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Sure, sculpted arms are eye-catching, but it’s more than just vanity. It’s about elevating your fitness game—boosting your bench press and overhead press while powering your pull-up progressions and rows. The best arm exercises aren’t just about aesthetics; they’re your ticket to a more muscular, more resilient body.

Dropping a few of the best arm exercises into your weekly workout plan will improve your lifts and strengthen your grip, and your joints will thank you, too. It’s not just about the pump; it’s about optimizing your overall performance.

So, grab a seat, but not for too long. After reading this, you’ll be prepping the best pre-workout and itching (IFYKYK) to hit the gym with newfound knowledge. Discover the 11 best arm exercises that, over the last decade, I—a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS)—have regularly incorporated in workouts programmed for clients and athletes. 

Whether you’re hitting an upper body or full body workout, these exercises have your back, or should I say, your biceps and triceps.

11 Best Arm Exercises

Nothing beats hitting a heavy dose of volume in the gym to sculpt your arm muscles, whether you’re a “bro lift” veteran or a gym novice. Check out these CSCS-backed 11 best arm exercises that’ll leave you feeling pumped and strong: 

  • Biceps Curl
  • Hammer Curl
  • Preacher Curl
  • Concentration Curl
  • Cable Curl
  • EZ-Bar Curl
  • Dumbbell Skull Crusher
  • Triceps Pushdown
  • Triceps Dip
  • Triceps Kickback
  • Overhead Triceps Extension

RELATED: Arm Workouts With Weights

Biceps Curl

Muscles worked: Biceps brachii (short head), brachialis, brachioradialis, forearms

Why do it: Let’s be honest—biceps curls speak for themselves (and your arms). A set of developed biceps improves grip and pulling strength and fills the sleeves. This exercise is your most traditional of the biceps exercises, targeting the short and long head of your biceps.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Hold a straight bar, a curl bar, or a pair of dumbbells with an underhand grip and slight bend in your elbows, palms facing up.
  3. Curl the weight toward your shoulders.
  4. Lower the weight back down with control.
  5. Repeat for desired reps.
barbell-curl

Hammer Curl

Muscles worked: Biceps brachii (long head), brachialis, brachioradialis, forearms, triceps

Why do it: Hammer curls can help add mass as the neutral grip allows you to curl heavier weights and increase the activation of muscles like the brachialis, brachioradialis, and the short head of the biceps.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand with a neutral grip (palms facing your body).
  2. Curl the dumbbells toward your shoulders without moving your upper arms.
  3. Squeeze your biceps at the top, then slowly lower the dumbbells.
  4. Repeat for desired sets and reps.

Expert tip: Knock out hammer curls paired with biceps curls during your arm workout to stimulate biceps muscle growth.

A gif of a dumbbell hammer curl

Preacher Curl

Muscles worked: Biceps brachii (short head), brachialis, brachioradialis, forearms

Why do it: It doesn’t get much more isolated (like a deserted island for your biceps), singling out every fiber in a muscle, than a preacher curl. If you want to develop that POP in your biceps, the preacher curl is one of the best long-head biceps exercises in the gym. Use a narrow grip to target the long head or switch to a wide grip to hammer the short head of your biceps.

How to do it:

  1. Sit or kneel at a preacher curl bench with your arms resting on the pad.
  2. Hold a curl bar or dumbbells with an underhand grip, starting with your arms fully extended.
  3. Curl the weight toward your shoulders, keeping your upper arms on the pad.
  4. Squeeze your biceps at the top, then lower the weight with control.
  5. Repeat for desired sets and reps.
EZ-bar-preacher-curl

Concentration Curl

Muscles worked: Biceps brachii (short head), brachialis, brachioradialis, forearms

Why do it: Concentration curls are the fraternal twin brother to preacher curls because they activate both the short and long heads of your biceps. Plus, the options are (almost) endless. Snag a pair of the best dumbbells, hook a straight bar up to a cable machine, or even snag a resistance band when you program your own workouts at home to develop vein-popping biceps. While the seated concentration curl is more notorious, you can mix it up by standing or cycling between one arm and two arm variations.

How to do it:

  1. Sit on a bench with legs slightly wider than hip-width apart.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand between your legs, arm extended.
  3. Place the back of your upper arm against the inside of your thigh.
  4. Curl the dumbbell toward your shoulder, keeping your upper arm stationary.
  5. Squeeze your biceps at the top.
  6. Lower the dumbbell with control.
  7. Repeat, then switch arms.
concentration curl

Cable Curl

Muscles worked: Biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis, forearms

Why do it: Cable curls enable heavier weights and increased reps, leveraging the machine’s assistance during the lowering phase. They can be performed with different grips and attachments, offering targeted biceps engagement. Plug these in towards the end of your workout to achieve those last few reps in your cable biceps workouts, and complement them with high-volume drop sets or sets to failure to stimulate muscle growth.

How to do it:

  1. Stand facing a cable machine with a bar or rope attachment set to the lowest position.
  2. Grab the attachment with your palms facing up.
  3. Keep your elbows pinned to your sides and curl the attachment toward your shoulders.
  4. Squeeze your biceps at the top.
  5. Slowly lower to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for reps.

RELATED: Best Cable Machine for Home Gym

cable bicep curl

EZ-Bar Curl

Muscles worked: Biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis, forearms

Why do it: Fact—I REALLY love the EZ-bar curl as It efficiently activates both the short and long heads of the biceps brachii. Adding to its appeal, the EZ-bar offers wide- and narrow-grip options, enabling a dynamic superset combination. Moreover, it seamlessly mirrors the motion of a standard barbell curl, making it a flexible choice that can also function as a variation for preacher curls.

How to do it:

  1. Stand and hold an EZ-bar with an underhand grip.
  2. Keep your elbows close to your side.
  3. Curl the bar toward your chest, bending your elbows.
  4. Squeeze your biceps at the top.
  5. Lower the bar with control.
  6. Repeat for desired sets and reps.

RELATED: Curl Bar Workouts

EZ Bar Curl

Dumbbell Skull Crusher

Muscles worked: Triceps brachii (long and lateral head), anconeus, forearms

Why do it: Synonymous with lying triceps extensions, skull crushers isolate the triceps similarly to overhead triceps extensions. While triceps pushdowns and kickbacks are effective for triceps hypertrophy, skull crushers stand out by stimulating more strength adaptations.

How to do it:

  1. Lie back on a bench and hold a pair of dumbbells above your chest area.
  2. Bend your elbows, lowering the dumbbells behind your head.
  3. Pause, then squeeze your triceps to straighten your arms, raising the dumbbells until they’re back above your chest.
  4. Repeat for desired sets and reps.
Dumbbell Skull Crusher

Triceps Pushdowns

Muscles worked: Triceps brachii (lateral and medial head), anconeus, forearms

Why do it: Triceps pushdowns are excellent for engaging both your triceps’ medial and lateral heads, improving strength and muscle size.

How to do it:

  1. Stand at a cable machine with a bar or rope attachment on the highest setting.
  2. Grasp the bar with an overhand grip, keeping your elbows close to the sides. Start with your elbows bent at 45 degrees.
  3. Push the attachment down, keeping your upper back straight and fully straightening your arms.
  4. Squeeze your triceps, then control the cable back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for desired sets and reps.

Expert tip: Increase the effectiveness of triceps pushdowns in your cable machine workouts by using variations with the straight bar, triangle, and rope attachments, allowing for targeted emphasis on specific areas of your triceps.

Triceps Dip

Muscles worked: Triceps brachii, anterior deltoids, pectoralis major, rhomboids, trapezius, serratus anterior

Why do it: The close-grip bench press, push-up, and triceps dips (which I’ve ultimately chosen for this list), rank as my top three compound exercises for developing the triceps. Keeping an upright position will engage the triceps most, while a slight forward lean will stimulate pec development, specifically your medial pecs. 

How to do it:

  1. Position your hands on a dip bar, flat surface, or parallel rings aligned with your sides.
  2. Lower your body by bending your elbows to about 90 degrees.
  3. Push through your hands to straighten your arms back up, squeezing your triceps.
  4. Repeat for the desired sets and reps.
ring dips

Triceps Kickback

Muscles worked: Triceps brachii (lateral and medial head), anconeus, posterior deltoids, forearms

Why do it: Triceps kickbacks specifically emphasize the isolation of the triceps brachii’s long head. Kickbacks are also a versatile exercise since dumbbells, cable machines, and resistance band variations all provide similar benefits with varying levels of resistance. 

How to do it:

  1. Grab two dumbbells, hold them at your sides, and bend your elbows to 90 degrees.
  2. Lean forward, keeping a flat back until your chest is almost parallel to the floor.
  3. Straighten your arms as you squeeze your triceps.
  4. Return to the start position with control.
  5. Repeat as needed.

Expert tip: To target all three heads of the triceps in your workout, consider pairing kickbacks with triceps pushdowns after wrapping up compound sets of triceps dips.

Woman doing tricep kickbacks

Overhead Triceps Extension 

Muscles worked: Triceps brachii, anconeus, deltoids

Why do it: Overhead triceps extensions replicate the motion of skull crushers but with a distinct training position. This exercise is potent for building strength and muscle mass by isolating the triceps. Intensify the movement by slowing it down, allowing you to feel a deep stretch in the triceps and maximize the effectiveness of each repetition.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart.
  2. Grip the top of a dumbbell or kettlebell with both hands.
  3. Lift the dumbbell over your head and straighten your arms.
  4. Bend your elbows to lower the dumbbell behind your head.
  5. Squeeze your triceps to bring the dumbbell back overhead.
  6. Repeat for desired sets and reps.

Expert tip: Intensify the movement by slowing it down, allowing yourself to feel a deep stretch in your triceps and maximize the effectiveness of each rep.

RELATED: Dumbbell Triceps Workouts

kettlebell-overhead-triceps-extension

Benefits of the Best Arm Exercises

Now that you’ve gotten the rundown on the best arm exercises, here are the top three benefits (as I see them) of incorporating these movements into your arm training split: 

Improves Compound Lifts

Mastering arm training can substantially elevate your upper-body compound lifts, such as pressing (bench and overhead press) and pulling (pull-ups, rows, and pulldowns) exercises. 

While bench press variations are commonly associated with pec training, it’s essential to recognize the substantial recruitment of the triceps brachii1 during this exercise. Strengthening and enlarging your triceps helps contribute to your bench press performance and enhances your overall upper-body strength and size. A tip: Pair your strength lifts with isolated triceps exercises to build your lifts.

The correlation also holds true for pull-ups and row variations when considering the role of the biceps. The biceps brachii is designated as a primary mover2, working with the lats in exercises like pull-ups, chin-ups, and rows. Incorporating targeted arm exercises to isolate your biceps is an effective strategy for enhancing your pulling strength.

Improves Grip Strength

Engaging in any workout program incorporating resistance training demands a firm grip on various weights, whether barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, or cable machine attachment. Executing these exercises effectively not only requires but also challenges significant levels of grip strength. In a November 2022 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health3, researchers found that “resistance training significantly improved grip strength…” reinforcing the above statements. When you grip a weighted implement, you recruit muscles in the wrists, forearms, and upper arm, improving your grip and grip strength.

coop-doing-a-barbell-curl

RELATED: Grip Strength Exercises

Improves Joint Health

Numerous studies have shown that strength training4 improves joint strength and range of motion. A January 2023 study in Sports Medicine5 showed that “resistance training with external loads can improve range of motion.” 

Arm exercises target various muscle groups, strengthening these muscles can better support your joints. For example, strong biceps and triceps can help stabilize your elbow joint. They also involve compound movements that engage multiple joints. 

As these exercises are performed, the stabilizing muscles around the joints are activated, promoting joint stability. This stability is crucial for preventing injuries and maintaining joint health.

Arm Workouts

Now, it’s time to apply what we’ve discussed in the gym. Here are two of the best arm workouts that incorporate the best arm exercises. 

Beginners will start with foundational strength-based arm exercises, gradually transitioning to complementary movements with increased volume. Initially, the emphasis will be on building arm strength, followed by a seamless shift toward hypertrophy to build bigger arms. 

man-doing-ez-bar-preacher-curl

Begin with moderate to light weights, ensuring a gradual progression in weight (with moderation being key), or aim for the upper limits of the rep range weekly.

Beginner Arm Workout

ExerciseSetsReps
Dumbbell Skull Crusher38-12
Barbell Biceps Curl38-12
Triceps Pushdowns312-15
Dumbbell Hammer Curl312-15

For intermediate to advanced lifters, the training approach remains consistent—start with strength-centric lifts and progress into volume-inducing, isolated variations to build muscle. If you fall into this category, boasting a consistent year-long commitment to the gym, you’ll be better equipped to handle an expanded repertoire of exercises and increased training volume.

RELATED: What is Progressive Overload?

Expert tip: For more muscle growth, utilize tempos6, especially in the negative (muscle shortening) portion of the lift.

Intermediate-Advanced Workout

ExerciseSetsReps
Triceps Dips3-56-12
Dumbbell Hammer Curls3-56-12
Dumbbell Skull Crushers3-58-12
EZ-Bar Curls3-58-12
Triceps Kickbacks3-420+ 
Cable Curl3-420+ 

Best Arm Exercises: Final Thoughts

Prescribing a consistent regimen of top-notch arm exercises offers benefits beyond mere flexing, sleeve-filling, and post-workout pumps.

  • Programming specific arm exercises can strategically target smaller muscle groups, enhancing overall strength gains and contributing to significant improvements in compound lifts
  • Arm exercises can help enhance your grip strength
  • Training smaller muscle groups improves muscle joint strength and stability
  • Tailor your workout programs to align with your fitness level—whether you’re a beginner or at the intermediate/advanced stage—and progress for optimal results
  • They’re flat-out fun

Best Arm Exercises: FAQs

What is the most effective exercise for arms?

As a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), I’d recommend maximizing the impact on your arm strength and development with these two exercises: triceps dips and biceps curls. Triceps dips excel at building up strength and mass in the upper arms, engaging not only the triceps but also the deltoids and chest. On the flip side, biceps curls offer equipment versatility, allowing you to choose from various options. Opt for barbell curls to enhance strength and size, or embrace dumbbell curls to blend size and stability as you stabilize each dumbbell in your hands.

RELATED: Dumbbell Curl Variations

How can I build arm strength fast?

The best way to build arm strength fast is to have a structured workout program, maintain effort and consistency in the gym, and supplement your workouts with hydration, nutrition, and recovery. Second, make your workouts make sense. If you aim to improve your arm strength, use appropriate exercises, train enough (but not too much), and keep your reps between 8 and 12 per set.

If you’re still struggling with building your arm strength, consult with a personal trainer who can work with you to craft a custom program to help you see greater gains. 

How can I tone my arms fast?

To optimally tone your arms fast, here are a few of my CSCS tips:

– Begin with compound exercises followed by isolation movements
– Don’t forget the bodyweight exercises such as push-ups and pull-ups
– Reps should range from 8-12, and a few sets of 20+ reps
– Vary between dumbbell exercises, barbell, and cable machine variations
– Keep your rest periods7 shorter, ideally 30 to 60 seconds
– Make sure you’re doing enough in and out of the gym—recover, hydrate, and eat well

RELATED: Best Muscle Recovery Supplements

References

  1. Melani A, Gobbi G, Galli D, et al. Muscle Activation in Traditional and Experimental Barbell Bench Press Exercise: A Potential New Tool for Fitness Maintenance. Sports (Basel). 2019;7(10):224. Published 2019 Oct 17. doi:10.3390/sports7100224
  2. Hewit JK, Jaffe DA, Crowder T. A Comparison of Muscle Activation during the Pull-up and Three Alternative Pulling Exercises. J Phys Fitness Med Treat Sports. 2018;5(4):1-7. doi:10.19080/JPFMTS.2018.05.555669.
  3. Zhao H, Cheng R, Song G, et al. The Effect of Resistance Training on the Rehabilitation of Elderly Patients with Sarcopenia: A Meta-Analysis. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022;19(23):15491. Published 2022 Nov 22. doi:10.3390/ijerph192315491
  4. Latham N, Liu CJ. Strength training in older adults: the benefits for osteoarthritis. Clin Geriatr Med. 2010;26(3):445-459. doi:10.1016/j.cger.2010.03.006
  5. Alizadeh S, Daneshjoo A, Zahiri A, et al. Resistance Training Induces Improvements in Range of Motion: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2023;53:707-722. doi:10.1007/s40279-022-01804-x.
  6. Krzysztofik M, Wilk M, Wojdała G, Gołaś A. Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16(24):4897. Published 2019 Dec 4. doi:10.3390/ijerph16244897
  7. de Salles BF, Simão R, Miranda F, Novaes Jda S, Lemos A, Willardson JM. Rest interval between sets in strength training. Sports Med. 2009;39(9):765-777. doi:10.2165/11315230-000000000-00000

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