get big arms

Get Big Arms: A Case For Specialization

Nothing is more eye-grabbing than big, sleeve-stretching arms.
Imagine working out all summer and putting on 10, 15, or even 20 pounds, and not have anyone really notice. Besides the occasional comment about how you look a bit bigger, no one is gossiping about how wide your chest is, how thick your legs got, or how massive your arms are.

The truth is, most people struggle to gain the size they want. They end up with moderate 13-14” arms and never reach their true potential. That’s because when you add muscle across your entire body, changes in each individual muscle group are too small to get noticed.

But what if I told you there was a way to add inches in just a few weeks? Instead of adding 5 pounds of muscle to your entire body, what if you added 5 pounds of muscle to just your arms?

I guarantee that would turn some heads.

A Case For Specialization

A while back I had a client, Alex, who wanted big arms more than anything. He was always a skinny kid growing up, but he was getting tired of rocking pipe cleaners for arms and looking like a twig.

Eventually, during the summer in his sophomore year of college, he found good muscle building information, and was able to leave that sub-130-pound world behind.

He felt GREAT about himself. So, you can imagine his surprise when he returned to college and no one even made a single comment about his radical change.

Twenty pounds added to his frame and no one seemed to notice. That’s when Alex knew that something needed to change.

get big arms

It’s time to focus on one muscle at a time, starting with the arms. (Photo courtesy of Iron Man Magazine)

Focus Your Efforts

If you want noticeable, jaw-dropping progress, it’s time to focus on one muscle at a time. This type of programming is called “Specialization” because you specialize in one or two muscle groups, while keeping everything else on maintenance mode. By taking it easier on other muscles, you’re diverting more recovery towards the extra training placed on the specialized muscle.

This goes a long way in boosting growth beyond what you can normally achieve, and it’s great for overall growth by rotating your specialized muscle group during each training cycle. To explain why this is the case, we need to drop things down to the cellular level. While this is a bit science-heavy, I’ll make it simple to understand.

What Causes Growth?

The three main components needed for a muscle to get bigger are tension, fatigue, and damage.

  • Tension means resistance. In other words, the weights have to be heavy enough to place your muscles under enough tension to get stimulated. This is the main cause of growth, and it’s why weightlifting works better than running does for packing on muscle.
  • Fatigue is caused by repeated exposure to a stimulus, causing all sorts of chemical reactions in your muscles. This is why higher volume and frequency approaches are better for muscle growth than lower volume and frequency. Growth is dependent on the amount of work you do.
  • Damage is caused by microtears that happen during hard weightlifting, particularly the lowering portion of the movement. This is why isometrics holds aren’t as good for growth as full range of motion reps. It’s also why bodybuilders tend to slow down the eccentric (lowering) part of the lift, while keep the concentric (raising) portion of the lift fast and explosive.

As you gain muscle, it becomes harder and harder to gain more. Your body becomes resistant to weightlifting, and you have to lift more weight, for more sets, more often.

Why does this happen?

It has to do with the nuclei in your muscle fibers, and something called “Satellite Cells”.

get big arms

Satellite cells (shown in green) on a muscle fiber. (Photo courtesy of

The Nucleus Barrier

Every cell in your body has a nucleus which controls what the cell does, from creating new q    3211 proteins, breaking down energy, and interacting with hormones (it does this through something called “transcription factors”, which are created by the DNA that’s inside the nucleus).

Each muscle fiber is actually a cell called a “myocyte”.

Muscle fibers are special. Because muscle cells need to be bigger in order to pack in all of the functional, contractile proteins that make you big and strong, they need to have multiple nuclei. That’s because once a cell becomes a certain size, one nucleus isn’t enough to keep everything in order. Add the fact that muscle cells are long, spread out fibers instead of compact, tight spheres and it makes perfect sense that they require multiple nuclei.

I know your head is swimming. I’m almost there.

So as you gain muscle, these fibers grow by adding more of those contractile proteins, along with other “non-functional” proteins that add size without adding strength (but they do help with endurance).At a certain point, the fiber becomes too big based on the number of nuclei it has, and any new growth you get quickly falls apart since the nuclei can’t support it.

So how do you get past this barrier and keep getting bigger?

get big arms

The first Mr. Olympia, Larry Scott, had fantastic arm development.

That’s where satellite cells come in.

These guys are precursors to muscle cells that hang around and wait until they are needed. When stimulated, they donate their nuclei to existing muscle fibers, allowing the fibers to get bigger, and possibly even creating new fibers.1,2 And the best way to stimulate satellite cells is to do lots of heavy lifting, and to do it often.3,4

Overloading like this sets off a chain of inflammatory substances, cytokines, and growth factors, like HGF, IGF-1, and FGF (respectively) that tell the satellite cells to “proliferate” (multiply) and “differentiate” (fuse to the muscle cell).5,6

Don’t worry, you don’t need to remember all this technical stuff. All you need to know is that hitting your muscles hard with high volume and high frequency will push you past the barrier of muscle growth, and reignite the growth process.

Sounds easy right? Go in and obliterate yourself with tons of sets and reps with heavy weight to trigger gains?

But there’s a problem with that.

Recovery Holds You Back

Muscle growth isn’t just about how much work you can do – it’s about how much work you can recover from. If recovery wasn’t an issue, we could all live in the gym and grow like crazy. But recovery is an issue, and it’s the reason why sleep and good nutrition are so important for results – they speed up the process.

When you’re fatigued, your Central Nervous System (CNS) holds you back, and prevents you from lifting heavier weights – even if your muscles can handle it. This leaves your muscles understimulated and causes your workout to be less than optimal at best, downright useless or harmful at worst. So you get stuck in a situation of compromise.

get big arms

When you’re fatigued, your Central Nervous System (CNS) holds you back, and prevents you from lifting heavier weights. Photo courtesy of the Telegraph.

You either:

A) Do a ton of work that you can’t recover from, meaning zero progress or tons of time off between workouts (meaning slow progress).

B) Do less work so you can recover, meaning slow growth, or failure to stimulate the muscles at all (meaning zero growth).

I don’t like either of those situations. After all, we want fast growth that turns heads.

This is where specialization makes its heralded debut.

Heating Things Up

By focusing on one muscle group at a time, you can get exceptional growth while working within the limits of fatigue and recovery. The best way to describe this is through an analogy.

Allow me to set the stage

I want you to imagine an old stovetop with several burners.

Each burner has a pot on it, filled with water, which represents each muscle group. Those two medium sized pots? That’s your chest and your back. The smaller ones? Those are your arms, calves, and abs. What about the big one towards the back of the stove? You guessed it – that’s your legs.

When each of these burners is turned on high, the water will boil and turn into steam. Turning that water into steam represents muscle growth. So in other words, we want a violent, rolling boil.

Each burner is capable of boiling the water, but the stove as a whole has a limit to how much heat it can put out, because it’s old and crappy. In other words, if you turned all the burners on high, the stove would overheat and need time to cool down before it could work again.

In this scenario, the stove as a whole is your CNS. It’s only capable of putting out so much energy without overheating and needing time to cool down – or recover.

get big arms

Your body functions like an old, rusty, stove.

So what are your options?

You could turn each burner on medium so that your stove (CNS) doesn’t overheat, but none of the pots will come to a boil (in other words, little to no progress).

You could also turn all the burners on high to try to get all of the pots to boil. But as I mentioned, this would cause the stove to overheat, and you’d need to take time off to let it cool down.

Not only is this option hard on your CNS, but you end up having to turn the heat off just as the water is starting to boil. You’ll get some progress, but it will be small and short-lived.

Or you can choose the best option: Focus on one pot at a time.

By turning just a few burners on high while keeping the others on low, you can get a few pots boiling hard, while keeping the other pots warm (maintaining). This way the stove (CNS) doesn’t overheat and you get exceptional progress in the pots (muscles) you’re choosing to focus on.

This, my friends, is the power of specialization.

How many pots can you focus on at one time?

It depends on their size.

Remember how I said your legs were the big pot and your arms were the smaller pots? Well the stove has to work a lot harder to heat the big burner than the smaller ones. That means that if you wanted to focus on the big pot (your legs), you shouldn’t try to focus on any other muscle group at the same time.

But if you’re specializing your arms, you can get away with adding another small muscle like calves or abs, since the stove can handle these smaller burners much more easily.

In other words, a muscle group like legs should be specialized by themselves, while arm, calves, and abs could be specialized at the same time.It’s also important to only boil each pot for 6-8 weeks at a time before switching to another pot (switching to a different muscle group). After all, you don’t want to overheat the individual burner itself (wear out your Peripheral Nervous System).

get big arms

Muscle group like legs should be specialized by themselves, while arm, calves, and abs could be specialized at the same time.

How To Specialize

Don’t think I forgot about you. Even through all that science and analogy, I know what you really want: Big arms.

Below, you’ll learn the specifics of how to set up your own specialization routine, so you can start blasting your arms into new levels of growth.

Specializing 101

To specialize your arms, you need to hit them hard, with a variety of rep ranges, for a ton of sets, and very often. In fact, the more often, the better. In general, you want to hit sets in the strength range (4-6 reps), the power range (1-3 reps done fast), the hypertrophy range (8-12 reps), the pump range (12-15 reps with short rest), and top it off with a few endurance sets (15+ reps).

On a similar note to this, it’s important to pick exercises that are appropriate for each rep range.

Big, compound exercises should be used for strength and power sets, while isolation movements should be used for pump and endurance work. The hypertrophy range is a middle ground where either can be appropriate, as long as you’re using good form.

For arms specifically, that means choose bigger movements like barbell curls and dips for the heavier work, and smaller movements like concentration curls and overhead rope extensions for the lighter sets. I recommend using 3-rep sets on a cable machine for the power work to keep constant tension and make the movements safer.

get big arms

Choose bigger movements like barbell curls and dips for the heavier work, and smaller movements like concentration curls and overhead rope extensions for the lighter sets.

So how much total volume should you use?

Aim for around 40-60 sets per week, broken down like so*:

  • Strength – 10-15 sets
  • Power – 8-12 sets
  • Hypertrophy – 10-15 sets
  • Pump – 8-12 sets
  • Endurance – 4-6 sets

*These are general numbers to give you an idea, and will change based on your individual circumstances and goals.

The more workouts you can fit into each week, the more sets you can usually do. Spreading 50 sets across 3 workouts is much more taxing than spreading it out over 5 workouts. Of course, take your personal recovery into account as well.

One last point: Do not take any sets to failure. Leave around 2-3 reps left on each set. Because you’re adding so much extra volume and frequency, you want to make sure not to burn out by training to failure.


For the rest of your muscle groups, you just need a handful of strength sets to maintain what you’ve got. You’d be surprised how little you can get away with while still maintaining. Often 3 sets of 5 done once per week is all you need.

Again, stay away from failure since you want to emphasize recovery for your specialized muscle group.

It’s also a great idea to put in maintenance exercises that act as part of your specialization workout. For example, bench presses and barbell rows are chest and back exercises, respectively, but they also hit triceps and biceps. So in your arm routine, you can program them as both maintenance work and specialization work.

This saves time and makes your routine more effective.

get big arms

Bench presses and barbell rows are chest and back exercises, respectively, but they also hit triceps and biceps.

Berzinator’s Arms Specialization Routine

Below you’ll find the exact routine I put my client Alex on to gain arm size. It’s a 3x per week specialization routine, aimed at getting maximum arm growth as fast as possible. This program is tough, so make sure you’re sleeping and eating well. This isn’t the time for dieting and you shouldn’t do this routine during a stressful time in your life.

Do these workouts on non-consecutive days (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, for example), and again, make sure you leave 1-2 reps in the tank on each set to prevent nervous system burnout.

Complete all the sets for each letter before moving onto the next letter. So for example, you would alternate between sets of A1 and A2, resting 1-2 minutes between sets, until you’ve completed all of them. Then you would move to B and continue your workout.

For exercises labeled “Density Training”, use your 12 rep max for each exercise, alternate exercises and try to get as many total reps as possible within the allotted time. Start with sets of 5-6 and short rest periods, and then gradually move to lower reps and increased rest periods as fatigue sets in. Don’t go to failure on any set, but remember you’re fighting for as many reps as possible.

Workout A

A1) Chin-Ups (or Reverse-Grip Pulldowns) 5 x 4-6

A2) Dips 5 x 4-6

B1) Preacher Curls 4 x 8-10

B2) Skullcrushers 4 x 8-10

C1) Incline Dumbbell Curl 2 x 12-15

C2) Overhead Rope Extensions 2 x 12-15

D1) Machine Curl 1 x 20-25

D2) Machine Triceps Extension 1 x 20-25

Workout B

A1) Cable Curls 8 x 3 (done as fast as possible with 50% of your 8 rep max)

A2) Overhead Rope Cable Extensions 8 x 3 (done as fast as possible 50% of your 8 rep max)

B) Back Squats 3 x 4-6

C1) Dumbbell Hammer Curl 4 x 8-10

C2) Rope Pushdown 4 x 8-10

Density Training – 10 Minutes:

D1) Barbell Curls

D2) Skullcrushers

E1) Machine Curl 1 x 20-25

E2) Machine Triceps Extension 1 x 20-25

Workout C

A1) Close-Grip Neutral Cable Rows 5 x 4-6

A2) Close-Grip Bench Press 5 x 4-6

B) Deadlift – 1 x 4-6

C1) Concentration Curls 4 x 8-10

C2) Reverse-Grip Pushdown 4 x 8-10

D1) Wide-Grip Barbell Curls 2 x 12-15

D2) One-Arm Dumbbell Triceps Extension 2 x 12-15

E1) Machine Curl 1 x 20-25

E2) Machine Triceps Extension 1 x 20-25

Download Berzinator’s Arms Specialization Routine

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Noticeable Muscle Growth

Alex was just finishing up his last week of his arm specialization routine when he got back to college for his spring semester. He put in the work, stayed consistent, and focused his effort on hitting his arms hard and often.

The result? He was able to gain 5 pounds of visible muscle, almost entirely in his arms.

Despite gaining a quarter of the muscle he gained during the previous summer, guess what happened?

As soon as walked he got to his dorm room, his roommate started gawking at how huge his arms looked and asking him if he was taking steroids. Suffice to say, people noticed.

His friends even started calling him “the dude with the guns”.

That’s the power of specialization.

About the Author

Tim Berzins Tim Berzins(Berzinator) owns and operates Berzinator Fitness Designs, a training and online coaching company based just outside of Philadelphia. With a focus on maximizing aesthetics, Tim is never satisfied with the status quo. He is currently working on his new program 'Specialization Overload: How To Grow Muscle At Exceptional Rates' Sign up for Berzinator’s free newsletter to get exclusive workouts, killer info, and tons of free stuff:



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