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5 Star Arm Workouts

Author: Tom Venuto
Publisher: Fitness Renaissance

Next to “six pack abs,” the one muscle group that almost every man and woman wants the most is arms. So, instead of boring you with a ton of arm training physiology and long words like capillarization and coracobrachialis (yawn), and instead of giving you a single arm routine (gets old too fast), I’m going to skip the science and theory and go straight to the good stuff! In this article, I am simply going to give you a master list - an “anthology” - of the most result-producing arm routines in bodybuilding history!

Here’s how I compiled this list: I went back into my old training journals looking for “5 star workouts.” What’s a 5 star workout? Glad you asked: It’s simply part of my “workout rating system.” I rate the productivity and intensity of all my workouts on a scale from 1 to 10 and log it in my training journal. After a training cycle of at least 4-6 workouts, I also rate the routine itself on a scale from 1 to 5 (My ultimate goal being to have “10” workouts using “5-star” routines!)

If a new routine ranks a 1 or 2, it gets tossed into the garbage immediately. If it ranks a 3 or 4 it goes back onto the “drawing board” and I rework it to see if it can be modified and boosted to a 5. If the second variation doesn’t get a 5, goodbye, it’s dumped into the trash bin too. If it ranks a 5, then the program goes into my book of “5 star workouts” and I come back to it many times over the years when I need arm specialization. For a routine to make it into my 5 star workout book, it has to be a tested and proven growth producer.

I can’t take credit for inventing most of these routines – they were inspired by or borrowed from some of the best trainers and bodybuilders in history, and I will give the credit where it’s due.

Most of these programs will surely make your arms as strong as they are going to look, but make no mistake – this is a collection of BODYBUILDING routines. If you’re hung up exclusively on “functionality,” you can just skip this info (and go back to your medicine balls, bungee cords and wobble boards). If, on the other hand, you want a set of biceps and triceps that make you LOOK GOOD sleeveless, then this is going to be the most exciting training article you have ever read!

Now, a few important details before you start…

Arms Workout: Training frequency

I recommend repeating these routines no more than twice per week and no less than once per week. Your frequency depends on the split routine you’re using. For most of these programs, I recommend a three or four day split with a 2 on 1 off schedule. If you feel you need more recovery, use a 2 on 1 off, 1 on 1 off or even an every other day routine, just make sure you hit your arms at least once per week.


Tempo is the speed of your repetitions. Tempo is noted in several of these routines with a 4 count prescription. For example, a 4020 tempo is performed as follows:

Eccentric (negative/lowering the weight) 4
Stretch/Pause between eccentric and concentric 0
Concentric (positive/lifting the weight) 2
Contraction/pause between concentric and eccentric 0

If tempo is not noted, then you should simply use a “controlled tempo” with the eccentric (lowering weight) slightly slower than the concentric (lifting weight).


These routines must be performed with diligent progression from one workout to the next. You must add weight with every workout. Because the arms are a small body part, you may need to use “micro-loading,” which simply means you patiently increase the weight EVERY WORKOUT, but in very small increments. For example, most clubs have dumbbells with 5-pound jumps in weight. I like to use 1 ¼ lb. “plate mates” which are magnetic mini weights you can stick on the ends of each dumbbell (they work for barbells too), allowing you to increase in small, 2.5 pound increments (effectively giving you a 22.5 pound dumbbell, etc).

Antagonist pair supersets

Supersets are an extremely effective technique for arm training. An antagonistic superset for arms is the pairing of a bicep and tricep exercise with little or no rest between exercises.

Antagonistic supersets are noted with A1 and A2, with A1 being the first exercise, and A2 being the second exercise with no rest in between (if the two exercises were performed in straight set fashion, they would be noted as A1 and B1; three exercises A1, B1, C1, etc)

Same muscle group supersets

Same muscle group supersets are self-explanatory: Two exercises for the same muscle are performed back to back with no rest in between. They are written the same way as antagonistic supersets. For example, A1 is first bicep exercise in superset, A2 is second bicep exercise in superset (no rest between A1 and A2, then regular rest interval after A2 before repeating superset).

Personally, I believe same muscle group supersets are better than antagonistic supersets for bodybuilding purposes (arm size), while antagonistic supersets are better for strength. I recommend using both.

Tri sets

A tri set is three exercises for the same muscle group performed one after another with little or no rest in between. Tri sets are a step beyond supersets in intensity and difficulty, allowing you to perform a very large volume of work in a very short period of time. Tri-sets are a superb method for bodybuilding –especially for arm training. Many great bodybuilders such as Larry Scott and trainers such as Vince Gironda have promoted the use of tri sets and supersets almost exclusively for arm specialization. Why? Because they WORK! (Tri sets are noted as A1, A2, A3).

The Arm Workout Routines

Ok, enough preliminaries, let’s dive into the best arm routines of all time:

Multi Grip Tri-set Routine

Variations on the multi grip routine have been floating around for ages, but strength coach Charles Poliquin fine tuned the technique and brought it back into popularity recently in his prolific writings including, “Winning the Arms Race.” (Poliquin refers to this technique as the multi pathway routine).

Select three exercises, each with a different grip: pronated (palms down), neutral (palms face each other) and supinated (palms up). Generally, the weakest grip is trained first and the strongest last, but the order of the exercises may be changed for variety and balanced development. (I would recommend staying with the same sequence for the duration of each training cycle, however)

A1 EZ bar Reverse Curl 3 sets X 6-8 reps
A2 Hammer Curl 3 sets X 6-8 reps
A3 EZ barbell Curl 3 sets X 6-8 reps

B1 Tricep Pushdown reverse grip (palms up) 3 sets X 6-8 reps
B2 Tricep pushdown with rope (palms face each other) 3 sets X 6-8 reps
B3 Tricep pushdown regular grip (palms down) 3 sets X 6-8 reps

Multi Angle tri-set Routine

The multi angle routine is a similar to the multi grip routine except instead of varying the hand position/grip, you vary the angle of the joint. The “multi angle” technique is very similar to the IRONMAN/Steve Holman “Positions of flexion” approach, although they are not always one in the same.

For example, one popular multi-angle favorite for triceps is lying EZ bar extensions performed to the chin, forehead, and behind the head as a tri set. This is multi-angular, but it does not fully work all three positions of flexion, as these are only slight variations in angle.

There are two ways to perform this routine. One way is to do all three exercises in a row with zero rest between exercises. This is very intense and result producing, but will compromise your poundages. Poliquin’s solution to the problem is the simple insertion of a 10 second pause between each exercise, which allows greater loads to be used.

A1 Incline dumbbell curl (stretch) 3 sets X 6-8 reps
A2 Seated dumbbell curl (midrange) 3 sets X 6-8 reps
A3 90 degree dumbbell preacher curl (contracted) 3 sets X 6-8 reps

B1 Seated EZ bar tricep extension 3 sets X 6-8 reps
B2 EZ bar tricep extension to forehead 3 sets X 6-8 reps
B3 Decline bench EZ bar tricep extension 3 sets X 6-8 reps

Unilateral Multi Grip Bicep Routine

I don’t remember where I found this routine, but I think it was the brainstorm of Australian strength coach Ian King. All I can say is that Ian or whoever originally invented this bicep killer should get a medal for it! Try it and find out why. Perform 10 reps per set, 2 –3 tri sets 0-10 seconds between exercises.

A1 One arm zottman Dumbbell Preacher Curl 3 sets X 10 reps
A2 One arm Dumbbell Preacher Curl 3 sets X 10 reps
A3 One Arm Dumbbell Hammer Preacher Curl 3 sets X 10 reps

Note: If you’ve never heard of the Zottman curl, it’s simply a dumbbell curl with a pronated eccentric and supinated concentric (palm up on the way up, palm down on the way down)

Unilateral Multi Grip Bicep Routine #2

This is a slight variation I’ve successfully used on the killer combo above. All I did is to flip the order of exercises 2 & 3, substitute reverse dumbbell curl for Zottman curl on exercise number one, and add a forced negative on the reverse curls using the opposite hand. The rep range is slightly lower; 6-8 reps per set with a little bit heavier weight. 3 tri sets, 0 sec rest between exercises, 0 seconds rest between switching arms.

A1 One arm reverse dumbbell Preacher Curl with neg. resistance 3 sets X 6-8 reps
A2 One arm Hammer Preacher Curl 3 sets X 6-8 reps
A3 One Arm Dumbbell Preacher Curl 3 sets X 6-8 reps

Gironda’s 6 X 6 balanced arms Routine

This is a variation on Vince Gironda’s famous “Balanced Arms” course. Like many bodybuilding gurus, Vince vociferously commanded, “No deviations.” Well, shame on me, but after I tried all his programs exactly as he instructed, I never could resist experimenting.

This routine consists of 3 pairs of supersets performed for 6 sets of 6 reps each. No rest is permitted between exercises. Take 90 seconds rest after each superset. Vince’s original course suggested doing this routine three times per week. I tested various frequencies and got best results doing this routine once every 4-5 days and I’d recommend no more than twice per week.

A1 Straight Bar Preacher curl 6 sets X 6 reps
A2 Body drag curl 6 sets X 6 reps

B1 Rope extension behind head (lunge position, using high pulley) 6 sets X 6 reps
B2 EZ Bar Pullover and Press 6 sets X 6 reps

C1 Barbell Wrist Curl (roll to fingertips) 6 sets X 6 reps
C2 barbell reverse drag curl 6 sets X 6 reps

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