Uni-angular tri-sets are easily one of the most effective training methods you can use to build muscle. In this comprehensive guide I am going to teach you everything you need to know about how to use uni-angular tri-sets to build big, thick arms!
- Part 1: Elbow Flexor Routine #1
- Part 2: Elbow Flexor Routine #2
- Part 3: Elbow Flexor Routine #3
- Part 4: Triceps Routine #1
- Part 5: Triceps Routine #2
- Part 6: Triceps Routine #3
Uni-angular tri-sets are not a new training method. In fact, the first ever Mr. Olympia winner Larry Scott was using them back in the 1960s to build his legendary 20-inch arms!
Fortunately for us this training method is just as effective today as it was back in the 1960s. After all, the human genome has not changed significantly in the last century!
A tri-set is a special type of hypertrophy training method. It involves performing three exercises back-to-back for the same body part with only 10 seconds rest in between exercises.
- Perform biceps exercise “A” for 8 reps, rest 10 seconds
- Perform biceps exercise “B” for 8 reps, rest 10 seconds
- Perform biceps exercise “C” for 8 reps, DONE!
Tri-sets work so well because they prolong the time under tension of a set. Your muscles have to work three times longer with a tri-set than with a traditional straight-set.
As you may already know muscular hypertrophy is largely a function of load and time under tension.
Hypertrophy = (load) x (time under tension)
If you can dramatically increase the time under tension of a set without sacrificing the amount of weight you are lifting then the quality of the hypertrophy stimulus will shoot through the roof!
This is exactly what tri-sets do as you triple the total time under tension of the set. Can you say hello hypertrophy gains?
Of course uni-angular tri-sets are a special type of tri-set. All three exercises for a given body part are performed in the same muscular plane.
The key is that you change the grip used (supinated vs pronated etc.) or the nature of the exercise (barbell vs dumbbells etc.).
This type of tri-set is particularly effective for hypertrophying the arms as it really allows you to damage a huge number of motor units and it gives you an unbelievable pump!
There are of course many ways to design a tri-set workout for the arms.
In this article I am going to give you not one, not two, but six separate uni-angular workouts for the biceps and triceps!
All of this will be explained in more detail as we go through each individual routine.
Please note: I write my routines in a specific manner where all of the loading parameters are clearly defined. If you are not used to reading routines written this way then I recommend you consult this article.
Ok, I’ve made you wait long enough. Now let’s check out 6 of the most effective uni-angular triset workouts you can do to build bigger, stronger arms!
Part 1: Elbow Flexor Routine #1
As you may know the biceps brachii muscle has two separate heads: the long head and the short head.
The long head of the biceps is located on the outside of your arm. The long head is very important to a bodybuilder (or anyone wanting to build bigger arms!) as it makes up the coveted “biceps peak.”
This routine is specifically designed to overload the long head of the biceps and turn your bicep peaks into mountain peaks ala Arnold Schwarzenegger!
OK, maybe you won’t build biceps like Arnold’s in the next 2-4 weeks.
However, I am confident that your biceps will take on a totally different look if you put in the work on this routine.
Check it out:
- A1: 60 degree incline DB curls (supinated grip), 3-5 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: 60 degree incline DB curls (hammer grip), 3-5 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Incline cable curls, 3-5 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
The long head of the biceps is most strongly activated when the elbows are held BEHIND the body.
For example, any time you do an incline DB curl or an incline cable curl where the elbows are located behind your torso your long head has to work much harder to move the load.
One of the reasons so many people have lagging long heads is they never do any incline curls in their training.
This is a big mistake as the long head is important for more than just filling out shirt sleeves.
It also plays an important role in upper body structural balance!
If your long head is too weak then you will have a harder time making progress on upper body exercises and your risk of injury will be increased.
If you have been neglecting your long heads for too long then this routine is just what you need!
Part 2: Elbow Flexor Routine #2
If the first routine was designed to target the long head of the biceps then this one is designed to target the short head!
The short head of the biceps is most strongly activated when the elbows are held in front of the body.
The preacher curl is probably the best exercise for overloading the short head as the elbows are fixed in front of the body and it is virtually impossible to cheat on this exercise!
A lot of people are hesitant to include preacher curls in their routine because you can’t use as much weight on them as you can with something like standing barbell curls or standing DB curls.
Don’t worry, the preacher curl is a superior exercise for targeting the biceps. Even if you can’t use quite as much weight your biceps will be working extremely hard!
Check it out:
- A1: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / supinated grip), 3-5 x 6-8, 3/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3-5 x 8-10, 3/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Bilateral preacher DB curl (supinated grip), 3-5 x 12-15, 3/1/X/0, 180 seconds rest
As you can see this routine features three separate preacher curl variations. The first two exercises use an ez-curl bar with different grips while the third exercise features dumbbells.
These slight differences between the exercises will allow you to tap into a slightly different portion of the motor unit pool.
This means you are fatiguing a greater number of muscle fibers than if you just did a big drop set on one exercise variation.
Larry Scott used a routine very similar to this during his reign as the first-ever Mr. Olympia. If uni-angular tri-sets on the preacher bench are good enough for Larry then they are probably good enough for you too!
Part 3: Elbow Flexor Routine #3
Our third routine is going to feature a tri-set for the brachialis.
The brachialis is a separate muscle group from the biceps brachii. It is also located on the front of your upper arm and helps to give the illusion of a larger biceps muscle.
The brachialis is active during all curling movements but it is most strongly activated when you do curls with a pronated (palms facing down) grip.
This probably explains why so few people have a pair of well-developed brachialis muscles: most people only do curling movements with a supinated grip!
This is somewhat understandable as you can lift more weight with a supinated (underhand) grip than a pronated (overhand) one.
The problem with this habit is that you will never maximize your overall arm size without some dedicated brachialis work.
If you have been neglecting reverse-curling exercises for too long then this routine will help you repent for your prior bodybuilding sins!
Check it out:
- A1: Seated zottman curl, 3-5 x 5-7, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Standing ez-bar curls (wide / pronated grip), 3-5 x 5-7, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Standing ez-bar curls (narrow / pronated grip), 3-5 x 5-7, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
This routine features some novel exercises and somewhat lower rep ranges than you would expect from a hypertrophy routine. I will do my best to justify this routine here.
The brachialis muscle is primarily composed of fast-twitch muscle fibers in most individuals. This is in contrast to the biceps brachii muscle which tends to have more slow-twitch muscle fibers in most trainees.
This means that the brachialis will respond best to somewhat lower rep ranges than most muscle groups.
In my experience if you are trying to increase the size of your brachialis muscle then you should focus on sets in the 4-8 rep range with somewhat slower tempos.
The choice of exercises is also somewhat unusual.
I am willing to bet that many of you reading this article have never even heard of a zottman curl! This is a shame as in my opinion the different variations of zottman curls are among the very best exercises for training the brachialis.
The thing that makes a zottman curl unique is that you curl the weight up with a supinated (underhand) grip and lower the weight down with a pronated (overhand) grip.
You just spin the dumbbell in the top and bottom positions of the exercise to change the grip.
As you may already know you can lift more weight with an underhand grip than you can with an overhand one.
This means that you are actually overloading the eccentric phase of the exercise!
Like most fast-twitch muscle fibers the brachialis responds fantastically to eccentric training. All in all this routine will have your brachialis muscle growing faster than an army of dwarves on HGH!
Part 4: Triceps Routine #1
The lateral head is difficult for many trainees to target.
Although it isn’t the main focus this routine will also hit the medial head of your triceps quite hard as well. There are a couple of keys to training the lateral head: using the appropriate exercises and rep ranges.
Check it out:
- A1: Decline DB extensions, 3-5 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Decline ez-bar extensions (to forehead), 3-5 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Decline ez-bar extensions (to chin), 3-5 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
The best exercises for targeting the lateral head tend to be pressing movements and isolation exercises performed on a flat or decline bench.
The decline variations tend to be particularly effective at recruiting the lateral head in the stretched position.
On all three of these exercises I want you to really focus on getting as large a stretch as possible in the bottom position.
You may even want to gently tap the ez-bar against your forehead or chin on the last two exercises to make sure that the stretch is maximal.
You may notice that the rep ranges are relatively lower for this routine. This is not a mistake!
The lateral head is composed primarily of fast-twitch muscle fibers. As such you should try to use no more than 8 reps per set when trying to hypertrophy the lateral head.
I have to shake my head when I see individuals in my gym doing sets of 20+ reps on tricep pushdowns and other decline movements. You are never going to fatigue the lateral head training like that!
Part 5: Triceps Routine #2
This routine is designed to overload the long head of the triceps.
The long head of the triceps is located on the backside of the arm and is by far the largest and meatiest head of the triceps muscle.
This is the part of the triceps that really hangs down when a bodybuilder hits a double front biceps pose!
Some of the best exercises to target the long head include overhead extensions. This is because the long head is maximally stretched when the elbows are held directly over the body.
Check it out:
- A1: Standing bilateral cable rope overhead extension, 3-5 x 12-15, 2/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Standing ez-bar overhead extension (narrow grip), 3-5 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Standing DB overhead extension (two hands holding one dumbbell), 3-5 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest
A large number of trainees complain of elbow or shoulder pain when doing overhead isolation exercises for the triceps.
Fortunately for you I have sequenced the exercises in such a way as to minimize any joint pain.
As a general rule of thumb I find that overhead isolation exercises for the triceps tend to work best when they are performed at the end of a routine.
For best results you may want to perform a few sets of something like close grip bench presses or v-bar dips before this triceps tri-set.
Another great option would be to perform the tri-set for your lateral head first in the first half of your workout and this one in the second half.
Part 6: Triceps Routine #3
This final triceps routine features three different variations of flat triceps extensions. The flat extensions do an excellent job of overloading both the long head and the lateral head of the triceps.
In order to maximize the recruitment of both of these muscle heads you will want to use a full range of motion on all of these exercises.
Check it out:
- A1: Flat ez-bar extensions (to nose), 5 x 8-10, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Flat DB extensions, 5 x 10-12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Flat ez-bar extensions (to forehead), 5 x 12-15, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
I frequently talk to trainees who complain of elbow pain during skull crushers and other similar triceps exercises.
They tell me that they’ve tried every trick in the book but no matter what they do they can’t shake off the nagging elbow pain.
In my experience when a trainee complains of elbow pain during skull crushers 90% of the time they are not lowering the weights under control!
I usually recommend a 2-4 second lowering phase on these exercises. This simple trick allows most trainees to perform these exercises pain-free.
If you ignore this advice and “dive-bomb” the weights down to your forehead and then try to rapidly reverse the direction of the weight then all bets are off!
Uni-angular tri-sets are easily one of my go-to training methods for boosting someone’s arm size in record time. They are just one of those training methods that seems to work well for almost everyone.
If you have been stuck at a plateau in your arm size then I highly recommend you give one of these routines a shot.
Always remember: the mind is more important than the body. Where the mind goes the body will follow. Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!
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