Great Guns!

Four-time Figure Olympia Champ Nicole Wilkins shares her secret for arm-building success: supersets.

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It’s probably safe to say that IFBB pro figure competitor Nicole Wilkins doesn’t have a lot of time on her hands. The 2014 Figure Olympia champ is an adept businesswoman with a successful membership website, savvy social media skills, daily Tweets she composes herself and a gig as the new face of Phat Camp, the Jen Hendershott wellness colossus that continually draws 50 to 110 campers per session. 

It’s also probably safe to say Wilkins knows a thing or two about training. She has been in a gym for most of her life, either with gymnastics, dance, fitness or figure, and has dialed in her training protocol to a science. She knows what works for her and what doesn’t, which parts need ameliorating and which are solid. 

Arms are one of her solid parts. She is no longer looking to build additional size or shape in her biceps and triceps, and trains them once a week for maintenance. Over the years she has found that supersets work best for her to boost intensity while still breaking down muscle fiber, and the upshot: She doesn’t have to lift heavy and risk straining her joints. She also uses unique exercises when training arms that incorporate her core, back and legs to make her workout intense and challenging. 

Wilkins trains her arms with her chest, another part she is satisfied with in terms of development, and changes things up each time she works out. “Sometimes I rearrange the order and do chest, then bi’s then tri’s, or sometimes I do supersets of chest/bi, chest/bi, chest/tri, chest/tri. Or sometimes I will do tri sets where I go chest, tri, bi and repeat it. I mix it up a lot.” 

In terms of weight, Wilkins lifts fairly heavy, but not so heavy that she can’t get at least eight reps. On your next arm day, try her superset program for yourself and see how you fare. In a few months, you’ll be one step closer to calling your arms one of your solid parts.

Weekly Training Split

Monday: shoulders, abs 

Tuesday: back, abs 

Wednesday: quads, glutes, calves 

Thursday: chest, biceps, triceps, abs 

Friday: back, abs or off 

Saturday: hamstrings, glutes 

Sunday: off Off-season Wilkins runs for 45 minutes five to six days a week; contest time she adds another 45-minute cardio session after her strength workout six days a week.

Nicole Wilkins: Supersets For Super Arms Workout


Do the two moves in each superset for the allotted number of reps back to back with no rest in between, then rest 45 seconds before repeating. Complete all sets in a superset before moving to the next one. 

Superset 1

Medicine Ball Push-Up


Setup: Place both hands on a medicine ball and extend your legs behind you into a push-up position, with your head, hips and heels in line. 

Move: Bend your elbows and lower your chest toward the ball, keeping your arms in close to your sides. When your chest touches or nearly touches the ball, extend your arms quickly to return to the start. 

Tip: Spread your shoulder blades apart as you do this move to prevent sagging and to engage more muscles. You can also position your feet wider for better balance.

Incline Bench Barbell Spider Curl


Setup: Set an incline bench to slightly less than 45 degrees and lay belly-down while holding a barbell with a shoulder-width underhand grip. Allow your arms to hang straight toward the ground, draw your shoulders back and maintain a neutral spine. 

Move: Bend your elbows and raise the barbell up smoothly toward your chin, keeping your upper arms steady and your core tight. Pause a moment at the top and squeeze before lowering back down under control to prevent swinging. 

Tip: Doing this move while lying on a bench helps eliminate momentum and protects your lower back.

Superset 2

Behind-The-Knee Barbell Kickback


Setup: Stand in front of a barbell with your heels close to the center of the bar. Squat down with a flat back and pick up the barbell behind you, palms facing rearward. Stand up just enough so your chest almost touches your quads. Lift your elbows alongside your ribs and hold the barbell in the crook of your knees. 

Move: Maintain your body position as you extend your elbows and press the barbell in an arc up toward the ceiling. At the top, your arms should be completely extended and parallel to the floor. Squeeze hard, then slowly lower to the start. 

Tip: In order to lift the barbell past your butt and achieve full range of motion, you have to be in the correct position with your back flat, elbows high and arms straight.

Cambered bar curl (21s)


Setup: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a cambered bar on the inner grips with an underhand grip. 

Move: Curl the bar halfway up until your arms are 90 degrees, then lower to the start. Repeat six more times. Next, bring the bar to the halfway point, then curl all the way to the top and squeeze, then lower back to halfway. Repeat six more times. Finally, lower the bar to the start and do seven full reps from top to bottom to complete one set.

Superset 3

One-Arm Skullcrusher


Setup: Lie on a flat bench and hold one dumbbell straight up over your shoulder, palm facing inward and arm perpendicular to the floor. 

Move: With your non-working hand supporting your other arm at the lower triceps, bend your elbow and let the weight descend alongside your head, close to your ear. When you’ve come as low as you can, at least a 90-degree angle, extend your elbow and squeeze your triceps to raise it to the start. Do all reps on one side before switching. 

Tip: Control is key with this move, so go a little lighter until you get the correct form and full range of motion, then build from there.

Seated Barbell Curl


Setup: Sit on a bench that has a back support and hold a barbell with your hands outside your thighs using a shoulder-width underhand grip. Tuck your elbows in and flex your wrists. 

Move: Curl the barbell up off your thighs and raise it as high as you can, squeezing at the top. Lower slowly until you gently tap the legs, then repeat right away. 

Tip: Your forearms will get a tough workout with this move since they never get a break like they do with a traditional curl, so go a little lighter so they don’t burn out before your biceps do.

Superset 4

Stability Ball/Bench Dip


Setup: Sit on the edge of a bench and extend your legs on top of an exercise ball with your heels in the center. Place your hands on either side of you on the bench, fingers forward, and straighten your arms so your glutes are off the bench. 

Move: Bend your elbows and lower yourself down between the bench and the ball, keeping your back as close to the bench as possible. When your elbows are close to a 90-degree angle, press into the heels of your hands to extend your arms and return to the start. 

Tip: Press your heels into the ball and tighten your abs to help keep it steady as you do reps.

Dumbbell Incline Bench Curl


Setup: Set a bench to 45 degrees and sit on it with a dumbbell in each hand. Allow your arms to hang straight toward the floor with your palms facing outward. 

Move: Bend your elbows and raise the weights up in a smooth arc until you reach the top. Squeeze hard, then lower to the start under control. 

Tip: Keep your arms back with your elbows pointing toward the floor to focus the work on your biceps.

Learn From the Champ

Competitor or not, you can learn from Wilkins and her matter-of-fact can-do attitude when it comes to mental and physical preparations. Her strategies are uncomplicated — no mantras, no rituals, no crazy swing shift of training protocols; just steady progress and pragmatic decisions that take her one step closer to history-making with every event. 

“I treat every show the same, and train and diet just as hard,” she says. “Every one I do is as important as the last, and since the competitors are the best in the world, there is no room for error. Every time I prepare, it is such hard work that afterwards, if I win, it makes all those times when I was so dead or so hungry or so tired worth it. People think that at this level you’re immune to those things, but you’re not. You’re the same as everyone else when it comes right down to it.”

Photography by Cory Sorenson 

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