The Best Weightlifting Exercises for Upper Arms

Use free weights, body weight and machines for your arm training.
i Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images

Your arm muscles often play second fiddle to other targeted body parts such as your butt or calves, but to complete your perfect physique, stunning arms are vital. Your arms consist of two major muscles, the biceps and triceps, and while there isn't a set of best exercises for them, you need to work both groups to get lean, defined arms.

Body Weight Exercises

    Before you even step into the weight room, take a look at body weight exercises first. You don't need weights to hit your upper arms hard, because your own body weight may be used as a great strength training tool. Chin-ups are the ultimate body weight biceps builder, and while you may struggle with them initially, the best way to progress is to attach a resistance band over the bar and place your knees in the loop of the band for some assistance, according to Rachel Cosgrove, fitness expert and author. As you get better, use lighter bands until you don't need any help at all. Bar dips hit your triceps, but women often have trouble with these initially too, according to strength coach Charles Poliquin. You can overcome this by using a dip assistance machine or having a partner give you a boost.

Free-Weight Exercises

    The classic dumbbell curl is the go-to exercise for many women, though for best results you should switch between barbells and dumbbells and vary your grip position. As for triceps, it's tempting to stick to less demanding exercises such as kickbacks or extensions, but try to include compound exercises in there too, such as close-grip presses or dumbbell presses while lying on the floor. These compound exercises hit more muscles fibers, so they stimulate more growth and burn extra calories.

Machine Exercises

    If you're not too confident with free weights and body weight exercises, then resistance machines are a good place to start. Most gyms have machines for the biceps curl and the triceps extension. The only downside to machine training is that it forces your muscles into a set range of motion, and takes away the stabilization aspect of holding free weights, which means you don't have to work as hard or hit as many muscles when using them.


    Train your arms in their own session once per week, or perform one exercise per session if you're following a full body routine. Stick to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions. Once you hit three sets of 12 reps, increase the weight slightly and drop back to sets of eight. Training your upper arms will build lean muscle and burn calories, but it won't necessarily burn fat from your arms, so it's vital that you follow a calorie-controlled diet for fat loss all over your body, including your arms.

the nest