It’s all well and good to say you want sleek, strong arms, but talk is cheap. To build muscle and earn brag-worthy biceps, you have to put in the work.
And putting in the work generally means lifting weights. Heavy weights. Weights that don’t come in pretty pink plastic.
The following 10 exercises are guaranteed to help you build muscle… with two caveats:
- You have to work your arms to exhaustion. That means choosing a weight that makes the last 1-2 reps of every set almost too hard to perform with good form.
- You have to incorporate the exercises into a regular routine. Habitual, challenging workouts lead to results. Add these exercises to your routine at least twice per week.
This workout can be done with dumbbells or kettlebells, as well as a low bar and sturdy chair.
1. Assisted pull-up
Using a low bar — such as monkey bars, a bike rack or Lebert Equalizer bars — grasp the bar and position yourself underneath it so your arms are extended directly beneath the bar. Tighten your core and use the muscles of your back, shoulders and arms to pull your chest up to the bar as you bend your elbows. Lower yourself slowly to start. Perform three sets of eight to 10 reps.
2. Staggered push-up
A staggered push-up places greater load on one arm at a time, thereby increasing the intensity of the exercise. Place one hand on a raised object (I used a kettlebell turned on its side) and the other hand on the ground, but both slightly wider than your shoulders. You can choose to perform the push-up on your knees or your toes. From the starting position, bend your elbows and begin lowering your chest toward the floor. Keep your core tight throughout the movement. When your elbows form a 90-degree angle, reverse the movement and press yourself back to the starting position. Perform two sets of eight to 10 reps.
3. Single-arm bent over row
Further isolate the muscles of your back and biceps by performing a single-arm bent over row. Grasp a kettlebell or dumbbell in your right hand and lunge forward with the opposite leg. Place your left hand on your left thigh for support and tip forward at the torso, allowing your right arm to hang freely, the kettlebell under your shoulder. Tighten your core and back to draw your elbow straight up into your side, pulling the kettlebell into your body. Reverse the movement and return to start. Perform two sets of 10 to 12 repetitions per side.
4. Kettlebell chest press
Lie on your back and grip a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand — your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle with your upper arms extended out from your body at the shoulder. Tighten your chest and core as you extend your elbows to press the kettlebells straight up over your chest. Reverse the movement and return to start. Perform two sets of 10 to 12 repetitions.
5. Single-arm kettlebell shoulder press
Start on your knees and place your left hand on your hip. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in your right hand at your shoulder, your elbow bent. Tighten your core, then engage your shoulder as you extend your elbow and press the kettlebell directly overhead. Reverse the movement and return to start. Perform two sets of eight to 12 reps per side.
6. Upright row
Grasp a dumbbell or kettlebell with both hands directly in front of your body, your arms fully extended. Tighten your core and engage your shoulders to pull the kettlebell straight up your torso as your bend your elbows out laterally from your shoulders. Reverse the movement and return to start. Perform two sets of 10 to 12 reps.
7. Front and lateral shoulder raise
Grasp a lightweight dumbbell in each hand, your arms fully extended, your left hand against the front of your left thigh, your right hand against the outside of your right thigh. In a single movement, keeping both elbows straight, use your shoulders to lift the dumbbells directly up to shoulder height, so your left arm is extended in front of your body and your right arm is extended laterally from your body. Reverse the movement and return to start. On the next repetition, switch hand positions, so you lift your left arm out laterally and your right arm in front of you. Continue alternating sides. Perform one set of 30 total repetitions.
8. Triceps dips
Using a sturdy object — such as a chair, bench, low bar or Lebert Equalizers — grasp the front of the object and position your feet in front of your body. Engage your triceps and core to extend your arms and suspend yourself directly in front of the object. Bend your elbows and lower yourself directly in front of the object. Reverse the movement and return to start. Perform three sets of eight to 10 reps.
9. Overhead triceps extension
Kneel on the ground and grasp a dumbbell or kettlebell in both hands. Extend your arms directly over your head. Engage your core and bend your elbows, keeping them close to your ears as you carefully lower the kettlebell behind your head. When your elbows are fully bent, use your triceps to press the object straight up over your head to the starting position. Perform two sets of eight to 12 reps.
10. Alternating biceps curl
Kneel on the ground and hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand directly in front of your thighs, your elbows fully extended. Engage your core and biceps and bend your right elbow as you pull the kettlebell up to your right shoulder. Reverse the movement and return to start. On the next repetition, switch sides. Perform two sets of 10 repetitions per side.