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Want bigger biceps? Train them first

If your small muscle groups, like the shoulders, biceps and triceps, lag behind in their development, you may be able to remedy the situation by training them first and doing the big muscle groups afterwards. Brazilian sports scientists will publish an article on this soon in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport.

What exactly is the best way of going about strength training? It's a question to which there will never be one answer. According to some approaches, the accent in a strength training session should be placed on the large muscle groups, doing basic multi-joint exercises like bench presses, rows and squats. This heavy kind of training encourages the body to make anabolic hormones, which are what make your muscles grow. Sounds logical.

But the same applies to the other approach, which says that it just depends on which muscle group you want to develop. If you want bigger and stronger triceps, then train this group first. This way you're still fresh and you can use heavier weights to train the muscle.

According to the Brazilian study, there's more than an element of truth in the second approach. The researchers got two groups of eighteen-year-old students to train with weights. One group [G1] trained their large muscles first, and then the small groups: first the chest, then the back, then the shoulders and lastly the triceps and biceps. The second group [G2] did everything in the reverse order.

None of the students had previously done weight training. The figure below shows how the muscle strength developed during the eight weeks. During the period of the study the test subjects trained three times a week, doing a workout that took in all of their upper body.

Want bigger biceps? Train them first

As the figure shows, the muscle group you train first shows the greatest strength progress. The amount of kilograms the test subjects lifted was the same for both groups.

And what applies to the development of strength also applies to increase in muscle mass. The table below shows progress in the chest and triceps for the two groups.

Want bigger biceps? Train them first

CG = control group, consisting of test subjects who did not train.

The message is clear. Train first the muscle groups you want to develop more.

J Sci Med Sport. 2009 Feb23. [Epub ahead of print].

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