Workout Plans

The 9 Best Arm Exercises for Muscle Definition & Strength

Brian Sutton, MA, MS, CSCS, NASM-CPT, CNC, CES, PES
Brian Sutton, MA, MS, CSCS, NASM-CPT, CNC, CES, PES
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Are you looking for stronger, more defined arms — the type of arms you can show off?

If toned and sculpted arms are what you’re looking for, try these strength training arm exercises.

If you really enjoy the thrill of sculpting arms, consider teaching others through the lens of exercise science with NASM. Become a personal trainer online today!

Table of Contents


Arm Muscle Anatomy Review

But before we get started with the exercises, let’s have a brief review of arm anatomy. It’s important for us to understand the muscles being targeted during each exercise.

Note: The review below is not an exhaustive list of all arm muscles, but rather some of the functions of the major arm muscles including:

Biceps Brachii

Biceps Brachii

  • Location: The biceps brachii (or biceps for short) are located on the anterior (front) part of your upper arm between your elbow and shoulder. Your biceps contain two different “heads” or muscle bellies; a short head, and a long head— each with different attachment sites.
  • Function: Your biceps accelerate elbow flexion (bending your arm at the elbow), supination (moving from a palm down to palm up position) and assist with shoulder flexion (raising your arm in front of your body).
  • Example Exercises: Dumbbell/barbell biceps curls, hammer curls, preacher curls

Triceps Brachii

Triceps Brachii

  • Location: The triceps brachii (or triceps for short) are located on the posterior (back) part of your upper arm between your elbow and shoulder. Your triceps contains three different “heads”; a short head, a medial head, and a long head— each with different attachment sites.
  • Function: Your triceps accelerate elbow extension (straightening your arm at the elbow) and shoulder extension (moving your arm toward your backside— the exact opposite of shoulder flexion).
  • Example Exercises: Triceps pushdowns, narrow-grip bench press, narrow-grip push-up, triceps kickbacks, supine triceps extensions (skull crushers)

Brachioradialis

Brachioradialis

  • Location: Your brachioradialis is a primary muscle of your lateral (thumb-side) forearm. It attaches slightly above the elbow on your humerus (upper arm bone) and near your wrist.
  • Function: Your brachioradialis accelerates elbow flexion and assists with supination and pronation of your forearm (moving from a palm down to palm up position and vice versa).
  • Example Exercises: Hammer curls, reverse curls, preacher curls

Brachialis

Brachialis

  • Location: Your brachialis lies underneath your biceps brachii on the anterior portion of your arm. It attaches slightly above the elbow on your humerus and slightly below your elbow on your ulna (one of your two forearm bones).
  • Function: Your brachioradialis accelerates elbow flexion.
  • Example Exercises: Dumbbell/barbell biceps curls, hammer curls, preacher curls

Arm Workout: Tips, Sets and Reps

Tips Before You Start…

It’s important to remember that you have many muscles and these muscles interact with several joints including your wrist, elbow, and shoulder.

As such, for a well-rounded routine, it is best to perform a variety of movements at each joint to stress your muscles properly (Marcolin et al, 2018, Oliveira et al, 2009).

Subsequently, exercises should target both your upper and lower portions of your arms. This will help give your arms the shape and definition you’re looking for— in addition to providing you strength for tasks of daily living like opening a jar or holding a heavy object (Chiung-ju et al, 2014).

Last but not least, don’t forget that the arm exercises provided are examples. Feel free to substitute with your favorite moves and modalities such as machines, dumbbells, kettlebells, elastic tubing, or body weight suspension trainers.

Reps For an Arm Workout

For an effective arm workout, aim for a moderate rep range of around 8-12 reps per set. This range is generally considered optimal for promoting muscle growth, strength, and hypertrophy in the biceps, triceps, and other arm muscles.

Adjust the weight to ensure that you reach muscle fatigue within the desired rep range, allowing for proper form and technique throughout each set.

The exercises listed will be performed with moderate loads and repetitions to emphasize both muscular hypertrophy (muscle growth) and muscular endurance. Load and volume (sets, reps) can be increased as your fitness and strength improve (Mangine et al, 2015).

💪 Want to take the guesswork out of your strength training? Try using a one-rep calculator. Whether you're a seasoned lifter or just starting out, this handy tool can help you determine your estimated one-rep max (1RM) based on your current lifting performance.

Sets For an Arm Workout

Incorporating 3-5 sets per exercise is sufficient for a challenging arm workout session. This allows you to target the arm muscles from different angles and provide an adequate stimulus for muscle growth and strength development.

It will be important to perform each set to muscular fatigue. In other words, the last few repetitions should be difficult to perform, but you should be able to keep ideal form, posture, and technique throughout the entire set.

Keep in mind the number of sets can be adjusted based on your fitness level, time constraints, and overall workout volume.

Arm Workouts: What You Need to Know

NA_ What You Need to Know_ Arm Workout Tips Infographic JPEG.III

  • Perform a variety of movements at each joint.
  • Target both upper and lower arms.
  • Perform exercises with moderate loads, sets and reps.
  • Perform each set to muscular fatigue.
  • Feel free to substitute with your favorite moves and modalities.

What are the Best Arm Excerises?

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When it comes to arm workouts, it's important to target different muscle groups for overall arm strength and development.

Below we will review some of the best arm workouts that target various muscles in the arms including: 

  1. Barbell Bicep Curls 
  2. Cable Tricep Extensions 
  3. Dumbbell Hammer Curls 
  4. Bench Dumbbell Tricep Extensions 
  5. Cable Bicep Curls with Shoulder Flexed 
  6. Cable Tricep Extensions with Shoulder Flexed 
  7. Wrist Flexion 
  8. Wrist Extension 
  9. Wrist Supination/Pronation

1. Barbell Biceps Curls

Preparation

  1. Stand while holding a barbell in both hands.

Movement

  1. Perform a barbell curl by flexing both elbows, keeping your shoulder blades retracted.
  2. Curl bar up to about chest level. Do not allow your lower back to arch. Keep your spine in a neutral position.
  3. Slowly lower the bar back to the original position by extending your elbows.
  4. Do 3-5 sets and 6-12 repetitions.

Technique Tips 

  • To decrease stress on your elbow, do not grip too close or too wide on the bar. 
  • To determine grip width, extend your elbows so your hands fall naturally to your sides, palms facing forward. 
  • Where your hands fall at your sides is the position where they should be when they grip the bar.

2. Cable Triceps Extension

Preparation

  1. Sit upright with feet shoulder-width apart and pointed straight ahead.
  2. Grasp two cable handles, with your elbows flexed.
  3. Keep your shoulder blades retracted and depressed.

Movement

  1. Push your hands toward the ground until your arms are fully extended. Do not allow your shoulders to elevate toward your ears during the exercise.
  2. Hold.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position.
  4. Do 3-5 sets and 6-12 repetitions.

Technique Tips 

  • Using a cable attachment when performing cable pushdowns will allow your elbows to track through their natural path of motion versus having your hands closely fixed on a bar. This may help decrease stress on your elbows.

3. Dumbbell Hammer Curls

Preparation

  1. Stand with your feet flat on the floor, pointing straight ahead.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with arms at your sides; palms facing each other.

Movement

  1. Perform a hammer curl by performing elbow flexion while keeping your palms facing each other.
  2. Keep your shoulder blades retracted throughout the exercise.
  3. Slowly return dumbbells to their original position.
  4. Do 3-5 sets, 6-12 repetitions

4. Bench Dumbbell Triceps Extensions

Preparation

  1. Lie on a flat bench.
  2. Put your feet flat on the floor with toes pointing straight ahead.
  3. Hold dumbbells in both hands with elbows flexed.

Movement

  1. Extend your elbows until your arms are straight.
  2. Hold.
  3. Slowly lower each dumbbell toward your forehead by flexing your elbows. Be sure to keep your low-back in a neutral position throughout the exercise. Do not let it excessively arch off the bench.
  4. Repeat.
  5. Do 3-5 sets and 6-12 repetitions.

Technique Tips

  • Opt to have your hands shoulder-width apart to decrease joint stress on your elbows.

5. Cable Biceps Curls with Shoulder Flexed

Preparation

  1. Stand while holding a handle to a cable attachment with your shoulder flexed.

Movement

  1. Perform a biceps curl by flexing your elbow, keeping your shoulder blade retracted. Curl until your elbow is fully flexed.
  2. Slowly return to original position by extending your elbows.
  3. Do 3-5 sets and 6-12 repetitions.

6. Cable Triceps Extension with Shoulder Flexed

Preparation

  1. Stand while holding a handle to a cable attachment, (your back to the machine) with your shoulder flexed.

Movement

  1. Perform a triceps extension by extending your elbow until your arm is straight. The only movement that occurs should be at the elbow— avoid flexing or extending your shoulder.
  2. Slowly return to the original position by flexing your elbow.
  3. Do 3-5 sets and 6-12 repetitions.

7. Wrist Flexion

Preparation

  1. Sit on a bench or stability ball with one arm comfortably rested on a table or other sturdy object.
  2. Hold a light dumbbell with your palm facing upward and slightly hanging off the table.

Movement

  1. Perform wrist flexion through a comfortable range of motion.
  2. Hold.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position.
  4. Do 3-5 sets and 6-12 repetitions.

8. Wrist Extension

Preparation

  1. Sit on a bench or stability ball with one arm comfortably rested on a table or other sturdy object.
  2. Hold a light dumbbell with your palm facing downward and slightly hanging off the table.

Movement

  1. Perform wrist extension through a comfortable range of motion.
  2. Hold.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position.
  4. Do 3-5 sets and 6-12 repetitions.

9. Wrist Supination/Pronation

Preparation

  1. Sit on a bench or stability ball with one arm comfortably rested on a table or other sturdy object.
  2. Hold a lightweight object with your palm facing upward and slightly hanging off the table.

Movement

  1. Perform wrist pronation by turning your lower arm from a palm-up position to a palm-down position.
  2. Reverse the movement to perform wrist supination.
  3. Do 3-5 sets and 6-12 repetitions.

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Arm Workout FAQs

Is it OK to train arms everyday?

The frequency of arm training can vary between 2 to 6 times per week. As the frequency increases, the recommended number of exercises per day decreases. For instance, if you train arms twice a week, it is advisable to perform 2 to 3 exercises per session, totaling 3 to 4 sets. On the other hand, if you choose to train arms six days a week, focusing on one exercise per muscle group each day is recommended, with just 2 sets per workout.

Is 5 exercises enough for arms?

Short answer – yes! it is recommended to target a range of 15 to 25 sets in total for your workout. Each exercise should consist of 2 to 3 sets comprising 8 to 12 repetitions. Consequently, if you perform 3 sets for each exercise, you should aim to include approximately 5 to 8 different exercises in your workout session.

Are 10 minute arm workouts effective?

According to Ben Quist, the founder of Form and Fitness in Grafton, Wis., spending ten minutes on muscle toning is sufficient. However, for individuals seeking to improve their overall fitness, dedicating only 10 minutes three times a week may not yield the desired results they are expecting.

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What to Read Next…

The Author

Brian Sutton, MA, MS, CSCS, NASM-CPT, CNC, CES, PES

Brian Sutton, MA, MS, CSCS, NASM-CPT, CNC, CES, PES

Brian Sutton is a 20-year veteran in the health and fitness industry, working as a personal trainer, author, and content manager. He’s earned an MA in Sport Management from the University of San Francisco, an MS in Exercise Science from the California University of Pennsylvania, and several certifications from NASM and NSCA. He’s was an adjunct faculty member for California University Pennsylvania (2010-2018) teaching graduate-level courses in Corrective Exercise, Performance Enhancement, and Health and Fitness and currently serves as a Content and Production Manager for NASM.

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