10 Competitors With Some of the Best Arms in Bodybuilding

Who are the greatest stars of the gun show?

In the world of competitive bodybuilding, specific competitors have been made famous for arm development that challenges one’s perception of what’s achievable. Of course, every elite competitor who steps on stage has impressive arms that regular folks covet, so discussing the best arms in bodybuilding is no easy feat.

The following 10 competitors on this list stand out for the size and structure of their arms. Bodybuilding is subjective, and the debate could go on and on, but the following athletes most definitely deserve to be a part of the conversation.

Leroy Colbert

Born in 1933 in New York, Leroy Colbert is credited as the first man to develop defined 21-inch biceps (21-inches and a quarter to be exact). He is also known for pioneering a handful of now-infamous training techniques.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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His most significant contribution is as the inventor of the now-infamous 21s curls — where you perform seven curls from the bottom to halfway up, seven curls from your chest to halfway down, and then seven full curls. He also standardized training the arms in alternating fashion — biceps, triceps, and biceps — which is commonplace in physique sports.

Notably, Colbert is also credited with being the first black man to be featured on the cover of Muscle Power magazine. Colbert’s competitive resume doesn’t carry as much weight as some of the other names on this list, but he won Mr. New York City in 1952 and Mr. Eastern America in 1953. Colbert died in 2015 at the age of 82.

Larry Scott

Sixteen men can claim the title of Mr. Olympia, but only Larry Scott can say he was the first. The 1965 and 1966 Olympia champion boasted a well-rounded physique, but his arms were by far his most lauded body part.

The preacher curl is also known as the “Scott Curl” because bodybuilding historians recognize him as the first to perform curls for the biceps with the upper arm placed against a pad or bench. His triceps were very well developed, but they weren’t as famous as his peaking biceps.

Sergio Oliva

Sergio Oliva is the subject of what may be one of the most famous images in bodybuilding history. The photo depicts the three-time Mr. Olympia standing next to a pool table, donning a fedora and tapered polo with a zebra-print collar. Oliva is gripping a pool cue in a GQ-esque pose. His arms bulging through his shirt and covering almost the entirety of his torso. By today’s standard — nearly 50 years after the photo was snapped — the size of Oliva’s arms is still shocking.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Whether Oliva was performing his signature “victory pose” — in which he flexed both of his arms overhead — or assumed a standard front double biceps, Oliva’s arms were gawked at by both fans and rivals. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger, Oliva’s greatest adversary, has admitted to being intimidated by the sheer size of the Cuban.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Seven-time Mr. Olympia Arnold Schwarzenegger is the most recognizable name in the sport’s history thanks to his dominant reign on stage and his successful movie career and stint as the Governor of California. As a competitor, Schwarzenegger was known for his full chest and his biceps, which formed a mountainous shape when flexed (known as a peak).

The Governator isn’t shy about sharing his secrets to success. In his book “Arnold Schwarzenegger’s New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding,” he wrote that focusing on the muscles instead of the weights was key for building his massive arms.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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“When you think about the weight instead of the muscle, you can’t really feel what the muscle is doing. You lose control,” Schwarzenegger wrote. “So you end up not working to the limits of your range of motion, not contracting and extending the muscle in a smooth, intense, controlled manner.”

Two of the former California Governor’s favorite exercises were the classic barbell curl for the biceps and the kneeling cable triceps extensions for the back of the arm. He used this same philosophy when performing these exercises.

“Because I am thinking about the muscle, I can feel everything that is happening to it.”

Lou Ferrigno

When Schwarzenegger was the king of bodybuilding, no one thought he could be outsized. Then Lou Ferrigno came along. The former Mr. Universe winner was three inches taller (6’5″ to Schwarzenegger’s stature of 6’2″), and every muscle group was as big or bigger.

Ferrigno’s biceps were impressive, but it was his triceps that made his arms look like he was from another planet. They were round and detailed with visible muscle fibers. Ferrigno wasn’t all show, either. He went on to compete in the first World’s Strongest Man contest.

Ferrigno never beat Schwarzenegger on stage, and he didn’t win the Olympia. However, his arms are one reason why he is still regarded as a bodybuilding legend.

Lee Priest

Standing 5’5″, Lee Priest was more often than not the shortest competitor in any lineup. However, the Australian superstar sported incredible upper arm development, which included large forearms.

In particular, Priest was known for training with heavy weights in the six to eight rep range (similar to bodybuilders Dorian Yates and Mike Mentzer). He applied this training method to free weight movements like dumbbell curls and machine movements such as triceps pushdowns.

He won three IFBB Pro League shows and competed on the Olympia stage six times, placing as high as sixth on three different occasions.

Ronnie Coleman

Many fans consider Ronnie Coleman to be the greatest bodybuilder of all time. For one, the Texas native won eight Mr. Olympia competitions (the most ever, tied with Lee Haney). Secondly, far and away, Coleman was the largest Mr. Olympia ever to set foot on stage. At his heaviest on stage, he weighed 297 pounds (shredded). Amazingly, Coleman’s physique was still balanced and symmetrical. Despite sweeping quads, a barn door back, and rounded deltoids, his arms — specifically his biceps — still stood out.

“My favorite two for biceps are seated preacher curls and one arm concentration curls,” Coleman wrote to BarBend in an email. “My favorites for triceps are dips and lying triceps extensions with an EZ-Curl bar.” The former police officer performed three to four sets of 15-20 reps of each movement.

Markus Ruhl

For many bodybuilding fans of the early 2000s, the words “freak” and “mass monster” were typically directed at Markus Ruhl. According to Muscle Memory, Ruhl stands 5’10” and competed at a weight of around 270 pounds. He was the champion of the Toronto Pro in 2000 and the Night of Champions in 2002. He also placed third in the 2003 Arnold Classic.

In both of his victories, Ruhl’s arms were considered among his best body parts. The fans would come out in droves to see him guest pose during his offseason because he would weigh over 300 pounds, and his arms were even bigger. Ruhl retired from competition in 2010.

Phil Heath

The undisputed best bodybuilder of the 2010s is Phil “The Gift” Heath. The seven-time Mr. Olympia worked very hard to remain atop the sport against rivals such as Kai Greene. Still, it doesn’t hurt that he was genetically blessed with incredible arm development. Heath’s hard work helped him maximize that arm potential.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Among his favorite exercises were what he called “Heath Curls.” Instead of alternating each arm, he would perform several reps on one side before switching to the other. He also preferred using thick grips on the handles to provide an even greater challenge to the forearms and biceps.

Roelly Winklaar

Winklaar is coming off an 11th place finish at the 2021 Mr. Olympia, but his arms were still as great as they ever were. Many champions with great arms are known for their biceps. Winklaar is associated with the triceps because of the overall size he carries on the back of the arm. His arms measure in at 23 inches and his forearms 20 inches. 

Winklaar likes to train triceps with the chest, and he enjoys doing reverse-grip triceps pushdowns and dumbbell kickbacks. He finds that both of those exercises helped him add size and detail to the triceps. Like Coleman, he kept the reps to around 15 per set.

Featured Images: @philheath and schwarzeneggerboss on Instagram