Monster Arm Growth with Chains and Bands

Monster Arm Growth with Chains and Bands

Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.


Building massive arms is a feat that every person who’s ever touched a piece of iron dreams of. Unfortunately it’s easier said than done as the arms can be a relatively stubborn body part. However, I found that employing accommodating resistance via chains and bands on a variety of tricep and bicep movements does wonders for increasing hypertrophy in the arms as well as overall strength.

Here’s how to incorporate it on a variety of arm movements.

Triceps And Chains

When it comes to building mass in the triceps it’s tough to beat close grip chest presses.  However, if you really want to maximize the effectiveness of your close grip presses in terms of triggering arm growth, try adding accommodating resistance (chains or bands).  This overloads the top half of the movement which happens to be the phase that emphasizes the triceps most.  In addition, avoid an excessively narrow grip as this can place undue stress on the wrists and also cause the elbows to flare out, thereby minimizing stress to the triceps.  Instead aim for a grip that’s just inside shoulder width as demonstrated by several of my NFL athletes including Larry Pinkard and Adrian Hubbard. 

Reverse Grip Bench and Floor Presses also pair nicely with chains for blasting the triceps.  In addition, the reverse grip targets the three heads of the triceps a bit more evenly than close grip presses which tend to emphasize the lateral and medial heads more so.   Here’s one of my awesome clients Graham Chrietzberg showing how it’s done.

If you really want to amp up the intensity try performing these variations with a leg raise position. Besides taxing the core, this makes it impossible to rely on the lower body for assistance thereby further isolating the upper body.

I also recommend performing several lower rep sets of 2-6 reps to help target the highest threshold motor units and maximize mechanical tension and muscle damage.  This not only optimizes the growth response in the fast twitch muscles of the triceps (which have the most potential for growth), but it also provides a neural potentiation effect.  With this in mind perform several lighter sets of 8-10 reps after the heavy sets along with your favorite tricep isolation exercises such as skull crusher variations and cable pressdowns. 

On a similar note, skull crushers are particularly effective when combined with chains as they provide more constant tension to the triceps rather than allowing them to relax at the top half of the exercise.   Here’s NFL athlete Adrian Hubbard showing how it’s done.

Biceps and Chains

Although many individuals choose to isolate their triceps in one workout and save their biceps training for another session I recommend combining the two on the same day.  In fact I recommend super-setting each tricep movement with your favorite bicep exercise with roughly 45-60 seconds of rest between each.  Here’s why:

Pairing biceps and triceps not only supercharges the cellular volumization and muscle pump effect by driving more total blood to the entire arm, it also allows heavier loads to be incorporated throughout the workout.  That’s because fatiguing the antagonist muscles produces reciprocal inhibition. This allows greater force production of the agonists thereby maximizing overload and muscle growth.  

Similar to the skull crushers, adding chains to curls provides constant tension and overloads the contracted position thereby maximizing the hypertrophy stimulus.  

It also tends to place less tension on the bicep tendon as you’re deloading the bottom position, which typically places the connective tissue in the most vulnerable position. 


Accomodating Resistance with Bands

If you don’t have access to chains you can also use bands to create accommodating resistance as demonstrated by one of my awesome bodybuilding clients Ben Lai.

The same can be done with triceps particularly on close grip chest presses shown here by more of my NFL Athletes.   Here's the band resistance version minus the close grip which you would incorporate if the goal was to emphasize the triceps.

Here's the band assistance version also known as reverse band presses.  Essentially the strength curve is similar to the other variations as it deloads the bottom and overloads the top.  Similar to the above, focus on a slightly narrower grip (approximately shoulder width) if the goal is to emphasize the triceps more so than the chest.

When applied to skull crushers, horizontal band resistance tends to match the strength curve and force vectors of the triceps better than vertical band resistance. 

Bands are also incredibly effective when applied to dips as the tension to the triceps is unusually high.  When combined with ring dips the degree of mechanical tension and metabolic stress to the entire upper arm is sure to produce newfound levels of functional strength and hypertrophy in the triceps.


Isolateral Accommodating Resistance with Chains

If you really want to get crazy you can perform any of your favorite isolateral and unilateral arm exercises with chains as well.  Simply loop the chains through two ab straps (the straps used to perform hanging leg raises) then attach single arm cable attachments to them.   The degree of tension in the contracted position produces an effect that’s difficult to replicate even with variable resistance machines. 

Here’s how it’s done for biceps.

Here’s the tricep variation.

If you need help figuring out how to program these various exercises into a customized training routine, check out my Complete Template Series here.

For more information on bicep and tricep training check out my various arm articles at T-Nation.