The right to (bare) arms

People have always given me a hard time about my arms  It used to irritate– no, anger– me when people would insist that my arms were the only body part I worked on.  One of my best friends still teases me.  “Put some sleeves on for goodness sake!” he always tells me.

Okay, the truth is I do like to work on my biceps and triceps.  And even though I’ve always worked on my whole body– after all, one can’t really play college football without at least a little focus on chest, legs, and back–I’ll let the worst kept secret out of the bag; I like doing arms.  Heck, on most days I’ll even admit that I like the way they look.  Moreover, it’s become my signature body part.  Kind of like Angelina Jolie’s lips, “The Situation’s” abs, Frank Sinatra’s baby blues, or Kim Kardashian’s backside.  Well, maybe they’re not quite to those levels of fame and recognition.  But a guy can dream, right?

So Wednesdays, the day I normally do arm work in the gym, is one of my favorites.   But between meetings and a dinner at my children’s school, I was pressed for time.  I only had about 45 minutes, if that, to squeeze in my training.  And like usual, my brain was going to work, thinking “what the heck can I do in so short of time?”  Since I’ve been doing these HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)  workouts, I thought I might do that.  But even that may have taken too long.  Plus, I really didn’t want to get my heart rate up that high.  I’d hoped to go heavier this week since I’ve been doing more cross training lately.  (Us former football players like to still think we’re strong; we’re weird like that.)  But since heavy lifting requires more rest, that clearly wasn’t an option.

So I came up with something that was a little different.  I remembered one day trying to do as many burpees as I could without stopping.  I think I read in Men’s Health that it was a true gauge as to the shape one is in.  So I thought to myself, “What about doing the same thing with my arms?”  A marathon set for each, biceps and triceps.  Just one set.  As many as I can.  And if I had time and remaining energy afterwards, I could do a little more, closer to what I’d do for a normal workout.  That’s exactly what I was going to do.  That’s exactly what I did.

I started with biceps and decided to do standing alternating dumbbells.  I wasn’t sure how heavy to go, since I wanted to go for as long as I could and for a long time if possible.  I decided on using 30 pounders.  For a reference and relative comparison, in case you want to try it, for a normal workout I’ll go as high as 55 or 60 for between 8 and 12 repetitions.  The rules that I set for myself were that I would go for as long as I could without stopping.  Not too fast, but also not adhering to perfect form either.  Once fatigued, I was “allowed” to stop and rest, but not to put the dumbbells down.

Now I ain’t one to brag.  Well, maybe sometimes.  But what I did was pretty cool. Dare I say impressive.


That’s how many reps I did.  75!  With 30 pound dumbbells.

In my mind, I’d set 30 as the target number or repetitions.  “30 with 30’s” had a nice ring to it, I thought.  But I did 30 before having to rest.  I could surely do 20 more for a nice, round 50.  If I broke the next 20 up into four sets of five, it was only five reps at a time.  I could certainly manage that, I thought.  It turns out, I bit off a bigger bite than Id bargained for.  But I chewed it.  It’s amazing how fast and out of nowhere the lactic acid builds up.  When I reached 50, I could barely hold the weights in my hands.  My forearms were on fire, my shoulders burned a little, and it felt like my biceps were going to detach themselves from the bones and ligaments at any second now.  I was about to walk over to the rack and put these darn things down.  But doesn’t 75 sound a lot better than 50?  I agree.  So 75 it was.  And to be honest I could have probably done one more.  You can always do one more!

I took the same plan with me over to the triceps pressdown machine, using 115 (pounds I think, but you can never tell what the units of weights are on these machines, right? )  I did one set of 75 over there, as well.  I really don’t remember at what intervals I stopped and rested; the pain was too intense.  I’d already ripped apart the muscles in the front of the arm and they were providing no assistance in moving any weight.  Making matters worse, unlike standing biceps where the hold position represents little tension on the muscle, there is no position in the triceps pressdown exercise where the muscle is at or near rest.  Needless to say, I rested many more times doing triceps than I did with my biceps. But I did 75, nonetheless.

Each one took between four and five minutes.  Which meant that, including the five minutes it took for me to get the feeling back in my hands and forearms, I had about 20 more minutes to get some work in.

To polish off the workout, then, I did a stacked superset, where “stacked” refers to back to back exercises on the same body part and “super” means any two or more exercises performed back to back without much or any rest.  I used moderate weights so that I could do between 10-15 repetitions.  Here’s what I did:

  1. Seated on Medicine Ball, isolated arm pulley curls
  2. Standing Hammer Curls
  3. Lying on Medicine Ball, isolated arm triceps extensions
  4. Triceps Kickbacks
  5. Repeat 3 more times for a total of 16 exercises (8 for each, biceps and triceps)
Now come on! Give me props on that one.  Better yet, I challenge you to do it.  And I challenge you even more to send me over a workout that you have done as a challenge to me!
Then, as the Summer approaches, maybe you, too, will have your guns blazin’, ready for the gun show to begin.  Because I figure I have two, maybe three good summers left before I’ll have to take my friend’s advice and start paying extra for sleeves on my shirts.

About bbluford
I am an executive finance professional with a love for process and application development (MS Access, Excel, Quickbooks), mostly as it relates to Accounting and Business Functions. I also love to write and share ideas with other people in this world. I'm an admitted Gym Rat who works out excessively. The best summation of me is that I love to teach and to learn.

10 Responses to The right to (bare) arms

  1. tony says:

    Since i lack traditional gym access, I gravitate towards creative low tech options. This past weekend, I created a tornado ball following the instructions on this site:

    The homemade medicine ball (weighing 14 lbs, cost me less than $10), was placed inside the basketball netting ($5 Target), and the slamming commenced. Its a very cathartic exercise and gives your back/shoulders a great burn!

    • bbluford says:

      I cannot wait to get on that, Tony! Thanks. I’ve been looking at getting a sledgehammer and one of those monster tires to do the same thing. But this is much, much more convenient and less expensive. I think I might try this with my car-push workout this summer!

  2. Jeff says:

    I’m in! 
    Coincidentally, I have recently incorporated a very similar 50+ rep workout into my routine. Once a month,to shock the system. I find it pushes the limits of your mental toughness, as much as it pushes you physically. Two birds with one stone.

    • bbluford says:

      YES! And the mental toughness part can NOT be understated. A lot of people ask me what I’m training for. And when I tell them ‘nothing, really’ the ask me why I train so hard. I tell them that “looking good in my suits” is only part of the reason I work out. The fact that I can push through the pain, even when I want to throw up, reminds me that I can do anything I put my mind to. The beautiful thing about working your butt off is that you learn quickly that only YOU know how hard you’re going. And you really are only cheating yourself. The other great thing is that this type of work ethic is transferable. If I can work hard through a workout, then I can stay up late to study, or focus a little hard to get a project at work done. Success feeds upon success and work ethic fees upon work ethic!

  3. Julie Manriquez says:

    Don’t buy shirtsleeves just yet. You have more than three “good summers” left my friend!! 🙂

  4. Kelvin Howell says:

    I’ll try it B…. I would like to get my arms the half the size of yours by summer. But you’ve had those guns since high school…

    • bbluford says:

      Yeah. And people have been telling me to work on something else since high school. Another one you can do with a friend is play the knockout game. Grab a lighter weight, 30s is a good one for me. Then you do one, your friend does two, you do three, he (or SHE) does four..etc. Until one of you can’t go any longer. You can do more people, but anything more than four makes the rest too long.

  5. Vanessa Cortes says:

    I agree with Julie! you have more than 3 good summers left my friend!!

  6. Larry Green says:

    Good stuff Bobby! Do you have a license for those guns???

    One quick routine I do when I’m pressed for time is a drill called “5 good minutes”…it’s similar to the routine you described in you blog and you can pretty much do it on any body part.

    At a high level this is what you do:
    – select a weight that’s a decent challenge (~35-55% of max based on the muscle group you’re working)
    – do slow/controlled/disciplined reps without stopping for 1min straight
    – rest for 30 seconds (sometimes it may need to be a minute based on how used you are to the drill)
    – immediately begin after 30seconds
    – do this for yep, you guessed it “5 good minutes”…5 sets of 1min continuous exercising
    – the total exercise time including the rest is exactly 7mins…and your muscles will be gassed

    Let me know if you need more details. I hope all’s well!

    • bbluford says:

      I like that one, Larry. I’m going to give it a try today, as a matter of fact. Can you do it with any body part or do you find it works better with some than others?

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