Now if you’ve seen me, you may be questioning as to if I’m qualified to give you a list of the best arm exercises based on the fact that my arms are a weaker body part, but here’s the thing – my arms have come up dramatically. Some people have incredible tricep and bicep insertions that give the illusion of huge arms, or their arms just respond to about anything. These obviously aren’t the people to go to in order to get advice because they could probably carry heavy groceries a few times per week and have better arms than most. Here are some of the tried and true arm exercises that have both shown to personally, scientifically, and generally be most effective for developing good arms.
Now this exercise isn’t anything special. It doesn’t seem to be as hardcore as doing skull crushers with metal 45’s at the end of an EZ-curl bar, but it does what should be done to work a very small muscle group. It isolates your triceps and contracts the triceps maximally. If you’re able to extend your elbows behind your body when you extend, maximal contraction is achieved.
You will need either a long rope attachment, or dual-attachment of some sort to get your hands and elbows behind your body if you’re really trying to get that squeeze that forces blood into the muscle and activates muscle growth. Alternatively, playing with various angles is encouraged. Stimulating any muscle group in different ways is what causes growth, so don’t believe their is one proper angle/leverage to perform this exercise.
Alternating Dumbbell Curls
When done correctly, this is the king of biceps exercises. The trick is using enough weight to overload the muscle, keep the elbows from moving forward too much (which is usually done by using the anterior – or front – deltoid to lift the weight and use momentum to swing it into a finished position). Also, rotating the wrists slightly so that your pinky comes upward slightly will force your bicep to squeeze. The combination of this being a free weight exercise that uses both heads of the biceps, the ability to manipulate your wrists while lifting and the angle of your elbows to focus on different parts of the bicep, make this my favorite exercise all-around for biceps. Since your biceps, while being the smaller of the two muscle groups in your arms (along with the triceps), can make your arms look deceivingly big, this is the second most important arm exercise if you had to choose only two.
Overhead Dumbbell Triceps Extension
Careful not to go too heavy on this exercise – as it’s the exercise most common for tearing the triceps. I choose this exercise over single-armed overhead dumbbell tricep extensions (now that’s a mouthful) because holding onto one dumbbell forces the elbows inwards a little bit, isolating the tricep like no other. Similarly to doing push downs with your elbow behind your body, this exercise mimics the same philosophy and allows you to contract more overall muscle fibers in the triceps as opposed to other exercises.
Barbell/Straight Bar Bicep Curls
The bread and butter. This exercise is good because by using a straight bar, you’re using both of your bicep heads – the Biceps Brachii and Brachialis – to curl the weight. I don’t encourage sloppy form all the time, but this is one of the exercises I’ll try to occasionally do a few “cheat” reps, or generally try to lift some heavy weight on. The same general principal applies to this though – I would say a little swinging and anterior delt usage to fully fatigue the biceps is okay on the last few reps, but if every single rep begins to look like a modified Olympic clean-and-jerk maneuver, then it’s time to drop the weight a bit.
Generally, whether the exercise is done on an olympic barbell or a pre-loaded straight bar that are commonly seen in gyms – the effect is the same. You will personally notice a slight difference in contraction (at least I do) so I would recommend just alternating between the two if possible. Couldn’t hurt, eh?
Close-grip Bench Press
This isn’t higher on the list because of the difficulty of using it properly to overload the triceps, along with the fact that it is more of a compound exercise than most and involves a lot of chest and shoulder activity as well. When done correctly – by pressing with the elbows tucked into the body and the hand placement slightly less than shoulder width apart – this can be an incredibly effective exercise for building huge horseshoe triceps. I personally like to do these with some sort of platform that a spotter can put on your chest to reduce the range of motion, stopping the bar 3-4 inches before it touches your chest, which is where the pectorals start to take over. By doing so the triceps are isolated better and forced to work more.