In terms of exercise payoffs, is there anything as glorious as a pair of strong, sculpted arms? They grab people’s attention, boost your confidence and increase your functional fitness, from carrying groceries to lifting a suitcase. But before can put on your own gun show, you need to think about the process of working this area, not the result. For beginners, building stronger arms starts with learning proper form and selecting the proper weights.
Sandy Brockman, a coach for the GOLD’S FIT™ program of high-intensity training, says the most common mistake people make is lifting weights that are too heavy (men) or too light (women).
“Either way, it annihilates form and it annihilates results,” she says. “Instead of using muscle, men use their tendons and joints, or rock their bodies to get that weight up.
“And women don’t create any muscle adaptation without enough weight. They’re basically not doing anything.”
What Weight Should I Start With?
Brockman says you want to go for an amount that’s challenging but not overwhelming. To start, that’s about 8 pounds for women and 15 pounds for men (and that applies to both free weights and machines). Start with the lowest weight and work your way up until you find the maximum weight you can lift without compromising your form.
You want to be able to do the exercises, but you also want to work your muscles to the point where they get tired, she says. “If you’re going for 10 reps, the last two reps should be hard.”
Be mindful of how your muscles are handling the weight, Brockman says. Slow down or choose a different weight as needed to maintain good form.
Get to know the muscles in your arms
In addition to understanding correct form and picking the right weights, it helps to understand the different arm muscles. Here’s a quick guide.
- Bicep: This large muscle of the upper arm rotates the forearm and also flexes the elbow.
- Tricep: This large muscle in the back of the upper arm helps straighten the arm.
- Brachioradialis: This muscle at the top of the forearm helps rotate the forearm. It also flexes the forearm at the elbow.
- Extensor carpi radialis longus: This muscle next to the brachioradialis helps move the wrist. When you clench your fist, it bulges out from the skin.
- Deltoid: Technically part of the shoulder, this muscle controls the majority of the shoulder’s movements and enables the arm to have increased range of motion.
“When exercising the arms, you want the full range of motion in these muscles,” Brockman says.
1. Modified push-ups (on your knees or against a wall)
On a mat, begin in a kneeling position with your hands below your shoulders and your knees behind your hips, so that your back is angled and long. Tuck your toes under and bend your elbows to lower your chest toward the floor. Look straight ahead. Press your chest back up to the start position.
The goal: Do 10 reps.
2. Tricep dips (using a bench)
Make sure you’re using a secured bench. Facing away from the bench, position your hands shoulder-width apart on the bench. Slide your butt off the front of the bench with your legs extended out in front of you. (For a less advanced option, you can bend your legs slightly.) Straighten your arms, keeping a little bend in your elbows to keep tension on your triceps and off your elbow joints. Slowly bend your elbows to lower your body toward the floor until your elbows are at about a 90-degree angle. Be sure to keep your back close to the bench. At the bottom of the movement, press down on the bench to straighten your elbows, returning to the starting position. Remember to keep your shoulders down as you lower and raise your body.
The goal: Do 10 reps.
Rest for 45 seconds, then repeat No. 1 and No. 2 for two more rounds.
Start in a full plank. Lower first your right elbow to the mat and then your left elbow, moving into an elbow plank. Put your right hand on the mat, and straighten your right elbow. Do the same on the left side to return to a full plank.
The goal: Do five on each side.
4. Diamond push-ups
Get on your hands and knees, with your hands together under your chest. Position your index fingers and thumbs so they’re touching, forming a diamond shape, and extend your arms so that your body is elevated and forms a straight line from your head to your feet. Lower your chest toward your hands, keeping your back flat and making sure not to flare your elbows out to the sides. Stop just before your chest touches the floor, then push back up to the starting position.
The goal: Do 10 push-ups.
Rest for 45 seconds, then repeat for No. 3 and No. 4 for two more rounds.
5. Alternating dumbbell bicep curls
Stand with a dumbbell in each hand, holding them at arm’s length. Your elbows should be close to your torso and the palms of your hand should be facing your thighs. Start with the right-hand weight. While holding the upper arm still, curl the weight as you turn your palm until it faces forward. Be sure to exhale until the dumbbell is at the level of your shoulder,r and be sure to move only your forearm. Hold this position for a second. Then, breathing in, slowly bring the weight to the starting position. Do the same with the left weight.
The goal: Do 20 curls, 10 on each side.
6. Tricep extensions
Raise a dumbbell overhead with your elbows pointing forward (they should be bent at 90 degrees). When raising the weights overhead, extend your elbows until just before they’re fully extended. Lower the dumbbells slowly, maintaining control. Be sure to keep the elbows from flaring out to the sides.
The goal: Do 10 extensions.
Rest for 45 seconds, then repeat No. 5 and No. 6 for two more rounds.
After gaining strength with these introductory arm exercises, you’ll be ready for the next level. Check beck soon for our second installment: intermediate-level arm exercises.
Check out these other progressive workouts:
Core Progression: Build Your Foundation
Core Progression: Build Endurance
Core Progression: Build Stability With Movement