If want to build big arms — and who DOESN’T? — then it makes sense that you need to train your arms hard, right? Sounds logical, but there is one school of thought in the fitness world that says the best way to build big arms is to … train your legs!
That may sound impossible, but there are plenty of guys who believe it’s absolutely true.
So, can you really build big arms by training your legs hard?
Let’s take a look.
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The basic argument for training legs in order to build big arms is that, since legs are your largest body part, developing them will bring the rest of your physique along for the ride.
The reason that this has at least some merit is manifold:
- Training legs will expose your body to the most weight possible.
- Some studies have shown a surge in anabolic hormones due to leg training.
- As your legs grow, you will likely add lean body weight, which can help improve your overall strength.
- Your body has a certain distribution of muscle cells, and will only “let” any one body part get so much bigger than others before it requires growth everywhere. If your body perceives enough of a threat to its survival, it’s likely to add muscle everywhere, not just your legs.
Beyond these points, it’s definitely true that performing the “king of exercises” — the barbell squat — requires strong contractions from your arms throughout the movement just to keep the weight in place on your back. Without stout arms, your squat poundages can only increase so much.
Why You Still Need Direct Arm Work
All of the above points, upon which the argument for working legs to build arms is constructed, are the subject of a decent amount of debate among iron lovers.
Even if we accept that they are ALL true, though, it’s still hard to get past the idea that you will need to do direct arm work at some point if big, complete biceps and triceps are part of your physique goals.
Examples of guys who have build big legs without improving their arms a lot are not too hard to find. Take a look at the thigh muscles of Olympic skaters and NFL running backs. Most of them are huge and ripped, but many (not all) have relatively weak arms to go along with them. And, if you flip the tables, there are probably at least a handful of lifters in your own gym who have decent upper bodies sitting atop chicken legs.
The point is that the body is very efficient, but it WILL allow you to grow certain body parts out of proportion with others if you train that way.
In the end, you likely will produce some arm growth from hard leg work. When you add in compound moves for the upper body — chins, rows, dips, presses — you probably can get really big arms without training them directly.
To build your best set of guns, though, it’s hard to beat heavy, direct work for your biceps and triceps. You don’t need to go overboard on the volume, but you do need to give your arms their due.