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The G'ology of Arms

Photography by James Cook

Gina Davis's 17-inch arms are some of the most awesome in women's bodybuilding.
Here's how she built them

When Gina Davis first joined a gym as a 20 year-old and started working out, the first thing that she noticed growing was her arms. After just a few months of serious training, she was seeing some serious size developing in her biceps and triceps. That might have freaked a lot of women out -- but not Gina. "I was like, 'Wow, I like this!'" she says in her broad Texas accent. "A lot of times females are like, 'I don't want to get bulky,' but I was like, 'Bring on the bulk.' I loved it."

Although she only started serious training when she was 20, Gina had actually loved the idea of muscles on women since she was a kid. An avid track athlete and basketball player as a child, when she was in junior high she saw Cory Everson for the first time on ESPN and was mesmerized by her muscular-yet-feminine body. "I was like, 'That's it, that's what a female should look like,'" she says.

The 34 year-old from Houston, Texas, is now a top national-level bodybuilder and recently placed seventh in the heavyweights at the NPC Nationals, moving up six places on the previous year. As for her arms, which have always been her best bodypart, they are now among the most awesome in women's bodybuilding. In fact, Gina's arms, which measure 17 inches, are so well-developed that the biggest problem she has is stopping them detracting from the rest of her upper body when she's onstage. "My shoulders are big but whenever I stand in the front relaxed position, they give the illusion they aren't because my biceps are so overwhelming," she says.

But, needless to say, Gina has no intention of compromising on her arm training now. "I like having bigger biceps!" she says. "So instead of sacrificing my biceps size, I'm just going to train the hell out of my delts!"

The basics

Not all of us are as genetically gifted as Gina Davis in the arm department But Gina says with hard work anyone, male or female, can get well-developed arms. "Your work ethic in the gym is the key player," she says. "I began this journey with larger than average arms but I've never been squeamish about pushing them to the limit with each workout."

Whether you're a man or a woman, however, Gina says there is a big danger of overtraining arms. Limited sets and reps and heavy weight is the way to go: "The bicep and tricep are relatively small muscle groups, so doing something like 6 sets of 15 each is overkill. You can get a lot more done with lower sets and reps and heavier weight than you can with extreme volume training with arms." Gina uses heavy weights year round and usually does 3 sets of 10-12 reps for each exercise.

Gina also stresses that beginners and intermediates should generally focus on maintaining good form when training arms. "There is a bit of 'cheating' involved when you are nearing the end of a killer superset or heavy curl exercise that is tolerable as long as you aren't slinging the weight and doing backbends to get it up," she says.


Gina trains her biceps after working her back and typically starts with a standing barbell curl movement. This exercise is her primary mass builder, and she performs 3 sets of 12 with challenging poundages (for Gina this typically means starting with 60-pound barbell and working up to 100 pounds). The form is with the legs in a shoulder-width stance with elbows down by the sides. "I really focus on not moving my elbows from that position," she says. "I see a lot of what I call 'roll ups' where elbows are pushed behind the back and the weight looks as if it is being rolled up the abdominal area -- not good form at all."

After doing 3 sets of standing barbell curls, Gina goes on to either incline dumbbell curls or concentration curls. Depending on her mood, she may do a drop set during this exercise. "For these particular exercises I will forego the heavy duty stuff and pick a weight that is a bit lighter and go for really squeezing the heck out of my biceps at the top of the contraction."

Lastly, and most importantly, Gina likes to do a set focusing on negatives. "I lovingly call this 'burnouts!'" she says. We'll let her explain it: "It involves getting on the hammer strength preacher curl machine with the appropriate weight for your strength level minus a little due to what follows. I have my spotter pull down on the weight as I go into the eccentric (negative) phase of the exercise and help a bit on the concentric phase. Once I feel sufficiently 'burned.' I will pump out as many as I can unassisted. Trust me, this exercise is a killer if done properly. People are constantly asking me how I got my biceps so big. Well, combined with my genetics, this exercise is what I think has been the biggest factor."


After finishing training chest, Gina usually starts her triceps workout with standing overhead dumbbell extensions and then moves on to skullcrushers (lying triceps extensions) with an EZ-curl bar on an incline bench. "I consider skullcrushers to be my best overall mass builder for triceps," she says. "I choose incline because it pre-stretches the triceps therefore providing a better contraction of the muscle while it is taken through a wider range of motion. I focus on keeping my elbows pointed at the ceiling and only forearms move at the elbow joint lowering the weight to top of head then raising it back up until arms are fully extended."

After that, Gina goes to a cable movement of some sort such as cable pushdowns with a straight bar, altering her hand placement to emphasize the head she is working. "First I start with my elbows close to the body with my hands wide to emphasize the long head of the triceps. Then I move my hands in a bit so that my hands are shoulder-width to work the medial head, which is good for overall size. Finally, I will move my hands to a very narrow grip with elbows out a bit to emphasize the lateral head of the triceps to help with the horseshoe appearance of the triceps."

Gina's Training Split

Monday: delts/traps/calves
Tuesday: quads/abs
Wednesday: chest/triceps/calves
Thursday: back/rear delts/biceps/abs
Friday: Hamstrings

To finish off, Gina moves on to a superset of bench dips (i.e. bodyweight only) and then some close grip push-ups on the same bench to finish them off. "These will embarrass you in a hurry if you are sufficiently fatigued from your previous exercises," she laughs. "There have been more than a few times when I was at the bottom of the movement on bench dips and just had to take a seat on the floor for lack of being able to push myself back up! I like saving these for last for the muscle maturity they provide and to ensure that I have pushed my triceps to the maximum."