Get Ready For Arms of Steel Thanks to These 10 Exercises

Woman doing opposite arm and leg exercise


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Our arms contribute so much to our every day tasks. Some are a bit easier, like brushing our teeth, while others could really use a bit more strength (we're looking at you, hard to open jars).

Not only that, but the American Heart Association states that strength training helps prevent future injury and boosts your metabolic rate (the number of calories required to keep your body functioning). Getting strength training in 2 times per week minimum is recommended to see an increase not only in muscle, but also bone and connective tissue strength.

That's why we've reached out to the experts to tell us the best arms exercises to get them toned, strong, and ready to take on the toughest pickle jar lid.

Meet the Expert

  • Meghan Trainor, certified fitness expert
  • John Fawkes, an NSCA-certified personal trainer and Precision Nutrition-certified nutritional counselor
  • Marshall Weber, Jack City Fitness' Fitness Coach

1. Concentration Bicep Curl

woman doing concentration curl

 JGI/Tom Grill/Getty Images

Get ready for full concentration, and in the words of Trainor, "FLEX on 'em, gun show, baby!" As for what muscles this move hits, "bicep brachii and brachialis," says Trainor. If you're wondering the difference between the two - the brachii is on the front of the bicep where the brachialis is near the upper arm.

  • Start off seated on a bench or single kneeling position.
  • Hinge from the hips, core engaged, back flat.
  • Rest the inside of the right elbow onto the right inner thigh, arm is bent.
  • Using a standard grip, palm facing you, straighten the arm and lower the dumbbell towards the right ankle with full extension of the arm.
  • Curl the dumbbell back to starting position.

2. Renegade Row

renegade row

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Another bicep burnin' exercise is the renegade row, which also targets your back lats (large muscles near the sides of your back) and upper traps (muscles on your back near your neck) according to Trainor.

  • Start in a plank position (can be done on your knees or on your toes for extra core work).
  • Pull the dumbbell up and back, bending your elbow and keeping the weight tight to your body. Think of brushing the inside of your bicep against your rib cage as you pull the dumbbell up.
  • Keep your hips as still as possible to engage the core and isolate the back.. Lower weight to starting position. You can alternate sides or do one at a time.

3. Dumbbell Punch

Woman punching with dumbbells

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Channel your inner Muhammad Ali or Mike Tyson with this move. "This routine will work your arms and shoulders," states Weber. "It’s also a lot of fun." If you're a newbie, try without weights to start in order to get your form down. You can start to gradually increase the weight as you feel comfortable.

  • Plant your feet on your mat hip-width apart. In each hand, grip a dumbbell.
  • Step forward with your left foot. Keep your right foot at a 45-degree angle. Slightly turn your body sideways.
  • Raise your weights upwards — the palm side of your hands should face your ears.
  • Carefully extend your right arm into a “punch” position.
  • Repeat with the other side.

4. Kettlebell Swing

kettlebell swing

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"The kettlebell is an excellent workout tool, and plenty of the exercises you can do with it benefit the arms," says Weber. Not only are you going to feel your shoulders, forearms, and lat muscles working in this exercise, but you're also going to use your glutes, hamstrings, core, and back.

  • Place your feet hip-width apart with your knees slightly bent.
  • Hold your kettlebell in front of you with both hands. Make sure you are holding it by the bar.
  • Push your hips through into a standing position. While you do this, carefully swing your kettlebell upwards to the height of your forehead.
  • Return to the mild squatting position as you bring the kettlebell back down.

Don't have a kettlebell? Use a full gallon of water or laundry detergent jug instead. Just make sure the top is screwed on tight!

5. Push-up

A fit Asian woman doing push ups in an urban environment.

Koh Sze Kiat / Getty Images

What's an arm workout without the classic push-up?! "It’s arm day royalty, and a fantastic way to build strength in your upper body and arm muscle," comments Weber.

  • Climb onto your mat and kneel. Your feet should come together.
  • Bend frontwards, bringing your starting pose to a front plank. Place your palms flat on the ground and shoulder-width apart. Keep your back flat and your abs tight.
  • Keeping your torso stiff and your head in-line with your spine, gently lower your body towards the mat. (Keep your body straight — no sagging of your lower back!)
  • Bring your chin or chest to the ground — whatever lands first.
  • Use your arms to press your body back into a plank position.

6. Tricep Kickback

Tricep kickbacks

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You're going to get a kick out of this easy-to-learn tricep workout, all you need is a set of small dumbbells. "This exercise is a great way to build your upper body strength and keep your arms in the right condition to play sports and live your life to the fullest," says Weber. 

  • Stand on the mat with your knees slightly bent and a dumbbell in each hand. 
  • Straighten your spine and engage your core. Bend forward at the waist so your abdomen is parallel to your mat. Tuck your chin, keep your head in line with your spine, and bend your elbows, making sure your upper arms are close to your body.
  • Exhale. Straighten your arms. Your upper arms should stay still; your lower arms should end up next to or just behind your hips.
  • Hold and inhale as you return to your starting pose.

7. Lateral Raises

side lateral raise

 bulatovic / Getty Images

"Also known as side raises, this classic workout staple concentrates on the shoulders, specifically the anterior and lateral heads of the deltoid—the muscle that molds the rounded shape of your shoulder," comments Fawkes. This move is a great option for beginners. It's simple, yet effective!

  • With a dumbbell in each hand, stand hips-distance apart.
  • Simultaneously lift your arms with your core activated and your palms facing up.
  • Stop when you reach shoulder height so that you create a T-shape.
  • Slowly lower the weights as you return to starting position, taking roughly twice as long as you did on the way up. 

8. High Plank

Two women in high planks, slapping hands.

 

SG Hirst / Getty Images 

"High plank does double-duty, strengthening and sculpting not only your core muscles but also your biceps, shoulders, and triceps," says Fawkes. High plank differs from a low or elbow plank because you're holding your body weight up using your arm and shoulder muscles instead of your core.

  • Keep hands stacked directly under your shoulders.
  • Ensure your legs and back are straight, and draw your navel towards your spine.
  • Hold anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes.

9. Chin Ups

Low angle view of young female doing chin-ups
Neustockimages / Getty Images

Flashback to middle school P.E. This move is old school, yet timeless. Every time you hoist your chin up over that bar, you're making your biceps and posterior deltoids work states Fawkes.

  • Grab a bar with arms shoulder-length apart and pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar.
  • Briefly pause, and then lower yourself in a controlled fashion down until your arms are straight again.
  • Keep your core engaged the whole time.

Unless you have a chin up bar hooked in your doorframe, you're going to need the gym to complete this exercise. If you're a home exercise lover, try comparable exercises that hit the same muscle group such as dumbbell rows.

10. Tricep Dips

Tricep dips

"This is a sound way to tone your triceps if you’re working out at home without weights," states Fawkes. In fact, the American Council on Exercise did a study where tricep dips ranked top 3 in exercises that created the most muscle activity in your triceps.

  • Sit on a chair with your palms down and your fingers facing forward.
  • Raise your hips off the chair and inch your feet forward.
  • Bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle and lower your body.
  • Return to the starting position, pausing at the top to contract your triceps.