Now we are finally into summer T-shirt weather, are you looking for some upper body exercise inspiration that'll tone and define the biceps and triceps? Then we’ve got the perfect guide to building up muscle and definition, without making you look like Popeye. Even better, there’s not a push up in sight.
Beyond giving you the flattering look of defined arms, strong biceps and triceps have a multitude of health benefits. They help to preventing hunching and improve posture and they prevent injury as your balance is better when you pay attention to building key arm muscle. Whether you're using a set of the best resistance bands or free weights (and you can check out our best adjustable dumbbells guide), you can expect these benefits.
You can also expect stronger bones and adding muscular definition can help you achieve your weight loss goals due to the the fact that muscle burns more calories than fat. Daily activities, such as carrying a shopping basket full of groceries, or lifting heavy boxes, these tasks are easier to complete with stronger arms.
Now, here comes the science bit: looking at the muscles that make up your upper arm, the bicep is a two-headed muscle group consisting of a short head and long head, primarily used to lift the upper arm and adduction. The triceps make up around two-thirds of the upper arm, so targeting them is crucial. They consist of a three headed muscle (long head, lateral head and medial head) the main function of which is to straighten and flex the forearm.
Ever wondered what a tricep exercise targets over a bicep? Josh Davies (opens in new tab), PT at Aimee Victoria Long, reveals all: ‘The muscle that extends, or straightens, the arm is the tricep, which originates on the humerus and attaches to the ulna at the elbow; the Brachialis and bicep muscles act to bend the arm at the elbow.
"These groups of muscles are small and get involved secondarily in many workout moves, with pushing exercises working the triceps and pulling exercises hitting your biceps.’
if you’re looking to really isolate this area, alternating between the two muscle groups with Josh Long’s six effective exercises is the perfect recipe for increasing arm mass. Even if you're looking for ways on how to lose weight on your arms, it's worth building lean muscle mass, as losing weight while building muscle will provide your arms with much more definition.
Watch the full bicep and tricep workout here:
- Stand with your knees bent with a dumbbell in each hand. Lean forward slightly and row the dumbbells up, so your upper arms are in-line with your sides and elbows form 90-degree angles.
- Extend arms and squeeze triceps to press dumbbells back and up.
- Return to starting position.
- Aim for 12 reps then rest for 45 seconds before relating for 4 rounds.
Move 2: Chair tricep dips
- Sit on a chair or bench and grip the front edges with your hands.
- Keeping your arms straight, scoot your bottom forward to hover just off the seat so your legs form a 90-degree angle.
- Lower down slowly until elbows form 90-degree angles, where you will feel a deep burn in your triceps, shoulders and a little in your chest.
- Engage the back of your arms to press back to start.
- Repeat the move 12 times and rest for 30 seconds and aim to repeat for three rounds.
Move 3: Skull crushers
- Lie on your back or a gym bench with knees bent and feet planted on floor.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand and press arms straight up towards the ceiling.
- Slowly bend elbows to lower weights to near temples. Pause, then slowly press weights back to starting position.
- Tip: To make sure you are really targeting the tricep area, make sure you are only flexing at the elbow and there is no movement through the shoulder area. This makes it harder but makes the focus solely on the triceps.
- Choose a weight that you can perform three sets of 15 reps. Resting for 45 seconds between sets.
Move 4: Neutral grip chest press
- Lying on your back on a bench or floor, hold a pair of dumbbells directly above your sternum, palms facing each other.
- Pull your shoulder blades back, and slightly stick out your chest. Raise both dumbbells to until arms are extended. Pause, and then bring the dumbbells back to the starting position.
- Aim for three sets again of 15 reps with 60 seconds rest between sets.
- Tip: This move will hit your chest muscles, but by bringing the dumbbells into a neutral position and keeping your elbows tight to your body you get more of a focus through the triceps.
Move 5: Bicep curl
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a pair of dumbbells by each side, palms facing forward.
- Without moving your upper arms, bend elbows and curl weights up towards shoulders. *Slowly lower the dumbbells back to starting position.
- Tip: Try to keep your elbows as tight to the body as possible with no swinging – this will really focus the strain through the bicep and allow you to get the most out of the exercise.
- Perform 15 reps and rest for 60 seconds and repeat for three rounds in total.
Move 6: Plank get-ups
- Start in a low plank with your forearms on the floor and parallel, elbows under shoulders. Pick up your right forearm and press through palm to extend your arm straight.
- Repeat this procedure all on the left to come into a high plank, keeping hips as level as possible (this really works your core too).
- Do the movement in reverse to end up back in a low plank. This move will not only hit your arms but also work on the whole of your upper body as well as your core.
- Aim for 30 seconds on and 30 seconds off for five rounds.
Kirsty is an accomplished journalist specialising in the wellness industry. She has previously written for titles including Grazia, Popsugar, Metro.co.uk, Elle UK and the Sunday Telegraph. You’ll find her running around Windsor Great Park at 6am most mornings (before her toddler, Clementine Lilac, wakes up), followed by a virtual barre class with the team at Psycle London – where that barre burn is just so addictive. Kirsty loves to stock up on new activewear; because, let’s face it, you can never have too many pairs of sculpting leggings. She's always keen to try/endure the latest workouts to come to London. Kirsty also enjoys rustling up nutritious family meals and indulging in her newfound hobby: flower pressing.
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