How Dexter Jackson Trains His Incredible Bi’s and Tri’s
THE BIGGEST ARMS? NO – BUT MAYBE THE BEST
Dexter Jackson does not have the biggest arms in pro bodybuilding, if you use a tape measure as your gauge. Then again, these days, size alone in the arms means very little, since legions have taken to injecting all manner of gunk into their biceps and triceps to fluff them up the way millions of women now plump up their lips with foreign agents to give theirs the Kylie Jenner pout. Make no mistake— plenty of men now probably have arms that are technically the same size as Dexter’s.
Great! What about shape, separation and detail? Now we are starting to get intothe qualities that truly make Jackson’s arms outstanding. Both his biceps and triceps are round and full, with bi’s like striated baseballs and tri’s like hanging ham hocks. Like finely cut diamonds, his arms catch the eye with intricate grooves and splits from all angles. And while numbers really don’t mean a thing, they are a legit 21 inches at a height of only 5’6″.
A final testimony to the pedigree of The Blade’s arms is that he was the man who came closest last year to beating Phil Heath as The Gift marched on to his fifth Mr. Olympia title. Very few bodybuilders, past or present, could stand next to Phil— known for having perhaps the best arms in the game today— without their own guns paling in comparison. Not Dexter. He more than held his own in that department. Let’s took at some of the exercises that this iron veteran uses to keep those arms world-class.
“Barbells build muscle.” That’s the mantra that Dexter put his faith in to transform himself from a 130-pound regional-level bantamweight to a 240-pound Mr. Olympia and five-time Arnold Classic champion. “Heavy curls with both a straight bar and the EZ-curl bar, for sets of eight to 10 reps heavy as I could go with good form, is pretty much how I built almost all my biceps size,” Dexter states.
ALTERNATE DUMBBELL CURLS
Since Dexter started working with Charles Glass about five years ago, his biceps routines have followed a very effective framework: a machine movement, a two-arm curl as with a barbell or an EZ-curl bar, and finally a dumbbell exercise. About half the time, that dumbbell movement is the basic alternate dumbbell curl. Though his biceps are already somewhat fatigued by this point in the workout, Dexter is still able to handle some decent weight here. One feature of the alternate dumbbell curl that makes it especially valuable is that it works both major functions of the biceps: arm flexion (bending the arm) and supination of the hand, or rotating the hands away from the midline of the body. Skipping these in your biceps workouts can very well mean that you’re not reaching the full size potential of your bi’s.
For many years, The Blade started off his biceps workout with barbell or EZ-bar curls, as this allowed him to hit the exercise fresh and at his strongest. Now that his bis are about as big as they will ever need to be, and also out of respect to his 46-year-old shoulder and elbow joints, Dexter will do them second in his biceps routine after a machine preacher curl. These can done for a standard four sets of eight to 10 reps, or he might do three sets of “21s” instead: seven reps from the bottom stretch to halfway up, seven reps from the midpoint of the rep to all the way up to full contraction, and finishing with seven full-range reps.
DUMBBELL CONCENTRATION CURLS
Dexter’s primary goal whenever he trains his biceps is to get the best contraction possible. That’s why the other dumbbell movement he usually finishes with is the concentration curl. It also has the advantage of being performed one arm at a time, permitting maximum focus on contracting just one biceps at a time. Dexter prefers to do his concentration curls the standard way, seated and bracing the working arm on his inner thigh to avoid cheating.
EZ-BAR CLOSE-GRIP PRESSES
Dexter doesn’t do much heavy close-grip pressing anymore at this point in his career. However, one way he does like to employ that movement is to finish off sets of skull-crushers with a few reps of presses once he has hit failure. “This works out really well, because even after you hit failure with the extension movement, you still have enough strength left to do eight to 10 reps of presses in that top, lockout range of motion,” he tells us. And because the tri’s are pre-exhausted from the skull-crushers, a weight that would normally be far too easy is now challenging enough to pump up the triceps nicely.
OVERHEAD DUMBBELL EXTENSIONS
Some type of overhead extension movement is always in Dexter’s triceps routine, as it provides a level of stretch not possible in other exercises. For many years, Dexter would do his with a dumbbell and either two hands or one. Now, he tends to prefer using a cable pulley, which is far kinder on his joints.
For most of his lifting career, Dexter did more than his fair share of weighted parallel bar dips for his triceps. Now he much prefers the greater control offered by the machine version of that movement. Certain models, like the Hammer Strength machine, also have a chest pad to force a more upright position so you can’t lean forward and shift the stress more toward the pecs. “I also don’t let my elbows come up too high,” Dexter notes. “Once you do that, the chest and delts come into play too much. Focus on that bottom half of the full range of motion where the triceps are doing all the work.”
Occasionally, Dexter will do his dips in a decidedly old-school way, between benches. Though he might put a 45-pound plate or two on his lap, he is just as likely to do these at the very end of the workout— negating the need for any additional resistance beyond his own bodyweight. In contrast to the parallel bar and machine versions of dips, the position of the arms behind the shoulders allows one to shift more of the stress to the long head of the triceps. That’s the meaty part seen from behind, and it happens to be where most of us could use more mass and fullness to the tri’s.
ARMED AND DANGEROUS FOR THE MR. OLYMPIA
Those are the principles Dexter Jackson follows when it comes to arm training. They can and will also apply to you in your own quest for sleeve-busting guns. As for Dexter, by the time you read this, he will be in the early stages of training for the big show in Las Vegas on September 27th and 28th. He’ll be packing those cannons and taking no prisoners as he strives to do the seemingly impossible— regain that coveted Sandow trophy he claimed in the fall 2008. He’ll be among several favorites “gunning” for Phil Heath’s title and in the end, only one man will be left standing center stage at the Orleans Arena with the big paycheck and the distinction of being the world’s best bodybuilder. But he’s been that man before, and he just might be that man once more.
The Blade’s Top 5 Guidelines for Monster Guns
1. DON’T OVERTRAIN YOUR ARMS!
“The arms are a smaller muscle group than something like back or legs,” Dexter begins, “but you still see so many guys doing as much if not more for them.” You see this in every gym, every day, and chances are that you have been guilty of it too. It’s not hard to understand why. Arms are fun to train. You can see them in the mirror as you work them, so there’s that immediate visual reward. They’re also pretty easy to train in comparison to bigger body parts. You can do five sets of curls and still have plenty of gas left in the tank, unlike five sets of heavy squats or deadlifts, which would wipe you out. And of course, very few of us are satisfied with our arms. All these factors often lead to marathon arm workouts, but since the arms are a relatively small muscle group, more is not better.
“Not counting warm-ups, you shouldn’t need any more than eight to 10 sets, total, for the biceps— and the same for triceps,” Dexter comments. Hit them hard and be done with it, because all you do in the gym is stimulate growth. The actual growth of a muscle takes place some time later, and then only if it is given time to recuperate and repair, as well as sufficient nutritional support to allow for the synthesis of new lean muscle tissue.
Another common tactic that is meant to deliver results but often hinders growth is to train the arms twice a week. “That’s something that might work when you’re a young guy starting out in bodybuilding, as long as you’re allowing 72 hours between the workouts,” Jackson acknowledges. “But after a certain point and especially once you get past the age of 30 or so, very few people would be able to make progress training anything twice a week, with the exception maybe of calves.”
2. USE WEIGHTS YOU CAN CONTROL AND FEEL
It’s probably been drilled into your head that a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle. To an extent, that principle holds true. The guy with 30-inch quads can usually squat a lot more weight than another man whose wheels aren’t a lot larger in circumference than his arms. But there are also cases where using very heavy weights can impede muscle growth, simply because the target muscle isn’t doing the brunt of the work. “You always need to be able to control the weight at all times with arm exercises,” Dexter advises. “I squeeze the muscle into a contraction, then control the negative and feel the muscle stretching,” he tells us.
When you think in terms of being able to feel your biceps or triceps contract and stretch, the weight you use becomes almost entirely irrelevant. Those of you who have spent any time on YouTube have probably seen video clips of stooges heaving up 90, 100 or even 150-pound dumbbells in what are labeled “curls” in the title, yet bear about as much resemblance to a true biceps curl as a gorilla tap dancing does to a waltz. “I don’t care how much weight I’m using on anything in the gym, as long as it’s stimulating the muscle like I want it to,” Dexter explains. “If I can’t get that feeling, I use a little less weight.”
Sadly, following Dexter’s example is something that too many guys refuse to do, either out of ignorance or ego. Put it this way, though. Would you rather be the guy who uses the most weight in the gym on curls and have arms that are nothing special, or would you be willing to use less weight and build the best arms your genetics are capable of? Depending on how you answer that question, you’re either a weightlifter or a bodybuilder. Weightlifters might be able to impress the other guys and girls at the gym when they train. Bodybuilders build physiques that impress others everywhere, all the time.
One last cue to take from Dexter when it comes to his recommendation to select weights you can handle— the man has won close to 20 pro shows including the Mr. Olympia, and he’s yet to tear a muscle. Clearly, he’s not just training hard— he’s training smart.
3. SWITCH UP YOUR EXERCISES AND TECHNIQUES
“You have to use different exercises for arms on a pretty regular basis to keep seeing results,” Dexter informs us. “And you can’t avoid exercises just because you don’t like them. There are definitely exercises I don’t care for, like straight bar curls, that I still throw in there once in a while because I know they deliver good results.”
Monotony in training is one of the silent killers of muscle gains. People often forget just what a remarkably adaptive organism the human body is. The human race has been able to adapt to factors such as extremely hot or cold climates, limited diets and high attitudes. Do you really think it can’t adapt to the same exact exercises and workouts within the span of a few months? But just look around any gym, and you’ll see many members performing identical routines for each body part week after week, often for years on end. Have you been using mostly barbells? Do some dumbbell work!
“A lot of bodybuilders think machines are useless, but I get a great feeling with things like dip machines and the one-arm curl with your biceps up high,” Dexter notes. “Free weights, cables and machines all contribute to growth.” The point is, don’t get stuck in a rut. Change up the order you do your exercises in, try new exercises or incorporate techniques that extend the muscle’s time under tension. Dexter does that on a regular basis, performing 21s for biceps curls and doing tri-sets for his triceps, three exercises in a row with no rest between. You can also try drop sets, rest-pause, forced reps and static holds. There are so many variables to play with that there is no excuse for doing the same old routine, over and over.
4. STOP CHEATING!
Often, bad form is a direct result of going too heavy, but not always. Many bodybuilders use sloppy form simply as the result of “monkey see, monkey do.” They imitate what they see other guys in the gym doing, or what they see in training DVDs and online videos. “There are a few guys who can get away with terrible form and still manage to grow,” Jackson concedes. “But they are the exceptions, not the rule— most guys will just look like crap, training that way.” Granted, there is a time and a place for cheating reps, but it’s not from rep one. “When I’ve done most of my reps in really strict form, I will loosen up the form a little to get a couple more,” Dexter says. “Cheat reps should help you work the muscle harder by continuing the set, not make it easier because you’re jumping and swinging around and using every other muscle group except the one you’re supposed to be training.”
5. FOCUS ON GETTING A PUMP
There is precious little conclusive evidence about what exactly causes muscle growth and the best ways to make it happen, but generations of bodybuilders have noticed a direct correlation between achieving a pump in the arms and subsequent increases in their size. In its simplest terms, a pump is nothing more than a temporary increase in blood flow to a target muscle. Heavy, straight sets can give you a pump if you have an excellent mind-muscle connection. Additionally, techniques like drop sets, supersets and multiple sets performed with minimal rest between, such as “sevens” from Hany Rambod’s FST-7 Training, will deliver a tight, swollen pump to your biceps or triceps.
As mentioned previously, Dexter loves tri-sets for his triceps. “Those will give you a pump no matter what,” he divulges. “I can get a pump with those even when I’m super low on carbs and there’s no glycogen in the muscle.” That’s saying a lot, and on that note, you really should be cognizant of the nutritional support required for a great pump. Have a meal rich in carbohydrates before training, for sure, and many bodybuilders have seen success with having a big cheat meal the night before training a body part they are specializing on. Hydration is critical, so always drink plenty of water; and even more so when the weather is hotter. Various pre-workout products available today also assist in getting more pronounced pumps. The bottom line is that the pump is key. It delivers nutrient-rich blood to the muscle cells, and many today believe that the expansion of the muscle helps break up the tough layer of fascia that surrounds our skeletal muscles, allowing for more growth to occur.
DEXTER’S TYPICAL ARM WORKOUT — Before Charles Glass
Preacher Curls 4×8-10
EZ-Bar 21s 4×21
Dumbbell Concentration Curls 4 x 8-10
One-Arm Machine Curls 4×10
(Elbow above shoulder joint)
Cable Pushdowns, V or Straight Bar 4-5 x 10
Skull-Crushers or Dip Machine 4-5 x 10
Rope Pushdowns 4-5 x 10
*Dexter performs tri-sets, or three exercises back to back without resting, for four to five rounds.
DEXTER’S TYPICAL ARM WORKOUT — TODAY
Machine Preacher Curls 4-5 x 8-10
Barbell or EZ-Bar Curls 4 x 8-10
Alternate Dumbbell Curls 4 x 8-10
Dumbbell Concentration Curls 4 x 8-10
Cable Pushdowns 4-5 x 8-10
Skull-Crushers 4 x 8-10
Overhead Cable Extensions 4 x 8-10
-TUESDAY: CHEST AND CALVES
-THURSDAY: DELTS AND HAMS
DEXTER’S PRO WINS
2002 British Grand Prix
2003 Show of Strength Championships
2004 Iron Man Pro
2004 San Francisco Pro
2004 Australian Pro
2005 Arnold Classic
2006 Arnold Classic
2007 Australian Pro
2008 Arnold Classic
2008 Australian Pro
2008 New Zealand Pro
2008 Romanian Pro
2008 Mr. Olympia
2011 FIBO Power, Germany
2011 Masters Pro World
2012 Masters Mr. Olympia
2013 Arnold Classic
2013 Australian Pro
2013 Tijuana Pro
2014 Dubai Open
2015 Arnold Classic
2015 Arnold Classic Australia
2015 Arnold Classic Europe
2015 Prague Pro
From: Muscular Development