Hitting the gym every day is great for your mental health and overall physical well-being, but we’d be lying if we said we didn’t do it for the gains. Strong legs and six-pack abs are nice, but big arms are part of every man’s fitness goals. The male affinity for buff biceps harks back to the caveman era when a man needed to have strong arms to hurl a spear at their prey from a far-off distance and carry his kill back to home base. Strong arms were a requirement if you wanted to survive and provide for your family; otherwise, well.. you’re dead.
We might be far more advanced than our caveman ancestors today, but those instincts are still alive and well within us today and still serve a purpose. Strong arms help carry groceries, children, and equipment, but it also shows the world that you’re a fit, capable man who takes care of himself first so he can take care of others. A regular gym routine is a healthy habit and shows discipline, which is a skill that important to have in both work and personal settings. Appearance and perception are huge factors when it comes to our identity, and having a set of well-built arms goes a long way toward inspiring confidence and self-esteem.
In this article, we’ve rounded up the best exercises primarily focused on the two main muscle groups of the arms: the triceps and biceps. For a complete upper body workout, check out some of the best shoulder exercises, HIIT workouts, and ab workouts as well.
Best Tricep Exercises
If you know anything about fitness, you know that biceps are just vanity muscles. The true powerhouse of the arm is the triceps, those muscles that light at the back of the upper arm and which hold the key to strengthening your arms and maximizing power.
Cable-Rope Tricep Extension
Execution: Attach a cable rope to a cable machine at the highest position and set the weight to something comfortable, but also heavy enough that you will be on the verge of muscle failure after your last set. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, about one to two feet away from the machine, and grasp the individual rope ends in each hand. While keeping your elbows tucked tightly to your torso (with a braced core and a straight lower back at a slight incline), extend your arms downward until you’ve reached your maximum extension. Then slowly bring your arms back up, focusing on squeezing your triceps as you do so. You can use resistance bands as an alternative here.
Execution: Grab a couple of your best dumbbells or barbells (lighter is better for this exercise since form is the most important part of completing this set) and lay down on a weight bench. Push your shoulder blades together, tighten your core, and place your arms perpendicular to your body and the floor. They should be vertical and directly above your shoulders. While maintaining the position of your upper arm (with elbows always directly above your shoulders), use your forearms to slowly lower the dumbbells until they reach the level of your ears or the EZ Bar just above your head. Once there, slowly lift the dumbbells back up to vertical. While performing this movement, focus on contracting the triceps throughout.
Reps: 8-10 (per arm)
Execution: Select a dumbbell or kettlebell that weighs the same as what you use for bicep curls (see below). Position yourself on a weight bench so that your left knee and left hand are in alignment on the bench with your right leg on the floor and right arm grasping a dumbbell. Straighten your back, tighten your core, slightly bend your right leg, and lift your arm so that your upper arm is parallel and alongside your torso with your forearm perpendicular to the floor. Keep your elbow tucked and raise your forearm backward until your arm is fully extended back and parallel with your body. Once you reach this point, slowly lower your forearm until is it back to perpendicular. Repeat for the left with all limb positions mirrored. Note: Many trainers feel this exercise is too strenuous on most peoples’ shoulders. However, we believe that the strain comes from lifting weights that are too heavy. Lighten your load, focus on form, and you’ll prevent injury and shoulder strain.
Execution: You’ll need a pull-up bar for this one. Using an overhand grip, grasp the bar with your arms shoulder-width apart. Keeping your arms close to your body, a tight core, and straight legs, use your arms to lift yourself until your chin and head come over the bar. Slowly lower yourself back to a full-hanging extension. That’s one rep. Repeat while maintaining good form. Remember also to not use momentum or a kick of the legs to help you get over the bar — that won’t help your arms, it will just complicate your movement and work other muscles you’re not focused on.
Equipment needed: None
Execution: Get into a push-up position with your hands positioned on the floor where your index fingers and thumbs touch their respective counterparts to form a “diamond” shape (though it technically looks more like a spade). While maintaining a tight core and a straight back, bend your elbows and lower yourself until your torso is just barely above the floor. Slowly come back to the starting position, all the while keeping your hands firmly together and centered below your torso. The diamond push-up not only carves your triceps but also works your shoulders and chest.
Best Bicep Exercises
Just because biceps are a vanity muscle doesn’t mean they should be ignored. These workouts will help you build those buff biceps that give you that classic Arnold Schwarzenegger-like pump.
Dumbbell Bicep Curl
Execution: Grab a pair of dumbbells in each hand and stand with your legs shoulder-width apart. Select a weight that will put you right at muscle failure at the end of this exercise. To begin, keep your elbow tucked tightly against your side and your upper arm parallel with your torso (along with the obligatory tight core), bend your right arm at the elbow, and curl with palms facing up until the weight reaches your shoulder. Lower slowly, keeping tension on the muscle before repeating with the left arm. Once both arms have completed a dumbbell curl, count one rep.
EZ Bar Curls
Execution: Use a free-weight EZ Bar (or one with a cable machine if a free-weight version is not available) set to a weight of around a few dozen pounds less than you bench press. Then grab the bar with both hands (palms facing up) and in unison curl your arms until the bar reaches your chest. Try to keep your elbows aligned and as close to your sides if possible. Make sure to keep a straight back, with shoulders back, and a strong stance.
Execution: Sit on a bench with your legs apart and grab a dumbbell in your right hand. Let your armrest on your right thigh, while holding it perpendicular to the floor. Curl your arm, keeping your elbow placed on your thigh while consciously concentrating on tightening and contracting your bicep. Once the dumbbell reaches your shoulder, slowly uncurl your arm, maintaining that same focus on your bicep. A lighter weight is generally used for this move because of its limited range of motion and intense focus on one muscle.
Execution: Reach up and grab a pull-up bar with an underhand grip (palms facing you) with your arms shoulder-width apart, your core tight, and legs straight. Raise yourself up until your chin reaches the bar using only your arms and specifically your biceps. Hold that position for one count and then lower slowly. Repeat four to six times for four to five sets.
Incline Hammer Curls
Execution: Set up a bench at a 45- to a 60-degree angle and lie back with your arms hanging on each side and directly below your shoulders. Take a dumbbell in each hand (you’ll want to make these lighter than your bicep curl dumbbells’ by at least five pounds) and position it so that your palms are facing inward toward your torso. Then, curl your arm, maintaining the inward-facing palm, until the dumbbell reaches your shoulder. Release and let down slowly. Repeat with the other arm. That’s one rep.
If you really want to get fit, though, you’re going to need more than just these ten exercises. But hey, a trainer’s expensive. Opt instead for a great workout app.
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