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15 Things You Should Know Before Trying To Get Jacked Arms

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Not everyone wants jacked arms. And that's cool. But if you do want those Popeye-style pythons, you should know how to do it effectively. BuzzFeed Life talked to some experts to give you real helpful advice for getting the jacked arms of your dreams — minus the bro science. Remember, this isn't medical advice; be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any kind of new diet or training program.

1. The first thing to know is that getting jacked arms simply means making the muscles of the upper arm bigger.

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Specifically we're talking about the biceps brachii (on the front of the upper arm between the elbow and shoulder), the brachialis (the small muscle on the lower part of the upper arm that connects the bottom of the bicep to the forearm, also part of the biceps), and the triceps brachii (the back portion of the upper arm between the elbow and the shoulder), explains Tony Gentilcore, Boston-based strength coach and certified strength and conditioning specialist.

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2. But you can't just do a billion bicep curls.

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Or even a million! The most efficient way to actually get jacked arms is to get stronger all over. "Most people don't have big arms not because they don't do enough bicep curls, but because they're really weak," says Gentilcore, who doesn't even prescribe isolated arm work for clients until they can do five chin-ups. You don't have to follow that rule exactly, but keep the spirit of it mind: Focus on getting stronger all over, which will allow you to move more weight in all exercises, including those that involve your arms. And then when it comes time to do arm-only lifts (more on that in a sec), those will be heavier, too, giving you more bang for your buck.

3. Start doing squats, deadlifts, presses, rows, and chin-ups.

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As we've previously reported, compound, multi-joint movements (like deadlifting, squatting, and pressing) involve the largest muscle groups in your body, which allow you to move a lot of weight and work lots of muscle groups at once. And all that can boost your strength and size. These moves should make up the bulk of your weight training.

But also make time for exercises that strengthen your whole upper body — like rows and chin-ups. "Rows and chin-up variations are, for my money, the best bicep exercises," says Gentilcore.

4. Save the arms-only exercises for the end of your workouts.

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Just because doing only arm-isolating exercises aren't the best way to get jacked arms, it doesn't mean you shouldn't never do them, says Nick Tumminello, owner of Performance University International in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and author of Strength Training for Fat Loss. In fact, doing some focused work on your arms is a must — just dedicate about 10-15 minutes to it after your full workout. Gentilcore recommends the arms workouts at bodybuilding.com or tnation.com.

For instance, one day you can do a biceps workout and the next day a workout for your tris. Consider throwing exercises for your forearms and shoulders into the mix, too, since developing those muscles contributes to the appearance of jacked arms, says Gentilcore.

5. Plan on lifting weights 3-4x per week.

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These should be workouts that are focused on those compound movements we talked about before — squats, deadlifts, presses, rows, chin-ups — followed by a finisher of arm work. Two workouts a week will be too few to really kickstart progress, and four is great if you feel up to it and have the time, says Gentilcore. Check out Tony Gentilcore's full-body workout for beginner's here.

6. Beware of doing too much high-intensity cardio.

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When you're trying to get stronger or add some muscle mass, you shouldn't spend more than one non-lifting day per week doing high-intensity cardio. It's just too damn hard to recover from your strength workouts when you're also doing tons of intervals or hill sprints, says Gentilcore. Plus, you only have so much beastmode in you, and if you're splitting that between lifting and high-intensity cardio, you'll only be able to keep that up for a few weeks until you're too fatigued to do either, which means slow gains or no gains.

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7. But light cardio is great for your health and your gains.

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Light jogging, rowing, cycling, and similar aerobic exercises aren't just great because cardiovascular health is aces. Doing cardio in what's called heart rate zone 1 (about 60% to 70% of your max heart rate and maybe 120 to 140 BPM) improves your aerobic base, which means better performance in the weight room, says Gentilcore. For example, more aerobic stamina means not getting as gassed during your sets and needing less rest throughout your workout. Build this up with light aerobic activity a few days per week.

You can learn more about the different heart rate zones for training here. And you can use an online calculator to estimate where your heart rate should be to train in zone 1.

8. Also, make sure you do literally nothing one or two days per week.

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Fun fact: You don't build muscle when you're lifting. You damage it. As we've previously reported, it's when you are recovering from your workouts — chilling out, laying low, getting enough sleep, eating the right stuff (more on that in a sec) — that you repair that damage and build muscle. This means that you need to make sure that on some days you're just relaxing — not lifting, not doing cardio, just giving your body some time to recover from your training and get ready for your upcoming workouts.

9. Figure out whether or not you need to lose body fat in order to make your arms pop.

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There are some body composition goals that require almost anyone to reduce body fat while building lean muscle. Like, if you want shredded abs, you'd need to reduce the layer of fat around those muscles. Same deal with your butt. But, for most people, excess body fat doesn't go to the arms, so leaning down before you get jacked isn't always necessary for this particular goal.

That said, it could be the case for you if you have what would be considered a relative excess amount of body fat for a given body composition goal (in this case, more than about 15% body fat for men and about 25% for women), explains Brian St. Pierre, MS, RD, CSCS, director of performance nutrition at Precision Nutrition. That excess fat may hide the shape of the muscle underneath, plus it can interfere with some hormonal and physiological processes making it harder to gain muscle. In those cases, you'd want to try to reduce body fat as part of your quest for jacked arms. For more info on how to do that, check out our previous reporting on the subject.

10. Make sure you're eating a balanced diet that supports your goals.

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When it comes to the amount of food you should eat, that all depends on whether you want to lose body fat (which we reported on here) or gain weight (which we've reported on here).

But once you know which you'd like to do, you can start to figure out how that translates to how you eat every day by using the calculators like this one. Once you determine your daily calorie intake, you'll want to do some trial and error for a couple of weeks to see how you feel and perform during workouts, and whether you're meeting your goals.

In terms of what you're eating, St. Pierre recommends a diet that's roughly 30% protein, 40% carbs, and 30% fat. You can use an online macronutrient calculator to tell you how much fat, protein, and carbohydrates those percentages would translate to depending on how much you're eating.

11. Prioritize getting regular good quality sleep.

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Not getting enough sleep really compromises your fitness goals. It'll make you hungrier, make you crave higher calorie foods, mess up your metabolism, and just generally screw with your health. All of that makes it harder to hit your potential in the gym.

TL;DR: get seven to nine hours of sleep per night.

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12. Stick with the same training plan for at least six weeks.

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You need to give your body plenty of time to feel and see results, says Tumminello. And anything less than about six weeks just isn't enough time to evaluate whether or not a specific training program is working for you.

13. Make sure your expectations for seeing results are realistic.

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If you're new to exercise, you are likely to notice that you're getting stronger after just about four weeks of following your program consistently, says Tumminello. Those neuromuscular (i.e. strength) changes come fairly quickly. The aesthetic changes take a bit longer and often have to do with genetic factors. You might notice bigger arms after six weeks, but for many people it will take longer.

14. And if you're not seeing some results after six weeks, first look at your diet and lifestyle.

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For most people, not getting the results you want has to do with an imbalanced diet, too many or too few calories, or inadequate rest and recovery, says Tumminello. Keep notes on how much and what you're eating, how much you're sleeping, how you feel during workouts, etc. and see if you notice any patterns that you can address.

15. If you've dialed in lifestyle factors and still aren't seeing results, then you can tweak your program.

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Everyone's body responds differently to exercise, Tumminello says. Some people might see incredible results by following a program that calls for the same sets of arms exercises at a moderate weight, while others might see more results by making those sets heavier and doing fewer per workout (spreading them out over the course of a week). The only way to really find this out is to do some trial and error until you find a program that's working for you.

Social image via The Rock.

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