How to Build Arms: The Best Exercises to Develop & Tone Your Upper Body

Who doesn't like a nice set of arms?

It isn't uncommon for women to vote for arms as the most attractive body part in men, and it isn't uncommon for women to want to tone their arms for the beach or for their weddings.

Nice arms look good. 

Nice arms are also functional, as they will allow you to perform physical tasks in the real world.

Everyone thinks they know the secret to building great arms, but they are often wrong.  


The answer is not endless bicep curls!



How many bicep curls have you done to receive little to no definition in your arm muscles?

Welcome to the WCT body building series, where we go over the best ways to build and define the body parts you find most attractive.


Todays post is going to cover:

  • The Anatomy of Arm Muscles

  • How Fast You Can Expect to Develop Arm Muscles

  • Arm Workouts At Home Without Weights

  • Arm Workouts with Dumbbells

  • Arm Workouts for Women

  • Sample Arm Workout Routine



The Anatomy of Arm Muscles

When people think of toning their arms, they generally think of the biceps muscles. When someone is asked to flex their muscles, they usually go into a bicep curl position. 

The bicep is only one of the components that make up this muscle group. Lets go over a quick anatomy lesson. 


The arms are composed of the

- Biceps Brachii

- Brachialis

- Triceps Brachii

- The Forearm

  • Brachioradialis
  • Pronator Teres
  • A lot of Extendors and Flexors

- Deltoids




Origin/Insertion: The biceps brachii muscle attaches the front of your shoulder to your elbow. 

Function: Flexion of the elbow, and supination.



Origin/Insertion: The brachialis attaches the lower arm to your elbow. It lies deeper than the biceps muscle.

Function: Flexion of the elbow



Origin/Insetion: The triceps attaches the back part of your shoulder to the back of your elbow.

Function: Extends (straightens) the elbow



Function: The many muscles of the forearms work to flex and extend your wrist, supinate and pronate your wrist.



Everyone also seems to forget that the Deltoids or shoulders also are part of the arms. The deltoids work to flex your shoulder joint (raise your arms forwards, sideways and above your head).


We will go into more details on the shoulders in another post. 


How Fast Can You Develop Arm Muscles

The speed in which you develop your arms will vary based on your body type (check out How Genetics Influences Your Body Type and Muscle Building Potential to learn which body type you are), your training history and how often you train.

Mesomorphs will have the easiest time developing their arms. They just need to focus on proper exercise selection, training frequency and adequate protein intake.

Ectomorphs will have to focus more time and energy into nutrition and adequate caloric consumption in addition to the training protocols we describe here.

Endomorphs will also have to focus more time and energy into nutrition, but in a way that is conducive to fat loss.  Check out our series on fat loss at Dietary Weight Loss Strategies for the Busy Professional.

Depending on these variables, you can begin to appreciate a difference in your arm physique in approximately 12 weeks.




Guidelines to Build Your Arm Muscles

  • Workout Frequency for Arm Muscle Development

Just like we have discussed before, it is important to stimulate your muscles, and not annihilate them. You do not have to exercise a body part 5x a week to drive definition or growth. 

As a busy individual, training each body part 2 times a week should be sufficient to drive adaptations.


  • Rep Ranges for Arm Muscle Development

Focus on the hypertrophy rep ranges we outlined in How to Design Quick and Effective Workout Routines of 8-12 repetitions. Perform, at the minimum, 3 sets per exercise, but no more than 5 sets.


  • Rest Periods for Arm Muscle Development

It is also important to keep your rest periods short if your goal is arm muscle size and/or definition. Aim for 90 seconds or less in between sets.


Now lets move onto the exercises...


The Best Arm Exercises

Here is where most people make the biggest mistakes. They believe that bicep curls are the end all be all.  

While performing bicep curls can help build a better arm physique, there are many more exercises you should include in your repertoire.

Bicep curls are isolation exercises. This means that they only train one single joint in one range of motion. As a result, they are inefficient, and do not stimulate your body or muscles as much as a compound exercise would.


Compound exercises work multiple joints at once. These exercises give you a bigger return on investment as you are training many muscles simultaneously, saving precious time. In addition, multiple muscle working together are much stronger than isolated muscles, therefore, you can lift more weight and cause a greater stimulus/stress to your body. 

We discuss this further in 3 Essential Principles of Exercise Routines and How to Build Muscle Naturally Using Scientifically Proven Methods.

Isolation exercises do have their time and place. It is important to use a mixture of both compound and isolation exercises in your regimen.


Best Bicep Exercises



This is what we mean when we say underhand Grip: 


Underhand Grips will emphasize the bicep muscles more when compared to an overhand Grip.




  • Bicep Isolation Exercises
    • Alternating Bicep Curls
    • EZ Bar Curls
    • Hammer Curls
    • Incline Curls
    • Barbell Curls


Best Tricep Exercises



  • Vertical Pushing Exercises with an Emphasis on Closer Grips
    • All Overhead Press Variations (Barbell, Dumbbell, Standing, Seated)
    • Dips


  • Tricep Isolation Exercises
    • Lying Tricep Extensions
    • Tricep Pushdowns
    • Skull Crushers


Best Forearm Exercises


Fortunately, almost all of the same exercises listed above will also train your forearm muscles.





  • Bicep Isolation Exercises
    • Alternating Bicep Curls
    • Barbell Curls
    • Hammer Curls
    • Incline Curls
    • EZ Bar Curls


Arm Workouts At Home Without Weights

Here are a few bodyweight exercises you can perform at home without weights to develop your arms. If I had to pick the top 5, they would be:


1) Close Grip Pushups

2) Dips

3) Pike Pushups

4) Chinups

5) Horizontal Pullups



Arm Workouts with Dumbbells

If you had a set of dumbbells, here are the top 5 exercises that you could perform to develop a nice set of arms.


1) Neutral Grip (Palms In) Dumbbell Bench

2) Dumbbell Row

3) Arnold Press

4) Alternating Dumbbell Curls

5) Lying Tricep Extensions



Arm Workout Routine for Busy lifestyles

If you have access to a full gym, here is a sample routine that you could use for 8-12 weeks to develop your arm muscles. This should only take you 30-35 minutes to complete, if you are adhering to the 90 second rest periods we mentioned above.

The goal is to hit these muscle groups twice in one week. Here is a good example:





Arm Workouts for Women

Everything that was just said about arm muscle building also hold true for women. 

Women do not need any special programming or training considerations when it comes to arms, except for the fact that they can generally handle higher frequencies and higher volume than men

What this means is that women can usually perform more repetitions and train these muscle groups even three times a week without as much fatigue as men.

If you are a woman and have not been seeing results, try bumping up the volume and/or the frequency and see what happens.

And don't worry, you will not get bulky!  Women generally don't have high enough levels of testosterone to develop large muscles.

In order to 'bulky' you need to eat a significant amount of extra calories to gain size. Simply follow the guidelines we have described above and you will be fine!


Final Words

So there you have it. You are now 'armed' with the best ways of building your arm muscles. No pun intended.


Go and take some nice beach or wedding photos.

What do you prefer?

Big arm muscles, Or toned, well-developed arms? Do you find them attractive in a partner? What other body parts would you like us to discuss? Comment below and let us know!

Its also a good idea to drop some body fat to help accentuate the arm muscles you want to develop. Check out 7 Simple Ways to Eat Better Immediately to get started.

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Alex & Brittany Robles are the founders of The White Coat Trainer, a site dedicated to improving the health and wellness of busy individuals. Learn more about them here and connect with them on instagram and Twitter. Feel free to send them a message here