Today we’re taking a look at one of the strangest bits of gym paraphernalia around – The Arm Blaster. What is it? And is it even worth using? I’m going to give you the rundown.
QUICK SUMMARY: Yes, Arm Blasters do work, but so do other curl variations that don’t require special equipment.
That said, if you want to get all freaky with your curls, just like Arnie, Rogue makes a good quality arm blaster.
Arm Blasters generally consist of a stiff leather or plastic pad, hung from a harness around the neck, which is contoured to the user’s torso. The pad juts out on either side so that the user’s triceps rest (not always comfortably!) against it.
As none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger above demonstrates, the user is now able to isolate their biceps and curl without the aid of momentum.
Should you be racing to purchase one?
A BRIEF (nON)HISTORY OF THE ARM BLASTER
It’s not entirely clear who invented the Arm Blaster. For all we know, they may have just popped straight into existence; a ghostly gift from the muscle gods.
An image search for Arm Blasters does return a lot of Arnold Schwarzenegger photos from the 70s though, so we might as well just credit the contraption to the Austrian Oak.
HOW DO I USE THE ARM BLASTER?
For successful arm-blasting, you’ll want to do the following:
- Place the harness around your neck.
- Adjust the straps so the pad sits just under your sternum (perhaps an inch under your chest).
- Sit the back of your arms (triceps) against the pad on either side of you. Your arms should now be facing outwards.
- Admire how great your arms look (optional, but highly recommended).
- Curl whilst maintaining contact with the pad.
If you can’t quite feel the burn, try turning your wrists outwards such that your palms face slightly away from each other.
A great video tutorial can be found here.
DO ARM BLASTERS REALLY WORK?
When performing an upright curl with either a dumbbell or barbell, isolating the biceps can be difficult. In curling, as in life, we generally take the path of least resistance.
But see, while you may be tempted to cheat at the gym, a bit of grit is the only way to get those arms all muscular and awesome.
Let’s first consider isolation.
The anterior deltoid and brachialis in particular often activate whilst curling, turning the curl into somewhat of a compound exercise. Now, compound exercises are great, but you’re not curling to achieve that total whole body workout. I hope not, anyway. Assuming you’re curling to work your biceps brachii (the two bicep heads), you should be looking to take your delts and brachialis out of the equation.
A 2014 study carried out at the University of Wisconsin, suggested that the incline curl and concentration curl both involve very little activation of the anterior deltoid, whilst the preacher curl (Cousin of the Arm-Blaster curl) involved little activation of the brachialis. Notice that these curl variations all make it difficult to swing the arm forward whilst curling. The researchers concluded that the concentration curl is likely the overall lord of the biceps exercises, given it both isolates and activates the biceps brachii to a great extent.
Now, what about momentum?
Given the above results, you might be wondering if there’s any point to regular dumbbell or barbell curls, given the risk of momentum. Fear not, momentum remains a powerful tool if used correctly.
Whilst curl variations like the concentration curl and yes – the Arm Blaster curl – will prevent you from using momentum and isolate the biceps brachii nicely, they’re not everything.
A study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology studying the impact of momentum on muscular force in resistance exercise found that using a moderate amount of momentum on the first rep of each set of a given exercise, such as a curl, can allow for heavier and more effective loading on the target muscle.
To put it simply, you might be able to perfectly isolate your biceps doing strict, 7.5kg concentration curls, but don’t discount a few ‘good form’ 20kg cheat curls.
Also consider that with strict curl variations such as the concentration curl, you tend to suddenly hit a wall when fatigue sets in. For bodybuilding purposes, being able to go ‘beyond’ the point of failure to further fatigue the target muscle can be useful, and momentum is one way to do this. Drop-sets are another way to do this, but you need to either run the rack or keep a stash of dumbbells at your feet. And really, who can be bothered? Cheat curls all the way, yep yep.
ARE ARM BLASTERS REALLY NECESSARY?
An Arm-Blaster curl is basically a standing preacher curl. As such, they ought to provide a decent level of isolation and bicep brachii activation.
Are they necessary? Not really. If your goal is isolation, you’re likely to have just as much success doing concentration curls, incline curls, or preacher curls. Keep in mind that none of these variations involve straps that can break on you whilst exercising. Food for thought.
If you’re still not sure whether an arm blaster is for you, take this short quiz:
- 1. Do struggle to feel your biceps working during preacher, incline, and/or concentration curls?
- 2. Do you lack access to a bench, pad, or chair to do preacher, incline and/or concentration curls?
- 3. Are you okay with spending $30-50 for a novel but mostly unnecessary piece of gym gear?
If you replied yes to at least two out of three, then congratulations – an Arm Blaster might be for you!
Seriously though, get one with decent straps. If a strap breaks on you mid-set you’ll hurt both your body and ego. As the old saying goes, “Structurally sound gym-gear will reduce your risk of injury whilst exercising.” Ah, sage words indeed.
Additionally, look for an Arm Blaster with comfortable pads, particularly if you’re packing sizable guns. Mangling your triceps against a tough plastic pad is about as bad as it sounds.
If you replied no to at least two out of three, well, I’m shocked you’re still here. You’re a sensible, no-nonsense athlete. Keep hitting the classic curl variations and you’ll be just fine.
See you next time,