Training arms with Bill Pearl

by Al Myers

Bill Pearl performing a standing Barbell Curl.

Thom’s story the other day about Bill Pearl and his leg training got me thinking about the great Bill Pearl and his training.  I always greatly admired Bill Pearl’s physique, and consider it the IDEAL muscular build.  I know nowadays the trend in bodybuilding is to build muscular mass to the extreme, but in doing so it portrays a body image that is unrealistic for any normal individual. It is hard for me to look at today’s top bodybuilders and feel a sense of inspiration, as their body’s muscularity is “way over the top”.  It’s more a freak show to me than anything else.  Totally unattainable for anyone who wants to lift weights naturally, be healthy,  and still have a life of going to work everyday and raising a family.  When you look at the old pictures of Bill Pearl – you see a man who built his outstanding physique through hard work and proper diet, utilizing the same things that are available to the vast majority of weight trainees.  At least you feel that you might be able to accomplish the same thing he did (but that’s probably unlikely as well as not everyone is blessed with the muscle building genetics and symmetry that Bill Pearl has!!!)

I always thought Bill Pearl’s strong areas were his arms.  He had deep muscular triceps and very big balanced biceps. His arms had “the look” that they were very strong as well as being impressive in sight.  I like to read old lifting magazines for my training knowledge instead of the new muscle ”rags”.  I feel the information in the old magazines to be  more truthful.  Last night I ran across an article in the January, 1968 issue of Dan Lurie’s Muscle Training written by Bill Pearl, titled How to Build Big Arms.  It was a great article, and one in which I’m going to share part of here as to Bill’s favorite arm exercises outlined in his article.  You will notice that these exercises are not anything new and secret.  Instead they are basic movements that are often overlooked by lifters who are on the constant search for the latest and newest training program.  Most of the time the BEST training programs are the ones that have been tried and used successfully by the many – not the latest fab program used by the few.  Now onto Bill Pearl’s arm program!

A couple more of Bill Pearl's favorite arm exercises.

EXERCISE NO. 1 – TRICEPS PUSH DOWN ON LAT MACHINE

He recommended 4 sets of 10 reps, and emphasized  keeping good technique – arms’ to the sides of the body keeping the elbows in a “fixed” position, and performing complete extension on each repetition.

EXERCISE NO. 2 – SEATED DUMBBELL CURLS

Again he recommended 4 sets of 8-10 reps, and using good form.  Keep the back straight, and perform full curl movements. Keep the curls strict and do not swing the weights.

Still more of Pearl's arm favorites!

EXERCISE NO. 3 – TRICEPS EXTENSIONS WITH BARBELL

He liked doing this exercise standing with a regular barbell with 4 sets of 8 reps. After reading his description it seemed practically identically to our USAWA rules for the FRENCH PRESS.  He keep the elbows high, and even stated that he used an 8 inch hand spacing (the USAWA rules for the French Press call for a 6 inch spacing).  He performed it very strictly.

EXERCISE NO. 4 – TRICEP DIPS ON STOOLS

Here he recommended 3 sets of 10-12 reps. He braced himself across two stools with his feet supported on a bench (see picture). One interesting thing Bill mentioned was to have your feet HIGHER than your hands, as it forces the triceps to work harder. Take the dip as low as you can go. He preferred the stool dip over the parallel bar dip.

EXERCISE NO. 5 – STANDING BARBELL CURLS

Again 4 sets of 8-10 reps. He liked doing them strict. These are his words, “Do NOT press your elbows into your sides. Do NOT swing the barbell. Do NOT bend over backwards.”

There you go – a very simple 5 exercise arm program that will make functionally arm strength and size improvements. Anything that is “good enough” for Bill Pearl is good enough for me!!!

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