Before we get into the best Arm Exercises, it’s probably the right time to talk about sets and reps – answering that burning question of what are the optimal rep ranges when training arms.
To keep it short, the answer really does depend… on training experience and strength levels to your personal training goals, whether they be aesthetic or athletic.
As a rule of thumb, the biggest focus should be overall volume, increasing each session to force muscular adaptation and growth/strength. Focus on the 3-6 rep range to build and develop strength, before switching to a more hypertrophy rep range of 8-12 reps.
The biceps and triceps are small muscles, that generally recover relatively quickly – so little and often will help build volume over the training weeks. Concentrate on your large compound movements, such as pulling and pushing – and use arm exercises as accessories to those larger lifts.
A quick science lesson:
Before we delve into the best arm exercises for your next workout, it’s important to take a moment and understand the basics of the physiological makeup of your bicep. Acquiring the knowledge of what the biceps do, and how they work will help you perform each exercise to a greater degree.
The biceps brachii is divided into the long head and short head; these muscles make up your ‘biceps’ and perform the concentric motion of bending the elbow, ‘curling’ the forearm up towards to top of the arm. Simple, right? Sure, but it’s also key to remember that the biceps also work to control the eccentric motion, as the forearm lowers and the elbow begins to straighten – without the biceps involvement in the eccentric motion, there would be a muscular imbalance between the bicep and tricep, leading weakness and injury.
During your time in the gym, you’ll probably come across some weird and wonderful exercises, with many trying to target the biceps in different ways.
It’s incredibly easy to overcomplicate arm exercises, but the most effective lifts are often the most basic.
Execute these three biceps exercises correctly in your next arm workout and reap the rewards.
THE BEST BICEPS EXERCISES FOR YOUR ARM WORKOUT
Barbell Bicep Curl
Dumbbell Preacher Curl
Cable Bicep Curl
BARBELL BICEP CURL
Muscles Targeted: Biceps Brachii (Long Head & Short Head)
If the Barbell Bicep Curl isn’t part of your arm workout, now is the time to include it. Being one of the best exercises for developing muscle mass in the biceps, the utilization of the barbell allows both arms to work together, shifting more weight during each rep.
And remember, increasing volume through total weight and reps helps stimulate adaptation in the muscle groups targeted, leading to muscular growth and development.
TIP: Classic bad form for the bicep curl includes erratic swinging at the bottom of the rep. Keep your feet planted shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent and elbows kept strictly by your side. Aim for a powerful contraction to the top of the rep, with a slow three-second eccentric movement.
DUMBBELL PREACHER CURL
Muscle Targeted: Biceps Brachii & Brachialis
The beloved preacher curl is the perfect exercise for isolating the biceps brachii. This exercise is well known as the ez bar preacher curl, however switching out the bar for dumbbells allows for unilateral conditioning, ensuring both arms are as strong as each other.
Utilizing the preacher curl bench (or an incline bench) with dumbbells creates one of the best biceps exercises for targeting the muscle, reducing the ability to ‘cheat’ whilst placing more emphasis on the contraction of the muscle throughout the movement.
TIP: Rotate your grip for a preacher hammer curl, giving the same amount of isolation, with more focus on the forearm, Brachialis, and Brachioradialis.
CABLE BICEP CURL
Muscle Targeted: Biceps Brachii
Cable bicep exercises can often be overlooked for the more favorable barbell or dumbbell variations, but you don’t need to fall into that same trap. The Cable Bicep Curl is essential for increasing training volume in your arm workouts, often used towards the end of sessions with a higher repetition focus.
Using the cables for bicep curls creates a ‘constant tension’ environment for the biceps, making them work uniquely compared to the aforementioned traditional methods.
TIP: The cable machine can be great for drop sets and working to failure, with the weight pin system making it quick and simple to alter resistance.
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A quick science lesson:
It isn’t an arm workout if you don’t hit your biceps and triceps.
The three main muscles that make up the triceps are the long head, medial head, and lateral head. These muscles work together to extend the elbow, and also help to control flexion. The triceps are located on the rear of your upper arm and are a significantly bigger muscle group than the biceps.
Although this article is based on isolation arm exercises, larger push movements such as triceps dips, pushups, and bench presses also recruit large amounts of muscle fibers in the triceps and should be staples across your workout program.
THE BEST TRICEPS EXERCISES FOR OUR ARM WORKOUT:
Cable Triceps Pushdown
Single-Arm Dumbbell Overhead Extension
Muscle Targeted: Triceps Brachii (Lateral Head, Medial Head & Long Head)
Otherwise known as the Lying Triceps Extension, If you’re chasing big triceps, the skull crusher exercise should be near the top of your list. This triceps exercise is usually performed with the barbell or ez bar, allowing both triceps to work together, targeting all three heads of the triceps brachii.
Focus on the slow eccentric movement, before powerfully extending your arms, and engaging the triceps throughout the exercise.
TIP: Don’t drop the weight; else you’ll find out why this exercise is called the ‘skull crusher’.
CABLE TRICEPS PUSHDOWN
Muscle Targeted: Triceps Brachii
Utilising the cable machine isn’t just for bicep exercises… mounting the attachment higher on the frame allows for an abundance of cable tricep extension exercises to be performed.
Helping isolate the triceps brachii, the Cable Tricep Pushdown using the straight bar attachment targets the three heads of the triceps.
The Cable Extension is a great tool for beginners before moving on to more demanding exercises, helping develop muscular conditioning and strength.
Experienced lifters can also take advantage of the cable system, isolating key areas of the triceps through different tricep extension attachments, including single-arm triceps exercises.
TIP: A strict posture is key to isolating the triceps effectively. Position yourself with a balanced stance, soft knees, and retracted shoulders; keeping your elbows pinned by your side throughout the movement.
SINGLE-ARM DUMBBELL OVERHEAD TRICEPS EXTENSION
Muscle Targeted: Triceps Brachii
This exercise provides a unique way to isolate the tricep, lifting the arm above the head to stretch the long head of the muscle, and placing more emphasis on the contraction.
You’ll need to leave your ego at the door for this lift. With the single-arm overhead extension, the weight you can shift will be limited, but that doesn’t reduce its effectiveness. Start with a lightweight and build your way up as your stability, and strength improves.
Rest assured, this is one of the best dumbbell exercises for the triceps to help isolate and target the three heads of the muscle.
TIP: When standing, ensure you are contracting your abs to hold your body still and prevent your lower back from arching.
There we have it, six of the best arm exercises for you to try in your next arm workout.
Got your own arm day workout staple that isn’t on our list? Let us know in the comments below.
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