WSBB Blog: Big Arms, Big Bench
Over the course of the last thirty years, Westside Barbell has had numerous lifters achieve 600lb raw benches, all the way up to 1000lb geared benches. It is safe to say, when it comes to the development of bench press strength, Louie Simmons knows the way. One of the things Louie is quick to mention when asked about the bench press is the importance of arm strength. Throughout the years, our best benchers were known to have some of the largest arms in the sport. This is done by using main and accessory exercises that target the long, lateral, and medial heads of the triceps, while being sure not to neglect the long and short heads of the biceps.
When exercises are programmed correctly, the strength gained by properly targeting the important muscles of the arms will provide you with massive amounts of bench and overhead pressing strength. Additionally, the proper training of these muscle groups will help to reduce tricep and bicep injuries, which are known to plague strength athletes. Below, we will go over a few of our go to exercises we use at Westside Barbell to develop some of the strongest arms in the world.
Rolling Dumbbell Tricep Extensions
Rolling dumbbell tricep extensions, sometimes referred to as tricep rollbacks, is an arm exercise that targets and strengthens all heads of the triceps. Additionally, this exercise helps strengthen one of the most important tendons involved in the press, the distal triceps tendon. The strengthening of this tendon is crucial, as it is one of the most commonly injured tendons when pressing heavy weights.
Rolling dumbbell tricep extensions are performed using a hammer grip, lowering the dumbbells in the same pattern as a skullcrusher. Once the dumbbells have made contact with the shoulders, you will allow the dumbbells to travel further in a controlled manner providing additional ROM and stretch. Once the dumbbells have been completely lowered, you will engage the upper back and triceps to elevate the weight as fast as possible.
When it comes to dumbbell rollbacks it is crucial to control the weights while they are being lowered, and reversing their movement with as much power and explosivity as possible. This exercise should be one of your primary arm exercises, being performed for four to six sets of twelve to fifteen reps per set. You always want to use the heaviest dumbbells possible while successfully completing all sets and reps with optimal form.
One of the most popular and effective triceps exercises, skullcrushers are a great way to improve overall triceps strength and arm size. This exercise is very similar to dumbbell rollbacks, with a shorter range of motion. At Westside, we prefer to use the preacher bar when performing skullcrushers, lowering the weight in a controlled fashion to the eyes / upper brow in a controlled manner. You do not want to physically touch your head with the barbell, you want to lower the weight until you feel pressure in your biceps and a good stretch in the triceps at the elbow. From there, similar to rollbacks, you will apply as much strength as possible to complete the rep in an explosive manner. This exercise is typically performed for three to five sets of ten to twelve heavy reps.
One of the most popular triceps exercises Westside is known for is the JM press. The JM press is a triceps focused exercise that borrows from dumbbell rollbacks, pullovers, and skullcrushers. Similar to a skullcrusher, you will lower a barbell or SSB in a controlled manner to your upper chin / nose. From there, similar to a rollback, you will allow the weight to travel further, placing the forearms near parallel with the body with the triceps maximally stretched. Once in that position, you will “pull” the barbell towards the chest like a pullover, completing the lift by extending the triceps.
When executed correctly, few lifts can improve tricep strength and pressing power like JM presses. At Westside, we program this exercise in a couple of different ways. Used as a primary accessory exercise, we will perform both heavy, low rep JM presses, along with high rep, high volume work. When heavy JM press is the focus, we shoot for three and five rep PR top sets. When used as a high rep, high volume accessory we recommend three or four sets of ten to fifteen reps.
Dumbbell Bicep Curls
One of the most basic bicep exercises there is, dumbbell bicep curls provide some of the best bicep stimulus you can get out of an exercise. Simple to execute, you want to curl the dumbbell in a controlled manner focusing on using the bicep to lift the weight with as little upper back /posterior shoulder engagement as possible. If you want to change up the stimulus a bit, you can substitute kettlebells in place of dumbbells.
Dumbbell bicep curls should be performed for three to five sets of twelve to fifteen reps. We recommend alternating arms rep to rep, but you can curl both arms simultaneously if you prefer to.
Probably the most preferred way to curl a dumbbell at Westside Barbell, hammer curls provide all the benefits of dumbbell or barbell bicep curls while applying less stress and strain on the elbow. At Westside, we perform hammer curls two ways; heavy for sets of eight to ten, or lighter for sets of twelve to fifteen. Hammer curls provide great stimulus to the biceps, as well as stimulating the muscles of the anterior shoulder.
The Importance of Strong Arms
Arm strength is as crucial to the bench and overhead press as leg strength is to the squat and the deadlift. When the goal is to press maximum amounts of weight, you must have strong and healthy arm muscles and tendons. Additionally, having a set of strong arms will help reduce shoulder and pec injuries. When your biceps and triceps can absorb and handle more of the pressure and strain, it allows your shoulders and pecs to do their job without being overloaded or injured.
On the path to world class bench strength, there may be no muscle groups more important than the biceps and triceps. These muscles help the arms achieve extension when pressing similar to how the hamstrings and quads help the legs achieve extension when squatting. Therefore, your focus on arm training during upper body days should be similar to your focus on the hamstrings and quads on lower body day. Make no mistake about it, the largest arms make for the strongest bench presses.