How to Strengthen the Upper Arms & Back

Strengthening the upper arms and back requires specific exercise routines.

Strengthening the upper arms and back requires specific exercise routines.

While flipping through fitness magazines or watching late night infomercials, you’ve probably noticed a theme. The commercial fitness industry continually produces workout programs and products “designed” to get your arms into tip-top shape. Whether shaking a handheld machine for hours a week or performing repetitive motions along a highly motivational workout DVD, strengthening the upper arms and back might seem time-consuming and complicated. However, strengthening the upper arms and back simply requires twice-weekly workout routines performed at home or at the gym.

Establish a strength-training routine that focuses on your upper-arm muscles, including the triceps, biceps and back. Exercise these muscles at least two days per week as part of a full-body strength training routine or with muscle-specific training days. For example, you might train your entire body on Monday and Thursday, or train the triceps and chest muscles on Monday, back and biceps muscles on Tuesday and the lower body on Wednesday. No matter what formula works best for you, always rest a minimum of 24 hours between training a specific muscle.

Lift weights safely. If you’re just starting strength training, stick with weight machines rather than free weights. Unlike dumbbells or barbells, which require lifting knowledge to safely execute exercises, weight machines support each repetition by guiding movements in a predetermined path. Along with exercise assistance, weight machines effectively isolate specific muscle groups. Only consider integrating free weights into your strength training routine after 10 to 12 weeks of consistent machine training. Effective machine exercises include the lever overhead triceps extension, lever pushdown for the triceps, lever seated row for the back and the lever curl for the biceps.

Move to free weights when you feel ready to lift them safely. Dumbbell exercises for triceps include the dumbbell kickback and the dumbbell one arm triceps extension while dumbbell bicep exercises include the standard dumbbell bicep curl. The dumbbell bent-over row is an effective back exercise.

Use a specific formula of sets and reps to exhaust muscles with the goal of adding strength and lean mass. If you’re a beginner, lift eight to 15 repetitions within one to two sets to train muscles and improve your fitness. However, intermediate and advanced exercisers must lift a specific number of sets and reps for strength development. Lift four to eight repetitions within two to six sets and rest two to five minutes between each set. As you become stronger and your muscles are more adapted to training, reduce rest duration between sets to two to three minutes.


  • Select a weight amount challenging enough to exhaust muscles by the end of each set, but not too heavy where muscles are so fatigued you cannot complete the recommended number of sets and repetitions.
  • Only increase weight after you finish the suggested sets and reps without feeling fully exhausted or fatigued. Increase weight amount by five to 10 percent.


  • Never begin a strength-training routine without first consulting with your physician. This is especially important if you’re recovering from an injury or illness.

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About the Author

Jonathan McLelland has been a professional writer since 2005. He has worked as a story writer and editor for the international sitcom, “Completing Kaden,” as well as a proposal writer for various production companies. McLelland studied communication and theater at St. Louis Community College.

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