The muscle group closest to the bodybuilder's heart is not the chest, but the arms. Using the best arm exercises builds big, chiseled arms. Amazing arms are essential for anyone committed to an imposing physique, but it takes a smart approach to make it happen.
Choosing the correct exercises is one key part of any workout program. Despite the popularity of certain exercises such as triceps pressdowns and arm curls, you simply won’t build the best looking arms without a wide range of exercises. A variety of movements are necessary for complete development, and relying on only a few exercises can lead to overuse injuries and slower progress.
This article will give you the most productive exercises to hit the triceps and biceps musculature.
When it comes to training the triceps, there’s a wide range of options. Pressdowns are the most popular triceps movement but you won’t build the biggest, strongest arms by relying on them. Here are several triceps exercise to incorporate into your workouts to build stronger arms:
Lying Triceps Extensions
One of the best exercises for building strong upper arms is triceps extensions. There are several variations for lying triceps extensions and you should use them all to build the biggest arms. Along with using different implements (dumbbells, EZ bar), there are a variety of possible bar pathways for the lying triceps extension. You can bring the bar to the bridge of your nose, to your shoulders, to your chin, or to your forehead (a.k.a. skull crushers). Here are specific recommendations for each variation:
Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extension To Shoulders
Grasp two dumbbells and lie back on a flat bench. Press the dumbbells directly over your shoulders, palms in neutral (facing each other). Keeping your upper arms stationary, bend your elbows and lower the weights until your forearms make contact with your biceps. At this point the dumbbells will probably be in contact with your shoulders. Return the dumbbells by extending your elbows, keeping their position fixed.
Lying EZ Bar Triceps Extensions To The Forehead
This variation has you use an EZ bar to allow for more comfortable grip than a barbell. Perform the same general motion, bringing the bar to your forehead instead of your shoulders. Make certain to keep your wrists in a neutral position to minimize the stress on your elbows.
Lying EZ Bar Triceps Extensions To The Bridge of The Nose
Bringing the weight to the bridge of the nose hits the triceps from a slightly different angle then traditional skull crushers that bring the bar to the forehead.
Lying EZ Bar Triceps Extensions To The Chin
In this variation, lower the bar until it makes very slight contact with the chin. The elbows will have to drop forward slightly. This is fine, just be sure to avoid having them travel outwards to the side.
Decline Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extension To The Shoulders
Studies have shown that the decline dumbbell triceps extension is one of the most effective movements when it comes to recruiting the triceps. It also provides a great stretch of the triceps musculature.
Lie on a decline bench and hook your feet under the padded rollers while holding a pair of dumbbells. Press the dumbbells upward in a bench press fashion. You’re now ready to start the exercise. Use a neutral grip so your palms are facing each other. Hold the elbows stationary and lower the dumbbells until your forearms make contact with your biceps. At this point, the end of the dumbbell will probably be making contact with your shoulders. Lift the dumbbells back to the starting position by extending your elbows. Your elbows, of course, should be the only joint moving during this exercise.
Incline Barbell Triceps Extensions
For this exercise, use an incline bench set at 45 degrees. Grab the bar slightly narrower than shoulder width. Extend the weight straight up so that your arms are perpendicular to the ground. Lower the barbell under control until it makes very slight contact with your forehead. At this point, pause for 1 second. Lift the weight back up to the starting position. Keep your wrist in neutral position throughout the movement.
Close Grip Bench Press
This exercise is often done incorrectly, either with too narrow a grip (4 to 6 inches) or a full range of motion that takes the bar all the way to the chest. Most individuals should use a 14-inch grip in this exercise. Any narrower increases the strain on the wrists and elbows.
As soon as the bar is 4 to 6 inches above the chest, concentrate on pushing the bar back up and move your elbows under the bar to have a more effective biomechanical advantage. Locking out your elbows would take the precious muscle-building tension away from your triceps, so just go to 95 percent of lockout.
Dips are the absolute king of triceps builders and are one of the best exercises for building arms. Dips give you big size and strength. When dipping, try to stay as upright as possible throughout the range of motion. If you lean too far forward, you’ll just be bringing your pecs into the movement. At first, your bodyweight will probably suffice as the means of resistance. As you get stronger, you can progressively increase the resistance by holding a dumbbell between your legs or by hooking a plate or dumbbell in a specialized chin-up/dip belt.
Seated EZ Bar French Press
Sit on a flat bench with an EZ-bar racked on your clavicles. The bar should be held with a pronated (palms down) grip. The grip width should be slightly narrower than shoulder width. Press the weight overhead until your elbows are just short of reaching the lockout position – this is where you’ll begin the exercise.
Start by lowering the bar behind your head until your forearms make contact with your biceps – at this point, you should feel a good stretch on the long head of the triceps. Now extend your elbows, using only your triceps strength, to push the bar back to the start position. To ensure triceps isolation, your forearms are the only body part that should be moving during this exercise.
The California press is a cross between a close-grip bench press and a lying triceps extension. It’s a very popular assistance movement to increase triceps strength that will translate to increased bench press PRs.
A good starting weight for this exercise would be about halfway between what you use in the lying triceps extension and what you use in the close-grip bench press. To perform the California press, assume the same starting position as you would for a close-grip bench press. Instead of lowering the bar to the bottom position of your pecs, lower it to your upper pecs by pivoting your elbows forward. At this point, your forearms will come into contact with your elbow flexors, the bar will be touching your upper chest, and you’ll experience a great stretch in your triceps. From this position, push the bar away and upward from your chest; your elbows should come just short of lockout when you get to the top position.
Seated Half Presses In Power Rack
This variation of the seated overhead press is excellent for packing meat on the lateral head of the triceps, which is often the most underdeveloped of the triceps muscles. You can tell when it’s developed as it will make the back of the triceps look like an X, in addition to making you appear to be considerably wider.
Place an adjustable incline bench inside a power rack with the bench at 80 to 90 degrees in relation to the floor. Adjust the pins in the power rack so the bar is at hairline level for the starting position. Your grip on the bar should be about shoulder width. Your elbows should be pointing outward. Simply press the weight up as if you were doing a conventional press. However, make sure that you use a “dead stop” in the bottom position. In other words, let the weight come to a complete stop against the pins for a duration of 2 to 4 seconds.
Although there are numerous variations of arm curl exercises, some are better than others. But there is no such a thing as a “single best” arm curl. A variety of exercises will allow for complete development, whereas relying on only a few exercises can lead to overuse injuries and slower progress.
Concentration Dumbbell Curls
This is one of the most basic of all biceps exercises. Its name comes from the undivided attention a trainee usually gives to the arm being worked; furthermore, it’s a physiological fact that you can increase muscle facilitation when you look at it.
The concentration curl can be performed in either a standing or a sitting position, but the seated kind is better. When you’re standing, your nervous system is partially distracted because it’s maintaining balance. Sitting down during this movement gives full attention to the curl and enhances neural drive.
Standing Barbell Curls
Although it’s frowned upon to do barbell curls at a squat rack in a busy gym, this exercise is a great muscle builder and allows you to handle big weights compared to most other exercises for the biceps. To minimize cheating and maximize isolation, many coaches recommend pressing your back and gluteal muscles against a wall and having your elbows touching the sides of your body.
Standing Narrow-Reverse-Grip EZ Bar Curls
Reverse-grip biceps curls have you gripping the bar with palms facing your body, changing the angle with which you hit the biceps muscles for greater muscle fiber recruitment. Use an overhand grip on the narrow portion of an EZ bar (the first bend away from the center of the bar). Curl the bar until the tops of your forearms make contact with your biceps.
Paused Standing Narrow-Reverse-Grip EZ Bar Curls
Adding a pause into the lowering motion of the reverse-grip curl increases the tension and thereby the training effect on the biceps musculature. Not a beginner exercises, paused reverse-grip biceps curls increase the load on the brachialis and brachioradialis muscles for maximal arm growth.
Use an overhand grip on the narrow portion of an EZ bar (the first bend away from the center of the bar). Curl the bar until the tops of your forearms make contact with your biceps. Begin to lower the bar, but when you have lowered the bar through the first 30 degrees of the motion, pause for 2 seconds, then continue lowering under control. This pause increases the load on the brachialis as it is involved preferentially in keeping the elbow flexed under tension.
Seated Zottman Curls
One of the best exercises for building stronger upper arms, Zottman curls combine a traditional bicep curl with a reverse curl. Start the curl with palms facing forward (supinated). At the top position, rotate your hands so that palms are facing downward. At the same time, straighten your wrists and lower the weight under control.
Close-Grip Scott Curls
Also known as Preacher Curls, Scott Curls are a unique exercise to isolate the biceps, especially in the finish position. Grasp an EZ curl bar and sit on a preacher bench. Hold the bar with an underhand grip (palms facing up) with your hands slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart. Extend your arms. Keeping your upper arms stationary and your triceps in constant contact with the arm support, curl the bar. Reverse the technique to return to the start.
Single-Arm Dumbbell Scott Curls
There is strong evidence that muscles may be better activated during single limb movements. Doing Scott curls with one arm at a time is great way to maximally hit all your muscle fibers. The Scott bench allows you to isolate the elbow flexors without requiring assistance and stabilization work from other muscle groups. Only work in the range of motion that maintains tension in the elbow flexors. If you come up too high, elbow flexor tension will be lost, compromising effectiveness. Because working in the bottom potion of the range of motion is much more difficult on Scott Curls than on standard curls, many trainees avoid lowering the weight all the way. Don’t shorten the range in this way because it diminishes the training effect.
Seated Dumbbell Hammer Curls
Hammer curls are performed with palms facing each other in a neutral grip– as if you were holding a pair of hammers. This exercise has the advantage of targeting the brachioradialis and brachialis at the expense of the biceps brachii. Vary it with an incline bench at 80 degrees to isolate the long head of the biceps. The incline position allows the elbows to be drawn back, away from the body, thus maximally recruiting the biceps.
Midline Hammer Curls
This variation of hammer curls has you bring the dumbbells together in front of your chest without allowing them to touch. Use the same neutral grip and general motion as with regular hammer curls.
Offset-Grip Dumbbell Hammer Curls
Offset-grip dumbbell hammer curls increase the involvement of the short-head of the biceps. Instead of gripping the dumbbell in the middle of the handle, an offset grip has you grip the dumbbell so that your thumb rests against the inside plate of the dumbbell.
Start with the dumbbells in a neutral (hammer) grip and curl the weight to about 40 degrees. Then, turn your palm up (supinate) and complete the curl. Reverse the motion, turning your palm down at the same 40 degree position as you lower the weight.
You’ll never get bored training arms with this wide range of effective exercises. For guidance with putting muscle mass on the shoulders, read how to build 3D shoulders. For programming tips for arm training, read Build Bigger, Stronger Arms.