While the arms are not an area of the body many of us neglect in the gym – who doesn’t want bigger arms? – all too often people’s repertoire of arm exercises doesn’t extend far beyond biceps curls.
That’s an issue if you want to add strength or size to your arms, if only because it’s the triceps that actually make up the bulk of your upper arms. To fill up your arm exercise playbook, we enlisted Mila Lazar, head of HIIT at boutique gym Another_Space, and Keith McNiven, founder of personal training company Right Path Fitness, for advice.
“Working your arms doesn’t have to involve a ton of equipment, or be a laborious task,” says Lazar. “Not only will the moves below give you more defined arms, but they also work various other muscle groups at the same time.”
Here, Lazar and McNiven detail their picks of the best arm exercises for beginner, intermediate and advanced gym-goers.
Beginner Arm Exercises
Dumbbell overhead triceps extension
“This is a simple move that really isolates your triceps muscles,” says Lazar. “Hold a dumbbell in both hands and lift it above your head until your arms are fully extended. Lower the dumbbell behind your head by bending your elbows, and then return back to the fully extended position.”
Standing biceps curl
“Hold a dumbbell in each hand, keeping your elbows in line with your torso,” says Lazar. “Curl the weights up towards your shoulders, then back down towards your hips.”
Dumbbell overhead press
“I always include the overhead press in my training because it strengthens joints as well as improving your upper-body strength,” says Lazar. “Hold two dumbbells at head height with your elbows bent at a 90° angle. Press the dumbbells above your head, fully extending your arms.”
Intermediate Arm Exercises
“If you’re at the gym find a bench for this exercise,” says McNiven. “And if you’re at home or outdoors, a chair or park bench will work equally well.
“Grip the edge of the bench. Your legs should be out in front of you, with your knees bent at around 90°. Slowly lower yourself using your triceps muscles until your elbows are bent at around 90°, then come back up to full extension. As you progress, straighten the legs as this means more work for your triceps.”
“The press-up might seem like a boring move, but it’s a great one for working multiple muscle groups at the same time, and it also builds core strength”, says Lazar. “Start on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders and arms extended, and legs straight supporting your weight on your toes. Lower your chest to the ground, then push back up.”
Front raise to lateral raise
“Hold two dumbbells at your sides, palms facing you, and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart,” says Lazar. “With your elbows slightly bent, raise the dumbbells to shoulder height in front of you and lower them again. Then raise them to shoulder height out to your sides. Continue to alternate between front and side (lateral) raises.”
Advanced Arm Exercises
“Start by adjusting the height of the rings so your feet won’t touch the ground between reps,” says McNiven. “Mount the rings and get in a support position – you should be above the rings with your arms straight and supporting your bodyweight. Lower your body in a controlled manner, keeping your arms close to your sides, then press back up to the support position.”
Close-grip triceps press-up
“I love the triceps press-up because it really challenges your arms to work a bit harder, while also engaging your core,” says Lazar. “Get into a press-up position but place your hands closer than shoulder-width apart under your chest. Lower yourself until your chest just touches the ground, then push back up.”
“The handstand press-up is another move that really pushes your arms a bit further than the traditional press-up,” says Lazar, “and it is also great for increasing stability and balance – plus it’s fun to do! Kick your feet up so you are in a handstand position against a wall and bend your arms to lower yourself as far as possible, then push back up.”
Barbell front raise
“Holding a barbell with your hands shoulder-width apart, allow your arms to hang straight down to mid-thigh height,” says Lazar. “Raise the bar straight out in front of you with your arms extended until it reaches shoulder height, then slowly lower it back to the starting position.”