How we define arm strengthening exercises
Arm strengthening exercises are the cornerstone of any comprehensive fitness program. Strong arms are not just about appearances. Functionally, arm strength is necessary for many of life’s daily activities, such as carrying, lifting, pushing, and pulling.
While many traditional arm strengthening exercises involve weights and a gym, quite a few exercises can help you strengthen and tone your arms without weights.
If you’re aiming to boost your upper-body strength, don’t neglect your arms! Arm Strengthening Exercises can go a long way when it comes to making it easier to tote around luggage. Throw a football, or swing a tennis racket, as well as promote long-term bone health.
There are three main sections of the arms, namely the anterior (front), posterior (back), and shoulders, and you want to make sure you’re training all three sections, says Mecayla Froerer, the director of NordicTrack-iFit online training and a National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)–certified personal trainer based in Logan, Utah.
In the front, you’ll find the biceps brachii (also known as the biceps), the brachialis muscle, and the coracobrachialis muscle, per an article published in July 2021 in StatPearls. The back of the arm contains the triceps brachii (or triceps). The deltoid muscle sits at the top of the shoulder. And the backside of the shoulder is where you’ll find the rotator cuff, which consists of four small muscles: the supraspinatus, the infraspinatus, the teres minor, and the subscapularis, according to another article published in July 2021 in StatPearls.
Each of these muscles plays its own unique and important role to help our arms move in all the various ways we use them throughout the day.
Any pushing, pulling, reaching, or swinging movement of the arms requires a different set of muscles, and training those muscles can help you do everything from carrying a bag of groceries and picking up your dog to holding a plank pose in yoga and opening a heavy door.
“By training all muscle groups of the upper body. You’ll find an increased range of motion, which will aid in injury prevention,” Froerer says.
The muscles in your arm also help support your wrists and elbows. “Stronger arms help avoid increased stress and pressure put on the joints by daily tasks (like scrolling on your cellphone or chopping vegetables),” says Sam Parker, the CEO of Neoteric Movement Systems, a movement system for managing chronic pain and limited movement, and an AFAA-certified personal trainer based in Washington, DC.
Guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommend at least two to three nonconsecutive days a week of strength training for the entire body, which includes the arms.
You’ll also need to determine how many sets and reps to do. For general muscle strength, no matter what part of your body you’re training, the ACSM recommends 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions per training session, but Parker notes that you can hone it further, depending on your goals.
For instance, using lighter weights and doing more reps and sets will help build muscular endurance, essentially how long you can work a muscle without fatiguing. On the flip side, if you want to build muscle strength, you’ll want to increase the weight and decrease the reps, she says.
Here is the list of some arm strengthening exercises:
This beginner exercise focuses on the shoulder muscles and isometrically strengthens the biceps and triceps. You can make smaller or larger circles, but ensure that you maintain tension down your arm throughout the full set.
How to perform arm circles:
Stand tall with your arms straight out to your sides and your muscles contracted down the length of your arm.
Slowly make circles with your arms by rotating them around your shoulders while keeping them straight and your elbows locked with tension. Perform 3 sets of 10–20 repetitions in both directions. You can perform sets of large or small diameter circles to slightly change the effort required.
Arm front raises
This arm strengthening exercise targets the front of your shoulder and isometrically strengthens your biceps and triceps. To make this more challenging, grab two cans of soup or two water bottles to add weight.
How to perform arm front raises:
Stand tall with your arms out to the front, locked out straight with your thumbs toward the ceiling. Raise your arms overhead while keeping them straight and locked out until they point straight up overhead, with your upper arms blocking your ears when viewed from the side. Slowly lower your arms to the starting position. Perform 3 sets of 10–20 repetitions.
Arm lateral raises
This exercise targets the top of your shoulder and isometrically strengthens your biceps and triceps. To make this more challenging, grab two cans of soup or two water bottles to add weight.
How to perform arm lateral raises:
Stand with your arms at your sides and your palms facing inward toward your hips.
Keep your arms straight and raise them to the side until your body makes a “T” when viewed from the front. Slowly lower to the starting position. Repeat for 10–20 repetitions.
This exercise strengthens the shoulder and triceps and improves shoulder mobility.
How to perform wall angels:
Stand with your back against a wall with your knees bent and your feet roughly 1–2 feet (about 0.5 meters) away from the wall. Your head, upper back, and tailbone should be in contact with the wall. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees and raise your arms until your upper arms are parallel to the floor as if you’re putting your hands up. Extend your arms overhead until they’re straight. Aim to keep your arms, head, upper back, and tailbone in contact with the wall. Return to the starting position. Repeat for 3 sets 10–12 repetitions.
Overhead Tricep Extension
How to perform overhead tricep extension:
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, with a dumbbell in each hand. Lift the dumbbells above your head until your arms are straight, taking care not to lock your elbows. Palms should be facing each other. (If this is too difficult, use just one dumbbell, starting by holding the dumbbell in both hands in front of your body and lifting it overhead with both hands.) Keeping your elbows and upper arms in place, slowly lower your forearms so the weights drop slightly behind your head. Extend straight overhead to complete one rep and repeat.
How to perform tricep dip:
Sit on a stable chair or bench with your hands grasping the seat, positioned about shoulder-width apart and fingers facing forward. Extend your legs in front of you, placing your feet flat on the floor so your knees form 90-degree angles (with knees over ankles). Slide your butt off the chair or bench so only your hands and feet are supporting you, and extend your arms almost straight. Bend your elbows and, while keeping your back close to the chair or bench, slowly lower your body toward the floor until your elbows are at about a 90-degree angle. Press into the chair or bench and return to start to complete one rep and repeat.
Downward Dog to plank
This arm strengthening exercise strengthens the chest, shoulders, and triceps. It’s an excellent way to begin building strength at the top of a pushup position.
How to perform Downward Dog to plank:
Begin in a pushup plank position with your hands under your shoulders and your arms straight. You can start with your knees on the ground if the pushup plank position is too challenging. Raise your hips and press backward with your arms to arrive into the Downward Dog Pose. If you started from your knees, you will raise your knees off of the ground once you have pushed back enough to do so. Stabilize briefly in the Downward Dog Pose before returning to the starting position. Repeat for 3 sets of 10–12 repetitions.
How to perform a push-up:
Lying face down on the floor with your feet approximately 15-20 cm apart, place the palms of your hands flat on the ground, holding them slightly further apart than shoulder-width. Keeping your body long and straight, move up onto your toes and raise your body off the floor using your arms until they are extended fully. Then, slowly bend your elbows and lower your chest back towards the ground. Stop approximately 10-15 cm before touching the floor with your stomach. Maintain a straight back and legs as you do. Push yourself back up into the original position and repeat.
If this is too difficult to start, you can do an easier version with your knees on the floor. Even simpler still, you can use a wall and do this exercise standing up, with your feet positioned approximately 50 cm from the wall.
Shoulder or Military Press
How to perform a military press:
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, dumbbells in each hand, arms at your side. Lift the dumbbells just above your shoulders, with your palms facing forward and elbows bent at about 90-degree angles. From this starting position, extend through the elbows and press dumbbells above your head. Release to start to complete one rep and repeat.
How to perform a tricep push-up:
Get into the push-up position with straight arms, but with your knees on the ground and your feet in the air – your hands need to be closer together than a regular push-up and under your chest.
Tightening your core muscles, bending your arms, and bringing your chest down towards the ground. Keep your back straight and your upper arms closer to your body – your elbows should be pointing back behind you, not out to the side. Straighten your arms back to the starting position and repeat.
How to perform a bicep curl:
Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, hold the dumbbell in your hand. Holding your palms forwards, bend your elbows and raise the dumbbell towards your shoulder. Slowly lower your arm back down to the starting position and repeat.
How to perform a dumbbell punch:
Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, hold your dumbbells and keep your knees loose (slightly bent – not locked back). Lift your arms and punch them straight out in front of you, alternating each and keeping the dumbbells at shoulder level as you do. Avoid jerky movements by allowing your hips to naturally move with your body as to punch, and repeat sets for a timed period.
Building big arm muscles is a common goal in conjunction with strengthening them. While strength and muscle mass are related, they’re not the same.
Unfortunately, while it’s possible to strengthen your arms with the bodyweight exercises in this article. There’s only so much muscle you can build with these exercises.
In the early stages of your fitness journey, you will build some arm muscles with these exercises. You can progress them by adding more volume — in other words, more repetitions, up to about 20 per set.
However, as you progress, these exercises will become too easy, and you will need external resistance to continue challenging them enough to stimulate muscle growth.
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