A Tabata Workout to Build Bigger Arms? Yes!

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The Tabata workout phenomenon isn’t anything new but it’s still gaining steam in fitness circles as a fast, convenient and intense way to get in great cardiovascular shape in 4 minutes. With growing research Tabata has proven itself over and over and is poised to stick around for a while.

Primarily used as a high intensity interval-type fat-burning mode of exercise (aerobic) it has some promising benefits regarding muscle-building as well (anaerobic).

What if you took advantage of those anaerobic benefits and structured a Tabata workout program targeting your arms? What if you could potentially pack on more beef to your arms in only 4 minutes?

First, let’s delve into what’s behind Tabata and then how to apply those same principles to building bigger arms.

Tabata Workouts – A Brief History Lesson

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Tabata was developed at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo by Dr. Izumi Tabata, a Japanese physician and researcher. His ground-breaking study had two groups assigned to different exercise protocols. The first group (the control group) trained at a moderate intensity level 5 days per week for 6 weeks. Their workouts lasted one hour each day for a total of 1800 minutes of exercise.

The second group (the Tabata group) trained at a very high intensity (Tabata-style) 4 days per week for 6 weeks. Their workouts only lasted 4 minutes for a total of 120 minutes of exercise.

The Tabata protocol had the subjects alternate between 20 seconds of high intensity training followed by 10 seconds of rest. 8 total rounds were completed without any additional rest between rounds resulting in a total of 4 minutes.

The results were rather surprising. After completion of the six week protocol aerobic capacities (improvements in cardiovascular function) for both groups had increased with group 2 showing higher increases. Only group 2 (the Tabata group) showed any changes (28% to be exact) in anaerobic systems (muscular changes).

A traditional Tabata workout may include a stationary bike or some other piece of cardiovascular equipment. Additionally, some may use bodyweight exercises such as push-ups.

A typical Tabata push-up workout could look like this:

  • Push-ups 20 seconds
  • Rest 10 seconds
  • Repeat for 7 more rounds for a total of 8.

As most trainers and exercise science types will think of Tabata as more of an aerobic training protocol, what’s to say you can’t take advantage of its muscle-building potential?

How a Tabata Workout Can Make Your Arms Bigger

Relatively speaking, since biceps and triceps aren’t large muscle groups such as leg, chest or back it can easily and effectively be applied without your cardiovascular system getting too taxed when using it to build more muscle. Also, arm training is convenient and can be performed even at home.

Let’s take a look at how all this will work out for more muscle. For a series of barbell curls, for example, you will perform 20 seconds of all-out effort with only a 10 second rest afterward.

Complete a total of 8 rounds.

During the exercise phase be sure every inch of the movement is under stress. In other words, avoid resting the weight at the top or bottom of the movement. You need complete and total tension on the muscle being worked.

Whatever exercise you choose to do be sure you are adhering to the strictest of form and technique possible and have a timer or have your training partner time you. It won’t take long but should be an intense 4 minutes.

Of course, you will need to experiment with what weight you can handle and make some adjustments along the way but sticking to the time table is paramount. You will be tapping into new muscle fibers, creating a massive blood-volume pump and exposing your arms to a brand new stimulus.

Bicep Curls

Some Tabata Workout Routine Tweaks

You may doubt the effectiveness of this training style for bigger arms, rightfully so. Only 4 minutes of arm training per week isn’t much at all. That is why there will be some tweaks to the routine to ensure that you recruit as many muscle fibers as possible.

First, you will perform several heavy supersets of a biceps and triceps exercise. Choose movements that you can move a lot of weight with such as barbell/dumbbell curls, lying extensions or close-grip bench presses. This will ensure you are still including some heavy, brutal exercises in your arm training.

Next, you will perform the Tabata-style arm training routine more frequently than you are most-likely used to. Twice or preferably three times per week should do the trick. This will put your arm growth into overdrive without overtraining them with countless sets of heavy loads. It’s also extremely convenient since the entire program can be done in less than 10 minutes.

A Tabata Workout Routine for Bigger Arms

Below is an example of a Tabata arm workout. It is structured as if you were working both biceps and triceps together on the same day, however, feel free to break up the workout if you train them separately.

  • Superset: Dumbbell curl with close-grip bench press – 2 sets of 12 reps for warm-up, 3 or 4 working sets of 8 to 12 reps
  • Rest 60 seconds
  • Tabata-style: Barbell curl – 20 seconds of high intensity (10 to 12 reps) with 10 second rest, 8 rounds (4 minutes total)
  • Rest 2 minutes
  • Tabata-style: Lying triceps extension – 20 seconds of high intensity (10 to 12 reps) with 10 seconds rest, 8 rounds (4 minutes total)

Some Vital Points to Remember

Pay strict attention to time: I cannot stress the importance of keeping a keen eye on the clock. There should be no pausing before you perform reps, no resting between reps and no chatting up your buddy. It’s only 4 minutes, don’t waste it.

Don’t short change intensity: During each of your 20 seconds of work make sure you are giving everything you’ve got to the set. The weight should be just enough to stay within your allotted rep range and achieving momentary muscular failure. Conversely, the weight shouldn’t be so heavy that you are cheating every rep up.

Pay serious attention to form: If your form breaks down during a particular set and you didn’t make the rep goal then simply reduce the weight slightly with the next set. Remember, form and technique are paramount.

You must train frequently: Once per week won’t cut it. You need to increase your frequency to 2, possibly 3 times per week on this program. It’s short with low volume so you need to get it done more often.

Be progressive: Keep a record of the weights, reps and exercises you are performing. Refer back to your log each workout and try to increase reps or weight. There may be a time when that’s impossible. On those days just clean-up your form and stay strict.

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Name: Brad Borland

Bio: Starting out as a scrawny 125 pound kid at 6’ 2” I took up weight training at the tender age of 14 and ended up a 220 pound competitive drug-free, natural bodybuilder several years later. Now armed with both knowledge and muscle I have helped countless individuals domestically and abroad.