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Workouts for Athletic Arms

Workouts for Athletic Arms

Bigger arms and better sports performance starts with this functional arm workout.

One of my favorite things about training athletes is something I call, “Athlete Intuition.” Athlete Intuition is when an athlete just knows and understands movement. Sometimes this is seen in a change of direction during a sprint, where a great athlete will instinctively drop a shoulder to lean into a turn, and sometimes it will be dropping the hips and flattening the back to pick up something heavy. Regardless of the situation, the fact is the greater the athlete’s intuition, the greater the athlete.

Athletes not only know how to move, but also what’s going to make them move better. This is why it never fails to amaze me when I see athlete’s doing bicep curls and triceps skull crushers. From an athletic performance perspective, there is zero physical benefit from either of these exercises. The reason is purely aesthetic, as a bicep curl is the best way to isolate the bicep brachii in order to give us the big guns for beach season. Unfortunately, the reason why it’s the best isolated bicep exercise is the same reason why it doesn’t help your athletic performance.

A bicep curl requires you to pin your elbow to your side and contract your bicep to cause elbow flexion. At the end of the exercise you feel the burn in your bicep, and not necessarily anywhere else. That’s because you made the bicep do all the work without any help from the rest of your body. As a matter of fact, if we ever see anyone swinging their hips to create more momentum we usually scream “NOOO!!! That’s bad form!” Really? It seems to me that using all the musculature in my hips is a much more efficient way to lift heavier weight. While I’m certainly not suggesting you go into the weight room and start swinging your hips into all your curls, I am suggesting that there’s actually a better way to train your arms. Which is why you’ll find a more functional approach below that’ll not only increase your muscle size, but improve your athletic performance as well.

There are two concepts to understand before discussing the functional arm matrix. The first is shoulder movement and therefore the arm in each plane of motion. In the sagittal plane, the arm can perform flexion or extension. In the frontal plane, the arm can perform abduction or adduction. And in the transverse plane, we use horizontal flexion and horizontal extension.

The second (concept) is the idea of pronation and supination. Anatomical textbooks will have you believe that pronation and supination occur only in the transverse plane with hands at our sides. But the truth is, you can pronate and supinate your arms at any angulation. Why does this matter? Pronation is the result of a concentric contraction from the biceps, and simultaneously eccentrically loads the triceps. Supination is the result of a concentric contraction of the triceps and simultaneously eccentrically loads the biceps.

Which means if you reach at each end range in each plane of motion, and pronate and supinate at each of these angulations, you’ll train your arms to load and unload every way possible! To make a more user friendly matrix, we’ll keep the reaches in each plane above the shoulder. That means we’ll have two end ranges for each plane to make 6 total reaches. If we pronate each arm 3 times and supinate each arm 3 times at each reach, we get a functional arm workout that looks like this:

Two things to pay attention to:

  • The dumbbells are of low weight. Don’t worry; when you start moving your body in this fashion the momentum of the weight creates plenty of load. My suggestion is to start with 5lb dumbbells and bump up from there.
  • The movement of the trunk, hips, and legs. There should be lots of movement that incorporates the whole body. Why? Next weekend watch Larry Fitzgerald catch a pass see if he isolates his arms or uses his whole body. Athlete Intuition.

If you want arms that look better, and perform better, the functional arm matrix workout is your road map. Not only will you look better than the guy curling 135, but you’ll also become more adept at performing on-field movements, i.e. things other than standing in the gym and watching yourself in the mirror.

04 / 10 / 2017 1R