While there’s no shortage of workouts claiming to help you grow the booty of your dreams or sculpt some washboard abs, I’ve been on a quest to tighten and tone up my arms lately.
In the era of Michelle Obama and J.Lo, the misconception that incorporating dumbbells and weights into your upper body workout will make you bulk up has gone by the wayside.
Instead, incorporating a regular upper-body routine in your workout will help you get rid of arm flab while building strength and a toned set of guns that Michelle would be proud of.
The best part about all of these moves is that depending on your workout goals and how much strength you’re trying to build in your upper limbs, you can adjust how much weight you’re using, as well as the number of repetitions involved. As a rule of thumb, I’d recommend higher reps with lower weights if your goal is to add some definition to your arms, while doing fewer reps with heavier weights can help you build some serious strength.
For an arm-centric workout routine, you’re going to want to pick around six different exercises to circle through and do about 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps, but I’ve also seen some definition and strength just incorporating 15 minutes of arm-focused exercises into my regular workout.
Whether you’re looking to tone things up or build strength in your upper body, these are the best arm exercises to give you some definition.
Push-ups might still give you PTSD from middle school gym class, but hear me out: they’re one of the easiest and fastest ways to strengthen your upper body by targeting your triceps (the back part of your upper arms), as well as your chest muscles and shoulders. There’s also the added benefit of working your core and your lower back, so it’s really a win-win for your upper body without having to use any extra weights.
To do a push-up correctly, you’re going to want to get down on all fours and put your hands about shoulder-width apart. You’ll then want to bend your elbows at about a 45-degree angle to your body as you slowly lower your body to the ground. Make sure that you’re keeping your core tight and your lower back flat as you move through your repetitions.
Depending on your existing level of upper body strength, you can adjust the move to help you out. When I first got serious about working on my arms about a year ago, I would make it a goal to do 10 push-ups a day on my knees. I’ll never be able to crank out 30 push-ups in a row, but it’s surprising how much your strength—and the definition in your arms—can grow in just a short period of time.
2. Triceps Dip
While I only discovered triceps dips recently, they’ve been a game-changer for blasting upper arms. All you need is a bench or chair to do this body-weight move, so this is a great exercise for someone who’s trying to build definition without hitting the weight room.
To do a tricep dip, you’ll want to face your back to the bench or chair and put your hands about shoulder-width apart on the surface. With your legs extended so that you’re balancing on your heels, you’ll then want to slide your butt off the chair and begin bending your elbows and lowering your body until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Make sure to keep your shoulders down while lowering your body towards the ground. Once you’ve hit this angle, you can straighten your arms to get back into starting position and start all over again.
3. Bicep Curl
While building up your biceps isn’t quite as important as tricep-based workouts for toning up your arms, bicep curls are one of the most recognizable upper body moves for a reason. Not only are you building strength in the muscles at the front of your upper arms, but you’re also working your lower-arm muscles (the ones in your forearms). These are basically the muscle groups that you’d use to pick something up.
To complete a bicep curl, stand with your feet about hip-width apart with your back straight and a pair of dumbbells in your hands (I’d recommend anywhere from 5 to 10-pound weights for beginners). Next, you’ll want to bend your elbows and bring your hands with the weights in towards your shoulders before heading back to the starting position.
4. Rear Delt Fly
No good arm workout is complete without a move targeting your rear delts, which is the rounded muscle that’s located at the top of your arm and shoulder. Rear delt flys are my secret weapon for defined shoulders, since the move focuses on the back part of your upper arms.
To do one, you’ll want to stand with your feet about hip-width apart with your knees slightly hinged with your choice of dumbbells in hand (I’d recommend 5 pounds for toning). You’ll want to slightly bend over with your back in a neutral straight stance before raising both of your arms up to a 90-degree angle. Once you’re forming a “W” shape, you’ll want to squeeze your shoulder blades to activate them before returning to the starting position.
5. Overhead Tricep Extension
The overhead tricep extension is a classic for a reason. While it’s relatively easy to master, adding this simple but effective move will give you some fire triceps by targeting the muscle group and laying the foundation for stronger shoulders, chest, forearms, and lats.
You’ll want to start with your feet hip-distance apart with your choice of one dumbbell or kettlebell in hand. You’ll then want to bring your arms straight up so that the weight is above your head before slowly bending your elbows to lower the weight behind your head until your arms are just slightly lower than a 90-degree angle. After a beat, return to the starting position for your next one.
To make sure that you’re doing this move correctly, ensure that you’re keeping your upper arms still while you’re doing it, and that your elbows are pointing straight ahead instead of splayed to the side.
6. Bench Press
Like push-ups, the bench press is another move that might make you think of gym class or body builders. While it took me years to try this one due to the intimidation factor, it’s now one of my favorite exercises for sculpting my triceps, shoulders, and chest muscles all in one movement.
Personally, I’d recommend starting out with 5-10 pound dumbbells on each side if you’re new to this and not necessarily trying to build muscle in that area. To make sure you don’t injure yourself, avoid arching your back while you’re lying on a flat bench and keep your hands about shoulder-width apart as you lift your dumbbells straight above you. Make sure that you don’t go too low when you’re lowering the weights down to your chest, and double check that your elbows aren’t splayed out. After a pause, return to the starting position.
While these are some of the most effective exercises for targeting all the different muscles in your arms, I’d be patient with yourself if you’re a beginner and modify the moves as needed.