Bill Pearl dominated physique competitions at the highest level for two decades. Although he never competed in the Mr. Olympia, at age 41 he defeated a former Mr. Olympia and others who would win the Mr. Olympia. Pearl was also as strong as he looked, hoisting weights that in his time impressed even elite powerlifters and strongmen. Pearl’s success generated considerable interest in his training methods, so here we will examine a 15-week program he designed to add slabs of muscle to the biceps and triceps.
Pearl believed that even when going on a program that specialized on a single body part, you should never forget the basic movements such as the squat and bench press. He practiced what he preached. At a bodyweight of 218 pounds, his best lifts were as follows: seated press behind-the-neck, 310 pounds; military press, 320; bench press, 450; front squat, 500; and back squat, 605. These lifts were even more impressive when you consider that they were performed without the supportive “gear” used by many of today’s powerlifters.
This arm program consists of three workouts that build upon the success of the previous one. The first training cycle lasts 6 weeks, the second 5 weeks, and the third 4 weeks.
3x Week, 6 Weeks
1. Triceps Pressdown, 3 sets x 8 reps
2. Lying Barbell Triceps Extension, 3 x 8
3. Triceps Dip on Bars, 3 x 10-12
4. Barbell Curl, 3 x 8
5. Incline Dumbbell Curl, 3 x 8
6. Standing Dumbbell Curl, 3 x 8
3x Week, 5 Weeks
1. Seated Dumbbell Curl, 3 x 8
2. Incline Barbell Triceps Extension, 4 x 8
3. Lying Dumbbell Curl, 3 x 8
4. Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extension, 4 x 8
5. Dumbbell Concentration Curl, 3 x 8
6. One Dumbbell French Press, 4 x 8
3x Week, 4 Weeks
1. Standing Barbell French Press, 4 x 8
2. Lying Barbell Triceps Extension, 4 x 8
3. Standing One Arm Dumbbell French Press, 4 x 8
4. Incline Dumbbell Curl, 3 x 8
5. Incline Inners, 3 x 8
6. Pumping Concentration Curl, 3 x 15
Pearl insists on performing every rep and every set as strictly as possible, focusing on the body part you are working, and striving for “complete extension and contraction on each movement.” To ensure you are using proper form, he says you should break in each new workout by using lights weights. He also recommends that you should inhale at the beginning of each movement and exhale at the finish.
Pearl’s progression in increasing weights is extremely conservative. In his own words, here is how describes a typical progression, using the triceps pressdown as an example. “You start with 50 lbs. and do 3 sets of the required repetitions. I would do this same weight for the first three workouts, that is, one week. On my fourth workout I would do 2 sets with the 50 lbs. and 1 set with 60 lbs. On my fifth workout I would do 1 set with 50 lbs. and 2 sets with 60 lbs. On the sixth workout I would do all my sets with 60 lbs. and have now completed week two of my arm training routine. From there on advance the weight continuing to do 3 sets with the same weight, e.g., 65 lbs. for the seventh workout up to 75 lbs. for the 10th workout, using the same progression method as earlier.”
One of the appeals of reading about the workouts of bodybuilding superstars is learning about the special tips they have in the performance of each exercise. Complete descriptions of each exercise (along with more details on this workout) are provided in Pearl’s self-published book, Build Big Arms. For example, with the dumbbell concentration curl, he says you should curl the dumbbell upward until it touches the shoulder. Cheating by dropping the shoulder will enable you to use more weight, but it would reduce the range of motion of the exercise and thus reduce its effectiveness for developing the biceps muscle to its fullest.
Included in the conventional movements were some unique exercises, such as “incline inners.” Pearl says this is a difficult exercise to perform properly, so here is his complete description of the movement: “Use the same starting position as in the regular incline dumbbell curl. Hold dumbbells at arms' length with palms facing inward toward the body. Curl the dumbbells by rotating them outward so they are directly in line with the shoulders. You curl the arms out to the sides, laterally, forming a cross shape. Keep the elbows pointing downward when curling the dumbbells to the shoulders. The palms must be in an upward position during the entire exercise, except at the beginning position. At this time, rotate backwards so the palms are facing inward toward the body. It is important to lower the dumbbells in the same pattern as you raised them. You may notice a stretching feeling in the deltoid muscle, which may be uncomfortable. If this is the case, I suggest that you raise your head up off the bench.”
Pearl was also a fan of the pump, including such protocols as a “pumping concentration curl,” which involved keeping tension on the biceps for 15 seconds and “cramping the biceps” at the top position. He also stressed that to ensure your training is progressive, you should record the weights you use for every exercise.
Bill Pearl certainly had massive arms, but one reason he was able to stay at the top of the Iron Game for so long was that he possessed a symmetrical physique. If you want bigger arms, give this workout a try but be sure to check out his online articles invest his books, especially such classics as Keys to the Inner Universe.