Many ladies seek toned arms but avoid training with isolation exercises as they are afraid their arms will get ‘bulky’. In my experience, this is not the case at all, nor do you have to do excessive reps and huge sets to get noticeable improvements really quickly. The main muscles to focus on to shape the arm are the biceps, triceps, forearm and the often forgotten shoulders. By hitting these muscles with exercises that target the different muscle heads you can create beautiful arms in very little time with some consistency and hard work.
There are a variety of options you can use when training your arms at the gym or at home from the traditional machines, to barbells, dumbbells and even resistance bands, which are especially useful for travel or even just to pop into your handbag to fit in a quick workout at lunch time.
I have found dumbbells to be great for growth and balance especially when used with both compound and isolation exercises, this is due to the fact that they enable you to contract your muscles better, resulting in the muscle being trained more effectively. Dumbbells also can be used to hit virtually every angle of the muscles of the arm due to the unlimited range of motion that can be utilised when using them. Targeting muscles from different angles also results in muscle balance, and stops the body adapting to your workouts and maximises results. The exercises below are an initial guide for any weight training beginner looking to get toned arms.
First things First
An important lesson I have learned with training my arms is that it is crucial to take good care of your elbows and their positioning, especially when engaging in heavy bicep and triceps work as the tendons are very delicate and easy to injure if you practice poor form or use too heavy a weight for your own capabilities. Picking the right weight when training your arms is an important concept whereby you should aim to perform 10-15 reps before muscle fatigue. By using a weight that’s too heavy you’re more likely to have bad form whereby overtraining is possible and can cause inflammation at the point where the triceps in particular, is attached distally.
Many people do not realise that we train our arms indirectly every time we do a pressing movement. This means that even if you are not training arms specifically, they will still get worked hard while training other body parts. For example deadlifts on leg day will train the arms and back, as will doing vertical and bent over rows on back day.
1. Arm and Hammer Curls
Arm curls and their variations train your biceps brachii, brachialis and brachioradialis. You also hit your upper back and your rear shoulder muscles with this type of movement, as these muscles maintain shoulder stability while you curl a weight in front of your torso. Often many people will ‘cheat’ by rocking back and forth as they curl the weight, and although this may enable them to lift heavier weights, it does not do much for your biceps as shown by a study by Colorado state. In this study, research showed that this method acts to simply transfer more of the workload to the shoulders rather than the biceps. This method also puts you at a higher risk of injury, so for best results keep your form strict and start with a lower work until you’ve got it perfected. When doing a dumbbell curl, hold the dumbbells and let them hang next to your sides. Face your palms forward. Keep your upper arms still and bend your elbows while curling the dumbbells as close to your shoulders as possible. Hold this position, focusing on contracting your biceps, and then slowly lower the weights back to where you started. Every time that you return them to beginning of the movement, straighten your arms.
The cable hammer curl is also a great exercise for the biceps. Using the rope attachment, clip it to the lower end of the cable tower then stand a foot away from the machine. Hold an end of the rope in each hand, keeping your palms inwards. Keep your elbows in tight at your sides then slowly curl your fists up to your shoulders. Hold this position and then return back to the beginning of the movement.
3. Arm Extensions
Arm extensions and their variations target the triceps, while also training the upper back and rear shoulder muscles too. The cable machine is great for hitting the triceps at a different angle, especially if you use the rope attachment. Attach the rope handle to the high pulley clip of the cable machine. Hold the rope and stand with your back to the machine. Place one foot in front of the other to help you keep your balance. Bend at your hips and hold each end of the rope in each hand behind your head, while keeping your elbows bent at a right angle. Don’t move your upper arms; push your forearms down until your elbows are straight. Hold, then reset back to the starting position.
4. Tricep Push Down
The triceps push down is also a great exercise for the triceps, although it is important to not use too much weight as this will involve the back and shoulder muscles too much, taking the emphasis away from the triceps. If you are using a straight bar, attach it to the high end of a cable machine. Using an overhand grip, grab the bar, keeping your grip shoulder width apart. Keep your arms tight into your sides and without moving your upper arms, push the bar down until your elbows are straight. Upon reaching this point, slowly return back to the starting position. You should be able to hold your shoulders down and tight throughout the exercise, if you can’t, this means you may need a lighter weight. You can use a bar or the rope attachment for this exercise, if you use the rope attachment, your palms should be facing each other and as you pull the rope down, rotate your wrists and palm towards the floor.
5. Farmers Walk
One of the most effective exercises for the forearms is the farmers walk. This exercise is also a great one to finish a upper body day with as it also serves as a form of cardio known as a metabolic finisher, as you can make it more intense by walking fast with a heavy load. You can use dumbbells for this exercise, or even a deadlift bar. It is one of the simplest yet most effective exercises and the benefits will carry over to your other lifts as this movement will also improve your grip. If you use dumbbells, simply hold them while letting your arms hang naturally next to your sides. Walk forwards for as long as you can tolerate while holding the dumbbells and keeping your back straight. This should be extremely challenging to do, so if you can walk any distance comfortably, increase your weight.
6. The Shoulder Press
The shoulder press is one of the most well known exercises for developing shapely shoulders, and a firm staple in one of its variations in most athlete’s workouts. Begin by holding a pair of dumbbells just outside your shoulders, palms facing inwards and your arms bent. Your feet should be shoulder width apart to maintain your balance and your core tight. Keep a slight bend in the knees and press the dumbbells up until your arms reach the point at which they are totally straight. Pause and then lower the dumbbells back to the beginning position.
7. Shoulder Raises
Shoulder raises are excellent exercises to train the front and middle deltoids. By using the different variations of this exercise, you can change the emphasis on which part of the muscle the focus is on. Shoulder raises also target your rear deltoids, your upper traps, serratus anterior and also your rotator cuff due to the fact that these are the muscles that aid in raising the weight and they also act as stabilisers on almost every form of this exercise. Front raises and lateral raises are the most popular versions when performed with dumbbells. To do a front raise, simply hold a pair of dumbbells by your side with your palms facing inwards. Raise your arms straight ahead of you until they are shoulder height and your arms are straight in front of you. Hold at this position then slowly lower them back to the starting position. This exercise can also be performed with a cable machine, resistance bands and also weight plates.
A lateral raise is similar to the above movement but the arms go out to the sides instead of straight in front of you. Hold the dumbbells at arm’s length next to your sides. Keep your feet shoulder width apart and stand straight. Bend your elbows a small bit and keep your palms facing forward. Keep the bend in your elbows; raise your arms out straight to the side until they are at shoulder level. Hold this position then slowly return the weights to the starting position.
9. Beware of Pain
If you notice pain during training as opposed to the mild discomfort that is expected with a workout, treat the injury with ice and rest the muscle until it is healed to prevent turning an acute injury into a chronic one. Most arm injuries can be avoided by concentrating on using good form, not using erratic and ballistic movements by bouncing at the bottom of the exercise and ensure that you get proper rest and recovery between workouts. As with any muscle group that you wish to improve, proper nutrition and rest is crucial.
When training arms, I have found I get the best results when I train them at the end of an upper body day. This is because your arms are crucial and in use for every upper body exercise, meaning that if you train them first, you may struggle if they get too tired to train your other body parts such as your back, chest and shoulders with the intensity needed to get results.