls with over 200 pounds prior to this, so he was no newbie. Anything that works so well on an advanced trainee warrants further investigation!
Increased Frequency Training
How did Anthony do it? By increasing frequency.
Plenty of folks train their arms day in and day out and still sport spaghetti arms. Deadlifting every day won't increase your deadlift, but if upper back strength is the limiting factor in your deadlift a few extra upper back workouts a week can help bring the deadlift up to snuff.
The key is strategic planning and placement in your periodized plan. Some bodybuilding methods have been validated by science (many Weider Principles) others are purely a product of "bro science." The notion that a muscle can only be trained once a week should have been put out of commission by the "bro science" lab a long time ago, though "real science" says otherwise.
Remember: younger folks recover faster than older folks, little muscles recover faster than bigger ones, and predominantly slow twitch muscle muscles recover faster than fast twitch counterparts. In other words a young man can train his calves more frequently than an old man can train his hamstrings, and at the same intensity.
Looking to Science
"Comparison of 1 day and 3 days per week of equal-volume resistance training in experienced subjects" was a landmark study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in the 2000.
The study compared 1 day versus 3 days of weight training weekly, with the training volume the same. There were two control groups: Group 1 lifted 1 day per week for 3 sets to failure (1DAY) and Group 2 lifted 3 days per week of 1 set to failure (3DAY). The 1DAY group achieved only 62 percent of the 1RM increases of the 3DAY group in both upper-body and lower-body lifts! Muscle mass increases were greater in the 3 DAY per week group. This study indicated that a higher frequency of resistance training increased strength and mass gains.
When a muscle group is lagging: try increasing frequency. Of course, the potential concern is joint stress and the impact on your central nervous system (CNS.) What's the answer? Extra sessions at a submaximal intensity!
Lots of lifters have had success bringing up the upper back and rear delts doing band pull aparts and face pulls every training session. Other lifters have done very well doing pull ups between every set.
Many gymnasts have upper body musculature that would cause your average men's physique competitor to drop a deuce in his board shorts! These same gymnasts could even hold their own in a natural bodybuilding contest. So if this starts to sounds a little different, keep that in mind. Gymnasts train the same muscles on a daily basis.
2 Recent Examples
Some recent examples I have used with clients:
BJ Whitehead trained his hamstrings and glutes heavy on his respective squat and deadlift days. Two additional days a week he would do 6-10 extra sets of exercises targeting these areas including: Body Weight GHR's, Body Weight Single Leg Glute Bridges, Light sled work, band leg curls and glute band kickbacks. This resulted in a 50 pound PR deadlift within a couple of months. Keep in mind this is a pro level lifter.
Brandon Braner Brandon has made gains in his bench press after dropping 70 pounds of bodyweight. We are talking a 600+ pound raw bench presser. With Brandon we attacked his upper back heavy twice a week. Two additional submaximal sessions were implemented a week consisting of: face pulls, lat pull down variations, band pull aparts, light chest supported rowing variations and straight arm pull downs.
We also attacked Brandon's arms twice a week, increased from one halfhearted workout previously. As a result, Brandon built a bigger platform (upper back to bench from) and increased his arm measurement by an inch though he actually weighed less. Big Arms is not the end game in powerlifting, but it makes heavy weight feel lighter and a lot more stable.
Let's say your triceps are behind in development. Current training split is as follows:
Monday/Saturday in a separate session or mixed in your workout (if you cannot train twice a day), do:
Band Tricep Pushdowns, 3 sets of 15-20 reps @ 70 percent intensity (70% of what you could do 15-20 reps with not a 1RM)
Rolling Dumbbell Triceps Extensions 3 sets of 12 reps @ 60 percent intensity
Overhead Dumbbell Extensions 3 sets of 10 reps @ 60 percent intensity
Over the course of 8 weeks, instead of working your triceps 8 times, you have done it 24 times. In the process, you have not fatigued your CNS or sacrificed other workouts because of the magnitude of the intensity.
In the lab generally, folks say it takes 48 hours for a muscle group to recover. This is way over-simplified. If your leg workout is 15 body weight squats a day the recovery is different than a Tom Platz leg workout where your last rep is determined by literal failure.
Consider giving submaximal high frequency training a shot to bring up a lagging body part. If you don't have time to train twice a day, no problem! Hit the lagging body part as part of a "staggered set" between sets of your primary movement hit a smaller lagging muscle group. Staying with the triceps, hit band push downs between sets of squats, this way you don't add additional time to your workout but put in the extra work.
Unconventional results sometimes call for unconventional strategies!
What are your thoughts on working a single body part as much as 4 times a week? Intriguing strategy? Or overkill? Let us know in the comments field below!