8 Arm Workout Exercises to Strengthen Your Muscles

Building your upper body strength can be a great place to start your strength training journey using several simple exercises.

Strength training requires little time, minimal equipment and is safe, even for people with health problems, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Arm strengthening workouts are "often more functional because they require balance, stability and coordination just like most of our movement in everyday life," Kyle Kercher, an exercise physiologist certified by the American College of Sports Medicine, told Newsweek.

"An easy way to think about these exercises is either pushing or pulling movements," he added. Some of Kercher's favorite pushing exercises include the shoulder press and any push-up or bench press variations, while the bent over row and upright row are among his favorite pulling exercises.

Some of the most effective and efficient arm exercises for strengthening arm muscles are multi-joint, free weight exercises, such as moves that use dumbbells, barbells and kettlebells (more on these later below), the exercise physiologist said.

Multi-joint exercises (movements that involve using more than one joint at a time, such as the elbows and shoulders) incorporate multiple muscle groups simultaneously as well as "mimic activities of daily living," Kercher explained.

Speaking to Newsweek, Darien Bernard, a W.I.T.S. (World Instructor Training Schools) Certified personal trainer at Crunch Fitness, said dumbbell bicep curls, cable tricep extensions, push ups and wrist extension/flexion exercises are great for strengthening arm muscles (more on these later below).

"With these simple exercises, there are lots of options to vary the movement to target different muscle groups," he said.

How Often Should I Do These Arm Exercises?

Bernard said these exercises should be done at least two to three non-consecutive days per week, at three sets of eight to 10 reps per set. "You'll want to choose a weight where your muscles reach fatigue around the eighth rep."

CDC suggests reassessing the intensity of the exercises after completing one week (or three sessions) of each set of exercises. "Start using heavier weights if any exercise seems easy with the weights you are using and you can complete more than 10 repetitions in proper form," the federal health body explains.

Kercher also said you should consider doing these exercises a couple times a week to start, making adjustments as you realize what works for your schedule and fitness goals.

When Will I See Results?

According to Bernard, with consistency, you can expect to "feel results" with each week you exercise and expect to see "noticeable results" around four to five weeks after the start of your program.

Kercher said the results will differ according to your personal fitness history. "If you are starting a new strength training program you will likely see faster strength results right away," meaning within a couple weeks. But if you've been training for months or years, then the "results will likely be slower as you probably have a stronger base already," he explained.

Below are some simple arm workout exercises to strengthen your muscles, as recommended by Bernard, Kercher, the CDC and other health experts/groups.

1. Dumbbell Bicep Curls

This exercise can be done either sitting down in a chair or standing up, holding a dumbbell of your choice in each hand. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart, with arms at the sides and palms facing the outside of your thighs.

Rotate both forearms and slowly lift the weights as you count to two. "Your palms should be facing in towards your shoulders. Keep your upper arms and elbows close to your side—as if you had a newspaper tucked under your arm," explains the CDC.

Pause briefly before slowly lowering the dumbbells back towards your thighs as you count to four, rotating your arms so that your palms are back at the starting position.

"Don't let your upper arms or elbows move away from the sides of your body. Keep your wrists straight,"

A woman doing a bicep curl exercise.
A woman doing a bicep curl exercise using a dumbbell. This move can be done either sitting down in a chair or standing up. iStock / Getty Images Plus

2. Cable Tricep Extensions

Stand with your back to the cable extension machine, with one arm bent holding the handle to the cable attachment and your shoulder flexed.

Extend your elbow until your arm is straight. "The only movement that occurs should be at the elbow—avoid flexing or extending your shoulder," says a blog post by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).

Then slowly return your arm to its starting position by flexing your elbow. Repeat the same sequence of moves for the other arm.

A man using a cable extension machine.
A man using a cable extension machine at a gym during a tricep exercise. iStock/Getty Images Plus

3. Tricep Extensions With Dumbbell

If you don't have access to a cable extension machine, you can do tricep extension exercises using a dumbbell while laying on a weight bench, as recommended by the orthopaedics department of the Massachusetts General Hospital.

Start the move by holding a dumbbell with both arms stretched vertically above your chest, keeping the elbows straight. Then keep your upper arms vertical while slowly bending the elbows toward the forehead. Slowly return to the upright position to start another rep.

A woman doing bent over row workout.
A woman doing a bent over row dumbbell workout. You can do tricep extension exercises using dumbbells while laying on a weight bench. iStock/Getty Images Plus

4. Push-Ups

Push-ups can be done either on the floor, an elevated surface (such as a weight bench) or against a wall.

Starting Position

Your hands should be "slightly outside shoulder-width apart at chest level," with feet hip-width apart and parallel to each other, not turned inward or outward, the NASM says.

Your hips should be in line with your shoulders and the lower back should have a "neutral curve—not completely flat, but not overly curved either."

To help achieve this, try pulling your belly button in and tightening your abdominal muscles. Your head should be placed so that the ears are in line with the shoulders.

Going Down for the Push-Up

Engage the core by pulling the belly button towards the spine and tightening your abdominal muscles. Also squeeze your glutes.

Keeping pressure through the hands, bend the elbows to lower the chest, hips and head toward the ground as a unit. Get as close to the floor (or wall or elevated surface) as possible. Your nose, chest and belly button should be at the same level and height.

Continue squeezing the glutes and engaging the core through the move and keep constant pressure through the hands into the floor.

Pushing Back Up

Engage your pectoral muscles and imagine you're pushing the ground (or bench or wall) away from you.

"Keep your energy focused in your core and not in your toes. Continue to push up, ending, and at available range of motion in the arms while engaging your triceps," says the NASM.

A man doing a push-up.
A man doing a push-up move. Push-ups can be done either on the floor, an elevated surface (such as a weight bench) or against a wall. iStock / Getty Images Plus

5. Wrist Extension and Flexion

Have one arm rest on a flat surface or just over your knee (with the wrist hanging off the edge of the surface or knee). Wrap one end of a resistance band around your hand, with the other end secured under the foot.

Keeping the palm facing down, bend the wrist and hand upwards as far as you can go before slowly lowering it back down. This move can also be done holding a dumbbell instead of using a resistance band.

A woman holding up two dumbells.
A woman holding up two dumbells. You can do wrist extension and flexion exercises using dumbbells or a resistance band. iStock/Getty Images Plus

6. Barbell Bicep Curls

Stand while holding a barbell with both hands. Flex both elbows, keeping your shoulder blades retracted and bringing the bar up to around chest level. Be sure to keep your spine in a neutral position and don't allow your back to arch. Then slowly extend your elbows to lower the bar back to the original position.

The NASM warns: "To decrease stress on your elbow, do not grip too close or too wide on the bar. To determine grip width, extend your elbows so your hands fall naturally to your sides, palms facing forward. Where your hands fall at your sides is the position where they should be when they grip the bar."

A man holding a barbell.
A man holding a barbell up towards his chest. iStock / Getty Images Plus

7. Kettlebell Bent Over Row

Kettlebell exercises are "designed to help you build strength using the resistance of the kettlebell and burn calories using multi-joint compound moves that keep the heart rate elevated," says Kinsey Mahaffey, a Houston-based fitness educator, personal trainer and health coach, in an article for the NASM.

"You can quickly transition from one exercise to the next to minimize rest, maximize results, and decrease the overall time that you spend working out,"

To do bent over rows with kettlebells, start by holding one or two kettlebells at your side (if using two, hold one kettlebell on each side).

Stand with feet hip-width apart and keep your back flat as you hinge forward to get your back parallel to the ground (as close as you can get it without rounding forward).

While holding this position and keeping your abs tight, row your wrist (or both wrists) toward your rib cage before flexing back to the start position.

"If you have one kettlebell, perform all reps on one side before switching. If you have two, you can row both at the same time, or alternate for an additional core challenge," Mahaffey noted.

Kettlebells seen at a gym.
A person using kettlebells at a gym. Exercises incorporating kettlebells build strength and burn calories using multi-joint compound moves that keep the heart rate elevated. iStock/Getty Images Plus

8. Overhead Press

This exercise using dumbbells targets several muscles in the arms as well as upper back and shoulders. "It can also help firm the back of your upper arms and make reaching for objects in high cupboards easier," says the CDC.

Start by standing or sitting in a chair with feet your shoulder-width apart and holding a dumbbell in each hand.

Raise your hands with your palms and forearms facing forward, until the dumbbells are level with your shoulders and parallel to the floor. Then slowly push the dumbbells up over your head until your arms are fully extended as you count to two.

Take a pause before slowly lowering the dumbbells back to shoulder level as you count to four, bringing your elbows down close to your sides.

Be sure to keep your wrists straight and don't lock your elbows, keeping your neck and shoulders relaxed and a slight bend in your arms. "Don't let the dumbbells move too far in front of your body or behind it. Breathe regularly throughout the exercise," the CDC notes.

A woman holding dumbbells during exercise.
A woman holding a dumbbell in each hand during an overhead press move. iStock/Getty Images Plus

Editor's Picks

Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to Newsweek.com
  • Ad free Newsweek.com experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to Newsweek.com
  • Ad free Newsweek.com experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts