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Five secrets to a bigger chest and arms

Peter Sisco explains the secret to building a bigger chest and developing your upper arm muscles.

I have never seen an athlete in a gym who was not interested in putting another inch or two of size on his chest and arms. Over the years, I have seen innumerable workouts offered that are supposed to do wonders for building a bigger chest or putting more muscle on an athlete's triceps or biceps.

When I go into a gym and see athletes working out, I am always amazed at the mistakes being made and the time that is wasted. I see some athletes doing five or six chest exercises, followed by four or five exercises each for triceps and biceps using various weights. They complete an incline bench press with 200 pounds, cable crossovers with 80 pounds then dumbbell fly with 30 pounds in each hand.


Variation in exercise types is not a prerequisite for stimulating muscle growth. An athlete who does ten chest exercises will not necessarily get better results than an athlete who does two chest exercises. So why do ten? They are just wasting their recovery capacity with busywork. The same thing happens with arm exercises. Athletes perform set after set with barbells, dumbbells and machines, all with different weights. And the real tragedy with these athletes is that when I ask them what measurable progress they have made in recent months, they usually admit they have nothing to show for their hundreds of repetitions.

What Works?

If you want a muscle to grow bigger and stronger, you have to force it to adapt. And muscle adapts to particular stress. It adapts to performing a great amount of work per unit of time. We shorten this concept to a single word, intensity. Unfortunately, the word intensity is often misused in the gym. It is used loosely and without exact numbers attached to it. So, a set of 'intense' barbell curls are considered about equal to 'intense' dumbbell curls.

But in the realm of science, we use exact measurements to be more certain of what we are doing. In the interest of knowing what exercises delivered the highest intensity, I conducted a study that measured the intensity of standard chest and arm exercises.

Over several weeks, subjects performed the most popular exercises, and measurements were taken of how many total pounds per minute could be lifted. For example, subjects might have averaged 350 pounds per minute of biceps intensity performing dumbbell curls compared to averaging 890 pounds per minute performing barbell curls.

So, once it is established (and it is!) that dumbbell curls do not deliver the highest intensity to the target muscles, what would be the point of doing them? There is not one. It is a waste of time and effort. Lower intensity exercises represent work that will only deplete your recovery ability but will not stimulate new muscle growth. All work undertaken by the muscles of your body creates waste products that your organs have to process. So, every low-intensity exercise you do digs a deeper hole from which you need to recover. Every wasted repetition decreases your ability to recover fully and for new muscle to develop.

The "Secret" that is not a secret

So now I will tell you five secrets to getting the best possible results on your chest and arm workouts. But these secrets are something that any person can positively verify in any gym. Test it for yourself, and you will discover these exercises will deliver the highest intensity of overload.

  1. Chest: Complete one set of 8 to 10 repetitions with a wide grip bench press or wide grip incline bench press. These two exercises are very close, and some people score higher with one than the other
  2. Biceps: Complete one set of 8 to 10 repetitions of barbell curls while seated on a bench
  3. Triceps: Complete one set of 8 to 10 repetitions of close-grip bench press
  4. Forearms: Complete one set of 8 to 10 repetitions of seated barbell reverse wrist curls
  5. Forearms: Complete one set of 8 to 10 repetitions of barbell wrist curls behind your back

How much weight?

Use a weight that is so heavy that it takes everything you have to squeeze out eight repetitions. If you complete more than ten repetitions, you have selected too little weight. Each time you perform this workout, try to add 5 to 15% to the weight. (Weight will go up dramatically at first then the rate will slow to 5% or so.) If you cannot lift more weight, it means you have not fully recovered, so take a few extra days off between workouts.

Static contraction training

If you know about Static Contraction Training, you can perform the same exercises using more weight (50% to 150% more) but holding the weight statically in your strongest range for 5 to 10 seconds. This method will deliver even better results with less wear and tear on your recovery ability.


Focus your efforts on the specific exercises that will deliver the greatest intensity to your chest and arms. Space your workouts far enough apart so that you make progress every workout and you will develop the biggest chest and arms you have ever had.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • SISCO, P. (2006) Five secrets to a bigger chest and arm. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 35/ September), p. 4-5

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • SISCO, P. (2006) Five secrets to a bigger chest and arm [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Peter Sisco is the author of Train Smart, co-author of Power Factor Training, Static Contraction Training and other books. He is also the editor of the five-book `Ironman`s Ultimate Bodybuilding` series.