10 Best Lightweight Arm Exercises for Sculpted Muscles

woman holding weighted bala hoops


Those who want sculpted, lean arm muscles might be surprised to learn that you can achieve them even with lightweight exercises. That means you don't necessarily need to lift heavy weights to get there. In fact, a couple of dumbells will suffice.

Light weights—and even just your own bodyweight—may provide ample resistance to help you build well-defined biceps, triceps, and shoulders. There are plenty of arm exercises out there that can be performed effectively with your bodyweight or dumbells under five pounds. But which exercises are the most effective?

To answer just that, we turned to certified personal trainer Ashley Joi to share the best lightweight and bodyweight arm exercises for sculpted arms.

Meet the Expert

Ashley Joi is a certified personal trainer and official Isopure Athlete.

Here are some tips for following along with the arm exercises from Joi:

  • Complete 10-12 Reps each exercise (or each leg or arm if exercise uses one arm or leg at a time if you're advanced or want a bigger challenge).
  • Repeat exercise circuit 2-5 times depending on fitness level, your time limit, and desired results.
  • Any exercise with weight can be substituted for household items such as water bottles, laundry detergent bottles, or a kettlebell. Alternatively, use no weight.
  • Rest 20-35 seconds between exercises, depending on fitness. 
  • Take 1-1.5 minutes rest between sets. 
01 of 08

Alternating Bicep Curls with Isolation Hold

Ashley Joi/Design by Tiana Crispino

This exercise promises to do double duty working your biceps and core muscles. Isolation holds use gravity to increase the difficulty of an exercise without needing a heavy weight.

  1. Stand tall with feet hip-width apart with a slight bend in knees.
  2. Hold weights in hands at 90 degrees keeping elbows bent.
  3. Lower one weight down at a time, keeping the 90-degree hold, core engaged.
  4. Return to starting position and repeat. 
02 of 08

Pushup To Side Plank

Ashley Joi/Design by Tiana Crispino

"You will work your chest, shoulders, triceps, transverse adbominis, internal obliques, and adductor muscle of the hip with this exercise," says Joi. Push-ups are an excellent bodyweight exercise all on their own, but adding a side plank is meant to increase the activation of your obliques, the muscles on the sides of your body.

  1. On the ground in a high plank position with feet shoulder-width apart, keep hands close to armpits and shoot elbow back while bringing your chest to the ground (on knees if needed).
  2. As you press up into high plank shift body weight to one side opening up into a side plank.
  3. Intentionally lift hips up to engage your oblique muscles with a tight engaged core.
  4. Lower hand back to the ground and lower into a pushup and repeat on the other side. 
03 of 08

Renegade Row With Tricep Extension

Ashley Joi/Design by Tiana Crispino

This advanced exercise will work your whole body as you work to stabilize yourself while rowing the weight. It works your biceps, triceps, forearms, traps, obliques, and upper back muscles, Joi explains.

  1. On the ground in a high plank position with a dumbbell in each hand (can be done on knees), row weight up, pushing elbows up and back close to the body.
  2. Then extend from the elbow into a tricep extension -squeeze tricep at the top of the move.
  3. Keep hips square to the floor. 
04 of 08

Tricep Dips with Crab Toe Touch

Ashley Joi/Design by Tiana Crispino

The triceps-dip with crab toe touch is a time-saving exercise that works your triceps, chest muscles, anterior deltoids, hamstrings, lower back, and obliques, according to Joi. If you can't touch your toe, just reach as far as your body allows while still maintaining good form and not allowing your back to arch too much.

  1. Sit on the floor and bring your hands behind you flat on the ground, fingers pointing towards you, knees bent, and feet hip-width apart.
  2. Press your feet and hands into the ground while raising your hips and extend one leg and reach with the opposite hand to touch the toe.
  3. Lower your leg and arm back down.
  4. Do a tricep dip bringing your butt to the ground and pushing elbows back.
  5. Repeat on the other side.
05 of 08

Front Raise to Lateral Raise

Ashley Joi/Design by Tiana Crispino

The front raise and lateral raise promises to work all the muscles of the shoulders—anterior deltoid, lateral deltoid, and posterior deltoid. Since these muscles are small and the exercises are performed far from the body's center, you'll only need light weights to complete them.

  1. Stand tall with feet hip-width apart with a slight bend in knees.
  2. Raise arms to shoulder height straight in front of you. Lower back down.
  3. For the lateral raise, raise your arms out to your sides, lead with elbows keeping the slight bend in knees, core engaged. 
06 of 08

Shoulder Flys

Ashley Joi/Design by Tiana Crispino

Shoulder flys target all of the muscles of your shoulders. As with lateral and front raises, the weight travels out from your center of gravity. Choose a light weight for this exercise and focus on slow and controlled movement.

  1. Stand tall with feet under hips core engaged and a slight bend in knees.
  2. Hold a weight in each hand in front of your body with elbows bent 90 degrees.
  3. Push elbows out and up and then lower the weight back to the starting position. 
07 of 08

Bear Isolation Hold with Shoulder Taps

Ashley Joi/Design by Tiana Crispino

You're meant to work your core, shoulders, and arms in this combination isolation hold and shoulder tap exercise. You'll feel your entire body turn on to brace you for stability.

  1. Get down on the floor in a tabletop position, making sure your hands are aligned under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Maintain a flat back and neutral spine, keeping your gaze between your hands.
  2. Hover your knees above the ground or lower knees if needed.
  3. Lift one hand and bring to the opposite shoulder. Slightly tap your shoulder and lower to the ground repeating on the other side.
  4. Focus on intentionally moving and keeping minimal movements in hips. 
08 of 08

Skull Crushers

Ashley Joi/Design by Tiana Crispino

As intimidating as this exercise sounds, it's actually an excellent way to target your triceps and upper back muscles. You can perform this on a bench or on the floor using a single weight held horizontally between your hands, or two weights, one in each hand.

  • Lay flat on your back with bent knees hip-width apart and feet flat on the ground.
  • Press the weight up until your arms are fully extended.
  • Bending only at the elbows, lower the weight to the side of the face and extend arms back straight to full extension, pressing the shoulders and upper back into the bench or floor.
  • Keep core engaged at all times.

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