What is “Arm Day”?
In the bodybuilding world this means doing exercises to strengthen and grow the biceps and triceps. In some functional fitness gyms, these exercises are looked at as useless. People think its purely a glamour muscle and the only reason to do them is to have big arms.
I disagree for a number of reasons. The elbow joint is used in most functional exercises. Keeping a healthy functional elbow is important for your long term success. Training your arms using traditional bodybuilding exercises can help create and maintain a more functional elbow joint. There is such a thing as your arms being too big when it starts to impede on your mobility. But for most people this is not the case. Training the muscles around your elbow joint help keep the arm strong and functional for your other more complex exercises.
What Exercises? Keep it Simple.
When training your biceps it’s crucial to fully extend your arm for every rep. Not doing so can lead to your bicep shortening too much which will impede mobility. The two exercises I like to use are dumbbell bicep curl and the dumbbell hammer curl. Nothing fancy about these but the intention is to keep the elbow healthy. Bicep strength may transfer to better pull ups, high rep hang cleans, or any other pulling movement.
Keeping the triceps strong helps with all the pressing exercises along with holding the arm in extension (i.e. overhead lifts, handstands, ring support). My two favorite exercises for the triceps are the dumbbell skull crusher and the banded tricep pushdown. The tricep even helps with extension at the shoulder joint because the long head of the tricep attaches to the shoulder blade. The tricep and the lats will activate during pull ups, deadlifts, and other pulling exercises.
Stacking the Joint
Practice stacking the elbow joint and you’ll feel your elbow and shoulder stability improve. Exercises that teach you how to stack your elbow joint include turkish get ups, overhead carries, high planks, and wall walks. Try these before your workout as a way to warm up and get the arms ready for lots of pressing.
Frequency and Volume
The goal for these exercises is to create and/or maintain a strong functional elbow joint. With that in mind the minimum effective dose is adding these in once per week. Two to three sets for 10-15 reps of both bicep exercises and both tricep exercises should be plenty. Add in one of the joint stacking exercises and you’ve done a great accessory session that can take less than 20 minutes. If you want to grow bigger stronger arms then gradually add sets over time.
You can also see my explanations for why bodybuilding can help the functionally fit athlete in a previous blog Bodybuilding in the Functional Fitness World.