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, and we throw in a few of our favourites, too.
Beginner Arm Exercises
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
The kettlebell halo is a great beginner exercise because it doesn’t matter who you are, you have to use a light weight – it’s murder on the arms. That means you won’t (hopefully) be tempted to overdo it when perusing the kettlebell rack.
Taking a firm grip on the handles of the light kettlebell you’ve chosen, raise it until it’s in front of your face with the handles pointing away from you. Slowly rotate the bell around your head. Change the angle of the kettlebell as you rotate but not your grip. Go at a slow pace and watch out for your head. One lap around the noggin is a rep. Aim for five rotations in one direction, then do the same number the other way.
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.”
“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.”
Battle rope wave
It’s a move that just looks good, which is lucky because that fact makes you temporarily forget how quickly battle rope waves become a battle just to keep going. Persevere, however, and they’ll contribute to outstanding biceps and get your heart rate rocketing. They’re mainly about pure intensity, which means they make for a great intermediate exercise.
Grab a rope in each hand and lower into a squat. Raise one arm fast and with force up to shoulder or head height. As you slam that rope down, bring the other up – neither arm should rest until the set is over. Keep alternating the slams as fast as you can, although you should pace yourself to whatever work period you’ve chosen.
Because of the seriously high rep counts, work in 30-second to one-minute bursts for a total time of five to ten minutes.
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.”
Round the world pull-up
This is a serious upper-body exercise that will heat your forearms up. Grasp a pull-up bar using an overhand grip with your hands wider than shoulder-width apart. As you pull up, move your body to one side and then back to centre as you reach the top of the move. Move your body slowly and under control to the other side as you lower. Aim for one or two going clockwise and the same going anticlockwise. Your rep target should be low, especially when you’re just starting out, but remember to work both ways equally – the last thing you want is to build muscle imbalances.