These Are Some of the Best Exercises to Help You Build Big Arms

BIG TIME SQUATTERS and deadlifters put a major focus on training their legs. Bench press fanatics spend their time building up their chests. Athletes commit their efforts to sport-specific training, working to hone their body to peak condition for optimal performance. But for just about everyone else (and even many members of these aforementioned groups of exercisers), sculpting a set of strong, muscular arms is high among their top priorities at the gym, if not the number one physical training goal.

The big arms ideal is often thought to be a purely aesthetic pursuit. For some trainees, that might be the case—they might not have anything else on their mind but big gains for their big guns, with plenty of curl-only workouts and mirror flex selfies on their social media profiles. For the uninitiated, larger-than-life arm muscles can signal strength, toughness, and fitness, even if the owner of those pythons would struggle to deadlift or squat their own weight.

That’s just fine. You’re allowed to have purely aesthetic goals for your workouts—that’s what the whole sport of bodybuilding is based around, after all. But even if you want to have more functional goals in mind beyond your looks and how well you can fill out a tee shirt, you’ll still be better off if you include a generous number of arm-focused exercises in your training split. Just like you shouldn’t skip leg day, you shouldn’t totally ignore focused arm training in a misguided effort to avoid looking vain.

The Benefits of Training Your Arm Muscles

So why exactly should you give your arms any attention outside of their role in big compound movements that build strength? While arm muscle development might seem like a vain pursuit that doesn’t yield the same performance and real-world benefits as some of these other muscle groups, that’s not quite the case. Your arms are integral for so many movements, even exercises that most people consider to be focused on other muscle groups.

Indeed, you can’t deadlift or squat without using your hands and arms to grip the bar and keep it in the right position. Even if you have the strongest posterior chain in the world, you’ll have a tough time pulling heavy weight off the floor if you’re unable to grip and hold onto the barbell.

There’s more to training your arms than just ego and looks. Your arm muscles—namely the biceps, triceps, and forearms—are essential for so many daily movements, from gym staples like pushing, pulling, and pressing to everyday tasks like hauling your groceries or picking your kids up to carry them. You’ll have a better quality of life with strong, healthy arms.

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Training your arm muscles isn’t super complicated, especially since there’s a wide wealth of movements that are easily accessible for all types of exercisers. You can target your biceps, the crown jewel of the arm muscles, or the triceps, the largest arm muscle on the backside of the limb—or you can really dial down for focused training on less-commonly appreciated muscles like the forearms. No matter which group you want to train, keeping good form paramount will be the most sure path to your gains.

These arm exercises will help you to build up all of those muscles. Make sure to take note of all the notes on form and how to implement them into your training, then plug them into your workout to start on your path to big arms.

The Big Arm Building Exercises

Biceps Exercises

Biceps Curl

3 sets of 10 to 12 reps

The basic, tried-and-true biceps curl is the key to big biceps.

To do it right, squeeze your shoulder blades, glutes and abs. Keep everything tight. Keep your uppers arms perpendicular to the ground, locking in your lats. Take out any rock/momentum from your waist. Keep it all in your biceps.

As you curl up, squeeze your biceps and turn the dumbbell toward the sky (parallel to the ground). The more rotation, the more you’re working your bicep. Want an even tougher challenge? Add an isometric hold to the rep at its halfway point. Count a 2 to 5 second hold.

Spiderman Curl

3 sets of 10 to 12 reps

The spiderman curl eliminates all momentum to really target your biceps.

Start on a bench with a 45-degree angle. Your body should be strong and sturdy on your stomach, with your chest high on the bench. Squeeze your glutes to keep pressure off your lower back. Squeeze your shoulder blades, keeping your chest up.

Keep your upper arm angle perpendicular to the ground the whole time. As you curl up, rotate your pinky up. Squeeze your bicep at the top with a forward rotation to keep your shoulder protected.

Dumbbell Preacher Curl

3 sets of 8 to 12 reps

Dumbbell preacher curls are useful for changing the upper arm angle on your biceps curls, giving the muscles a different type of pump. The EZ bar and specialized bench or machine setup might be more common in big box gyms, but you can do preacher curls anywhere with dumbbells and an adjustable bench.

Set up from behind the bench, laying the back of your arm against its inclined surface and “hugging” your armpit to the top. Squat down and engage your glutes, hamstrings, and abs. Then, curl the weight up, making sure to keep your upper arm glued to the bench and keeping the wrist in a neutral position. Keep the range of motion away from resting at the bottom or top of the movement so it’s a position of constant tension.

Concentration Curl

3 sets of 8 to 12 reps

Concentration curls are a classic biceps builder—and unsurprisingly, most people go about them the wrong way. The most common mistake trainees make with concentration curls is sitting with poor posture. The point is to isolate your biceps muscle, which is difficult if you’re moving your torso and digging your elbow into your thigh.

Instead, take your non-working hand off your thigh and hold it away from your body. Sit with good posture (core and shoulders engaged), rest your working arm’s triceps against your thigh, and hold the weight. Curl up by only moving at the elbow.

Tall-Kneeling Curl

3 sets of 8 to 12 reps

One of the most useful things about arm training is that you can shift your position to shift up the challenge. By performing dumbbell biceps curls from a tall-kneeling position, you won’t just eliminate the inclination to “cheat” the curl using body English—you’ll get a core workout, too.

Make sure that when you assume the kneeling position, you squeeze your glutes and core.

Hammer Curl

3 sets of 8 to 12 reps

Shift the traditional biceps curl to holding the weights with a neutral grip for the hammer curl. By making that small change, you’ll target a different muscle just beneath the biceps—the brachialis—that will really make your arms pop.

When you proceed through each rep, make sure that you move only at the elbow (just like other curls). If you want to take cheating off the table, you can try the tall-kneeling position.

Incline Dumbbell Curl

3 sets of 10 to 12 reps

Add a bench to your curl session to emphasize the peaks of your biceps. The dumbbell incline curl allows you to get into a new position, allowing your to stretch the muscle even more.

Set an incline bench to around a 60 degree angle, and sit back holding a pair of dumbbells. Allow your arms to hang down (but be careful that your shoulders aren’t overstretched), with your elbows behind your torso. Curl the weight up moving only at the elbow and squeeze your biceps at the top of the movement, then control the weight down, coming to a pause before starting the next rep.

Crucifix Curl

3 sets of 8 to 12 reps

The crucifix curl gives you a chance to change up your angle and really isolate your biceps muscle. You’ll need a cable tower or a resistance band to do it.

To keep your biceps isolated for the biggest possible pump, try it from a tall kneeling position. Imagine there’s a wall in front of you that you’re not allowed to touch—then squeeze your muscle to build it up.

Chinup

3 sets of 8 to 12 reps

While the chinup might be chiefly known as a back-builder, you can sculpt massive arms using the bodyweight exercise, too.

To make the move even more arm-centric, try to extend the time under tension by slowly emphasizing the eccentric (descending) portion of the exercise.

Angle Change Biceps Curl 21s

3 sets

This challenging exercise (okay, it’s pretty much a workout) mashes up two sure-fire ways to build muscle—the classic 21s workout protocol, and a shifting load position by changing the ways you work with the weight.

You’ll combine a drag curl, a standard curl, and a preacher-esque variation to switch up your stimulus. That, plus the high-volume nature of 21s, will lead to more muscle growth.

Resistance Band Preacher Curl

3 sets of 8 to 12 reps

You’ve used all types of resistance—add a band to that list for a truly diverse arm pump. You’ll shift your arms away from your torso, which is great to get you out of your comfort zone.

Loop the band around your feet to get into position here. Squeeze your biceps at the top of each rep to make the most out of the movement.

Lying Biceps Cable Curl

3 sets of 10 to 12 reps

Shift your perspective (and your normal positioning) to attack the biceps from a new angle with this lying biceps cable curl. Once you’re lying on the bench under the cable, the goal is to squeeze your biceps and keep your upper arms perpendicular to the ground without allowing your elbows to shift backwards. That will keep the focus directly on the biceps muscles.

Triceps Exercises

Skull Crusher

4 sets of 10 to 12 reps

The skull crusher will help pack muscle to your triceps.

With a bar, isolate that skull crusher motion without any aid from momentum. Keep your feet flat on the floor. Lie back on the bench and squeeze your glutes as hard as you can. This is your strong base. Don’t let your ribcage flare. Keep your abs tight. Drive your shoulder blades into the bench. Lower the weight and squeeze your triceps to create tension. Keep your wrists strong and maintain a 90 to 92 degree angle an inch from your head. Keep your elbows tight and in, squeezing your triceps at the top for 1 second.

Pushup

3 set of 15 reps

The pushup is the perfect bodyweight move that gets your arms involved.

Start in a pushup position with your glutes and abs squeezed. Your hands should be directly under your shoulders with your hands screwed in with some external rotation. Look down at the ground. Engage your midback and squeeze your shoulder blades. Lower down, keeping your elbows close to the torso. Push all the way up. If you need to modify, use a bench.

Close-Grip Pushup

3 sets of 10 to 12 reps

The close-grip pushup targets your triceps—and is a much safer option than a diamond pushup, which can allow for potentially dangerous internal rotation at the shoulder.

Squeeze through your glutes and core as you get in position. Look straight toward the ground. Get your hands narrower than shoulder width, with your hands facing forward. Turn your lats on by turning your elbows forward. Lower as you would with a pushup, keeping your elbows as tight to your torso as possible. Keep your forearms as close to perpendicular tot he ground as possible.

Triceps Rope Pressdown

3 to 4 sets of 10 to 12 reps

The triceps pressdown is a muscle-building staple that remains a go-to for guys with access to cable machines (you can also use resistance bands tethered to a high anchor point).

For the standard variation of the exercise, stand in front of the cable stack gripping the handles of the rope tightly, keeping your core engaged and you glutes squeezed to stand tall. From there, press downward, moving only at the elbow joint.

MH fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. has a quick hack to avoid cheating your posture—plant your back against an incline bench to keep your torso in a strict position. Just make sure to keep tension in your glutes, core, and shoulders.

Triceps Kickback

3 sets of 10 to 12 reps

The triceps kickback is a go-to muscle-builder—but you have to be intentional in your movements. One big key to getting the most out of the exercise is working with lighter weights.

Once you’ve set up with your arm using a bench for support, make sure that you hold the weight with your upper arm parallel to the ground. Then, extend your arm, only moving at the elbow. If you can’t control the movement, drop down to a lighter weight.

JM Press

3 sets of 10 to 12 reps

The JM press combines one killer triceps move, the skull crusher, with another, the close-grip press. The result is a muscle and strength building hybrid you’ll want to have in your workout.

Keep this cue in mind once you hit the bench: Points of dumbbells touch your shoulders, elbows touch your ribs. Move deliberately to pile on the time under tension, then reap the benefits.

Bench Dips

3 sets of 10 to 12 reps

Bench dips might not be the best option for you if you have a history of shoulder issues—but you can build strength without a ton of gear using the exercise in a pinch.

Avoid the major mistake most people make when they do dips. Instead of placing your hands on the bench surface so that they pointed forward at your back, point them outward by laying your hands out with your fingers facing away from you.

Loaded Pushups

3 sets until failure

We’ve already highlighted the benefits of the bodyweight classic in all of its forms. You can supercharge muscle growth by adding a load, taking it into a different realm entirely.

Getting that load on is tricky. Once you have it in place, use the plate as a check to keep your core and glutes engaged so it doesn’t slide off as you work.

Bodyweight Triceps Extension

3 sets of reps until failure

You don’t always need weights to build your arm muscles. This bodyweight triceps extension exercise is a little more gentle than the version that uses an external load, but you’ll still reap the mass-building benefits. Make sure to move within a comfortable range of motion when you do this to prevent potential injury.

Forearm Exercises

Farmer’s Carry

4 sets of 40 seconds

The farmer’s carry boils down to carrying a heavy load while walking that builds muscle in the back, forearms and core.

To set up, mimic a deadlift. Tighten your core and stand up with your weights. Grip your weights aggressively. Keep the weights level. Squeeze your glutes and keep your pelvis neutral. Squeeze your abs and draw your ribcage in. Roll your shoulders back to turn on your lower lats and rhomboids. Keep your neck in a neutral position as you walk straight ahead.

Towel Hammer Curl

3 sets of 8 to 10 reps

The towel hammer curl works your brachialis muscle, just like the dumbbell version—but adding the towel gives you an extra grip challenge, which helps to blow up your forearms.

Wrap your towel around the handle of a kettlebell, then grip either end of the fabric as tightly as you can. From there, perform hammer curls using solid form, making sure to keep your core engaged and movements fluid to accommodate the hanging weight.

Zottman Curl

3 sets of 8 to 10 reps

The Zottman curl is another biceps move that gets your forearms involved—but this exercise completely shifts the focus halfway through. This isn’t a big weight movement, so make sure to focus on form and control even more than with your other curls.

Start holding the dumbbells in your hands with the weights at your sides, just like a standard curl. Move only at the elbow to curl the weight up, pausing at the top to squeeze your biceps. Twist your wrists so that your palms face forward. Lower down slowly, controlling the weight through the eccentric portion of the lift.

Long Lever Forearm Rotation

3 sets of 40 seconds per arm

Simplicity is the key for this versatile long lever drill. Use anything from a light bar to a broomstick, grip it tightly for some extra benefits, and rotate and twist your wrists around. Move slowly, and keep the weight in control.

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