I recently started working with a young and very passionate man. He’s already doing a nutrition program online with a popular internet guru and is doing really well diet-wise. He wanted to transition from mostly a fitness-type of machine-based workout to a strength-centered barbell routine.
Now this approach is something I can obviously relate to, and I also think it’s a very good idea to get some help with the lifts initially. What we’re gonna do together is establish a solid technical foundation for him to work on by himself and then follow-up regularly to see how it goes. The goal is for him to be able to train by himself as quickly and safely as possible.
So far so good.
Now he wants to do squats, bench press and deadlifts as that’s what he’s been told by the nutrition guy is the most efficient. But this is where it gets a bit funky. See the other day he told me he’d asked his (nutrition) coach if he should add in some pullups because he really wants a nice set of pipes. The reply he got was simply “no.”.
Now first of all, I understand the approach and how the internet works – if you tell the people you coach that “a couple of sets of curls” is ok, all of a sudden they’re doing Massive Arm Blast 6000 and telling the world it’s your program. I also understand that during a cut you’re not gonna get much (if any) growth and that your energy is best spent preserving the muscle you’ve got with compound exercises.
But (and this is a couple of big but(t)s)!!!
First of all: while the “big three” lifts are great, they’re not set in stone. Variation is a good thing for most people. Also completely avoiding pulling exercises (vertical or horizontal) is not something I’d recommend.
And (and this is probably the most important point): if your goal is big arms – you have to train your arms. While the fundamental compound exercises are great for developing overall strength and muscle, I’m a live example of what happens if you don’t train your arms directly. I’m currently 184cm and 100kg (6″1, 220) with ~40cm (15 3/4″) guns. While it’s not pathetic in any way, it far from stellar. I very rarely train my pipes.
So while I agree that simplicity is definitely the way to go, I would almost always include six different types of exercises in a program (variations of: horizontal push/pull, vertical push/pull, squat and deadlift).
And, the most important point of this post? If you want to be good at something – you gotta train it. You wont grow huge pipes without specific arm work unless you’re a mutant.