Best workouts for arms: A guide to bands, dumbbells and bodyweight training

The best workouts for arms to build muscle or tone up biceps and triceps – these exercises can be done anywhere

Three women using weights to do the best workouts for arms in the gym
(Image credit: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels)

The best workouts for arms activate two the main muscles in the upper arm area, namely the biceps and triceps.

The biceps are found down the front of the arms, whilst the triceps are at the rear. The two muscles work in opposite ways (biceps are responsible for arm flexion, triceps for arm extension), and as such they need their own specific exercises. 

Below you'll find a selection of eight key arms exercises that will build shape and strength. Many of the moves require only your bodyweight to be effective, although access to some basic kit is necessary for some. If you plan on working out at home, take a look at our pick of the best adjustable dumbbells and best resistance bands so you're good to go.

Arm circles

These are a great warm-up for your arm day workout. They’re a good dynamic stretch that works the shoulders and upper back as well as your arms. Although they seem like a small movement, you’ll certainly feel them.

Technique tips:

Feet should be shoulder width apart.

Keep your arms strong and wide and your hands down.

Start with one minute forwards and then go on to another minute backwards, without a rest in between.

Push ups

Not only will push ups work the arms, but you’ll build upper body strength and also use your core to help you stabilise. Not sure how to do a push up? See the video demonstration below, along with our handy technique tips.

Technique tips:

  • If you can’t do a push up, the traditional way to modify is to try it on your knees
  • An alternative way to build strength is to start at the lowest point and push up from the floor
  • If your upper body strength is failing you, practise your technique up against the wall or on an incline
  • Squeeze your abs and glutes on the way up. Slow and controlled is the way to go until you’re really strong

Punches

Boxing is great for cardio and toning your arms. Use punches as a warm up and add a simple squat to get your heart rate up.

Technique tips:

  • Keep your guard up: your hands should return to protect your face when you’re not using them.
  • Engage your core to give yourself stability.

Tricep dips

Tricep dips are great for working the backs of your arms. If you’re in the gym, you’d probably be using a step but if you want to try tricep dips at home there are lots of ways you can improvise with equipment. If your stairs are quite deep, use the bottom step or the edge of a low bed or a sofa works just as well.

Technique tips:

  • You can adjust your level by moving your feet into different positions. Beginners can try it with legs bent, not too far away from the bench. The ultimate aim is to have your legs out straight and you can build up to this.
  • Your bottom must remain near the bench at all times – don’t be tempted to pull it forward.  Also ensure elbows are pointing backwards as you come down. 
  • t’s just your arms that should be moving – keep the rest of your body steady, and squeeze your triceps (the back of your arms) as you come up.

Bicep curl

As the name would suggest, this is one of the best bicep workouts you can do. That said, it also works your forearms.

Technique tips:

  • Start with a small weight, around 2-3 kg, and work up from there.
  • Squeeze and exhale on the way up – that’s the part when you’re working harder.
  • Your movement should be slow and control, especially on the way down when you might be tempted to go faster.
  • Elbows should be stuck by your sides at all times.
  • Don’t have weights? Try it with a resistance band instead, like so… 

Walkout planks

This is a tough but effective way to give you a full body workout because it works your core as well as your arms, with your triceps and deltoids feeling the burn.

Technique tips:

  • Start with ten repetitions if you’re a beginner.
  • Add a jump at the top to turn it into a cardio move.
  • To work your arms harder, add in a push-up when you’re down in your plank.

Plank row

If you’re confident in your strength, the plank row will give you an extra challenge.

Technique tips:

  • Start with a 3kg weight until you build your strength and perfect your technique, then add more.
  • Keep your legs wider than your hips to improve your stability. 
  • Make sure you’ve got your plank right and activate your core and glutes before you start to move. 
  • This move is difficult, so start with ten repetitions on each side.

Forearm plank

The perfect finish to your workout – do it properly and it’s one of the best workouts for arms, core, glutes and shoulders.

Technique tips:

  • Stack your shoulders over your elbows and keep the back of your neck long, so look down at your hands.
  • Your back should be straight and strong, with your core engaged.
  • Start with a 30-second hold and then build up to a minute.
Hannah Verdier
Hannah Verdier

Hannah Verdier is a journalist and personal trainer who's motivated by music, outdoor workouts and making other people love fitness.