Having a strong set of arms is integral to maintaining a healthy and balanced life. Weak arms in the past meant a man couldn’t carry his kill while hunting (unless he had some friends to help) or might not have even been able to hurl a spear hard enough to take down a deer. And if you couldn’t do either of those, well… you’re dead.
In the modern era, not only does having a pair of well-built arms help in carrying groceries, children, sandbags, and the like, but it also serves as a visual cue to the public that you’re the kind of guy who takes enough pride in himself and has enough care for his own health, nutrition, and fitness to workout regularly or go to the gym. And that’s not something to scoff at. 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, even more so than weight loss in some cases.
In this article, we’ve limited the recommended exercises to those that focus primarily on the two main muscle groups of the arms: the triceps and biceps. Though we’ve also found some of the best shoulder exercises and ab workouts as well.
Best Tricep Exercises
As much as we’d like to think that our biceps make up the majority of our arm, or upper body in general, the fact of the matter is: 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 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.
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
As mentioned above, for the most part, biceps are strictly a vanity muscle. Why, you might be wondering? Well, much like your pecs, the real world doesn’t often require a range of motion or maneuver that would work your bicep so much that it builds up to the point that it resembles a cupcake under your skin.
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 close to your sides if possible. Make sure to keep a straight back, with shoulders back, and a strong stance.
- Reps: 10-12
- Sets: 3-4
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.
- Reps: 4-6
- Sets: 4-5
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
- Reps: 12
- Sets: 4-5
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 dumbells 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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