By Patrick Striet, CSCS ProSource
Amp Up Your Arm Routine with Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets
If ever there's a time of the year where the "blahs" set in for a workout warrior, it's autumn.
Sweatshirt and jacket season. Longer work hours. Holiday eating.
I see it all the time in the gyms I visit. (Not my own gym, of course. We're in it to win it, at FORCE Fitness.) But I see it. Attendance falls off. You can feel people saying, I'll pick it up again when the new year starts.
Well, we're not going to talk to those people today. Instead, we're going to huddle up the true hardcore gym rats and talk about a subject close to our hearts today.
Arms. Big arms.
The "big basic" exercises--squats, deadlifts, presses, bench presses, chins and rows--are the meat and potatoes of a productive program, and getting stronger on these time tested multiple joint exercises should be where every lifter's focus should lie. Spending an inordinate amount of time and energy on smaller, single joint isolation type movements will yield little results, especially for the beginner to intermediate lifter. I don't think any strength coach or knowledgeable lifter would dispute these statements.
But let's face it, regardless of goals, everyone wants to get bigger. Filling out a t-shirt with a well-developed set of arms is something every one of us "iron heads" wants. One method I use at my training facility to bring up the arms of my clients is mechanical advantage drops sets (MADS). Basically, we start with the arms in the weakest curling position (reverse grip curls), and, as fatigue sets in, we change the grip to a stronger position--providing a mechanical advantage in order to extend the set and recruit more muscle fibers.
I incorporate MADS into a little protocol I've coined the "Arm Rotisserie", because, after a few sets of this, your biceps and other forearm flexors will feel as though they've been slow cooking over an open fire all day. Here is what it looks like:
Perform 8 reps of reverse grip dumbbell curls (choose a weight you could lift 10-12 times...this is key)
Without rest, immediately change your hand position to a hammer (thumbs up) grip and perform 8 more reps
Without rest, immediately change your hand position to a traditional palms up curl grip and perform 8 more reps
Without rest, immediately after your last traditional curl, drop the arms to a 90 degree mid point curl position and slowly pronate and supinate your hands, alternating between turning the knuckles up and palms up, for 8 reps
Finally, after your last rep of pronation and supination, simply hold the dumbbells in the 90 degree mid point curl position for 20-30 seconds
Here is a video demonstration to see what the protocol looks like (I've only performed a couple reps of each exercise in order to keep it short).
I think you'll be amazed at the pump in your biceps and other forearm flexors after one round of this. Your arms will be throbbing and engorged with blood. You can use this protocol either as part of your main arm workout, or as a finisher. If using it as part of your main arm workout, perform 3-4 sets, resting 2 minutes between sets. You will either have to lower the weight or reduce the reps (maybe to 5-6 per exercise) after your first set. If you are using this protocol as a finisher, 1 or 2 rounds will be plenty.
Dedicated arm training, using MADS, can have a very positive carry over in terms of progressing the big multiple joint pulling exercises like chin-up and rowing variations. Furthermore, pumping up the guns is just plain fun, and having a well-developed set of arms makes a lifter "feel like a lifter." Give this protocol a try during your next workout, and remember... it's not the kind of the car you drive, it's the size of the arm hanging out of the window.