3 Arm Workouts for Weightlifters and Functional Fitness Athletes

In an earlier article I made my case for the programming of arm training (specifically biceps) in strength and power athletes. In weightlifting and functional fitness programming, arm-specific exercises are often overlooked and/or undervalued due to the lack of “practical application” that a triceps pressdown and/or curl may have.

While weightlifters and functional fitness athletes need to ensure they are squatting, cleaning, snatching, pulling, and doing the necessary mobility and assistance work specific to their respective sports (see the plethora of assistance training articles I have written here), here are three reasons why arm training can be highly beneficial.

1. Increase Upper Body Mass

Increased lean muscle mass in the upper body can equate to stronger lifts and improved performance. In certain situations where a lifter (male or female) may need to increase lean body mass to move up in a weight class, or to increase upper body performance (women often have limitations in this department due to anatomical differences as compared to males), arm specific workouts can be used to drive hypertrophy and muscular development.

2. Increase Pulling and Overhead Performance

The biceps and triceps play a critical role in the stabilization of the elbow during both explosive pulling and overhead movements, working to forcibly extend and lockout the joint. Increase muscle mass and strength of the biceps and triceps allows for greater force development to be expressed at the elbow joint, and in turn potentially higher velocities of joint extension (and flexion), both of which are critical to snatches, cleans, jerks, and pulls (as well as pull ups, muscle ups, push ups, etc).

3. Aesthetics

Last but not least, there is an aesthetic purpose for training arms. While some coaches and athletes may demand there is no “functional” application to arm training in most sports, one must in the very least recognize the aesthetics gains of arm training.

The Workouts

For most of us (myself included), competing in local and regional competitions are a big part of why we train, however NOT the only reason. While I cannot speak on behalf of everyone, I do get frequent requests to program supplemental arm training workouts specifically to help lifters (both men and women, young and old) reach an arm-specific aesthetic goal.

The below three arm workout options are in no means replacements for formal training of squats, pulls, snatches, cleans, or functional fitness WODs. These workouts are completely supplemental to a performance enhancing program specific to sport. When done properly, in conjunction to regular sport-specific training, the arm workouts may further develop a lifters abilities, aesthetics, and performance.

Coaches and athletes can pick and choose between the three workouts below, and perform after them after their main lifts.

Triceps Workout

  • Total Duration: 10-15 minutes
  • Perform 4 total sets, resting minimally between exercises and 60-90 seconds between sets.

Banded or Cable Pressdown x 20

Dip x Near Failure

This workout uses a pre-exhausting technique to target the triceps, inducing fatigue quickly. During the pre-exhausting movement (pressdown), the repetitions should be controlled and forceful, directly followed by bodyweight dips to near failure (just before form breaks).

Bicep Workout

  • Total Duration: 10-15 minutes
  • Perform 4 total sets, resting minimally between exercises and 60-90 seconds between sets.

Ring Chin Ups x 8-10

*Read more about the amazing benefits of ring chin ups here!

Barbell Curl x 10

A video posted by Jake Boly (@jake_boly) on

Complete Arm Workout

  • Total Duration: 10-15 minutes
  • Perform 4 total sets, resting minimally between exercises and 60-90 seconds between sets.

Neutral Grip Dumbbell Floor Press x 8-10

Hammer Curl x 8-10

A video posted by Mike Dewar (@mikejdewar) on

This workout is a well-balanced arm training routine that can be used to promote overall muscular development.

Final Words

These workouts were developed to elicit aforementioned benefits of arm training, and can be used moderately during one’s formal training. As with any type of exercise, coaches and athletes should ensure sound technique and loading, while balancing the increased stress of training with mobility and recovery work. Lastly, a little can go a long way (in terms of arm training and results), so coaches and athletes should not become overzealous with programming of arm training, as it should NEVER impede with the training and recover of foundational lifts (squats, pulls, Olympic lifts).

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Featured Image: @mikejdewar on Instagram

Mike Dewar

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.

In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.

Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.

Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.

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