Toning and building your arms always has a nice effect: girls love'em and guys want'em.
You can have them, too!
To tone and sculpt your arms, you will have to engage in specific exercises.
Curls, dips, push-ups and chin-ups; bench presses... fans of crossfit will feel like they are in seventh heaven!
Now, you can learn all of the tricks of the trade as our home and online personal trainer reveals their secrets for bulking up their arms.
Ladies, this article is for you, too. No longer will you need to wear three-quarter sleeves to hide your triceps jiggle. It is time to give your arms tone and definition!
And, speaking of definition...
Strength or Resistance Training?
These two terms seem to be interchangeable because, at first glance, the athletes in training for either strength or resistance look like they are doing the same moves, with the same equipment.
To a point, they are!
Both types of workout involve resistance: against a weight, a band, or gravity.
Strength training requires greater weight and more rigid bands, and is done with more intensity but with fewer reps. This type of training is for those who wish to gain muscle mass, making them appear more muscular.
Bodybuilders engage in strength training, among other fitness programs.
For those who wish to tone up and sculpt their body, resistance training would be advised.
Lighter weights, more flexible bands and more repetitions help build muscular endurance, but do not increase strength or mass.
Extreme bodybuilding or shapely and fit-looking?
Prior to engaging in any personal training program, you should discuss your fitness goals with your personal trainer. Once s/he knows the objectives of your health and fitness efforts, you can work together on program design.
Building Your Biceps
Why mess with tradition?
The biceps curl is one of the most effective workouts for that muscle. However, it is easy to get it wrong.
Let our fitness trainer tell you how to do them correctly, so that your effort is not wasted.
- Take a seat on your exercise bench – or on a firm chair, if you're working out at home.
- Your legs should be spread at least ninety degrees.
- Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in your hand, supporting your wrist with your other hand.
- Lean forward, positioning your weight-laden elbow on the inside of your knee
- Release your support for the weight-bearing hand and, keeping your wrist straight, raise the weight to your shoulder.
- You should inhale on the curl and exhale on the release.
Three to six reps of ten or twenty curls on each arm should be sufficient, depending on how far along you are in your fitness career. If you are a beginner athlete, the lower numbers would work best for you.
An effective way to prevent muscle fatigue and work your arms evenly would be to do ten curls with one arm, and then switch to the other.
What if you are working out at home and don't have any dumbbells?
You can use water bottles or food tins, to start. As you increase your strength and endurance, you could graduate to two-liter bottles, other vessels with handles – to simulate kettlebells, or even weighted grocery sacs.
The important thing to remember is to keep your wrist straight; otherwise the target muscle is not bearing the full load of your work.
In other words: your forearm muscles are working harder than your biceps.
You will find fitness industry recommendations for working biceps in every upper body fitness training program.
Training Your Triceps
As with most anterior muscles – hamstrings and dorsals, triceps tend to be overlooked.
Anyone educated in kinesiology will aver: they are in fact more voluminous, and work in concert with your biceps. That is why it is necessary to build them up at the same rate as your biceps.
Besides, you wouldn't want the uneven look of bulging biceps and flaccid triceps, would you?
To build fine, responsive triceps, nothing but dips will do.
To execute them properly, you should follow these steps:
- while sitting on a weight bench, place the palm of your hands on either side of your hips, at the edge of the bench, and slide your glutes to the very edge of the seat.
- With your legs stretched out in front of you, rest your weight on the heels of your hands
- if you work out at home, two kitchen chairs with a gap between them would work. Your body should hang free.
- Using only your arms, lower yourself down, as far as you can go, and hold the pose
- you should inhale as you sink down
- On the exhale, raise yourself back into starting position
Even though this move is strongly advocated by advanced athletes and fitness professionals, we urge you to safety, especially if you are only beginning your personal training.
If you are working out in-home, be sure your hand supports – chairs or whatever else you may be using are stable and unlikely to topple under pressure.
Likewise, because of the strenuous nature of this move, we recommend a thorough warm-up: a cardio workout to raise your heart rate, before you attempt to work your muscles in this fashion.
Triceps Development for Special Populations
For some demographics, such as: the elderly, the disabled and the overweight/obese, triceps dips are simply not safe to execute.
If you are concerned that you wouldn't be able to move to that extreme, try the triceps curl:
- either standing or seated (keep a straight back!), grasp a light weight in both hands
- you can use dumbbells, water bottles or food tins
- raise your arms straight above your head, with the palms of your hands facing back
- while inhaling, lower the weights to the nape of your neck by flexing your elbows
- raise the weights to start position on the exhale and repeat.
Another great triceps move, especially for women, and particularly for youths and senior fitness would be the kickback.
Intermediate athletes working their triceps in a gym or fitness club would qualify to do bench presses. The advantage of that move is that several muscle groups are worked simultaneously.
Do Push Ups to Work...
If the defining characteristic of bench-pressing is that they work several muscle groups, then push-ups are the gold standard of that category of workout.
True, the focus is on your arms – after all, it is they who move you up and down, but your entire torso musculature, as well as your glutes are called into play.
Exercise programs from military boot camp to circuit training rely on push-ups to condition the entire body.
Extreme athletes pump them out in various forms: one-handed, clapping on the lift, some even with a gorgeous model sitting on their shoulders, just for fun!
If you are not quite at that level – if you are not at all at that level, perhaps you should modify your form.
Instead of your weight resting on hands and toes, put your knees to good use.
Remember that, in resting on your knees, your legs should still be as stretched out as possible.
Here is how to execute effective push-ups:
Your hands should be at slightly more than shoulder-width apart, elbows lightly flexed.
Your feet should be in line with your hands, at maximum. The closer together your lower extremities are, the more streamlined the move.
The further apart they are, the more work you are putting in to keeping your core stable.
As with any strength training or resistance exercise, proper form is vital to effective movement and to prevent injury.
And, who knows? One day, with all of your training, you could beat Brett Masserant's record of 27 push-ups per minute, for eight hours straight!
Work Your Multitude of Forearm Muscles
This move can be easily done at home or at the gym.
Simply stretch your forearms along a flat surface, such as a table, and let your hands hang free, palms turned down.
You can hold a dumbbell in each hand or, if none are available, you can use water bottles – and even a weighted grocery tote.
Bear in mind that the type of weight used will alter the quality of your forearm workout: thicker grips call for more work on your muscles. A tote, with its thin, strappy handles, requires only a little extra work.
Keep your forearms on the table, and alternately raise and lower your weighted hands by flexing your wrist, breathing in on the lift and out on the lowering.
Now, turn your palms up and repeat. If you can manage the same number of reps as with your palms turned upward, good on you!
This curling activity can also be done with a barbell, either the Preacher Curl – where your elbows rest on a bench and your forearms do all the work, or a reverse curl, working the anterior muscles.
Chin-ups, Otherwise Known as Pull-ups
This is an enticing method of working your arms and shoulders, if you have neither barbells or dumbbells.
In other words, it is tailor-made for the motivated, at-home proponent and participant of physical activity.
All you really need, equipment-wise, is a relatively inexpensive bar, securely installed in any doorway of your home.
Please don't try this exercise using your shower rod!
If you belong to any gyms or fitness clubs, you will find such bars already, conveniently, installed.
The objective of this simple, inoffensive set-up is to raise your chin to above the bar.
The reality of it is that this is an all-inclusive form of exercise. By that, we mean that virtually every muscle, from your hips to your neck, are engaged.
Only your legs are relieved of any obligation to the correct execution of this move. In fact, for optimum form, you should refrain from moving your legs at all. To strengthen your legs, try out these exercises instead - or in complement, for a full-body workout.
By doing chin-ups, you are in effect lifting your entire body weight, over and over.
Nationally, virtually any Superprof fitness professional could educate you on the proper way to execute this move at home.
Elsewhere, anyone trained in exercise physiology, and who has the proper qualifications, could advise you on proper form and the number of reps you should do for your level of fitness.
And whether you should even incorporate chin-ups into your workout routine: they are a high-stress move, recommended for advanced athletes.
Before advising you whether to engage in chin-ups or, for that matter, any other physical activity, a certified fitness instructor would conduct a health assessment, to determine if you are properly conditioned.
What Not to do When Working Your Arms
All too often, sports enthusiasts – in their eagerness to get in shape, overdo things.
Usually, injuries have one of three causes. They are:
- failure to warm up
- doing too much, too soon – or using poor training techniques
- Poor sports conditioning
Before starting any fitness regimen, you should submit to a fitness assessment.
Particular aspects of your body that a fitness specialist measures during such a test are: body composition, blood pressure and aerobic fitness.
Those represent your percentage of body fat, cardiovascular capacity and cardiorespiratory rate, respectively.
If your initial assessment reveals poor conditioning, your fitness instructor would assign corrective exercises, just to get your started.
The next level would be functional training. Your coach will have already conducted a functional movement screen prior to scheduling your workouts.
Such physical education works to prevent musculoskeletal damage incurred in everyday movement.
Regimens can include everything from squats and lifts, to Pilates and Aerobics, possibly using a stability ball.
Once you have attained a satisfactory level of health fitness, your certified personal trainer would roll out physical training programs in line with your fitness and nutrition goals.
As your personal training sessions become more varied, you will find one constant: warming up.
Forget bundling up in thick sweaters! What we mean is a vigorous cardio routine to get your heart rate up and oxygen-rich blood to your muscles.
Your personal fitness trainer may recommend Zumba or some other motivating cardiovascular exercise.
Or, you could kick up your metabolism: exercise to music on your own, prior to arriving for your fitness program.
Regardless of how you choose to raise your heart rate, your athletic performance depends on how well you warm up.
Cooling down is the other side of that safe workout coin.
In spite of the glow you feel after a rewarding workout, you should take the time after your routine for stretching and deep breathing.
You may even consider adding yoga to your exercise program, or tai chi.
Either one of these low impact stretching and flexing routines could help you build a mind body connection – something anyone in the fitness business will tell you is vital to achieving lasting fitness and wellness.
One last word on exercise safety before you shove off to work those arms: hydration.
Your muscles will lose strength more quickly if you do not drink enough water – and that is the least of your worries, should you work yourself into a state of extreme dehydration.
As you curl water bottles to tone your arms, crack one open occasionally and take a few deep draughts.
Your arms will thank you for it!