It’s ok to want big arms. Lifting weights can boost your confidence, improve your health, and make you stronger — but wanting to look buff in a sweater is a perfectly acceptable goal, too. Aesthetics aside, bigger stronger arms can help you lift more weight — after all, they’re key players in pulling and pushing moves — and are less prone to serious injury.
Below, we’ve compiled the 10 best arm exercises you can do to build more muscle. You’ll also learn more about how to specifically program arm workouts into your other training days and how to progress with them.
10 Best Arm Exercises
- EZ-Bar Curl
- Concentration Curl
- Hammer Curl
- Cable Curl
- Dumbbell Skull Crusher
- JM Press
- Triceps Pushdown
- Triceps Kickback
The main benefit of the barbell curl is that it allows you, relatively speaking, to lift more weight as you’re both standing and curling with two hands.
And by using an ez-bar — a relatively affordable and accessible piece of home gym equipment — your hands turn inward slightly, alleviating potential wrist pain allowing you to lift more than what would be possible with a standard straight bar.
How To Do It
- Load an ez-bar up with a weight that you can curl comfortably with good form (meaning you’re not using momentum to cheat the weight up).
- Grip the middle of the bar so that your hands are angled in.
- Keep your arms at your sides and flex your elbows to curl the weight up towards your shoulders.
- Lower the weight back down so that your arms are fully extended with control.
Coach’s Tip: Keep your upper arms tucked to your sides while you curl.
Sets and Reps: Try 4 sets of 8 reps here.
The concentration curl was made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1975 film “Pumping Iron.” The Austrian Oak was bent over, one hand resting on a knee and his other arm curl weight straight up.
Arnold was truly ahead of his time. Another bonus is that these are done one-arm at a time, and so you’ll be doing more work and therefore burning more calories, which never really hurt anyone.
How To Do It
- Grab a light dumbbell and hold it in one hand.
- Hinge at the hips and place your free hand on your knee (you can also brace on a bench or a dumbbell rack).
- Let the loaded arm extend straight down.
- Keeping your arm in a straight line, flex your elbow to curl the weight up towards your opposite shoulder.
Coach’s Tip: You should feel a strong, almost painful contraction in your bicep.
Sets and Reps: Go for 2 or 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps.
This variation has you curl two dumbbells with your palms facing. Similar to the ez-bar curl, this neutral wrist position is generally more comfortable.
This curl variation is known to target the biceps brachialis which sits underneath the biceps and makes your arms look thicker.
How To Do It
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand, and make sure that your palms are facing one another.
- Keep your chest up, and curl the weights up towards your shoulders.
- When the dumbbells are near your shoulders, feel for a contraction, and, once you find it, hold that position for a second or two.
- Lower the weights back down under control.
Coach’s Tip: You can let your elbows travel forward slightly.
Sets and Reps: Try 4 to 5 sets of 6 to 8 reps on this one.
When you curl a dumbbell or barbell, it becomes easier at the top and bottom of the exercise, since the weight is closer to your body. A cable is heavy throughout the entire range of motion of a curl. Also, instead of using just a straight bar, you can curl with an ez-bar attachment, a rope, even a pair of handles if you like.
And if you want to perform a drop set — where you curl heavy weight, drop the weight, curl again, and repeat — you can easily adjust the weight stack.
How To Do It
- Set a cable pulley to the lowest point of the machine and attach your bar of choice — a straight bar, ez-bar, and rope are all standard options.
- Select a moderate weight, and grab the handle in both hands.
- Take a few steps back so that the weight stack is suspended and the cable is taut.
- Slowly curl the bar up towards your shoulders and lower the bar back down with control.
Coach’s Tip: Lean back slightly and allow your arm to drift a bit forward in front of your torso.
Sets and Reps: Do 3 or 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps.
The chin-up is a bodyweight move known for its back-building benefits, but the biceps are a crucial player in this exercise, too. While the chin-up doesn’t isolate your biceps, it does create a lot of tension. That’s because you’re pulling your entire body weight up.
Think about that: Say you weigh 200 pounds, and you can curl 100 pounds on a barbell — the chin-up is having you pull 100% more. (We know that a chin-up and barbell curl are different bicep exercises, so the weight increase isn’t entirely comparable, but it’s still an uptick.
How To Do It
- Grab onto a pull-up bar with an underhand grip, and let your body hang with your arms fully extended.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull your body up, leading with your elbows.
- Keep pulling until your chin is at or above the bar, lower yourself back down under control.
Coach’s Tip: Lower yourself down all the way between reps to fully stretch your biceps.
Sets and Reps: Go for 2 or 3 rounds to muscular failure.
Despite its sinister name, this may be one of the most tricep-friendly moves you can do. You’re probably aware of this already since the skull crusher has been an arm-day staple for, well, we don’t have an exact date, but it’s been around for a while.
The dumbbell version allows you to isolate each arm, which lets your weaker side platy catch up. You can also perform these with your palms up or facing each other, which is usually more comfortable for your wrists. The skull crusher isn’t a new triceps exercise, but it’s an effective one.
How To Do It
- Pick up two light to moderate dumbbells and lay down, back first, on a bench with your feet firmly planted on the floor.
- Raise both dumbbells over your chest, arms fully extended and palms facing each other.
- Flex at the elbows to lower the dumbbells toward your forward and to the top of your shoulders.
Coach’s Tip: It’s okay to let your upper arms travel backward a little bit as this can also increase the stretch you feel on your triceps.
Sets and Reps: Try 2 sets of 12 to 15 reps here.
The dip is lauded for its ability to add muscle in one’s chest, triceps, and shoulder. Your core gets a workout, too, as the body stabilizes itself while suspended between two parallel bars; If you angle your body forward, you’ll better target the muscles in your chest; keep your torso upright, however, and the load shifts to your triceps a bit more.
Similar to the chin-up, you’re forcing your triceps to support your entire body weight, which is most likely more than what you can lift on a cable machine or a straight bar.
How To Do It
- Suspend yourself between two parallel bars, with your elbows locked out.
- Get stable and then bend your elbows to lower your body down until your arms are bent at 90 degrees.
- Keep your chest up and your body straight to work your triceps more than your chest. Press back up.
Coach’s Tip: Keep your shoulders depressed and away from your ears the entire time.
Sets and Reps: Try 3 rounds to failure for a triceps pump.
This exercise, which is the brainchild of powerlifter J.M. Blakley who has benched 710-pound equipped, is essentially a bench press, except you lower the bar to your neck and keep your elbows tucked in to keep the tension on the triceps.
This bench press-skull crusher hybrid allows you to place a heavier load on your triceps, for a more significant stimulus and has more carryover to your bench press.
How To Do It
- Set up on a bench press and hold the bar with a closer grip, hands shoulder-width apart.
- Keep your elbows tucked in at bout 45 degrees and lower the bar towards your chest.
- When you start to feel your chest working, about halfway, shift the bar back towards your forehead so that it’s eventually sitting over your neck.
Coach’s Tip: Start light on this one; the empty barbell might be enough weight for you.
Sets and Reps: Do 3 or 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps.
You probably don’t need to be introduced to the triceps pushdown — it’s a classic. By pushing an attachment down with just your triceps, you can fully isolate the area.
The cable also keeps constant tension on the muscle, and you can attach a variety of handles for a varied grip to better feel the contraction or alleviate elbow or wrist pain.
How To Do It
- Set a cable pulley to the highest setting and attach your handle of choice — a straight bar, ez-bar, rope, or D-handle.
- Grab it with both hands and stand about a foot or so away from the cable machine.
- Flex your elbows to push the bar down until your arms are fully extended.
- The handle should be at your hips. Slowly lower the weight back to the starting position.
Coach’s Tip: Keep your elbows tucked in at your sides and start with the bar at about chest height.
Sets and Reps: Perform 4 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions here.
Okay, this isn’t the most badass looking move in the gym, but you can isolate your triceps with it. Also, because you need to hinge at your hips and drive a dumbbell straight back behind you, only light weight is required.
The triceps kickback is a great way to isolate elbow extension, as the natural force of gravity makes the move easy at the beginning and outrageously challenging toward the very end.
How To Do It
- Grab a light dumbbell in each hand and hinge forward at the hips until your torso is just about parallel to the floor.
- Bend your arms at 90 degrees and tuck your elbows into your sides.
- Flex your elbows and extend your arms back behind you until they’re straight.
- Hold the contraction for a beat, and then bring the weights back down to your sides.
Coach’s Tip: Keep your arm pinned tightly to your torso.
Sets and Reps: Do 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps.
5 Arm Workouts To Incorporate
A pair of big arms can do a lot more for you than just grabbing attention at the beach. From bear hugs to bench press competitions, your biceps and triceps are involved in almost everything you do in and out of the gym.
While some will puff their chests and declare that they built their arms with pull-ups, presses, or — somehow — squatting, most lifters who have been in the game awhile will concede that if you want big arms, you have to train for big arms.
Arm Workout for Size
These exercise selections are well-rounded suggestions, but remember that bodybuilding is highly individual. If you struggle to elicit a good contraction with an exercise, don’t force a square peg into a round hole. Substituting exercises that don’t serve you well can potentially spare you injury and keep you on the fast track to progress.
- Cheat Curl or Barbell Curl: 3 x 6
- Incline Dumbbell Hammer Curl or Reverse Curl: 3 x 8-10
- Dumbbell Spider Curl or Preacher Curl: 2 x 12-15
- Close-Grip Bench Press: 3 x 6-8
- Cable Pressdown (V-Bar or Cambered Bar): 3 x 8-10
- Rope Overhead Extension or Cable Kickback: 2 x 12-15
Arm Workout for Strength
The two main factors when integrating arm work into a strength routine are 1) the exercises should complement your primary lifts or activities, and 2) the training should not hamper your performance elsewhere. As such, perform this workout on its own day or after your primary training, and don’t be afraid to adjust volume as needed.
- Hammer Curl: 4 x 6
- JM Press: 4 x 6
- Reverse Preacher Curl: 2 x 10 – 12
- Overhead Rope Extension: 2 x 12 – 15
- Plate Pinch: 2-3 sets to failure
Arm Workout for Beginners
For exercise newbies, one of the best things about your training “economy” is your rate of return. In simple terms, this means that first-timers can get a lot out of a little. More volume and intensity will be required with more years of training under your lifting belt, but beginner programs should be lean and mean.
Perform this workout once per week to start, adding weight or reducing rest times as it gets easier.
- EZ-Bar Skull Crusher: 3 x 8
- Standing Dumbbell Curl: 3 x 8
- Dumbbell Overhead Extension: 2 x 10-12
- EZ-Bar Reverse Curl: 2 x 12-15
Arm Workout for Weightlifters
Elbow stability is a critical element of weightlifting, both in training and during competition. Contrary to popular belief, bulging biceps don’t interfere with your ability to fully extend the elbow, as long as your triceps training is proportional and you stretch regularly.
Further, diligent accessory training may help diminish elbow and shoulder pain, both of which commonly plague Olympic lifters and can interfere with programming if left unaddressed.
- Barbell Reverse Curl + Barbell Overhead Extension: 2 x 8-12
- Kettlebell Curl + Kettlebell Skull Crusher: 2 x 12-15
- Zottman Curl: 2 x 15
- Band Overhead Extension: 2 x 15-20
Bodyweight Arm Workout
When it comes to calisthenics and muscle growth, the key is leverage. More specifically, compromising your leverage as much as possible, so you’re utilizing as much of your own weight as you can for a sort of pseudo-overload.
Hit this workout twice per week to start, focusing on reducing rest times and stressing your eccentric tempo to drive progress. We’ve included both a beginner and advanced option so you can tailor your training specifically to your fitness level.
- Diamond Push-Up or Decline Push-Up: 3 sets at RPE 8
- Inverted Row or Chin-Up: 3 sets at RPE 8
- Wall Elbow Extension or Weighted Chair Dip: 2 sets to failure
- Weighted Inverted Row or Weighted Chin-Up: 2 sets to failure
How Often Should You Train Arms?
The first thing you need to figure out is your total volume per week. For hypertrophy (muscle growth), more is better (within reason). One study had lifters perform both the bench press and squat three times per week. One group performed one set per workout, another did three sets, and the third group was assigned five sets per workout. When it came to gaining muscle, the high-volume group saw the best results. (1)
Your arms are much smaller than the chest and legs, so you may not need as much volume. When it comes to arm training frequency, we suggest somewhere between eight to 12 sets weekly for new lifters (a year or less of weight lifting experience) and 10 to 14 sets per week for more seasoned gym-goers. Keep in mind these set recommendations are per muscle group.
How you split up your arm training is important, too. You can bust out eight sets for your triceps and biceps each in one workout, but then you’ll risk DOMS. And since your bi’s and tri’s are involved in a lot of upper-body movements, muscle soreness may impede your other workouts. Instead, you can break up your arm training into two to three workouts per week, paired with either a similar or unrelated muscle group.
Your biceps are involved in all pulling exercises, and your triceps are responsible for pushing. Some lifters prefer to pair the biceps and triceps with muscles that don’t recruit them — like chest and biceps or back and triceps — since your arms will be fresher. Others reason you’re already fatiguing that area and that the muscles work synergistically, so it’s more optimal to work them together. If you follow an upper and lower body split, then tack a few sets of each muscle onto the end of your upper body workouts. You can decide what works best for you.
How To Progress Your Arm Training
Building more muscular arms comes down to progressive overload, which means you’ll add just a bit more stress to your muscle each workout. This can be achieved by lifting more weight, performing more reps, or even changing the tempo. For the sake of ease, we suggest trying progressive overload with reps.
Pick a number of reps to perform for each set, and then add one rep to each set each week. For example, you can do three sets of 10 reps for hammer curls. After four weeks, you will be performing three sets of 13 reps. After four weeks, drop the reps back down to your starting rep number and up the weight by two and a half to five pounds. Repeat the process.
Train in both a lower and higher rep range. While doing fewer, heavier reps won’t make you bigger, they will make you stronger. (2) And that strength will allow you to, over time, lift more weights, which is what you need to do to continue to overload your target area progressively. In this instance, strength isn’t the end goal — it’s a means to an end. A stronger muscle is a bigger muscle.
A good general rule of thumb is to lift heavier at the start of your workout and then move on to lighter, higher-rep sets. Otherwise, you’ll be too fatigued to lift more weight. Start off your arms workouts by performing an exercise for five to eight reps, with a weight you can do for one rep short of failure. Then, perform your other exercises for eight to 12 reps.
More Arm Training Tips
- Chase the Pump, a Powerlifter’s Guide to Arm Training
- Arms Growing Stubbornly Slow? Try Using Biceps and Triceps Eccentric Training
- Schoenfeld BJ, Contreras B, Krieger J, et al. Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy but Not Strength in Trained Men. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2019;51(1):94-103. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000001764
- Schoenfeld BJ, Grgic J, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Strength and Hypertrophy Adaptations Between Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. J Strength Cond Res. 2017 Dec;31(12):3508-3523. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002200. PMID: 28834797.
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