Transform Your Arms with These Top 11 Exercises Recommended by a Fitness Expert

Whether you’re looking to sculpt sleeve-busting biceps, banish flabby triceps, or perform daily tasks with ease, incorporating arm-strengthening exercises into your fitness routine is a smart idea. However, building toned arms requires more than endless dumbbell curls and tricep dips; we chatted with Jake Dickson, NASM-CPT, a certified personal trainer with Barbend, who shares his 11 best “arm day” exercises to build strength and firm up your arms, regardless of your fitness goals.

Incorporating various exercises into your “arm day” routine helps ensure balanced muscle development. The right arm exercises target both the biceps and triceps for a well-rounded workout. With the below exercises on deck, you can improve your strength, endurance, and muscle tone, enhancing your performance in other workouts and daily activities.

Hammer Curl

“This exercise is fantastic for targeting the outside of your biceps, but it shines as an exercise to thicken your arms,” Dickson explains. “The hammer curl works your brachialis and brachioradialis muscles, both of which make your arms and forearms look meatier from the front.”

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides with your palms facing your body. Keep your elbows close to your torso as you curl the weights to shoulder height. Lower the dumbbells back to the starting position with control. Aim for three to four sets of six to eight reps with one minute of rest between sets.

Incline Dumbbell Curl

illustration of how to do incline dumbbell curl

Dickson says, “The incline dumbbell curl is one of the best biceps exercises out there. By setting an adjustable weight bench to a 60-ish degree angle and letting your arms hang behind your torso, you can add some extra stretch to your ‘bis and challenge them in a new way.”

Set an adjustable bench to a 60-degree angle and sit back with a dumbbell in each hand, allowing your arms to hang down. Curl the weights while keeping your elbows stationary, then slowly lower them. Perform three sets of eight to 10 reps, resting for one minute between sets.

Bayesian Cable Curl

“It sounds fancy, but the Bayesian curl is basically just a standing-up incline curl,” says Dickson. “Set an adjustable cable station to ground level, grab the handle with one hand, and step away from the station. Let the cable pull your arm behind your body, then curl. The pump is unbelievable.”

Set a cable machine to the lowest position and attach a single handle. Stand away from the machine, hold the handle with one hand, and step forward to create tension. Let the cable pull your arm behind your body, then curl the handle up. Complete three sets of 12 to 15 reps. Rest for 90 seconds between sets.

Preacher Curl

preacher curl

“Preacher curls are an arm day staple, and for good reason. By supporting your upper arm against a fixed pad, you remove any temptation or possibility of using momentum to cheat your form. This means more tension is placed where you want it to go: directly on your biceps,” says Dickson.

Sit at a preacher bench with your upper arms resting on the pad, holding an EZ bar or dumbbells. Curl the weight toward your shoulders, keeping your upper arms stationary. Lower the weight back down slowly. Shoot for three sets of eight to 10 reps with one minute of rest between sets.

Cheat Curl

“During cheat curls, you intentionally thrust with your hips to help kick the bar up to the top and then resist the weight as you slowly lower it back down. The lowering (eccentric) phase creates piles of mechanical tension, which is essential for maximizing muscle growth,” explains Dickson.

Start with a loaded barbell and stand with your feet hip-width apart. Use a slight hip thrust to help lift the barbell to shoulder height. Lower the bar slowly to maximize tension on the way down. Complete three to four sets of five to eight reps, resting for one minute between sets.

Cable Triceps Pressdown

tricep cable pushdown

Dickson tells us, “Many people report bouts of elbow pain when doing most triceps exercises, but you can get around this issue by working with cables instead. Cables provide consistent, smooth tension to your muscles, and you can also work with whatever implement or handle is comfortable for you.”

Attach a straight or V-bar to a high pulley on a cable machine. Stand facing the machine and grasp the bar with an overhand grip. Push the bar down until your arms are fully extended, then slowly return to the starting position. Perform four sets of eight to 10 reps with one minute of rest between sets.

Cable Overhead Extension

“Your triceps muscle has three heads (hence the term “tri”-ceps). To emphasize the muscle’s longest head, you must perform elbow-straightening movements with your arm held up by your head rather than at your side. This is where the cable overhead extension shines. Make this one a weekly must-do, and your arms will be better for it,” says Dickson.

Attach a rope handle to a low pulley. Stand with your back to the machine and hold the rope with both hands, extending your arms overhead. Keeping your elbows close to your head, extend your arms, then slowly return to the starting position. Aim for three sets of 12 to 15 reps. Rest for 90 seconds between sets.

EZ-Bar Skull Crusher

Dickson says, “Skull crushers are a classic bodybuilding exercise, but they can be uncomfortable on the wrists or elbows. Fortunately, you can get around this and beef up your arms by grabbing a plate-loaded EZ bar. EZ bars have intentional bends in the shaft, which make them easier to hold without stressing your joints.”

Lie on a bench while holding an EZ bar above your chest with your hands tightly together. Bend your elbows to lower the bar toward your forehead, then extend your arms back to the starting position. Perform three sets of 10 to 12 reps, resting for one minute between sets.

Barbell Wrist Curl

“Wrist curls strengthen your forearms. Between your wrist and elbow lie a host of many small muscles, each with their unique functions. In practical terms, you should include at least one wrist curl and wrist extension movement each week. The barbell wrist curl shines here for its simplicity,” says Dickson.

Sit on a bench holding a barbell with an underhand grip, resting your forearms on your thighs. Let the barbell roll down your fingertips, then curl it back up using your wrists. Complete four sets of 15 to 20 reps with 90 seconds of rest

Dumbbell Wrist Extension

“Wrist extension—as in, bending your hand back and pointing your knuckles toward the ceiling—works the many small muscles that attach to your two forearm bones,” Dickson explains. “It’s also a range of motion most people don’t load during standard weight lifting, which means that even very light weights will work wonders.”

Sit on a bench with a dumbbell in one hand, your forearm resting on your thigh, and your wrist hanging off the edge. Extend your wrist to lift the weight, then slowly lower it. Aim for four sets of 15 to 20 reps, resting for 90 seconds between sets.

Plate Pinch

“You’ll get plenty of grip strength training from big free-weight exercises like chest presses and rowing,” says Dickson. “However, you should include a bit of finger-specific work as well. The plate pinch is an accessible, easy-to-perform option here, but don’t sleep on it—hold the rim of a 45-pounder in your fingertips for as long as you can, and you’ll be shocked by how pumped your forearms are at the end.”

Stand holding a weight plate with your fingers pinched around the rim. Hold the plate for as long as possible to build finger and grip strength. Rest for one minute between rounds. Do three to four rounds of 30-second holds. Rest for one minute between rounds.

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