7 of the best exercises to build arm muscle, according to a personal trainer
- To build-up arm muscle, personal trainer Monica Jones recommends focusing on strength and resistance training.
- Some of the best exercises to build arm muscle are chin-ups, push-ups, tricep extensions, and bench curls.
- This article was medically reviewed by Joey Thurman, CSCS, CPT, FNS, a Chicago-based
fitnessexpert and MYX Fitness coach.
Upper body strength is helpful for a host of regular activities, from household chores such as lifting the groceries and raking the leaves to everyday actions like picking up your kids or walking your dog on a leash. Any activity where you have to push, pull, lift, or reach requires your arm muscles.
Even if you can accomplish daily tasks with your current level of arm strength, you may still wish to build muscle tone and definition to look sleek and trim in a sleeveless top or T-shirt. Moreover, building arm muscle can boost your metabolism and reduce your chances of injury.Find out more about the best methods of building the look and strength of arm muscles.
The five main arm musclesThere are five main muscles in the arms:
- Biceps brachii in the upper arm
- Brachialis in the upper arm
- Brachioradialis in the forearm
- Coracobrachialis in the forearm
- Triceps brachii in the upper arm
There are other, smaller muscles in your arms, but these five are the most important ones to focus on when building arm strength.
Best workout types to build arm muscleAccording to Monica Jones, a NASM certified personal trainer, three main types of workouts build arm muscle: cardio, weights, and resistance training.
Cardio: Cardio is best known for getting your heart rate up and burning fat, but it can also help build muscle in the biceps and forearms. A rowing machine, calisthenics with resistance bands, and even working in a garden all count as cardio exercises that work your key arm muscle groups.Weights: Kettlebells, free weights, or weight machines are examples of weighted arm workouts. A 2008 study found that weightlifting is the best way to build muscle, overall. However, lifting free weights requires a solid, practiced stance. You should work with a personal trainer at first or follow a reputable online video trainer to lift safely. Weight machines may also offer a guide that lessens the risk of injury.
Weights shouldn't be so light that you can lift for hours without feeling fatigued, but they also shouldn't be so heavy that you can't do enough reps to build muscle. What matters most is mechanical stress or the point where the muscle is close to fatigue, to elicit the muscle growth response.
Resistance training: Ultimately, Jones says resistance training is the optimal choice for people looking to build muscle and get toned, or for those who have a disability that prevents the movements needed to use weights. You can resistance train with your body weight, using weighted objects (such as adjustable wrist and ankle weights), or different types of bands.Loop bands, tube resistance bands with handles, and figure-eight bands are each large rubber bands that you push and pull, using resistance to build muscle. Working out with resistance bands may take more time than traditional weights, but physical stress is less intense and recovery time is often quicker.
Aim to strength train two to three times a week with one day of rest in between. You can work all five arm muscle groups within a regular workout routine, or plan one weekly workout dedicated to your arms.
To best build arm muscle, Jones says to make resistance training your priority and cardio the complement.
Best exercises to build arm muscleWhen done correctly and safely, the following exercises work the arm muscles, including biceps, triceps, forearms, and shoulders. For each exercise, Jones recommends doing 12 to 20 reps for two to three sets to start.
Chin-upThis works your biceps, forearms, shoulders, and lat muscles. To do it:
- Grab the bar with palms down, shoulder-width apart.
- Hang on the bar with straight (not locked) arms with legs off the floor.
- Press elbows down to the floor to pull yourself up until your chin passes the bar.
- Lower yourself until your arms are straight.
This works your triceps, biceps, pecs, lats, and shoulder muscles. To do it:
- Position your hands shoulder-width apart or a little bit wider if you have more mass.
- Splay fingers wide with middle fingers pointing directly ahead.
- Maintain a straight back and suck in core muscles.
- Bend your elbows and lower toward the ground, keeping elbows at a 45° angle to your body.
Tricep extensionThis works your tricep, glutes, and ab muscles. To do it:
- Stand or sit with your feet shoulder-width apart and dumbbells in front of you with palms facing backward.
- Raise dumbbells above your head until arms are straight.
- Slowly bend elbows to lower the weights back beside your head.
- When the dumbbell is lower than your ears, bring the weight back up to the starting position.
Curls with bar
This works your biceps, forearms, and shoulder muscles. To do it:
- Stand straight with an engaged core, holding the barbell underhanded just outside of your hips.
- With elbows tight to your sides, curl the bar up to shoulder height and hold for a count of one.
- Lower the bar slowly with the core engaged and back straight.
Bench pressThis works your triceps, biceps, pecs, lats, and shoulder muscles. To do it:
- Make sure you have a spotter behind the bench.
- Lay your eyes directly under the bar.
- Raise your arms and grab the bar with your thumbs locked tightly around it.
- Unrack the bar by straightening your arms.
- Lower the bar to the middle of your chest, keeping sure not to lock your elbows.
- Press the bar back up.
Overhead resistance band stretchThis works your biceps, triceps, and shoulder muscles. To do it:
- Stand with your feet together, back straight, and core engaged.
- Grab each end of your resistance band.
- Lift overhead with straight arms, keeping hands about six inches apart to ensure the band is tense.
- With straight arms, lift the band overhead and keep your hands about 6 inches apart, so the band has some tension and is not slack.
- Pull your arms apart while sweeping down to each side until they are even with your shoulders, and the band is against your upper back.
- Return to the starting position with arms overhead to complete the movement.
Resistance band push-out
This works your back and shoulder muscles. To do it:
- Stand with your feet together, back straight, and core engaged.
- Grab each end of your resistance band behind your back.
- Bend elbows to 90° allowing the band to stretch across the middle of your back.
- Keep your shoulders pressed down and squeeze shoulder blades as you push arms away from the sides until fully extended.
- Return to your starting position to complete the movement.
There are many ways to exercise the main muscles in your arms. Go slow and steady to avoid injury, yet balance that with pushing your arm workouts to get the most bang for your biceps, triceps, and more.
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