Do You Need to Train Arms for Sport?

Do You Need to Train Arms for Sport?

Bicep training is a very fundamental movement that every person knows and have had experience with.

Its strange to think that in relative terms that a “small” set of muscles always draws so much attention from both sexes not just males. I am sure we all have examples of working our arms or seeing someone with enormous arms and thinking they look great. Does arm size have anything to do with enhanced performance though. The favourite answer for most trainers and coaches is that it depends. It depends on the sport (movements, duration, frequency of arm use), outcomes you’re looking to achieve and potential advantage or disadvantage that may occur.

Eben Etzebeth Biceps

The picture above is one of Eben Etzebeth who is a world cup winning south African rugby player. He is claimed to have 19 inch circumference arms. (Alongside many other claims our favourite of which is having special super heavy dumbbells made for him because he was so strong and the weights they had a gyms just didn’t suffice). If you can’t quite picture what 19 inch arms look like, then think of a full size rugby ball. A rugby ball is 24 inches in circumference, his arms are only 5 inches less than a rugby ball which is unbelievable.

For the sport of Rugby you can see were the advantage of possessing a set of legs-for-arms maybe beneficial. The handoff is probably the most obvious point to start. The movement of the handoff its self is what we call a countermovement, this basically means there is a slight flexion at the elbow and the anterior shoulder joint and a rapid extension of both joints to fend off an on coming opponent. The primary role of the bicep is to flex the elbow and supinate the arm. Think of supination as rotating your arm so your palm is facing upwards. Think about the movement of the handoff, does the bicep do all the work? Of course not, there are several muscles (triceps, radialis, deltoids, lats) that all work concurrently to fire the arm and produce an effective hand off.

There are lots of examples of other sports men and women with huge biceps you may say but I can guarantee they will not be using their bicep in isolation. Boxers who punch use similar muscles to far more devastating effects. Rafa Nadal used to have a serious over development of the bicep on one side compared to the other, this size difference is more due to the unilateral demands of Tennis, showing that some sports can develop the muscles as much as the gym would.

Rafael Nadal Arm Difference

When considering training your arms, firstly think about if it is the best use of your time. Do bigger arms directly impact your performance the sports, like they would in the aforementioned sports. Otherwise can you finish your gym session with some plyometrics, stretching, shoulder prehab or helping recover from any niggles you have. If you have done some of these and still have energy then by all means, train your biceps.

If you are going to train them, train them right – use full range of motion! Control the tempo so the upward (concentric) and downward (eccentric) phase are similar, only move your arms – too often you’ll see people in the gym load up the EZ bar and thrust their hips, arch their back and do as much as possible to take the load off the biceps for the feeling of lifting big weights… it’s dumb, it’s pointless and you’ll see bigger reward with weights you can control and move using your arms… the muscles you’re trying to train! Lastly, train to failure – with accessory movements it isn’t going to be exhausting for your nervous system to recover from, building muscle requires mechanical stress (the weight you’re holding), metabolic stress (the burn and pump) and working to failure as this will fatigue both muscle types maximally and encourages growth.


Example arms finisher to a workout:


Dumbbell Hammer Curls 20 reps, 15 reps, 10 reps – 60s rest between each, continue until you fail a set

Barbell Curls 3 sets of 10 reps (Tempo 2s up, 2s down)

Rest 60s between sets


Skull crushers 3 sets of 15 reps

Superset with

Military Press Ups 3 sets to Exhaustion

Rest 60s between sets



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