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What a weird title, who would have thought 5×5 would separate itself from its friends the deadlift, bench press or squat? In this article, we will see that one huge mistake often made by gym-goers is that they don’t workout and treat small muscles like bigger ones.
The key to building any sort of big muscle is to give them proper sessions and proper training. We will see what the 5×5 training actually is and how it fits perfectly a bodybuilder’s gym training routine just like when it comes to biceps or arms.
Prioritising your arms in your weekly routine
Before we get into the training techniques to grow bigger arms, it’s good to talk about the strategy. If your number 1 priority is to grow your arms, then you want to make your gym program in a way that this will happen. You’re going to have to train arms enough and train them in a smart way when looking at the rest of your workout routine.
You don’t want to do back the day after your biceps workout. If you want to grow your arms, biceps are obviously very important. Doing your back workout the day after biceps will just be detrimental to its recovery. Doing back the day before biceps is not the best solution either.
You see very clearly that when you want to focus on certain areas, this means focusing less on other muscles. You still want to be able to train the rest of your muscles and improve there, just not as fast as what your priority is.
Let’s go with an example on how to get bigger arms on a weekly gym routine, we are training them (biceps and triceps) twice a week:
As you can see, we tried to seperate back workout sessions from arm related workouts to allow muscle recovery.
What is the 5×5 training principle
The 5×5 gym technique is simply doing 5 sets of 5 repetitions. It is considered as a strength training technique, and it is. But it’s not just that, it also gives you a good amount of volume. In the case of a 5×3, there is less time under tension, which is essential to build muscle. If you want to know exactly how to build muscle, then please read “How many repetitions to build muscle naturally”.
You will see how strength is important to build muscle, but not without doing enough volume. The 5×5 technique is simply a great tool for beginners. Beginners usually get stuck doing too many reps and not “forcing” enough to bring themselves to some next level.
At the same time, they don’t just want to become stronger. One thing that is motivating as a beginner is to build some muscle too. That’s the main reason to go to the gym.
The 5×5 method is the perfect mix. You are building strength and doing enough volume. You are the perfect power-bodybuilder. The way to go to build muscle! My main advice here is to apply the 5×5 method anytime you can with the muscles you are starting with.
Even biceps, like we are going to talk about. Maybe not for forearms or calves muscles. You could go for a slightly higher rep-range, even though, it could still be interesting.
The 5×5 method is just a rule
The 5×5 is just a rule and a training technique. The numbers are not magical… We talked about the 5×3 in the last section explaining that it is very strength focus and not enough volume-focused to build muscle. If after your 5×3 you do more sets of higher reps and also get a lot of hypertrophy work done, then that’s fine!
It’s just that the 5×5 can’t be a better explanation to that mix of both strength and volume. It is the perfect example to why beginners who don’t totally neglect strength start building muscle and escape the stagnation phase. Now, if you want to do 5×3 its fine. As long as you are not ignoring hypertrophy training.
It is also fine if you want to do higher rep ranges (e.g 4×15), as long as you are not fully ignoring strength training to help you get stronger in a general way. We will also come back later on how important it is to warm-up before going heavy on smaller muscles like biceps.
How to get big arms
Right, let’s get into what we want here. Getting big arms. First things first, let’s stop the crappy end of the session arm workout. We are not here to pump it up on the cables because:
1- You’re not using performance-enhancing drugs
If you want bigger arms you need to build a real routine for arms. Spend an hour on your biceps like you would spend an hour and a half on your chest. You just want to be slightly more careful there.
It’s true that biceps are small muscles. And if you do your movements the right way, you should really just use your biceps. Therefore that is a lot of tension for small muscles and you have to always seriously warm-up before going onto heavy sets.
When you bench press, you are supposed to focus on your chest but your shoulders are here to back it up and your triceps also…
It’s easier to go heavier without taking as much risk but you have to take a different approach here.
5×5 training on arms then?
You should try and scale up the load on your arms just like you would do with your back and deadlifts. You have to force your progression to improve. This does not mean burning yourself out and training to failure. It means forcing without completely exhausting yourself.
The 5×5 is very interesting.
As said above, it is a good introduction to both strength and volume training. When doing 5×5 you’re starting to go in the heavyweights. You can do more volume after, but if you have been struggling for a while with building bigger arms, then I recommend you now start with a 5×5 on your main movement.
If that sounds like very short rep-ranges, you could go for 6-8 reps. The point is just that you have got to get stronger on your arms and apply enough volume too.
What kind of main movements?
If we talk about good exercises again, we have to look for exercises which offer a good stretch. It also has to be something that is adapted to your body-morphology. We invite you to read this article “Are there any indispensable exercises”?.
If your biceps is very short, you might want to train them differently than if they are very long. Let’s say your biceps are pretty short and you want to find good exercises for a session that will be dedicated to working on your brachialis (to improve your peak).
For that example, we can use preacher curls as a first:
Your session could look like:
- 5×5 preacher barbell curls
- 3×8 neutral grip pull-ups
- 3×8 hammer curls
Now let’s say you really want to work on your long and short head portions. Your session could look like:
- 5×5 inclined curls
- 5×8 supinator grip pull-ups
5×5 on an isolation movement like inclined curls?
Incline curls is one of the best exercises with dumbbells you can do, no doubt about it. The stretch incline curls give you is unbelievable. Here is the thing, isolation movements do not always have to mean high reps.
Isolation movements are usually movements which offer a good stretch and focus on the muscle without using as many other muscles like in compound movements. Therefore, people are always scared to go heavy on those.
You just really have to follow the right steps. Warm-up slowly on your way to the heavy sets. Incline your bench the right way in the case of inclined curls. For example, do not over incline it if you have short biceps.
Gym isolation movements can be used to go heavy. I am not telling you to max out but 5×5 can be done on an isolation movement. The results can be surprisingly high. If we start to stop listening to the stereotypes and actually work smartly while taking precautions it’s fine.
If you know your body and think this is not a good idea for you, only do higher reps on isolation movements and stick to lower reps with the compound movements.
Only two exercises for the long and short head biceps workout session?
It comes back to the principles of specializing that we have seen before. Once you’ve found a great exercise targeting one area, why bother adding another one which will just do the exact same work but in a different way?
You have to move around, take new dumbells… You’re just wasting some time when you could do 3 more sets of the same exercise and put your full focus on that exact one! As you get more advanced, it’s ok to do similar exercises targeting the same area, because there is much more volume to do and it can get a bit boring to stay on the same exercise for so long.
But if you are starting, shift your focus to less things at a time. In this example, doing 5×5 for inclined curls followed by a great biceps exercise like pull-ups for another 5 sets is perfectly fine. Note that this gym session is exclusively focusing on the biceps portion and not the brachialis. There is not a lot more that can be done.
If you decide to work your brachialis along with your biceps long and short head portions, this can be a much longer gym session with more exercises.
Biceps are nice but triceps are a huge muscle too
We always hear that triceps are ⅔ of your arms so you should really work on them to have bigger arms. The truth is, they are rather 3/6 of your arms. People always forget about the brachialis when they talk about arms. Nonetheless, triceps are big, and they should not be neglected.
How do you go on about working on your triceps?
Again we have to find the best exercises. There are many exercises for triceps which are questionable. You have to forget about them and focus only on what matters. Kickbacks as an example are just not stretching anything. They are one of the worst exercise you can do for your triceps.
The only time they could be interesting is if you do them with cables. Because they offer you this resistance and that muscle stretch. There are not hundreds of exercises when it comes to triceps, and again, what we want here is specialising. Let’s do more sets on one exercise rather than 20 exercises for only a few sets each.
Skull crushes are a basic and great triceps gym exercise. They offer a powerful stretch. You can even do them on an incline bench with your elbows further behind than your head. The stretch is huge and this is one of the best exercises out there. Be careful! Warming up very carefully and preparing yourself to do each of these sets is very important. The stretch can be too strong if you don’t have the flexibility for it.
Always be aware, listen to yourself, but don’t under-do in the gym
Start slowly, it’s preferable. Don’t jump into a one hour and a half biceps workout session if you’ve never done that before. It’s better to do less and scale up your workouts than go for too much at once.
We often talk about warming-up before your session and how important this is.You should try to be aware each time you work out to avoid injuries. Warm-up, think about your heavy sets, visualize them. You know you’re about to do 5×5 so think about it and how ready your biceps have to be for that.
With that much awareness, you’re usually preventing yourself from workout injuries. If you have all this together, doing heavy sets on your arms session will be ok.
Thanks for reading this article. Feel free to leave any comments in the section down below!
You might also be interested to read about how to train your forearms to complete your arms training.