All those fancy gym machines are great when you want to add some variety to your workout, but nothing beats a set of dumbbells for versatility, portability and ease of use. If you have a set of dumbbells of varying weights, you have all you'll need to start an effective arm routine. Engage in these basic exercises three to four times a week, giving each muscle group at least one day of rest in between strength-training workouts.
Warm up your muscles by jogging, walking, cycling or doing some other type of cardiovascular exercise for five to 10 minutes. Following the warmup, include dynamic stretches, such as arm circles, to put your muscles through a full range of motion.
Select a dumbbell weight that will challenge your muscles, but one that's not so heavy that you can't complete a full set. This could vary depending on the exercise you're doing, so really the only way to find out is to try each exercise. If you're just getting started, try a 5- or 10-pound weight. You'll know you're using an appropriate amount of weight when you feel nearly fatigued on the last repetition of the set.
Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and grasp a dumbbell in each hand. Start this basic bicep curl exercise by allowing the dumbbells to rest along your thighs as your palms face outward. Curl the dumbbell toward your shoulders and chest, stopping just before the dumbbells touch your shoulders. Lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.
Keep your feet shoulder-width apart as you prepare for the bicep press exercise. Place your arms in a "goal post" position, in which your upper arms are out at your sides, extended perpendicular from your trunk. Your hands, meanwhile, point up toward the ceiling. To start the exercise, press your arms upward until they're straight overhead, creating a long line with the rest of your body, and then lower the arms back to the starting position. If you have a flat bench or coffee table handy, you can also do a "press" exercise lying down. Lie flat on the bench with your feet resting on the floor, and then move your arms from that "goal post" position to a straight-arm position that leaves your arms perpendicular from your trunk.
Work your arms and the latissimus dorsi on your back by performing two types of lateral raises. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and grasp a dumbbell in each hand, arms at your sides and palms facing in toward the sides of your legs. Then raise your arms to your sides, so that your body resembles a "T" shape, and then lower your arms back to the starting position. After completing one set, move your hand position to face the front of your legs, and raise your arms upward straight in front of you until the arms are positioned straight out from your shoulders.
Perform a tricep kickback by grasping a dumbbell in one hand and placing the opposite knee on a bench about knee-heigh. Lean forward so the hand corresponding to the resting knee touches the bench, and then move the other hand -- the one holding the dumbbell -- toward its corresponding shoulder. Press the dumbbell backward until your arm is straight.
- Do 10 to 12 repetitions of each exercise, take a break for 30 to 60 seconds and complete a second set.
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.