Compound Exercises That Build Bigger Arms

(Last Updated On: November 5, 2020)

NFL Player flex arms

When it comes to building big arms most people go with your standard bicep curls and skullcrushers and other isolated exercises to build up your biceps and triceps. That’s not the only way to go about it though.

While many people think isolated arm exercises are the way to go when it comes building big arms there is another way. Compound or multi-joint exercises are another great way to build your arms that are truly underrated.

There are some nice benefits that come along with using compound movements as well. For one, you will save a ton of time by doing compound movements over isolated, they will allow you to skip training biceps and triceps altogether even if you like. Think about it, if you perform exercises that work your back while hitting your biceps you could kill two birds with one stone and you can also get your triceps training done during chest training. This can shorten your workouts tremendously without any unworked body parts leading to less time in the gym, more time for other things.

Another benefit of using compound exercises over isolated is the fact that compound exercises and heavier weight loads will lead to a greater release of your body’s natural growth hormone: testosterone and IGF-1. This means more muscle building all over your body, arms included. Compound exercises are the best muscle builders, even for your arms.


4 Best Compound Exercises for Arms

Work these exercises into your training and build serious arms without using isolation exercises.


Barbell Rows with Underhand Grip

Underhand grip rows

Barbell rows are easily one of the best exercises when it comes to adding muscle and thickness to the back and was a Dorian Yates favorite. They can also be a really nice biceps builder, especially when done with an underhand grip. In fact, this article by T-Nation where they used an electromyography machine to measure muscle stimulation during both biceps and back exercises they found that heavy underhand rows have a higher biceps peak muscle activation than many traditional biceps exercises including dumbbell curls. Hit this exercise hard with heavy weight and build a thick back while building a big biceps.


Weighted Chin-Ups

best biceps exercises

Weighted chins are one of the best back exercises out there, the nice thing is they are also one of the best biceps exercises you can do. In that same article by T-Nation that we mentioned above, the 90lb weighted chin-ups had the highest peak activation on the long head of the biceps on the entire list, higher than any isolated biceps exercise including barbell curls. It was also one of the top exercises for peak lat activation as well.

Grip a pull-up bar underhand with your palms 6″ apart, and, starting from a dead hang, pull yourself up until your upper chest comes into contact with the bar. Pause for a full second and the top, and lower yourself slowly until your arms become totally straight. Pulling yourself up all the way to the bar slightly increases the range of motion, and, thus, the demand placed on the biceps as well as the lats.

If you aren’t strong enough to do them weighted keep working at it until you can.


Close Grip Push-Ups

Close grip push ups

Close grip bench press can be a really nice triceps builder, they can also be pretty rough on your shoulders and elbows. Doing the close grip push-up instead removes your hands from the fixed position on the bar and makes it a bit more joint-friendly while still hitting both the chest and the triceps.

If you want to take these to the next level have a partner place extra weight on your back or try doing them using TRX Straps or rings. You can also try elevating your feet for added difficulty. This is one of those old-school exercises that really works well.


Weighted Dips

Girl doing dips

Next on our list, we have a great exercise for both the chest and triceps. This one was also one of the best exercises for hitting the long head of the triceps as reported in this article where they found that weighted dips performed better than almost every triceps exercise except for overhead extensions.

If you can’t do the dips with extra weight that’s ok, you can just do them with your own bodyweight until you get to the point where you can add weight. The point of it is that the dips are heavy and if your own bodyweight is heavy for you then you will have the same benefits as if they were weighted. Just be sure to add weight once you get past the point where you can do 10 reps.


The Workout

You can work the exercises in with your chest and back routine or you can do the workout below to blast your biceps and triceps into oblivion. Give this a try:


Exercise                                                               Sets                   Reps

Close grip chin -ups (weighted)                             3                           8

Superset with

Weighted dips                                                            3                          8

Close grip push-ups                                                  3                         To failure

Superset with

Bent over underhand rows                                     3                          12

Cable curl                                                                   2                          12

Cable pushdowns                                                     3                          12