People bulk up for different reasons and while approaches can vary, something that has been consistent since bodybuilding and working out hit the mainstream public is bulking up to specifically grow your arms.
Chances are when you first started working out, one of the first moves you did was a bicep curl of some sort and it’s even more likely that you spend more time training arms than any other body part. Once you’ve got used to training, the next natural step is to look into your diet and this is when people discover that “bulking” is the common approach people take when looking to build muscle mass.
Does bulking make your arms bigger? Bulking will make your arms bigger. A calorie surplus combined with weight training leads to an increase in total body weight. With the increase in body weight, your arms will also grow when bulking and a general guideline is arms will gain 1 inch in size for every 15lbs of total body weight gained.
If you want to bulk with the single intention of building arm size, you might be surprised by how difficult this can be to do. Unless you have great genetics, you can’t start a bulking phase and expect to add inches to your arms in just a few months.
Therefore, in this article, I’ll run through whether or not bulking will directly make your arms bigger and what you can do alongside this to improve your results and fill out your shirt sleeves…
Does Bulking Make Your Arms Bigger
Firstly, It’s worth pointing out that bulking will make your arms bigger!
I’ll get into the details on why this is the case shortly but it’s worth keeping in mind that you shouldn’t expect to see rapid or overly noticeable changes. Without good genetics, arm growth is painfully slow because the muscles that make up the arm (biceps, triceps, forearm) are relatively small muscle groups.
The potential for overall growth is low and as a result, the rate of muscle growth for arms is also quite slow. With a bulk though, you’ll increase the speed of muscle growth due to a number of factors:
1. You Gain Overall Body Weight on a Bulk
One of the most logical pieces of information I’d ever read stated that your body likes to always be in a state of balance. While this usually refers to hormone balance, body temperature, blood sugar, water levels, and a range of other things, it’s also true for muscle size.
The human body is quite balanced and while some muscle groups are certainly more developed than others, it’s rare to see people so significantly out of proportion (though you always get some top-heavy people that skip leg day!). Therefore, the most efficient way to build a muscle group is to gain body weight as a whole.
In the same way that you can’t spot reduce body fat, you also can’t spot increase muscle mass (I just made that term up). There’s an accepted formula when it comes to arm growth in particular and that is for every 1 inch you want to add to arms size, you will need to add at least 10lbs body weight, with 15lbs being more realistic.
2. Bulking Increases Strength and Muscle Mass
Building muscle requires a surplus of calories and nutrients alongside progressively getting stronger in the gym. This is a simplified summary as there are countless more factors that contribute to muscle growth and size but bulking, in particular, facilitates the calorie surplus and strength progression during a bulking phase.
Getting stronger in the gym and building overall muscle mass will naturally lead to bigger arms. Beginners that follow a basic strength training program focused on the heavy compound movements tend to see great progress with their physique over the first few years of training and this tends to also come with arms growing a few inches.
Most beginners will go from an average arm size of 11 – 13 inches to 14 – 16 inches within their first few years of training and this is often the result of a dedicated bulk alongside a strength training specific routine.
Do You Need to Bulk to Get Bigger Arms
Now we get to a particularly interesting question and that is whether or not you need to bulk up in order to get bigger arms?
You do not need to bulk up to get bigger arms however, in order to gain 1 inch of size on your upper arms, you’ll need to add at least 15lbs of bodyweight. Therefore, bulking will indirectly lead to bigger arms.
When it comes to trying to build one particular muscle group, there are two sides to the coin. Firstly, volume and frequency are two of the biggest contributors to muscle growth, especially in the arms where the muscles like the bicep and tricep are smaller.
With arm-specific exercises, you are limited by the amount of weight you can use, particularly with effective form, and therefore to stimulate muscle hypertrophy and protein synthesis (for arm growth), you need to tap into the volume and frequency aspect.
The more frequently you can stimulate (not fatigue) a muscle, the more receptive it will be to muscle growth. Therefore, you can train a specific muscle group often without bulking and still see growth. This is of course more common for beginners.
Secondly, you need to be able to recover from training and have an availability of nutrients that support muscle growth, mainly sufficient protein for muscle repair and growth alongside a higher carb/fat intake to provide energy for muscular contractions during training.
While the first part in terms of volume/frequency/stimulation doesn’t necessarily require a calorie surplus to facilitate, the second point almost certainly does. A bulking phase is also known as a growth phase in bodybuilding or physique development and having the availability of nutrients and calories is close to the top of the pyramid when it comes to muscle growth.
Therefore, a small minority of people will be able to build their arms without bulking as they will have good genetics, nutrient partitioning (meaning they utilize more calories for muscle growth rather than fat storage or excretion), or low muscle insertions points which mean the muscles visually look bigger.
For everyone else though, it’s likely you will need to bulk in order to get bigger arms.
How to Bulk up Your Arms
Bulking up your arms is often overcomplicated and significantly over prioritized!
As I mentioned earlier, the arms are made up of small muscle groups relative to the rest of your body and therefore do not need as much volume as bigger muscle groups like the back or legs. Doing too many exercises, sets, reps, and dedicated arm days is often the reason why most people struggle to grow their arms.
The YouTube videos and bodybuilders recommending dedicated arm days with 6 – 8 exercises are also those that take “performance enhancement” and are much more receptive to muscle growth. For the average person reading this, bulking up your arms only requires a few components:
- Getting strong in compound exercises (a bodyweight dip + 50lbs of additional weight will do more for tricep growth than a 35lb tricep extension ever will)
- Muscle stimulation – Do enough sets to stimulate the muscle and activate protein synthesis
- Frequency – Hit the arms with enough frequency weekly to remain in a muscle-building state with protein synthesis remaining high
- Recovery – More frequency means you need to manage volume. The goal with growing arms is never to fatigue the muscle to the point where it requires 3-5 days to fully recover.
When bulking up your arms, exercise selection is crucial and you, therefore, want to get stronger in compound lifts whilst also training the biceps and triceps through a full range of motion (eg, fully shortened and fully lengthened positions).
The 7 best exercises to bulk up your arms are:
- Weighted Chin-Ups
- Weighted Dips
- Close Grip Bench Press
- Barbell Curl
- Preacher Curl
- Skull Crusher
- Barbell Row
If you’re looking to build your arms, bulking is definitely a good approach to take. While simply going on a bulk won’t suddenly and directly transfer to arm growth, it will contribute to increases in strength, overall size, and ultimately, bigger arms!
It’s worth keeping in mind though that bulking up your arms is not a quick process and I’ve mentioned this a few times already but if you’re really intent on increasing arm size, you’ll also need to increase body weight by 10lbs – 15lbs to add an extra inch which is going to be difficult to do if you’re an intermediate level lifter or looking to lean bulk.
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