Who doesn’t like a nice set of arms?
Arms are often voted as the most attractive body part in men, and women want toned arms for the beach or for their weddings.
Toned arms look good.
Unfortunately, everyone thinks they know the secret to develop great arms, but they are often wrong.
Hint: The answer is not endless bicep curls!
Today, we are going to cover the best arm exercises and provide you with a killer arm workout!
Welcome to the WCT bodybuilding series. Over the next few posts, we go over the best ways to build and define the body parts you find most attractive.
In Part 2: The Best Glute Exercises of All Time, we go over the exercises to develop your bum, which is often regarded as one of the most important muscles in your entire body.
In Part 3: The Best Leg Exercises To Develop A Strong Lower Body, we break down the individual components of the leg musculature, and how to maximize each one of their functions.
In Part 4: The 15 Best Back Exercises Of All Time,Â we cover the most effective exercises that strengthen, tone and develop one of the most forgotten muscle groups in the fitness industry.
Today, it’s all about the arms.
Today’s post is going to cover:
- The Anatomy of Arm Muscles
- How Fast You Can Expect to Develop Arm Muscles
- Guidelines For Developing Arm Muscles
- Arm Workouts At Home Without Weights
- Arm Workouts with Dumbbells
- Arm Workouts for Women
- A Killer Arm Workout Routine For Busy Individuals
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Okay, let’s get started.
The Anatomy of Arm Muscles
Whenever people think of the arm muscles, they generally think of the biceps.
What would you do if I asked you to flex your muscles? You probably will go into the usual bicep curl position.
What most people don’t realize is that the bicep is only one of the components that make up this muscle group.
Let’s go over a quick anatomy lesson.
The arms are composed of the
– Biceps Brachii
– Triceps Brachii
– The Forearm
- Pronator Teres
- A lot of Extensors and Flexors
Origin/Insertion: The biceps brachii muscle attaches the front of your shoulder to your elbow.
Function: Flexion of the elbow, and supination.
Origin/Insertion: The brachialis attaches the lower arm to your elbow. It lies deeper than the biceps muscle.
Function: Flexion of the elbow
Origin/Insertion: The triceps attaches the back part of your shoulder to the back of your elbow.
Function: Extends (straightens) the elbow
Function: The many muscles of the forearms work to flex and extend your wrist, supinate and pronate your wrist.
Everyone also seems to forget that the Deltoids or shoulders also are part of the arms. The deltoids work to flex your shoulder joint (raise your arms forwards, sideways and above your head).
We created an entire post just for the shoulders here!
So as you can see, the arms are made up of multiple muscle groups, each with their own structure and function.
Therefore it is important to design arm workouts that will target each one of these muscles efficiently.
The Best Arm Exercises
Here is where most people make the biggest mistakes. They believe that bicep curls are the end all be all.
While performing bicep curls can help build a better arm physique, there are many more exercises you should include in your repertoire.
Bicep curls are isolation exercises.
This means that they only train one single joint in one range of motion. As a result, they are inefficient and do not stimulate your body or muscles as much as a compound exercise would.
Compound exercises work multiple joints at once. These exercises give you a bigger return on investment as you are training many muscles simultaneously, saving precious time.
In addition, multiple muscles working together are much stronger than isolated muscles, therefore, you can lift more weight and cause a greater stimulus/stress to your body.
We discuss this further in 3 Essential Principles of Exercise Routines and How to Build Muscle Naturally Using Scientifically Proven Methods.
Isolation exercises do have their time and place. It is important to use a mixture of both compound and isolation exercises in your regimen.
Let’s go over each muscle group one by one…
The Best Bicep Exercises
The best bicep exercises are the ones that bring your arms closer to your body with either a neutral (palms facing each other) or an underhand (supinated) grip.
There are 3 Categories of Exercises that build the biceps:
1) Horizontal Pulling Exercises,
2) Vertical Pulling Exercises and
3) Isolation Curling Exercises.
Letâ€™s go over each one individually.
Horizontal Pulling Exercises with an Emphasis on Closer and Underhand Grips
Some of the best exercises to develop the bicep muscles are actually the ones that also develop the back muscles. These are the rows.
If you focus on using an underhand grip (and a close grip) your biceps will get a great deal of stimulation.
This is what we mean when we say underhand grip:
Underhand Grips will emphasize the bicep muscles more when compared to an overhand Grip.
Vertical Pulling Exercises with an Emphasis on Closer and Underhand Grips
- Chinups > Pull-ups
- Lat Pulldowns
- Lat Pulldowns with an Underhand Grip
Bicep Isolation Exercises
The last group of bicep exercises is the ones that you are aware of. The bicep curls. Below is a video demonstrating the best bicep curl variations.
- Alternating Bicep Curls
- EZ Bar Curls
- Hammer Curls
- Incline Curls
- Barbell Curls
The Best Tricep Exercises
The best tricep exercises are the ones that activate all of the pressing muscles simultaneously.
1) Horizontal Pushing Exercises,
2) Vertical Pushing Exercises and
3) Isolation Extension Exercises.
Again, we will go over each one individually.
Horizontal Pushing Exercises with an Emphasis on Closer Grips
A close grip on these exercises will automatically activate the arm muscles more than a wider grip.
- Close Grip Bench Press
- Pushup Variations with a Close Grip
- Neutral Grip (Palms In) Dumbbell Bench Press
Vertical Pushing Exercises with an Emphasis on Closer Grips
- All Overhead Press Variations (Barbell, Dumbbell, Standing, Seated)
Tricep Isolation Exercises
Lastly, isolation exercises can be used to finish off the tricep muscles. Always save these for last as they only train one single muscle group. Below is a video of the top tricep isolation exercises.
- Lying Tricep Extensions
- Tricep Pushdowns
- Skull Crushers
The Best Forearm Exercises
The forearms are fairly easy to develop.
Fortunately, almost all of the same exercises listed above will also train your forearm muscles.
Horizontal Pulling Exercises
Vertical Pulling Exercises with an Emphasis on Closer Grips
Bicep Isolation Exercises (see video above)
- Alternating Bicep Curls
- Barbell Curls
- Hammer Curls
- Incline Curls
- EZ Bar Curls
But most importantly, the forearms are also developed by the exercises that train your grip strength. There are no other better exercises than the deadlifts. Deadlifts train an insane amount of muscles simultaneously!
The Best Arm Exercises At Home Without Weights
What if you don’t have access to dumbbells or to a bench press? There are still a lot of great ways to train your arm muscles.
Here are a few bodyweight exercises you can perform at home without weights to develop your arms. If I had to pick the top 5, they would be:
2) Dips (shown above)
3) Pike Pushups
The Best Arm Exercises with Dumbbells
What if you only had a set of dumbbells?
Here are the top 5 exercises that you could perform to develop a nice set of arms.
1) Neutral Grip (Palms In) Dumbbell Bench
2) Dumbbell Row
3) Arnold Dumbbell Press (supinating your hands at the bottom of the overhead press)
4) Alternating Dumbbell Curls (see video above)
5) Lying Tricep Extensions (see video above)
Guidelines For Arm Training
How Often Should I Train Arms?
Just like we have discussed before, it is important to stimulate your muscles, and not annihilate them. You do not have to exercise a body part 5x a week to drive definition or growth.
As a busy individual, training each body part 2 times a week should be sufficient to drive adaptations.
However, the arms are relatively small muscles, they tend to recover fast. As a result, you can train them up to 4 times per week.
How Many Reps Should I Use When I Train Arms?
Focus on the hypertrophy rep ranges we outlined in How To Create A Workout Plan [That Fits Your Busy Schedule] which is 8-12 repetitions.
I do not mean an easy set of 8-12 repetitions. You should feel that you cannot perform much more than what you have just attempted.
Perform, at the minimum, 3 sets per exercise, but no more than 5 sets.
How Long Should I rest In Between Sets When Training Arms?
It is also important to keep your rest periods short if your goal is arm muscle size and/or definition.
Aim for 90 seconds or less in between sets.
Now, let’s move on to a sample arm workout routine you can useâ€¦
A Killer Arm Workout Routine for Busy Individuals
If you have access to a full gym, here is a sample routine that you could use for 8-12 weeks to develop your arm muscles. This should only take you 30-35 minutes to complete if you are adhering to the 90 second rest periods we mentioned above.
The goal is to hit these muscle groups twice in one week. Here is a good example:
The other days can focus on lower body exercises.
If you would like to see a more comprehensive workout program that hits the entire body, check out The Best Workout Template For Busy Professionals!
How Should I Train My Arms If I Am A Woman?
Everything that was just said about arm muscle building also holds true for females.
Women do not need any special programming or training considerations when it comes to arms, except for the fact that they can generally handle higher frequencies and higher volume than men.
What this means is that women can usually perform more repetitions and train these muscle groups even three times a week without as much fatigue as men.
If you are a woman and have not been seeing results, try bumping up the volume and/or the frequency and see what happens.
And don’t worry, you will not get bulky! Women generally don’t have high enough levels of testosterone to develop large muscles.
In order to get ‘bulky,’ you need to eat a significant amount of extra calories to gain size.
Simply follow the guidelines we have described above and you will be fine!
How Fast Can You Develop Arm Muscles?
The speed at which you develop your arms will vary based on your body type,Â your training history, and how often you train.
Mesomorphs will have the easiest time developing their arms. They just need to focus on proper exercise selection, training frequency, and adequate protein intake.
Ectomorphs, on the other hand, will have the toughest time developing these muscles. Ectomorphs will have to focus more time and energy on nutrition and adequate caloric consumption, otherwise, the training may be a waste of time.
Endomorphs will also have to focus more time and energy on nutrition, but in a way that is conducive to fat loss.Â Check out our series on fat loss at How To Lose Weight Naturally Using The Incredible Power Of Food
Depending on these variables, you can begin to appreciate a significant difference in your arm physique in approximately 12 weeks.
Now Go Develop Your Arms
So there you have it. You are now ‘armed’ with the best ways of building your arm muscles. No pun intended.
Focus on primarily using compound exercises to train your arms, and then use isolation exercises later in the workout.
Stick to the hypertrophy rep ranges of 8-12 reps, but use a weight heavy enough to make you work!
In 12 weeks, you should be able to take some nice beach or wedding photos.
Now we turn it over to you
What do you prefer?
Big arm muscles, Or toned, well-developed arms?
Do you find them attractive in a partner?
What other body parts would you like us to discuss?
Comment below and let us know!
Be sure to check out Part 2 of the WCT Bodybuilding Series: The Best Glute Exercises of All Time, so that you can continue to develop the body you desire.
Oh yea, it’s also a good idea to drop some body fat to help accentuate the arm muscles you want to develop. Check out 7 Realistic Dietary Habits You Can Use To Eat Healthier Right NowÂ to get started.
Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT
Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM Certified Personal Trainers, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a resource dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals using time-efficient strategies. Their advice has been featured in My Fitness Pal, Prevention, Livestrong, Reader’s Digest, Bustle, The Active Times, and more. Learn more about them here.