The brachialis is easily the most under-trained muscle group in the upper arm. Most trainees are leaving inches of arm size on the table by neglecting this powerful muscle!
If you have neglected training your brachialis in favor of your biceps and triceps then I have just the solution for you: get back on track with the 7 best brachialis workouts for mass!
- Workout #1: Uni-Angular Tri-sets
- Workout #2: Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets
- Workout #3: Supra-Maximal Eccentric training
- Workout #4: Back To Back Supersets
- Workout #5: A Simple Straight Sets Routine
- Workout #6: The 4+2 Method For Functional Hypertrophy
- Workout #7: Origin-Insertion Supersets
In this comprehensive guide I will teach you 7 of the most effective brachialis hypertrophy workouts. There are two big reasons why most people can’t build up their brachialis muscles:
- They use the wrong exercises
- They use the wrong rep ranges
If you want to increase the size of your arms then you have to stop making these two mistakes!
The best exercises for building up your brachialis muscles are all forms of reverse curls. Reverse curls are performed with a pronated or palms-facing down grip. Some of the best reverse curling exercises include zottman curls, reverse ez-bar curls and reverse cable curls.
Of course this is in contrast to the biceps brachii which responds best to curling movements with a supinated or palms-facing-up grip.
The optimal rep ranges are also quite different for the brachialis vs the biceps brachii. The brachialis is a fast-twitch muscle that responds best to low-rep sets. Even when you are training for muscular hypertrophy you should perform most of your brachialis sets in the 4-8 rep range.
Don’t worry, I will give you plenty of examples in this article on how to beef up your brachialis muscle on sets of 4-8 reps. If you have been neglecting to train your brachialis for the past several weeks, months, or even years then these 7 brachialis routines are just what you need to blast through your current training plateau.
Note: if you have any trouble reading the routines presented here then check out this article on how to read a training program. Now let’s get down to business…
Workout #1: Uni-Angular Tri-sets
Uni-angular tri-sets are one of the most effective training methods that you can use to train for muscular hypertrophy. They work well for most bodyparts but in my experience has shown that they work especially well for developing big, strong arms.
To perform a tri-set you would perform three different exercises back-to-back for the same body part with only 10 seconds rest in between sets.
- Perform exercise A, rest 10 seconds
- Perform exercise B, rest 10 seconds
- Perform exercise C, rest 2-3 minutes, repeat!
Most of the time you would want to pick three completely different exercises for your tri-set that overload three different points in the strength curve. Uni-angular tri-sets are a little different: you are going to pick three exercises that overload the target muscle group in the same muscular plane.
For example you could build a uni-angular tri-set using three different types of preacher curls, 3 different types of seated or standing curls, 3 different types of incline DB curls etc. You could vary the exercises by changing the grip, your stance, the type of resistance (dumbbell vs barbell etc.).
Here is a uni-angular tri-set routine for the brachialis that you may want to try. Check it out:
Brachialis Uni-Angular Tri-Set Routine
- A1: Seated zottman curl, 5 x 5-7, 5/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Standing wide-grip ez-bar curl (pronated grip), 5 x 5-7, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Standing close-grip ez-bar curl (pronated grip), 5 x 5-7, 3/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest
The inspiration for this uni-angular tri-set workout came from the bodybuilder Larry Scott. Larry Scott won the first ever Mr. Olympia contest in 1964. He was a well-rounded bodybuilder but he was most famous for his legendary 20-inch arms!
Larry Scott used many different training routines to build up his world-class arms. However, his favourite training method was actually uni-angular tri-sets. Larry liked uni-angular tri-sets so much because they prolonged the time under tension of his sets.
Let’s say that a normal set of curls takes around 20-30 seconds to complete. If you perform 3 arm exercises in a row as part of a tri-set then your whole set takes about 60-90 seconds to complete!
This means your arms are working three times longer than normal AND you are still lifting just as heavy! Talk about a recipe for fast muscle growth!
Of course the extended time under tension isn’t the only reason this routine works so well. This uni-angular tri-set routine also works well because it focuses on the most bang-for-your-buck exercises. Specifically I am talking about the first exercise in this routine: the seated zottman curl.
Zottman curls are probably the single most effective brachialis exercise ever invented. To perform a zottman curl you curl the weight up with a supinated (palms-facing-up) grip and lower the weight down with a pronated (palms-facing-down) grip.
You probably already know that you are stronger with a supinated grip than an underhand grip. When you perform zottman curls you are able to lift a heavier-than-normal weight on the eccentric range. This means that you are performing a type of accentuated eccentric training!
Like all fast-twitch muscles the brachialis responds very well to eccentric training protocols. Performing such an effective exercise like the zottman curl as part of a tri-set just makes it that much more effective. This uni-angular tri-set routine is like CT Fletcher: it commands you to grow!
If you want to learn more about seated zottman curls and other awesome brachialis exercises then the following article is for you:
I guaruntee you there are at least one or two articles on this list that you have never even heard of before!
Workout #2: Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets
It’s time to bust out the big guns! I first learned mechanical advantage drop sets from Christian Thibadeau. They are an unbelievably effective training method when your primary goal is muscular hypertrophy.
Mechanical advantage drop sets are like a hybrid between drop sets and giant sets. Both of these training methods are great for hypertrophy because they prolong the time under tension of a set.
Drop sets involve decreasing the resistance so that you can pump out more reps. On the other hand giant sets involve changing exercises so that you can keep the set going.
Mechanical advantage drop sets are like a Frankenstein monster combining the best aspects of both of these methods!
The basic idea is to train using 2-4 different variations of the same exercise with only 10 seconds rest between each variation. You start with the variation where you are weakest and finish with the variation where you are strongest.
Because you are going from exercise variations where you are weaker to ones where you are stronger you don’t have to lower the weight from one exercise to the next. Instead you keep the weight the same and continue to bust out additional repetitions. The end result is a powerful stimulus for muscular hypertrophy.
One of the best ways to design a mechanical advantage drop set for the brachialis is to perform 4 different types of preacher curls back-to-back. You simply change your grip every time you switch exercises. Check it out:
Brachialis Mechanical Advantage Drop Set Routine
- A1: Ez-bar preacher curl (close / pronated grip), 4 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Ez-bar preacher curl (wide / pronated grip), 4 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Ez-bar preacher curl (wide / supinated grip), 4 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A4: Ez-bar preacher curl (close / supinated grip), 4 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
**Perform as many reps as possible with the same weight that you used on exercise A1. In other words don’t change the weight, just rest 10 seconds and proceed with the next variation.
The key to making this mechanical advantage drop set routine work for you is to perform each and every set just shy of failure. I recommend you stop about 1 rep before your form starts to break down.
If you do not have the “guts” to train just shy of failure on 4 back-to-back exercise variations then I am sorry but this routine is not for you. You have to be able to push yourself on every set to get the most out of this routine.
If you are paying attention then you might be surprised to see supinated grip curls performed at the end of this routine. After all, this is an article about beefing up your brachialis and the brachialis responds best to curls with a pronated grip!
The brachialis is an interesting muscle group: it is recruited during all types of curling movements. It works harder during reverse curling exercises but it still works a little bit during supinated grip curling exercises.
On this routine your brachialis will be very fatigued after the first two exercises in the giant set. By the time you get to the last two exercises your brachialis will still be working very hard even though they are performed with a supinated grip.
This really is one of my favourite routines for bringing up a lagging brachialis muscle group in record time. I highly recommend you give it a shot. If you want to learn more about mechanical advantage drop sets then the following article is for you:
I go into great depth on this superior but under-utilized hypertrophy training method.
Workout #3: Supra-Maximal Eccentric Training
Supra-maximal eccentric training is easily one of the most powerful training methods that you can use. It works unbelievably well for building maximal strength but it can also be used to add slabs of muscle mass to your physique.
In my experience the fast-twitch muscles such as the brachialis respond best to this unconventional training method.
In order to perform supra-maximal eccentric training you are going to perform eccentric-only reps with a weight that is heavier than your 1-rep max. This means you are going to find a way to “skip” the concentric range of the movement and then perform eccentric-only reps with a weight that is greater than your 1-rep max.
The scientific literature has shown over and over again that eccentric training is one of the best ways to build muscle mass. Eccentric training places more tension on your muscle fibers than other forms of training and preferentially recruits the fast-twitch muscle fibers. You know, the ones with the greatest potential for size and strength gains!
One of the challenges with supra-maximal eccentric training is it can be difficult to perform without 1-2 well trained spotters. Fortunately there are some easy ways to perform eccentric training on your own when you are training the brachialis.
In fact, if you are creative enough you can perform supra-maximal eccentric training with almost any brachialis exercise.
One of my favourite ways to do this is with reverse ez-bar curls. You power-clean the weight up to the top position to skip the concentric range and then lower the weight down over 8-10 seconds. This process is repeated for as many reps as needed.
Here is a sample supra-maximal eccentric training brachialis routine that you may want to try. Check it out:
Brachialis Accentuated Eccentrics Routine
- A1: Eccentric-only standing ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip)***, 5 x 4-6, 8/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Standing unilateral cable reverse curl, 3 x 6-8, 1/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
***Power-clean the weight up to the top position to skip the concentric range, then lower the weight down over eight seconds. Repeat for 4-6 total reps per set.
I can’t emphasize enough how powerful this routine is for increasing the size of your brachialis muscle. I know a lot of you reading this article will gloss over this routine as being “not enough volume” or something like that.
I challenge you to perform this routine just 1 time and tell me the next day that it wasn’t enough volume! If you perform this workout correctly then your brachialis muscles will be DESTROYED the next day!
Just think about it: during the eccentric ez-bar curls you should be able to lower a weight that is right around your 1-rep max. And you aren’t just lowering it once with a normal tempo, you’re lowering it for 4-6 reps with a 10-second negative phase on each rep.
That means you are getting around 40-50 seconds of eccentric time under tension per set with a weight that is hovering around your 1-rep max! This is an UNBELIEVABLE stimulus for growth for a fast-twitch muscle like the brachialis.
Unfortunately a lot of what people do in the gym is just “monkey-see, monkey-do.” Very few people put a lot of thought into their routines. This is one of the reasons that very few people are satisfied with their results in the gym.
This routine may seem a little weird but you might see some of the best gains of your entire life on a routine like this.
If you want to learn more about eccentric training I highly recommend the following two articles:
I may be biased but I truly believe that these are the 2 best resources on eccentric training available anywhere in the world. If I’m wrong then I will do the honorable thing and commit Seppuku by watching mainstream United States news until my brain melts.
Workout #4: Back To Back Supersets
Supersets are one of the classic bodybuilding training methods.
A superset involves performing two exercises for the same muscle group back-to-back with only ten seconds rest in between sets.
Compared to traditional “straight sets” you are increasing the time under tension per set and knocking off more motor units within the muscle’s motor unit pool.
I have a highly effective supersets workout for the brachialis that I would like to share with you. For this routine you will actually be performing two seperate supersets over the course of the workout. Check it out:
Brachialis Superset Workout
- A1: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / reverse grip), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Preacher bilateral zottman curl, 3 x 12-15, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- B1: Standing ez-bar reverse curl (narrow / reverse grip), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- B2: Seated hammer curl, 3 x 12-15, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
This routine uses a wide variety of exercises to fatigue as many motor units as possible within the brachialis.
Actually this can be thought of as a “uni-angular supersets” routine as each of the supersets feature exercises working the brachialis within the same muscle plane.
You can call it whatever you want but one thing is for certain: this routine delivers results! Of course you still have to put in the work in the gym. This routine only works if you do!
A word about hammer curls:
Neutral grip curling exercises recruit the brachialis to a significant degree but not quite as well as pronated grip curling exercises.
On exercises such as seated hammer curls the brachioradialis muscle (the one sitting on top of your forearm when you use a neutral grip) is the one working the hardest.
The advantage of using hammer curls towards the end of this routine is that it will knock off even more motor units within the brachialis that otherwise would not be recruited.
Workout #5: A Simple Straight Sets Routine
This routine is a little bit simpler than the rest of the bunch in this article.
Normally I am a big proponent of using outside-the-box training methods such as uni-angular tri-sets, mechanical advantage drop sets, and supra-maximal eccentric training when training for hypertrophy.
However, I recognize that a good straight sets routine still has its place when training for all-out size.
This is especially true when you use the single best brachialis exercise in the world: unilateral preacher zottman curls with an offset grip! Check it out:
Brachialis Straight Sets Hypertrophy Routine
- A1: Unilateral preacher zottman curl (offset grip)***, 4 x 6-8, 5/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: 45 degree incline DB curl (hammer grip), 4 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
***Hold the dumbbell with your pinkey touching the inside of the dumbbell. This asymmetrical grip will force the brachialis to work even harder!
Zottman curls are so effective for training the brachialis because they overload the eccentric portion of the repetition. That being said there are a few ways to make the zottman curl even more effective.
Performing zottman curls on a preacher bench is awesome because the preacher station does a better job of isolating the elbow flexors. Your elbow is fixed firmly against the bench and it becomes impossible to cheat!
However, a lesser-known trick is to perform preacher curls unilaterally, or one arm at a time. You can actually use slightly more weight this way and thus place an even greater overload on the brachialis.
Finally this routine also calls for you to use an offset grip where your pinkey is touching the inside of the dumbbell. This makes both the concentric and eccentric range more difficult.
Trust me, it will feel like your arm is on fire while lowering the dumbbell down under 5 seconds!
Workout #6: The 4+2 Method For Functional Hypertrophy
For this routine I am going to share with you one of my favourite eccentric training methods for packing on slabs of muscle tissue: the 4+2 method.
This eccentric training method was invented and popularized by the Canadian strength coach Charles Poliquin. It is a reasonably complicated training method so I will do my best to explain it correctly.
First you perform four repetitions on an exercise with a weight that is very challenging for 4 reps. Immediately after the fourth rep you put the weight down and increase the weight by around 5-10%. You then perform 2 additional eccentric-only repetitions with the heavier weight.
Here is Charles Poliquin himself talking about the 4+2 method with Marc Bell:
Normally it’s impossible to perform the 4+2 method without a couple of well-trained spotters. Fortunately you can perform this training method on your own if you are training the brachialis muscle.
For example let’s say you are performing a set of standing reverse ez-bar curls. You can perform your first set of 4 reps just like usual. Then after your 4th rep you put the ez-bar down and add an additional 5-10% in load to the bar.
Then to perform your 2 extra eccentric-only reps you would power-clean the weight up to lockout and slowly lower the weight back down over 8-10 seconds.
By power-cleaning the weight up to lockout you are practically skipping the entire concentric range of the exercise! This is a very effective training technique that anyone can perform even in a busy commercial gym.
Here is a sample 4+2 brachialis workout that you may want to try. Check it out:
4+2 Brachialis Workout
- A1: Unilateral preacher DB curl (pronated grip), 5 x 4**, 4/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Standing cable reverse curl (cambered bar / wide grip), 3 x 8-10, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
**Perform 4 regular reps with your 4-rep max. Then put the bar down and add 5-10% to the bar. Then perform 2 additional eccentric-only reps by power-cleaning the weight up to lockout and slowly lowering it back down over 10 “B1” exercise.
The 4+2 method works so well for building muscular hypertrophy because it overloads your muscles in 2 completely different ways. First you are overloading your concentric strength levels by performing a 4-rep max. Then you are overloading your eccentric strength levels in a post-exhaustion manner.
This acts as a “one-two punch” that absolutely annihilates your fast-twitch muscle fibers! Not only that but the overall time under tension of the set is very long. There is a reason Charles considered the 4+2 method to be his #1 method for boosting functional hypertrophy in his world-class athletes!
Just make sure that you use a true 10-second lowering phase on the 2 eccentric-only reps. If you lower the weight any faster than 10 seconds then 2 things will happen:
- You will make slower progress on the routine
- You will increase your risk of injury
This is not a good combination if you ask me! I would much rather you be jacked and healthy than small and injured. So make sure you use a true 10-second lowering phase on the 2 eccentric-only reps!
If you want to learn more about some of Charles Poliquin’s favourite functional hypertrophy routines then check out this article:
Workout #7: Origin-Insertion Supersets
Supersets are definitely one of the best training methods when your goal is hypertrophy. The idea behind supersets is simple: you perform 2 exercises back-to-back for the same muscle group.
Supersets work so well because they force your muscles to work longer by prolonging the time under tension of the set and they allow you to knock off more motor units in the muscle’s motor unit pool.
But what if I told you there was a way to make supersets even more effective, particularly when you are training your arms? No, I’m not exaggerating – the name of this training method is origin-insertion supersets. Let me explain.
Every muscle group has both an origin and an insertion. The origin is the proximal part of the muscle while the insertion is the distal part of the muscle. For example the origin of the brachialis muscle is near the shoulder while the insertion is near the elbow.
The idea behind an origin-insertion superset is to perform 2 exercises that overload opposite ends of the muscle. This creates a horrible amount of micro-trauma in the muscle which is perfect for stimulating hypertrophy.
A great way to perform an origin-insertion superset workout for the brachialis is to superset narrow overhand grip pullups with any type of reverse curl. The pull ups overload the brachialis near the shoulder while the reverse curls overload the brachialis near the elbow.
This creates a terrifying amount of muscular damage that will give you some of the best size gains of your life! Here is a sample routine you may want to try. Check it out:
Brachialis Origin Insertion Superset Workout
- A1: Pull ups (pronated / close grip), 5 x 5-7, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Standing ez-bar curl (pronated / close grip), 5 x 5-7, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
This routine is harder than it looks. You may only be doing 10 total sets of work (or five total supersets) but these sets are designed to thrash all available muscle fibers in the brachialis.
Yes, you could perform some additional brachialis (or biceps) work either before or after this superset for even greater growth. This strategy works especially well if you have more of a balanced neurotransmitter profile. However, most of you reading this are better off performing the routine as is.
Of course you could perform some triceps work before or after your brachialis work for a more complete arm routine.
If you are particularly daring you could even alternate between supersets for the brachialis and triceps muscles. For example, you could do one superset for the brachialis, rest 2 minutes, do one superset for the triceps, rest 2 minutes, and then repeat the process all over again. This is something I often have my clients do if their gym isn’t too busy.
You will actually be able to lift more weight for both muscle groups this way and you will get more total work done in less time. Not a bad deal if you ask me!
If you want to learn more about the benefits of supersets then the following article is your friend:
Don’t let the title fool you: post-exhaustion supersets are really just another name for origin-insertion supersets.
You are now equipped with 7 of the most effective brachialis workouts ever written. If you have a lagging brachialis muscle then these workouts are just what you need to get your upper arms growing again! If you would rather design your own brachialis hypertrophy workouts rather than using one of the above workouts then here are some guiding principles:
- The brachialis responds best to all types of reverse curls but especially the Zottman curl!
- The brachialis is a fast-twitch muscle. Train it in the 4-8 rep range for maximum growth!
- The brachialis responds well to different types of eccentric training methods. Use them!
If you follow these principles then you will be well on your way to designing your own brachialis hypertrophy routines that are sure to add inches to your upper arms.
If you want to take your training to the next level then join my online coaching program. I have all kinds of tricks up my sleeve to get even the most stubborn brachialis muscle growing in now time.
“As far as I can tell, it’s just about letting the universe know what you want and then working toward it while letting go of how it comes to pass.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck with your strength training journey!
Chad Wesley Smith is one of the brightest minds in the fitness industry today. Chad has competed at the absolute highest levels in three different sports: shot put, powerlifting and strongman....
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