The 6 Barbell Exercises for Arms For Your Upper-Body Workout

Arm exercises are traditionally done with dumbbells or speciality bars like EZ bars, but if you’re limited on equipment or just looking to add some variety to your training, adding in some barbell arm exercises to your training regime can be a great option. Don’t forget that pulling work will also help with your arm growth, so be sure to add in some high volume horizontal pulling and vertical pulling, especially if you don’t have access to dumbbells.

6 min read
Sean's profile
Written by
Sean Klein
Published on
07/12/22
Last updated
12/01/23
In This Resource
  • How To Use Barbell Exercises For Arms
  • Hypertrophy Guidelines for Arms
  • The 6 Barbell Exercises For Arms
  • Sample Arms Circuit with a Barbell

Arm exercises are traditionally done with dumbbells or speciality bars like EZ bars, but if you’re limited on equipment or just looking to add some variety to your training, adding in some barbell arm exercises to your training regime can be a great option. Don’t forget that pulling work will also help with your arm growth, so be sure to add in some high volume horizontal pulling and vertical pulling, especially if you don’t have access to dumbbells.

How To Use Barbell Exercises For Arms

Hypertrophy Guidelines for Arms

Firstly let’s be clear that when we are saying arms we are talking about both the biceps and the tricep muscles. Arms need high volume to make them grow, thankfully this high volume doesn’t carry too much fatigue with it. Doing 5 x 10 on a set of bicep curls is a very different feat from doing 5 x 10 on a deadlift. This means that the volume can be done throughout a training week without creating to much of a detriment to your other movements and you’re maintaining within your maximal recoverable volume.

Training guidelines are based around prescribing working sets to be performed within a week. A working set is a set that takes the muscle to near fatigue.

For your biceps the training guidelines outlined by RP Strength are

Maintenance Volume - 4 Sets per week

Minimal Effective Dose - 8 Sets per week

Maximal Adaptive Volume - 12-16 Sets per week

Maximal Recoverable Volume - This depends on training frequency. If 2 sessions are done per week it will likely be 20 sets per week. But if three sessions then more like 25 sets per week.

For your triceps the training guidelines outlined by RP Strength are

Maintenance Volume - 4 Sets per week

Minimal Effective Dose - 6 Sets per week

Maximal Adaptive Volume - 12 per week

Maximal Recoverable Volume - this depends on training frequency. If 2 sessions are done per week it will likely be 16 sets per week. But if three sessions then more like 20 sets per week.

Following these guidelines using these exercises is a very simple way to ensure your success.

The 6 Barbell Exercises For Arms

Barbell skull crushers are the most effective tricep isolation exercise you can do with a barbell. Other than vertical pressing variations it is the only exercise that targets the triceps using a barbell. Be sure to take care when performing this exercise as the barbell alone can be a challenging weight to use for this exercise. Really stretching the triceps at the bottom of the repetition will allow for maximal range of motion.

Barbell curls are the staple barbell arm exercise that you are probably already doing if you’re only working with a barbell. Make sure to be very strict when performing bicep curls, keeping your elbows in a fixed position, locking the elbows out each repetition and not using any momentum can make the barbell curl a completely different exercise.

Barbell narrow grip curls are a great option if you are looking for a challenging alternative to traditional bicep curls. They are only slightly different but pose a challenge to the biceps in a different way. these can be a great addition to any programme that needs some variety.

Barbell curl to press is a little less effective than the previous exercises and is a little niche, but still has it’s uses. The good thing is that the bicep is the limiting factor, therefore this is where you will accumulate the most fatigue. Also the pressing position is a little awkward due to the supinated grip, taking away from how effective this exercise is in a hypertrophy training programme. That being said those who are seeking variety may find this exercise both fun and effective.

Barbell reverse curl to press is even more niche than the barbell curl to press and requires a curl with a pronated grip, meaning it targets the forearms much more so than the traditional curl does. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you are writing a programme for the most effective bicep hypertrophy you may want to stear away from this exercise and stick to traditional bicep curls or narrow grip curls with the barbell.

Barbell bent over row is much more so a pulling exercise for the back, that being said, the biceps play a key role in the pulling movement and building volume in this movement will help you with your hypertrophy for your arms. I included this exercise as it is likely more effective than some of the more bicep specific movements like the reverse bicep curl to press at building the arms. Just because the arms are secondary to the back in this case doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a staple to your arm training especially if you’re working with minimal equipment.

Sample Arms Circuit with a Barbell

Complete 3 rounds

1. Bent Over Row

Complete 12 repetitions

2. Barbell Skull Crushers

Complete 15 repetitions

3. Barbell Curl

Complete 15 repetitions

If you enjoyed this resource you can find more below, or try Programme, a fitness app that plans every workout for you based on your progress, equipment and lifestyle. This resource was written by Sean Richard Klein. Sean has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.

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