At least once every other week, someone has an arm-related question for me. Sometimes they’re amusingly rhetorical questions, sometimes not. But there is a whole lot of thinking about arms going on in the world–and with everyone. So here’s my answers to a few of the more common “arm related questions” that keep popping up. And please feel free to add your own “arm questions” to the comments section below this entry too!
Q: You must do a TON of curls, right?
A: Nope! In fact, up until a few months ago I hadn’t done any form of barbell or dumbbell curls in a matter of years (I was staying in a hotel that had a gym and after doing some get ups while holding a straight curling bar for fun, I did a few random curls with the barbell for the sake of nostalgia).
Q: Ok, Where do “the guns” come from?
A: Well.. let’s work up from the hands – all the grip work and extensor work (I’d encourage you to do some of this to balance out all that pull up bar gripping and kettlebell gripping you might be doing*) will really shape the forearms. Kettlebells in particular with their intense work of the grip will ensure shapely strong-looking forearms on most men and women. Ok well I know you were really wanting to know more about biceps…
most of my bicep development is actually a result of pull ups and chin ups! Though holding the kettlebell in position for goblet squats will also work them as well–as I am sure you’ve experienced!! And while kettlebell “crush curls” are more of an intense chest exercise if done properly, they do also really hit the arms as well.
Q: How do I get arms like yours?
A: By keeping active with kettlebell ballistics and grinds while working up to intermediate/advanced calisthenics, and maintaining a relatively low percentage body fat. I don’t practice “isolation” exercises for my arms specifically, but they do get a great deal of attention during all forms of push ups, pull ups, and even human flag training… and all those kettlebell exercises mentioned above. Honestly if I listed out all the exercises and moves I love to do that “accidentally” hit the arms this would be a very long article 🙂 I will say this, if you DO want the visible bicep vein (it comes and goes on me according to what I’m doing and eating) then it takes a very low body fat percentage which may or may not be sustainable (everybody is different) for your situation. It’s one of those weird things – guys of course seem to get it very easily, but again, everyBODY is different.
Q: I need to be less puny, but don’t have any workout equipment at home… what do I do!?
A: (I did actually have someone ask this question verbatim last week, and they used the phrase “less puny” which I thought was pretty funny. I asked her about that particular choice of words, and what she specifically meant was she wanted to be able to things which require strength, but did not want to necessarily end up looking like She-Hulk.) Good news! Not only will you not turn into a green-skinned She-Hulk by doing calisthenics exercises, you can get started right now and not buy a darned thing! I absolutely love that about the ideas in Convict Conditioning. My friend who asked this question is wanting to eventually do legit full push ups, and is currently able to do them from the knees. After our discussion, she’s going to be continuing to work on the pushups, but with straight legs and with her hands raised on a bench height, and instead of doing a bunch of crunches, she’s now working on intense plank practice, cross-core coordination exercises from a crawling (knees off the floor, only hands and toes down, knees are bent though) position. She’s also working on the first step towards pull ups from Convict Conditioning. It’s all great stuff and she can get it all done at home!
Q: How do I get rid of THIS!?!? (Person asking question grabs their tricep area and shakes vigorously while scowling)
A: By making the tricep a little bigger, and dialing in your food! Tricep-activating exercises like dips, “self assisted” at first (keep your feet under you, applying just enough “help” to get you moving) or with a band or training partner can also help. Also working on push ups or the “chaturanga” set of movements in yoga will go a long way. But cleaning up the diet, getting rid of excess sugars, alcohol etc. seems to speed this process amazingly. Personally, a low carb Primal Blueprint-like food approach works great for me. Find what is sustainable and works for you!
Q: What do kettlebells do to your arms?
A: As discussed above, they can really develop and shape the forearms, develop a nice solid grip, and assist in both building muscle and reducing fat. All these things lead to nice shapely arms for all genders! HURRAH! Sometimes women get concerned that kettlebells might make their arms “too big” in that case it’s important to see what’s going on with body composition – are the newly activated arm muscles really getting that “big” or are they simply appearing that way due to a layer of extra body fat. The truth of the matter is, it’s usually a body fat issue. HOWEVER… that’s not always the case. Defined muscles on women is still (surprisingly) kind of shocking to some people (women included) outside of the fitness industry. What I think of as “normal and healthy looking” isn’t the same as what is seen on TV, movies, and those dreaded “women’s magazines”. So many times the female arms displayed in mainstream media have hardly any muscle at all — and if that’s the goal, kettlebells may work against you. I would encourage you however to closely examine those ideals and consider how good muscle tone and a little development can help us stay young looking for longer and longer. Besides – all extra muscle burns more fat and helps us maintain the beautiful, healthy, strong and active bodies that allow for fun and adventurous lives!
*Extensor work–you know those big rubber bands you get on all the fresh organic broccoli I know you’re buying? Those are GREAT to counteract some of that grip work. Just place the rubber band around your thumb and fingertips then gently stretch the band using only those fingers. The other thing you can do is to perform careful fingertip push ups (from the feet or from the knees, or even just holding that top position from feet or knees). Be gentle with those little muscles and tendons of the hands while working to keep them in balance. Trust me it’s worth it!!