How to get big arms and build upper body strength like a pro

Workout for a better, faster, stronger you

How to get big arms and build upper body strength like a pro
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Anyone who's looking to get bigger arms, big pecs, and build upper body strength has probably been drooling over shirtless pictures of 'Insta-models' before. Those guys tend to be big and they're also extremely fit. Now we're not going to lie; it takes incredible dedication – and very considered eating – to get into that shape.

This routine can be the first step for you to become one of those people and is designed to build strength, speed and boost overall performance. It should also help you look pretty awesome in the process. This guide is about working on the fundamentals and beefing up those body parts in question, the ones that will look good on the beaches of Ibiza next summer.

Before you start working out like a pro

Work your way up slowly until you are comfortable working with heavier weights

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Most of the exercises listed below are best performed in your local gym, where there is a good spread of weights (to aid progression) and a variety of heavy duty equipment (so you can eventually lift big). That said, much of the routine can be performed with a good set of dumbbells (a spread of weight is preferable) and a top quality weights bench, so there should be no excuses.

Start off light and slowly build up to heavier weights as the weeks progress, confidence grows and the muscles involved start to develop. It’s always handy to have a gym buddy or ‘spotter’ when progressing to the big weights, and remember to push yourself to failure with each set.

You might also want to consider protein shakes and supplements such as creatine, though these are not obligatory…

Are you ready to build the upper body you know will impress every onlooker? Step right this way...

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Upper body workout that'll make you look swole

Barbell Bench Press 

3 sets - Start with six reps (reduce to three with weight increase)

Lie flat on the bench on your back, gripping the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Bring the bar slowly down to your chest as you breathe in, pushing back up as you breathe out, ensuring the elbows don’t flare out to the side.

Make sure you bring the bar all the way down to your chest and try to lay your feet flat on the floor. I often place weight plates under my feet as I’m shorter. This helps to activate the core muscles and stabilise for those heavier lifts.

Single Leg Box Jump

3 sets of 5 – 8 reps

The single leg box jump can be great plyometric option to develop speed and explosive power.

Begin by standing on one foot and use the arms to generate momentum in order to jump up onto a box or stable surface that’s around hip height or taller. Try to keep the leg aligned for an efficient, effective movement and drive upwards with the leg in the initial phase. If you’re unfamiliar with the movement, start with a height you feel confident landing on comfortably and progress from there.

Push through the pain for the best results 

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Key Press

3 sets - Start with six reps (reduce to three with weight increase)

This exercise is fantastic to target the chest area, as well as the triceps. It’s always good to have a combination of pull and push movements to aid adaptation and enhance functionality, and this is a great push variation.

Grab a pair of dumbbells and lay face up on a weights bench. Start by holding the dumbbells in a supinated grip (palms facing towards your face) at the bottom of the lift and, as you press upwards, rotate your palms so that they face each other at the top of the movement

Keep the top of your back pressed into the bench, shoulders pinned back and down towards your butt to ensure the chest is fully engaged. Then, make sure the press is aligned with the middle of your chest on the way up.

Shoulder Press

3 sets of 5 – 8 reps

In order to protect the delicate shoulder joints, it is sensible to choose a more comfortable weight to lift here and ensure form and tempo are spot on, rather than piling on the kilograms. 

Hold the dumbbells next to your shoulders with elbows out to the sides at a 90 degree angle. Palms should be facing forwards and from here, extend the elbows upwards to press the weights above the head. Slowly return to the starting position after each rep. 

As with most exercises, this one is best performed standing, rather than sitting on a bench, as it encourages the core and other stabilising muscles to become active. But try not to lean back when pressing the weight upwards. 

Pull-ups are an essential part of a stronger upper body

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3 sets of 5 – 8 reps

The pull-up is a fantastic compound body exercise that will not only help you develop a strong back, but also strong arms.

Grab the pull-up bar with your palms facing forwards, initially hanging with straight arms and legs off the floor. Execute the upward motion by pulling your elbows down to the floor, with the aim to get your chin above the bar. Slowly lower yourself back down to the starting position.

For beginners, start off just your bodyweight. For more advanced individuals, you should step this up to include additional weight (via a belt or specific weight jacket) as you improve. 

Seated Row

3 sets of 5 – 8 reps

This is a great move to introduce some diversity in terms of the areas that are targeted. With the seated row, we target the forearm and upper arm muscles, but also develop a strong posterior, with the latissimus dorsi activated throughout.

Sit on the bench of a cable row machine, first adjusting the seat height so your shoulders are level with the machine handles. With knees bent and feet planted on the floor or on foot pads, extend the arms forward to grasp the handle or cable. Bracing the core and keeping back flat with shoulders pinned backwards and down towards your backside, pull the weight towards you, aiming to pinch the shoulder blades together at the top of the movement.

Pause here for a second before slowly returning the handles to the starting position. Keep those elbows tucked in throughout and don’t be tempted to heave your upper body backwards and forwards during the movement. This move should really hone in on those back, shoulder and arm muscles if performed correctly.

Leon Poultney

Leon has been writing about automotive and consumer tech for longer than he cares to divulge. When he’s not testing the latest fitness wearable and action camera, he’s out in a shed fawning over his motorcycles or trying not to kill himself on a mountain bike/surfboard/other extreme thing. He's also a man who knows his tools, and he's provided much of T3's drills coverage over the years, all without injuring himself.