Why Bodyweight Moves Can Challenge Your Arms
Truth be told, your arms are built to respond well to bodyweight training, and they can get challenged by your mere bodyweight even more than larger bodyparts, in part because they’re smaller muscle groups.
Part of the challenge of building muscle and strength for any bodypart is that you need to overload it to make serious gains. Bench-press five-pound dumbbells, and you’ll see limited results. Bench 225, however, and you’re pushing your pecs to their limits. That overload, when done safely and progressively, is key to growth.
Bigger muscles (think chest, lats, and leg muscles), quite naturally, can be overloaded with more weight. But your biceps and triceps? Those are small muscle groups, so they can be challenged and overloaded with less weight. The same person who maxes out at 225 on the bench won’t be biceps curling, say, 225.
So while a standard pushup may not be a challenge for you, finding a way to isolate you triceps with that same bodyweight load just may create the stimulus for arm growth.
The Key: Moving At the Elbow
Your biggest goal when trying to blast your arms with bodyweight is finding ways to make your arms do all the work. In general, larger bodyparts, such as your lats or pecs, or even your legs and core muscles, will want to assist in most bodyweight lifts. It’s natural, because they’re stronger.
You need to focus on not letting those muscles do the work, and to do that, you need to focus on movement at the elbow, because none of your larger muscle groups (such as your lats, pecs, abs, or legs) have a direct role in how your elbow moves. But biceps and triceps drive elbow movement. Your biceps is a key “flexor” of the elbow, bending forearm towards upper arm. Your triceps, meanwhile, “extends” the elbow, essentially straightening your arm.
Any move that has your elbow flexing and extending under bodyweight load is going to work your biceps and triceps. The more you make elbow flexion and extension be the driving force of the exercise, the closer you are to stimulating arm growth.
Triceps vs. Biceps
In general, it’s far easier to find bodyweight triceps movements than it is to find bodyweight biceps moves. That’s for two reasons. First off, it’s generally easier to find home pushing moves than pulling moves. And your triceps are involved in pushing.
Secondly, many bodyweight pull moves are, overall, just challenging. The gold-standard bodyweight pull move is the pullup or chinup, and, even with your entire body working as a unit, it can be challenging to do. Asking your biceps to shoulder the load gets even tougher. Most of the biceps blast moves you can do with bodyweight will be driven by chinups and chinup variations.
None of this is bad, though, because there’s plenty of growth potential locked in your tris. Even if you focus on triceps when you’re doing your bodyweight training, you’ll get serious bang for your arm-training buck, because, very often, it’s easier to over-focus on biceps training and ignore your triceps when you’re working with weights.
Try These Workouts and Exercises
Try these workouts and exercises to spice up your arm-day training with only bodyweight. Yes, it’s possible to build your arms with no gear at all. The closest thing you’ll need is an ottoman or a chair; sub that in whenever you see a move that requires a bench.
The basic close-grip pushup is an excellent triceps move, and it's a fundamental move you should learn.
Mixed-Style Close-Grip Pushup
The mixed-style close-grip pushup, a move from Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. evolves the close-grip pushup further, adding time-under-tension and more body control for a nastier triceps pump.
Inchworm Chinup Challenge
This chinup series isn't for the faint of heart, but if you do it, it'll light up your biceps and crush your forearms too.
Elevated Halfway Pause Skullcrusher
Few bodyweight skullcrushers push you to as much time-under-tension as this advanced move, another one from Samuel.
Chaos Band L-Sit Chinup
This challenge-level move builds your back. It also challenges your biceps to bring strength and stability at once.
10-to-1 Triceps Challenge
This countdown workout is done at your own pace, with little rest between sets, and it hits your tris from multiple angles.
Triceps Triple Dropset
This full triceps workout will blast your tris in about 10 minutes with skullcrusher and close-grip pushup variations.
32-Rep Triceps Mayhem
Another dropset-powered workout from Samuel that's designed to eradicate your triceps. This one blends mechanical and tempo dropsets for vicious burn.
The bench dip is a well-known triceps blaster, even though it's not the best triceps move out there. Use it in your workouts, but exercise care here, and don't do it too often.
This article originally appeared on Men's Health