Is There a Vet Around Here? (Flexes Biceps) Because These Pythons Are Sick!

February 16, 2010

Yes, I just used a terrible joke as the title of this post. I wanted to discuss a bit about building size in the arms, but couldn’t get myself to write a “how to” title.

Let’s discuss what it takes to build bigger arms. Despite what many would suggest, I believe beginners need to mix in isolation work to get the most “arm building power” out of the heavier compound movements.

Tickets to the Gun Show!

[Insert your bad “Tickets to the Gun Show” joke here.]

Bench Presses Build Triceps and Chin Ups Build Biceps?

No doubt that various presses will build up your triceps and various pulling exercises like chin ups or rows will build your biceps.

This is especially true once you have a strong mind-to-muscle link to these muscle groups from yeas of lifting. Most experts recommend that beginners stick to compound movements and avoid arm specialization.

My argument against this approach is that a quicker mind-to-muscle link can be achieved when direct arm isolation work is thrown in.

Once this mind-to-muscle link is created to these smaller muscle groups, that is when compound movements work their magic.

Isolation Movements As a Primer for Compound Exercises?

Once a mind-to-muscle link is created to these smaller muscle groups with isolation exercises…is when compound movements work their magic.

The old school approach of just starting off with the compound lifts is basically just “hoping for the best”.

Hopefully the biceps or triceps are contracting as hard as possible in a coordinated effort to lift or pull the weight. The problem is that it is so hard to know if the compound lift is challenging the smaller muscle groups to the max.

Experienced Lifters Can Milk Every Exercise to the Max

…beginners will only feel an exercise in certain muscle groups.

I believe in isolation exercises because I think it creates better body awareness to do compound lifts properly.

I think people have it backwards…experts can get away with doing compound movements because they can get maximum benefit from these bigger lifts.

When I first started lifting and did bench presses, my triceps would barely even feel like they were contracting. These days my chest, triceps, shoulders, and forearms all feel worked after doing a few sets of bench presses.

How I Fixed My Stubborn Triceps Problem

I spent 2-3 years doing heavy close grip bench presses and dips to build up the size in my triceps. The advice was to lift heavier and heavier to build size in this stubborn area…and it wasn’t working.

Do you know how I finally fixed this problem? I began doing light dumbbell kickbacks and high rep/high volume pull downs. I really aimed to feel the burn on these isolation lifts and eventually developed a strong mind-to-muscle link to this stubborn muscle group.

The isolation exercise allowed me to finally get results from the heavy compound lifts. When I went back to the compound lifts they finally helped me add size in these areas.

A Backwards Approach That Works Well

This isn’t something you will want to do very often, but is a good way to shock your arms into growing a bit. Work your biceps directly with isolation exercises before doing back exercises like chin ups and rows.

If your biceps are a weak link, they won’t be for long. Same deal with triceps…do some tricep isolation work and fatigue them before doing bench presses or military presses.

Again, this is only something to do if one of these body parts is lagging a bit.

Heavier Lifting Does NOT Always Equal Bigger Arms

For quick growth aim for higher reps 6-15. For dense muscle and a little slower growth, go the 5×5 route. For strength with minimal size stay under 5 reps.

Much of this blog is dedicated to increasing muscle definition without size increase, so that is why you see the past posts with lower rep recommendations.

Also when doing 6-15 reps for quick growth, make sure you get in at least 2-3 sets over 10 reps. A mistake I see is guys doing a set of 10, then a set of 8, followed by 3-4 sets of 6 reps. Get in at least a few 10+ rep sets for maximum results.

What About Going Heavy With Isolation Exercises?

Another way to mix up your arm training a bit is to go heavy with isolation movements. You barely ever see anyone doing 5X5’s with concentration curls, but you can generate a really strong contraction if you use heavy weights.

A few years back I spent 6 weeks trying to increase the weight on lying triceps extension for 5 sets of 5 reps. I got up to an impressive weight and it certainly showed in my arms.

Note: You only have to increase the mind-to-muscle link to a muscle group one time in your life. Once you learn how to contract a muscle hard it is like riding a bike…it is a skill you will always have.

----> (New) Facebook Comments..."Cause all the cool kids are doin' it!"

{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan February 16, 2010 at 8:04 pm

Just what I was looking for.

My split is:

Monday and Tuesday – Chest/Back

Tuesday and Thursday – Shoulder/Bicep/Tricep

On Tuesday and Thursday should I just focus on adding a few more isolation exercises to my bicep and tricep work? I tend to work them harder anyway since I’d like to add some size to my arms.

I guess instead of 5×5 which I do for almost everything I should focus on some higher rep work for my bicep and triceps.


chacha February 16, 2010 at 8:26 pm

Hey Rusty i have a question for you or all you ladies out their..what is a effective workout and diet to look sexy and lean?

Shaun February 16, 2010 at 9:31 pm

Hi Rusty

I agree that isolation exercises certainly play their part. In fact, back when I first hit the gym some 10-12 years ago, isolation exercises is what got my body to explode, in just 3 month. No supplements either. (I was a gym freshie)

Much of what you state here comes down to people finding their own ‘map’. This is what I preach to everyone that I speak to in this field.

Like, what you displayed above is what worked for you. GREAT! And it may or may not work for others. But what individuals need to do is to figure out what works for them. And just like you said at the end of the post, once you learn the formula, it’s like riding a bike. Just gotta change up the way you ride every now and again.


Robert February 16, 2010 at 9:33 pm

I am a little confused. Are you saying that once a mind-to-muscle link is created to these smaller muscle groups with isolation exercises, one should drop them, and just do compound exercises. I do mostly compound exercises (have been lifting for years) but add in a set or two of heavy dumbbell curls every other workout to keep my biceps strong, and dense.

Nelly February 16, 2010 at 9:34 pm

Hi, Rusty. This is off the bicep/tricep subject, but I was wondering if there’s anything you recommend as highly as sprinting when it comes to HIIT. I started doing it when I found your site almost two years ago, and it was working super well for me. I was in my best shape ever. Then I stopped last August because my knee was getting really painful, and I’ve gained eight pounds! I haven’t been able to find anything else that works me out as hard that isn’t too strenuous on the knees. Maybe there isn’t anything. But any advice you have would be great. Thanks so much!

Johnny at The Lean Saloon February 16, 2010 at 10:06 pm

Rusty, I think that sometimes we think alike… at lease as far as taking our sick pythons to the vet.

Recently I wrote about similar subject of building bigger arms, with a similar message.

I can tell you that, based on John Basmajian’s classical work in the EMG field, muscle activation patterns can vary greatly between different individuals, as well as within the same individual. Activation patterns seem to be significantly influenced by psychological conditions, and I would think it to be no different when under the influence of various and purposeful mental input.

As such, the “mind-muscle” connection you wrote about is real and can determine whether or not a muscle receives optimum hypertrophic stimulus, either by isolation or by compound movement.

Great post!


Keith February 17, 2010 at 1:42 am

Haha great picture,
How many times a week would you do a high rep direct arm routine for both bi’s and tri’s

Mike February 17, 2010 at 2:05 am

hey rusty i really like this post because ive been looking for something to get better tone in my arms with. Also, I would like to know if doing dips or weighted dips would help me tone my lower chest as in make it wider and more squared but not protruding any more or bulky. Im just looking for a sleak and lean squared bottom of the chest look in the bottom middle of my chest and the outsides of it on the bottom as well. Id appreciate it if you could help me out with some exercises to help with this. Thanks

PS. Your site is the shit πŸ˜‰

K1ngebo February 17, 2010 at 2:33 am

This post hits my situation perfect. I feel like my shoulders, chest and back are nice (contract hard, grow, get stronger etc.) but my bi’s and tri’s are just plain embarrassing!! Sucks to be honest. I just don’t feel like they get worked like my other muscles. I never get that pump in them my other muscles get. I now know I need to learn to get my mind-to-muscle link better in those muscles. I think I will give the backwards approach a try and use a bit more isolation work. Thanks Rusty!!

Jordan February 17, 2010 at 5:22 am

Hey Rusty,

I’ve only just recently discovered your blog and I have to say, I’m impressed!

I just have a couple of questions for you, because I’m just starting out trying to get fit (I’m 16, about 140 pounds, 5’11” aka, skinny).
When looking to get an increase in mass in a particular muscle, should I stick to high rep light weight exercises?
Also, what is meant by muscle tone? I know that’s a fairly broad question, but I’ve seen you recommend higher weight exercises for muscle tone and I was kind of unsure what you actually meant.
Finally, I know this isn’t really related to the arms, but I was wondering what an exercise like the pec deck works more; the upper chest or the lower chest?

Andy February 17, 2010 at 5:24 am

Awesome timing of this post Rusty, I have been focusing on compounds for a while now and have been thinking how my arms are lagging, particularly the triceps, I dont feel them working that much even in close grip bench press.

So I have been adding in some curls and extensions to my Shoulder, Bicep and Tricep workout to really force some growth and tone.

Mike February 17, 2010 at 5:58 am

do you think that swimming would work for HIIT?

Nick February 17, 2010 at 8:28 am

Hi Rusty,

This is slightly off topic of the article but I didn’t know how else to contact you. I’m 6’3” narrow boned guy was 140lbs last year now 190lbs after a lot of hard work but a fair amount of that is fat which I’m trying to shift – what sort of weight should I be looking to maintain? I still see myself as a skinny guy so don’t want to lose too much weight. To get this comment more on topic; my arms last year were 9” (!) and are now 14” but I would like to increase them to around 16”. Chest is 42” waist 31”. Thanks and keep up the good work on your blog.

Mindbodygoal February 17, 2010 at 8:56 am

Hi Rusty thanks for the interesting post.

In my opinion I think the subject of getting bigger arms is made far more difficult than it needs to be.

In my experience I understand that the body operates as a complete and functional unit. The arms are not seperate from the body, same as any other body part.

The body adapts to stress placed upon it as functional and synergisitic unit – therefore it makes sense to focus on training the body as a unit. The best way of doing this is heavy squats, deadlifts, rows and bench pressing – exercise that tax the body as a complete unit while offering the best hormonal stimulation.

When this type of training is combined with a slight surplus of calories (thus increasing body weight little by little) then the arms will follow along with the rest of the body.

If you are maxing out from time to time on the compound movements (especially benching and rowing) given that the smaller weaker muscles of the arms will be the main limiting factors towards the end of the set then it is given that those arm muscles will already be working full blast without any need for the conscious mind-muscle connection.

The arms are some of the smallest muscles in the body and thus require the least stimulation. I opt for 3 hard work sets maximum with my clients on one or two movements which when combined with heavy compound movements is plenty of stimulation.

In my own powerlifting training I rarely train arms apart from a few sets of explosive dumbell skull crushers after max effort bench day and can safely say my arms are bigger and more toned now than they ever were when I was performing a more tradtional body building type workout with higher volume for arms.

Just wanted to offer my slant and wish you well.

Islandgyrl February 17, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Hey Rusty,

Any tips for us ladies who just want lean arms without the bulk?

Also any thoughts on when we’ll see an article for women who build muscle quickly but are really more interested in having a lean body without an increase in size? You’ve mentioned that your sister is pretty adept at training but keeps lean w/o increasing muscle size. Summer’s a few months away and I was hoping to see a routine to jumpstart spring training.


john bain February 17, 2010 at 12:57 pm

you spoke of isolation excercize for muscle groups what is an isolation ex for arms?

john bain February 17, 2010 at 1:07 pm

oooopppps I may have goofed
In an earlier post you spoke of isolation excercizes for building muscle where there is little muscle memory.
I have dropped a ton of weight and have a ton of extra skin I need to fill up fast. Especially arms.
What isolation excercises should I be using thanks a bunch john bain

M February 17, 2010 at 1:17 pm

good post.:P

qustion 1: could i workout everyday on a 2 day split ( day 1: chest, shoulder & tricep. day 2: back, bicep & abs) for a burst of 3-4 weeks following the principples on “cumulative fatuige” to make good muscle gains without overtraining?

qustion 2: to get ultra lean ( 3-5% body fat) could u say some key factors to achive this.
calories, cardio, workouts per week etc.

i know u have allot of traffic on your site and im sorry if the qustion takes up allot of your time but would really appreciate it πŸ˜€

Hugh February 17, 2010 at 2:32 pm

This is very insightful and will help me mix things up a bit. I’m a huge believer in muscle confusion, so for me, anything to mix things up is going to work my muscles in new ways.

Love the title by the way. Here’s another: (Said by the same guy flexing his biceps) “Does anyone know a good plumber? These pipes are out of control!”

Darren February 17, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Find out what works for you and then use it! We all have different genetic makeups and you need to find out what works with yours. I think where the confusion sets in is a direct result of different people pitching different programs that may not work with your particular body chemistry. Do you and see the results!!!

K1ngebo February 17, 2010 at 3:06 pm

BTW I like the new header graphic Rusty! Fits well with this blog, makes me want to take a vacation!

Michael H February 17, 2010 at 3:48 pm

great post! I wish I had known about this earlier! πŸ™‚
I have a Question. How long do you think it would take to get 15″ arms (in rest)? I currently have 12″ arms (in rest). I workout 4 days/week covering each muscle group once per week. I am using higher reps also (8-12). Is my workout routine on track?

Rahim Samuel February 17, 2010 at 4:01 pm

If bench presses build Tri’s, then weighted push ups would do the same wouldn’t they?

Rahim Samuel

Michael H February 17, 2010 at 4:28 pm

@Rahim Samuel
You could do dymond pushups for an even better triceps workout. Pushups are good for triceps though just not as good as dymond pushups.

Michael H February 17, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Off topic question, but here goes: By doing planks and dragon breathing (Bruce Lee Exercise) say every other day or so, will this give me abs (if I have low bf, which I do) that will look as if I’m flexing them all the time, instead of the “relaxed abs” look.

gus February 17, 2010 at 5:06 pm

do you got a ticket ?
a ticket to what?
THE GUN SHOW (flexing bicep)

sorry for the bad comment, but i guess bad jokes are allowed on your site LOL.
good post also by the way πŸ˜€

Devecque February 17, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Hi, Rusty.

Do you think it’s okay to exercise the abs everyday? I heard that to burn fat, the spot must have oxygen. When you workout a muscle, the blood flows there, providing the oxygen. Is it accurate?

Thanks in advance.

darrensmooth February 17, 2010 at 8:06 pm

hi, I think the advice to just do the compound lifts and work the body as unit is bad advice if your arms are lagging in size, is it not common sense to work the muscles that are not growing directly? The advice of doing squats to some how elicit a testerone response that will make your upper body grow makes little sense. If you want bigger arms, work your arms directly!!

mae February 18, 2010 at 1:48 am

Could you explain more about the Mind to Muscle link?

Clement February 18, 2010 at 3:33 am

Well, rusty, I guess it’d vary among people with what goals they want foremost. If they wanted to gain dense, big arms then bicep curls would have to be added into their programme. However, if they view fat loss as the most important, then a different approach has to be taken. A biceps curl wouldn’t burn many calories but a chinup, with all the muscle groups it’d work, would definitely burn a ton of calories when combined with other compound exercises! But then again, if you were training for better looks then obviously the chinup wouldn’t chisel your biceps as well as the isolation exercise. Once again, it’s really relative to your goals.

Obviously, as I train to burn fat and also gain real-world strength, I always sneer at isolation moves as they do little to improve function and add unneccessary bulk. But my chinups and pushups will never give me awesome definition like that the meatheads have from doing their bicep curls!

As far as performance goes, if you wish to recruit your bi’s and tri’s to their fullest in your compound lifts, practise gripping the bar hard and tensing your biceps and abs hard for a few seconds, in the case of the chinup. Then, when you actually do the chinup, remember and apply that forceful contraction as you pull yourself up, utilizing your biceps to pull your body. This would recruit your biceps to the fullest it needs to go FOR THE CHINUP. Thus, I feel that you don’t have to do a thousand curls to improve your chinup performance if you find that you’re not using your biceps to their fullest potential. After all, to improve the chin, the biggest muscles, your lats and shoulders, would be working harder.

Justin February 18, 2010 at 10:58 am

I have a question about your calorie amount you reccommended on your bmr article. I know this has nothing to do with this article and I apologize I just assumed you don’t respond to older articles. Anyways I am 5’10 160 and 15% body fat I have been cutting for 6 weeks and the past three weeks I lowered my calories to 1500 and have been losing 2 lbs a week. How much longer do you think I have to go until 10% body fat? How much lower should I go with calories or should I up the intensity…I currently lift 3 times a week followed by your HIIT+steady cardio rountine right after. Thanks so much this site is very impressive and I am glad that other people care about living and having a functional body instead of a bodybuilders. Another person you should use as an example is cristiano ronaldo he is from the same island I am from he has a phenomenal body.

Justin February 18, 2010 at 11:02 am

I meant to add in something else…when you mentioned in that earlier article you said multiply your goal weight by 10 and eat that many calories. That is where I came up with the 1500 calories number so is their any other advice you can give me to lose this skinny-fat body!!

Luke M-Davies February 18, 2010 at 1:54 pm

An interesting post – I like the diversity you are bringing with the high reps Rusty, not something you heard talked about much on FBB. As a guy with longer limbs this is well worth my time, though I have to say that the pull-up has given me more joy than many isolated bicep exercises over the years.

Alex February 18, 2010 at 2:41 pm


Another interesting read. I already do isolation work on my tri’s and bi’s. Maybe that is why I really feel my arms working when I do the various compound lifts and I tend to have the opposite issue, I feel presses more in my tri’s than I do my pecs.

I do something similar but I focus more on isolating my pecs first and then follow up with bench press. By isolating my pecs with doing a few sets of flies first, I get a much better chest workout during bench presses. This has also helped me develop the mind-to-muscle link in my pecs.

DC February 18, 2010 at 5:13 pm

I appreciate the goofy python humor, especially since it’s a variation on way I’ve heard the joke before. I thought I would share the way I heard it after someone said it to me one time after I finished a set of pushups:

Mike: “Oops, somebody better call the zoo–”
Me: “Wha-?”
Mike: “–looks like a couple of pythons are on the loose!”

Greg February 18, 2010 at 6:38 pm

Rusty, I have a great idea for an article for you:

There’s a female Olympic weightlifter named Marilou Dozois-Prevost. She is ABSURDLY strong for her size (105 lbs weight class) but she is very feminine and attractive-looking. She can Clean & Jerk 200 lbs over her head, but she still manages to have a fantastic, non-bulky body. Women need to understand that if they do full-body exercises that incorporate a large range of motion and stimulate the muscles on their body evenly (not just focusing on arms or legs or midsection alone) the results are phenomenal: an even, proportional physique. And since muscle requires much more calories than fat does, women who engage in weight training don’t require huge amounts of cardio to maintain their figure.

admin February 18, 2010 at 7:19 pm

So…I will try to respond to as many comments as possible in the next hour. Here goes…


I like 5×5 when you are trying to maintain or add slow dense mass quickly…but when trying to increase the size of a muscle or increase you ability to “feel” the muscle contract when you are working it, high reps will help. So throw in some high rep work on the body parts that need it.


I am working on a book that will address Women’s training in a lot of detail. It has been a big project, so it will take a while longer.


Good point about people finding what works. That is what this site is all about, just presenting different ideas and having people add them if it makes sense for their goals.


I should have explained this better. Once the mind-to-muscle link is strong in the arm muscle, people will get the arm building and arm definition results from the compound lifts. I would still recommend including direct arm training if people want exceptional density and definition in their arms…but just maybe less than when they are first training.


You can get just as lean with the exercise bike. I used the upright (old school) exercise bike for years to burn off bodyfat. The only downside for me is that I have a back injury and need to be careful to not hunch over while riding. Do hip bridges afterward to insure that your back maintains the proper curve.


Yeah…it looks like we put out the same message. I will have to check out John Basmajian’s book…that sounds very interesting!


I think a good frequency for training is roughly to hit each body part two times per week. So if someone was doing a 2 day split, they would want to go to the gym 4 times per week. As far as how many times per week with high rep work, you could do it for a couple of months, each and every time you work arms (twice per week). You could also chose to add in the high reps every other workout (one time per week). The thing that matters most is that over time you will increase your mind-to-muscle link if you include high rep isolation work on a regular basis. Once you gain this ability, you will get more mileage out of your lower rep and compound exercises.


Dips will build your lower chest to a certain extent…you can’t really target too well with dips. A better approach would simple by wide grip flat bench presses. They will widen out the chest…including the lower portion of the chest. No need to do declines. Thanks for the compliment about my site!


This will work especially well in your case. I think you will be very pleased with the results.


I am a big believer in doing high rep stuff for quick mass. Once you get there, drop the reps and increase the weight to harden the muscles and create that angular look. In the past I have recommended mainly sets of 5 reps for slow and steady muscle growth…but some of the folks newer to training want to add mass at a faster rate and then work on density and definition. Doing sets of 6-15 reps will build quick size (sarcoplasmic hypertrophy)…doing sets of 5 reps will build hard muscle tissue (myofibrillar hypertrophy). So for now do 6-15 reps with light weight…for roughly 2-3 months…then do sets of 5 reps while aiming for strength gains, to really carve up those muscles with density.


This should help out for sure. The thing that really helped me was lying tricep extensions (skull crushers). Do these with a light weight for 6-12 reps until close to failure and then press the weight up for another 5-8 reps. You will definitely feel your triceps!


Swimming for HIIT? I am not sure…I wouldn’t see why not. Make sure you are doing it in a pool, because I could see this as a dangerous thing if you cramped up.


My advice would be to slowly lose the body fat while maintaining or increasing in strength. Get that body fat percentage down a bit before working on adding more mass. To be honest, you will look much bigger at a lower weight once your body fat is dropped down. I would recommend 5 sets of 5 reps while adding in some intense intervals. Really focus on improving strength during this time. Once you get a bit leaner, add in the high rep work for your arms and they will fill up nicely. When you are satisfied with their size, go back to 5 sets of 5 reps per exercise and really push the limits with your strength.


I think most people want functional to a certain extent, but functional muscle that also looks pleasing. I do agree with what you are saying as far as the smaller muscles fatiguing first…but there are some cases where focusing specifically on the lagging muscle will help people get even greater results from these bigger compound lifts. Good comment as always.


I have a whole book in the works that will address the issue of women who want to workout, but who don’t want to get bulky. There is a huge need for this product, because most trainers adopt the philosophy that “women should just train like men, because they don’t won’t get big and bulky”. I know that this is false…I see women all the time who train and quickly put on much more muscle than is ideal.

John Bain,

I am sort of using arm isolation exercises interchangeably with just direct arm work. As far as exact exercises go, I like to do straight bar curls with an olympic bar…followed by incline dumbbell curls with palms facing forward, curling the arms at the same time. If you chose to use this combo, do the incline dumbbell curls with light weight for 10-15 reps…maintain a steady tempo even when the arms are burning. This is a great isolation exercise that will fill in your biceps. For triceps…I like lying tricep extensions…finish off your last two sets with as many presses as possible as soon as you fail on your last rep of extensions.


I believe there is nothing wrong with being aggressive for a short periods of time (movie stars do it all the time to get in top condition for movie roles). If you do decide to take this approach for good muscle gains…you would want to drop cardio during this 3-4 week period. You would focus on getting ultra-lean after this 3-4 week period, while maintaining the muscle you gained. Getting ultra-lean is largely about calorie deficit through a diet and exercise combo. It is also about “water weight”. One of the major reasons I am big on cardio is that it helps eliminate water under your skin (while increasing your calorie deficit).


Pipes, Guns, Pythons…who thought of all these bad nicknames for arms!


Solid advice and I agree. This is just another tip that people can test-drive to see if it works for them.


Glad you like the new header. It was looong overdue. I have been meaning to get that butt of there for a long time. My favorite graphic designer in Bali, Indonesia did a great job in removing the butt and adding palm trees. This fits the content much better than the sleazy photo I had up there before.


It is hard to guess how long this will take, but my experience is that people gain a natural amount of muscle for their frame in 1-2 years max (if they are past the age of 17-18 in most cases). If you want three inches on your arms you could do that in 6-12 months. Do periods of 6-12 reps alternated with periods of 5 reps…that way you will get sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar muscle growth. Once you get the size you after, mix in periods of even lower rep work for maximum density and definition. Hope that helps.


Push ups are a great exercise and build triceps well…especially weighted push ups. They are very similar to bench presses, but with the added benefit or working the core to stabilize the body.

Michael H,

The Breath of Dragon is going to do exactly that over time. Pairing them up with planks is a great way to accomplish this.


I can’t complain about bad jokes. I got the ball rolling after all!


It depends…abs can be trained more often than other muscle groups if you are mainly doing static holds like planks. If you are doing more aggressive traditional sit ups and leg raise type of training, they will need to be trained more like any other muscle group…give them rest. As far as working them to provide oxygen to that area, I don’t think that is the case. You can’t really spot reduce fat like that.


I agree with you. If you want results to a specific body part it pays to work those muscles directly. Same with losing body fat. Many people give the advice of “gaining muscle to lose body fat”. I like direct approaches. If you want to lose body fat, work on losing body fat!


I may need to do a full post on that subject.


True…the compounds give better functional strength. I still like compounds, but recommend mixing in some isolation stuff if needed or desiring a certain look.


I do have a post with Christiano Ronaldo’s photo. I forget where since it was written over 2 years ago. So how long will it take you to get to 10% from 15% body fat. Kind of hard to say. I would guess in the 4-6 week range. It sounds like you are doing everything properly.


I have decided to expnad the reach of my blog to the younger guys who need to add that initial mass (and want to do it quickly)…so I have included more advice on hitting high reps for mass. I do recommend that they get the reps down once they want to add in detail and density. High reps do have their place with stubborn body fat as well.


Yeah…the pre-exhaustion technique you do works well for hitting the big muscles. It is a technique I have used in the past for delts.


Glad you like bad jokes as well. The funny thing is that I first heard this joke from my girlfriend.


Nick February 18, 2010 at 9:40 pm

Thanks Rusty I appreciate you taking the time to reply to all of us. I’m not sure what my bodyfat percentage is – I can see the top 4 abs but I seem to gain fat in my face first which isn’t a good look for me.

Mike February 19, 2010 at 8:38 am

About Devecque post, I have read in human physiology that if an area of fat cells is warmer then it is easier for the cells to be burned. I think that is fact. But can it be practically applied?
So I think that is why some say that if use nylons or wide belts around the waist that dont let the skin breath and get colder from the sweat, the temperature is rising in the area and you burn fat.
There is also a company that has special equipment for targeting the fat loss with the same principles.
So you got the point.
What is your opinion about that.

Tyler February 19, 2010 at 10:17 am

Hi Rusty,
thank you for the tips for gaining muscle mass quickly– they’re definitely ideal for some areas of my workout. Right now I’m trying to get back down to 5% bodyfat, after a 4 month hiatus from exercise while I was studying abroad in Europe. Currently I’m implementing the basic guidelines that you outline for effective fat loss (that worked well for me in the past)– however, I’m seeing no changes whatsoever after being strict with diet and exercise for 2 weeks– could this be due to the fact that I try and always eat fairly low calorie, even when I’m not trying to diet down? I used this method a lot while abroad in an attempt to control my weight, and I’m wondering if I should go slightly higher calorie right now, or if I’m just having a misstep somewhere else with this whole process. I greatly appreciate your input.


Mike February 19, 2010 at 1:20 pm

thanks so much for your reply Rusty. I agree with just about everything you post on your site

alfredoe February 20, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Hi All, I have always had weak biceps and triceps even though the rest of my muscle mass is on the heavy side. But recently I read en that if you do each exercise ACCELERATING the weight in each lift until you feel you lose the acceleration, your muscle mass will increase.

The truth is after just a few weeks of this type of accelerating exercise my biceps and triceps are really different, much denser and bigger than they have ever been.

Do not forget to take your 3.000 mg of daily fish oil, it is the best anti inflammation agent you can get. Read more at

Best wishes,

Brian February 21, 2010 at 5:43 pm

I love ridiculous cheesy bodybuilding jokes…on a serious note its always good to hear peoples stories of success in lifting. Thanks for the article.

Sherah February 22, 2010 at 3:51 am

Just wanted to pop in and say I am really looking forward to your book for women! I am also the type who seems to build muscle quickly but don’t want to bulk up, just looking for that lean (but but not bigger in size) look.

HIIT-lover February 22, 2010 at 1:00 pm

i’ve been doing HIIT on the treadmill for almost 2 years now (off and on). i’m pretty sure i picked it up from fitnessblackbook. at first the restuls were awesome!!now, however, my body is no longer “shocked” by the high intensity intervals. i’ve experiemented with switching up the incline, speed, duration, etc.

my question is: how effective to you think longer intervals all (60seconds on, 60 seconds off)? i’ve been doing short intervals for so longer (30seconds), so i’m tempted to try out the longer ones. but i’m not sure if i’ll get as great results as i did with the 30s intervals. thoughts?

Mike OD - Fitness Spotlight February 22, 2010 at 4:21 pm

Pre-fatiguing smaller muscles is a good way to increase overall stimulation. You can pretty much do that for any body part (and many of the top bodybuilders do) to get maximum recruitment during a compound lift (like doing cable crossover and then go into bench).

Also works for overcompensating for muscle imbalances such as quad/ham (most have overdominant quads). By doing leg curls first and then squats, your hams will be fried and be able to respond better. The goal being to have your hams catch up to your quads for muscle balance (and maybe size if that is the goal as well)

While it’s not geared for strength goals, it certainly works for hypertrophy. But you will need to “check the ego at the door” as your weights being used for the compound lifts will be much lighter.

I throw in a pre-fatigue routine in once every few weeks. Thanks for the reminder!

Mike OD

PS. Nothing get my triceps more than doing some pushdowns and then blasting out dips….and for the biceps some cable curls and then into close grip chins. Those are my close outs usually. Don’t need many sets doing that.

Mike February 22, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Hey Rusty,

Absolutely LOVE this site. I discovered it over at Zen Habits. I wanted to ask you what your favorite protein shake recipe is. I know you used to drink strawberry myoplex but you’ve talked about switching over to natural foods, something I fully agree with.

I’m jumping on the two protein shakes and one dinner a day diet, coupled with ESE in hopes of shedding some body fat. I’m 5’8, 169, with about 20% body fat and would love to get back down to 8-12% before it gets warm out.

Amr February 26, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Heeey Rusty =]
Great Post as usual …
So here’s my dilemma
Im currenlty at aprox 10% BodyFat i have the 4 pac nd i can see the line of the Obliques … Only problem is im WAAAY too skinny …
So Building Mass is my current goal without putting on aloot of fat and i understand you have to combine low weight for high reps …
So How many sets do u recomend for a total workout and how many times a week for that bodyPart.
Also people mention DIET is a VERY imp factor to gaining muscle nd most people reccomend a HIGH Calorie HIGH Protein diet during this stage; whats ur take on this ??
And also i was wonderin if u had sum great workouts for Forearms becz i belive people waste time working on bis nd tris nd neglect the forearms making the arms seem skinny.

Mike March 1, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Rusty, this could be one of the more odd questions on your site but i was wondering as i am at around 8-9% body fat if it is possible for me to gain mass while getting down to about 6% body fat if i lift 6-12 reps for places that i want to grow and i do HITT about 4-5 times a week. Im wondering if this is possible or if i should just focus on getting my body fat drastically down and then adding some mass to really tighten up my skin. Im currently 19 in college and pretty lean looking. Im about 6 feet tall and weigh 165 but its mostly in my upper body as i have small chicken legs. Sorry for the lengthy post.

Mike March 1, 2010 at 3:43 pm

I also forgot to add that ill probably be doing two fasts per week until dinner time as you have outlined in your vacation body blueprint and trying to eat a little healthier than normal.

Will April 21, 2010 at 9:24 pm

Hi Rusty.

I What did you mean when you said: Get in at least a few 10+ rep sets for maximum results?? So should keep my reps 10 to 12 reps? I don’t want to have to do en extra sets of 10+ reps I don’t want to spend more time my the weightroom than I have to.

Thank you

Will April 21, 2010 at 9:30 pm

Also for isolation high rep workouts how many sets are ideal? And how many rest? I guess you keep it short right? So 60 to 90 seconds maybe?

No BS Muscle Building Secrets November 24, 2010 at 4:55 am


What a gem of a post.

I never thought of how doing those lighter isolation exercises could ‘train’ the mind-muscle connection to ‘prime’ the stubborn muscle for growth via the heavier compound lift.

Cool stuff!


Seane November 29, 2010 at 3:40 am

I too would like to build up my arms to reduce the sagging look that occurs with age. I have told the quick repetitions is the solution.

Clint - Crude Fitness December 22, 2010 at 6:01 pm

This is a tried and true technique for lagging body parts and isn’t just great for arms, but will work on other stubborn areas such as calves aswell.
Great post πŸ˜‰

riley January 20, 2011 at 12:29 pm

I’ts no my calves that lag, it’s my arms. Oh, just saw the pingback. Yeah, I work my arms more than anything else.

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