You might not be after biceps like boulders or bulging horseshoe-shaped triceps, but defined, sculpted arms are a must for any woman in search of the perfect physique. Lifting weights won't suddenly give you mammoth-like guns, but hitting your biceps and triceps hard will give your arms much more shape. Forget light weights for hundreds of repetitions, though; you need tough training with heavy weights to really bring out your best. Welcome to the gun show.
You don't actually need to train your arms directly to get them working as your biceps and triceps are hit when you work the rest of your upper body with multi-joint compound exercises like bench presses, dumbbell presses, rows and pushups. Pullups and dips are two of the best upper-body exercises for arm development. If pullups sound a bit daunting, try just doing the downward part of the exercise as slowly as you can, advises trainer and kettlebell coach Neghar Fonooni. Perfect sets of parallel bar dips will do far more for your triceps than curls and extensions, claims strength coach Nia Shanks. Follow the same guidelines for these as with pullups.
After learning the virtues of compound exercises, you might be thinking that any other arm-specific exercises are entirely redundant. But that's far from the truth. Isolating your biceps can take your arms from good to great. Experiment with different types of biceps curls, such as dumbbell, barbell or machine varieties. You can change your grip from palms up to palms down, or even neutral, with your palms facing each other. No biceps isolation is necessarily better than all the others, but try different ones and find which ones work best for you.
Dips, pushups and bench presses may be the queen of triceps exercises, but as with biceps, finishing off your tris with a few isolations is the way to go for perfect arms. Make your pushups even better for your triceps by narrowing your grip, keeping your elbows tucked in and engaging your triceps on the way up and back down, advises personal trainer David Kirsch, author of "The Ultimate New York Body Plan." To really hammer your triceps, finish off every workout with a few sets of overhead cable extensions. These allow you to get a better triceps stretch and contraction than regular cable pushdowns.
Plan two upper-body sessions per week -- one that focuses on compound movements and one that hits your arms hard with isolations. Space them three to four days apart. In the compound session perform bench presses or dumbbell presses, plus dips or pushups to work your triceps, and rows with dumbbells or a barbell as well as close-grip chinups or wide-grip pullups. Perform each exercise for four sets of six to eight reps. In the isolation session, pick three triceps and three biceps exercises and do two to three sets of 10 to 15 on each. For best results, increase the weight or add extra reps each session.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.