Do you envy people with the perfect arms? The good news is you don’t need a complicated regimen to work your triceps and biceps. Neither do you have to be intimidated by all equipment at the local gym. There’s plenty a newbie can do for a set of well-toned arms – with or without access to a full-fledged gym.
Intersperse arm workouts with exercises for other muscle groups. Healthy adults can get in a set of 8 to 12 repetitions of each exercise. The sweet spot is between 8 and 10 exercises for each muscle group.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a mix of cable curls, dumbbell curls, pressdowns, kickbacks, and dips to work your arm muscles, both the triceps and the biceps.1 So here is a roundup of some of the best exercises you could do.
1. Overhead Triceps Stretch
An overhead triceps stretch is a simple stretch that can work those triceps. The best part is you don’t need any equipment for this exercise. Here’s how you do it:2
- Begin with your feet hip distance apart and move your shoulders back and down.
- Reach up to the ceiling with your right hand, taking care that your shoulders stay away from the ears.
- Now bend your right elbow as you bring your right hand down to the center of your back, palm side touching your back.
- Reach your left hand up to the ceiling next, and then bring it down so the fingertips rest on the right arm just above your elbow.
- To deepen this stretch, try applying a light pressure with your fingers.
- Hold the pose for 15 to 30 seconds. Make the stretches deeper with each repetition.
2. Chest Press
If you have access to a barbell and bench, this is a great arm-toning exercise that also works your chest and shoulders. Try and have a friend or trainer act as your spotter to help you with the barbell if needed.3
- Lie on your back on a flat bench, your hands just a little more than shoulder-width apart, holding the barbell firmly.
- Push your feet – which should remain flat – into the ground. Press your hips into the bench as you lift the bar up off its rack.
- Bring the bar slowly down to your chest, letting your elbows bend a little out to each side.
- Continue lowering it until your elbows are a little below the bench. Push your feet into the floor to enable you to press the weight of the barbell up and return it to its starting position.
3. Hammer Curl
Another good beginner exercise to tone the arms is the hammer curl.4 You only require dumbbells for this one, so no major investments there! Simply follow these steps:
- Stand with dumbbells in each hand and feet shoulder-width apart.
- Curl your dumbbells up to your shoulders, rotating your hands but taking care to keep the upper arm stationary as you do so. Your thumbs will face your shoulders.
- You will feel your biceps contract fully. When this happens, hold your position and squeeze the muscle before bringing your arm back to the original position.
4. Biceps Curls
Bicep curls are also done with a dumbbell and, as the name suggests, work on the biceps.5
- Keep your arms extended with elbows straight and down by your side, as you stand comfortably with feet shoulder-width apart.
- Bend your arm at the elbow and rotate your forearm so that your palms face your torso as you bring the weights up to chin height.
- Slowly lower the weights back to the start position.
5. Triceps Kickback
Tricep kickbacks are an exercise you’re quite likely to have seen someone doing at the gym or in workout videos online. This is a great way to sculpt those arms, provided you manage your posture and technique right. Do it wrong and you could wind up straining your back, so be careful and take it slow.6
- Take a dumbbell in just your left hand. Stand with your right leg slightly forward and your weight balanced evenly through the heels of your feet. Engage your core and abdominal muscles to keep the spine stable. Place the right hand on the right thigh and lean forward so the weight from your upper body moves to the right. Align the head with the spine.
- Now bend your arm at the left elbow and lift your left upper arm toward your chest, keeping it parallel to the torso by your side. Your forearm should now be nearly perpendicular to the ground.
- Exhale as you straighten the left elbow, keeping the upper arm stationary and in place close to the torso. Your lower back mustn’t sag and your torso should not rotate – this can strain your back or leave you with a badly pulled muscle.
- Inhale as you bend the elbow, bringing your arm back to its original position. Again, ensure your torso stays in place and your upper arm is close to and parallel to the torso.
6. Triceps Pushdowns
Another effective triceps exercise! But to make the most of it, you must perfect your technique. Be especially mindful of how your elbows are positioned – they must not drift forward because that would end up working the back muscles rather than your arms. You will need access to a cable machine for this exercise.7
- Stand in front of the cable machine and set it up so that the cable attachment is above your head.
- Grip the handle firmly with both hands, your thumbs clasping it firmly. Let your feet be in a walking style position – a little staggered or simply hip-distance apart.
- Stabilize your spine by actively engaging your abdominal muscles. Align your torso vertically to the ground and pull your shoulders down and back.
- Bring the handles down to the start position, which is when your elbows line up with the midsection of your trunk. Your wrists must be neutral and in line with the forearms.
- Breathe out, straightening the elbows and pressing the handle and rope down to the floor slowly. The movement must be smooth and controlled.
- Continue this until you feel your elbows straighten – but not locked. Hold this for a moment or two, bend the elbows again, and come back slowly to the start position.
7. Seated High Back Row
Another cable machine workout which employs a wide-bar handle, this targets your arms as well as back and shoulders.8
- Sit in front of the cable machine on a bench, facing it, with your feet firmly on the floor. Ensure your back is straight and the knees bent.
- Hold the bar at the straight section, palms facing the floor. Your elbows will be wide.
- Pull the bar toward the top section of your chest.
- Once it grazes your chest, hold for a second before straightening your arms slowly in a controlled manner to return the weight back to its origin.
8. Modified Chin-Ups
A variant on the traditional chin-up, this delivers great results for upper arm toning. You just need a simple piece of exercise equipment called the chin-up bar. Adjust this so it is at chest level before you begin.9
- Grip the bar with both hands, curling your fingers around them so your palms face you.
- Extend your legs ahead of you so that just the heels of your feet rest on the ground. The further you extend your feet in front, the more load your arms have to bear, and the more challenging this exercise becomes.
- Now pull your body upward so that your chin just clears the bar, your body is at an incline and your spine is aligned with the neck to avoid strain.
- Next, lower your body down so the elbows are fully extended. Repeat.
9. Bench Dips
Bench dips can be done almost anywhere because you don’t have to necessarily have a “bench” to do them. Even a stable chair or park bench or level platform can work.10
- Sit on a bench with your hands resting shoulder-distance apart on the bench, fingers pointing forward.
- Lift your rear off the bench and straighten your arms to elevate yourself.
- Dip your body down until you find your arms at a 90-degree angle before you begin to straighten them again and raise your body up once more.
10. Bent Knee Push-Up
A good old school push-up can be a good way to get your arms fit too. Try this bent knee variant if you are a beginner. Get a mat to avoid bruising your knees and hands and to cushion yourself.11
- Go down on all fours with your hands below your shoulders, fingers forward, knees aligned below the hips. Your shoulders should be back and down and your abdominal muscles engaged.
- Modify how your knees are positioned so that your knees, torso, and head line up. Your hips must not bend and your core must stay engaged.
- Keep your torso firm and the spine and head aligned. Bend at your elbows and bring your body down toward the ground. Keep lowering yourself until your chin or chest graze the mat. Be careful not to let that lower back sag or hips push up. Your elbows should still be close to your body on either side.
- Now push your body upward using your arms until your elbows are straight again.
|↑1||Resistance Training for Health and Fitness. American College of Sports Medicine.|
|↑2||Overhead Triceps Stretch. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑3||Chest Press. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑4, ↑10||Lovitt, Michelle, and John Speraw. Exercise for Your Muscle Type: The Smart Way to Get Fit. Basic Health Publications, Inc., 2004.|
|↑5, ↑9||Stamford, Bryant. “Toning the Upper Arms.” The Physician and sports medicine 27, no. 9 (1999): 91-92.|
|↑6||Triceps Kickback. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑7||Triceps Pushdowns. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑8||Seated High Back Row. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑11||Bent Knee Push-up. American Council on Exercise.|