Outside of our heads, hands and feet, arms are one of the most readily exposed body parts. With that in mind, it makes sense to sculpt some sexy limbs for a great ‘fit’ impression — let’s learn about how to put some smooth curves into your arms and make them look their best.
And women, don’t worry about ending up with ‘big muscular’ arms – your body has a limited amount of testosterone to work with to build muscles and also has estrogen in it, a muscle-smoothing and fat storing hormone. The pictures of bodybuilders with bulging biceps (male and female) are obtained through rigorous training schedules and specific nutrition and supplementation programs, often complemented by steroid use. It’s like mixing cement – if you don’t have enough of the cement mix to start with, you won’t get that much cement regardless of the amount of water you add to the mix.
From nicely sculpted shoulders down the curve of your triceps across the muscles of the elbow and on over to your fingertips, your arms can be masterpieces or cover-up material and the choice is up to you. The muscles we’ll focus on are your biceps and triceps – biceps flex (bend) your elbow and triceps extend (straighten) your elbow. Let’s have a quick anatomy lesson to help understand which exercises work the best for arm training.
Behind the Scenes with the Biceps and Triceps
The biceps are actually two-head muscles (‘bi’ meaning two, like in bicycle) and the triceps, in turn, have three parts to them. The biceps muscle connects to your upper arm bone (the humerus) and the front side of your shoulder blade (also called the scapula, this is the bone that connects your arm bone with your collarbone). Further down your arm, both heads of the biceps muscle join together into one tendon that connects to your radius bone, one of the bones of the forearm. Because of way the biceps connects to the different bones, it allows it not only to control the flexion of the elbow joint but can also contribute to the rotation of your wrist as well. Your triceps muscle also attaches to the scapula and humerus, although all three heads combine together into a single tendon mass that connects to the other forearm bone (the ulna) and give your body the ability to extend your elbow joint.
Your biceps and triceps muscles move the same joint in opposite motions, extension and flexion. Scientifically, they are called antagonistic pairs for this very reason. The important thing to remember is this: your biceps and triceps work against one another at the same moment in time to provide stability to your elbow joint. That means that these two sets of muscles will help hold your elbow joint steady if it’s under pressure. It also means that if there is an imbalance between your triceps and biceps muscles, you can be setting yourself up for injury.
Exercises to Fix ‘Jiggly’ Arms?
Please note carefully that if you are looking to reduce fat in your arms, purely working your arm muscles will not really help your situation. While the scope of this article covers how to efficiently tone your arms, you’ll need to follow the standard advice of eating right to help trim down the fat. However, know that even if your arms are not as lean as you would like, that should not stop you from toning the muscle underneath and helping to increase bone density.
Okay – with that state and now that you understand how these two arm muscles work. Let’s get down to some exercise movements and specific techniques to help get those arms looking amazing.
The Base Movements
For all of these exercises, please pay close attention to the following items:
- With curling exercises, if your elbows come forward too far away from your body during a curling exercise, the front of your shoulder will kick in and steal some of the attention away from the deserving biceps. Focus on keeping your elbows from kicking forward and you’ll get a more intense feeling. It may help to squeeze your upper arms against your sides as you work these lifts to keep the elbow locked in place.
- The muscles that flex your elbow help to make that joint look great — experiment with different wrist rotations and see where you feel the different exercises… just remember to keep your wrist straight in line with your forearm and solid to help prevent joint stress. (Curling with your wrists bent at 90º isn’t so wise.)
- Regardless of the triceps exercise that you’re doing, remember to squeeze the dickens out of those puppies when your arms are most straight during each movement – if they feel like they’re going to cramp, relax for a little bit and then continue.
- There are two main ways in which the triceps are worked – pressing and extending. As you exercise your triceps, try to cover both of those movements as shown with the two movements selected below.
Curls – Biceps
- While standing with good posture, hold weights (either dumbbells or a barbell) of appropriate weight in your hands with your arms extended (hands down by your thighs). Grip the weight firmly but not so hard as to go white-knuckled.
- While keeping your elbows from moving as best you can, raise the weight up in an arc toward your chest.
- At the top of the movement, squeeze your biceps and hold for a brief second before lowering the weights back down smoothly to your thighs.
- Keep the speed of the movement in a fast yet controllable and safe speed.
French Press – Triceps
- Carefully raise a dumbbell over the top of your head with both hands securely holding one end of the weight. Keeping your elbows closer to your head is better — be careful not to let your elbows go wide as this may cause undue stress in your shoulder. (This exercise can be performed seated or standing — seated can put less strain on your lower back.)
- Smoothly lower the dumbbell behind your head being careful not to hit yourself in the back with the weight.
- Raise the dumbbell up by extending your arms overhead and briefly squeeze your triceps at the top of the motion.
Hammer Curls – Biceps
- Start this exercise with dumbbells just like the Biceps Curls, but instead of keeping your palms forward, rotate the dumbbells so your palms face toward one another with your arms hanging at your sides.
- Follow the same motion as with the Biceps Curls exercise, keeping your elbows at your sides as best you can.
“Assisted” Push-Ups (always from toes, never from knees) – Triceps
- Stand with your feet a couple of feet away from a countertop or other secure flat surface (The higher the surface, the easier the exercise – stairs work very well for this. Try starting on the fourth stair and gradually work your way down to the floor as you get better). Rise onto your toes and position your hands just wider than your shoulders and your elbows point behind you at an angle instead of out to your sides.
- Bend your arms and stay in a stiff-bodied position to touch your chest to your support object. Keep your chest sticking out and your neck in line with your straight back. Your upper arms should be about parallel with the line of the rest of your body.
- Press yourself back up and briefly squeeze your triceps when your arms are extended.
- When you can do more than 20 repetitions on one stair in a single set, try the next stair lower next time around for added difficulty. Pretty soon, you’ll be doing push-ups from the floor.
Now that you have the basic movements of working your arm muscles down, let’s cover some techniques to put these exercises together that will help you to get the most out of your workouts.
Think of this like a sort of bounce – you’re going to bounce back and forth between a biceps movement and a triceps movement without much, if any, rest between sets. This will burn more energy like a sprint while working your arms really well. For each exercise, choose a weight that you can do between 8-15 times. It is best if the last rep is just about all you can get. If you get to 15 reps and you could actually do 25 reps with that weight, you’re cheating yourself and will be hard pressed to get the results you’re looking for.
Example: Alternate Dumbbell Bicep Curls with French Presses – perform three sets of each bouncing back and forth between each exercise.
Here’s a technique that helps build your bone density and tendon/ligament health while working your arms very well. After properly warming up, perform a set of an arm exercise using a weight where you it’s hard to even get six repetitions. Immediately after completing the set, stay with the same exercise but switch down to a lighter weight and crank out as many reps as you can up to 20. Rest for a bit and then repeat. Dumbbells are easy ways to quickly switch resistance levels with this technique.
Example: Set a pair of twenty-pound dumbbells and ten-pound dumbbells near you. Let’s use the dumbbell biceps curl in this example. Perform as many repetitions as you can with this heavier weight. (If you can get more than six, then move up to heavier dumbbells on your next set.) As soon as you are done lifting the heavier weight, safely but quickly set the weights down and grab the lighter ten-pound weights. Immediately start performing more dumbbell biceps curls and keep going until you either cannot lift any more or you hit twenty reps. If you hit twenty reps, swap the tens out for the next heavier dumbbells (normally twelve-pounders).
Slow Rate = More Tension = More Toning
This technique can be used both as a warm-up set as well as a method to really tone your arms. The more tension that is place onto your muscle, the more tense it will be while relaxed (the definition of toned). The downside to this method is that if you always train slow, you will downgrade your nervous system to move slowly and may cause problems if you try to perform quick actions like in sports or catching yourself in a fall. I recommend limiting yourself to one or two sets per muscle group with this technique and making sure to vary your lifting tempo to cover slow to fast speeds. Your goal here is to lift the weight with a slow, concerted, perfect-form movement taking two slow counts to get to the top of the lift and another two slow counts to get back down and then proceeding without any pause into the next repetition and so on. This causes your muscle to be under tension for a longer period of time than your average repetition, thereby stimulating your muscles in a different manner and kicking your body’s toning response.
Example: Using the push-up as an example, start in the arms-locked position and slowly lower yourself down to the bottom of the movement with a slow two count. As soon as you graze the bottom of the movement (elbows close to parallel to the rest of your body), smoothly reverse the motion back to extend your elbows, counting another slow two count going back up. Just before you would lock your elbows, reverse direction again and keep performing each repetition like this. Do not be surprised if you get tired somewhat quickly or can do less reps than you normally do at a faster speed.
Wrapping It Up
We’ve covered a lot of ground here and by now, you’ve learned not only what your biceps and triceps muscles do, but how to work them best to get your arms nice and toned. In addition to helping your arms to look great, these exercises will also help make your arms a little stronger as well. Did you know that if your arms are stronger, your body may hold better form when carrying objects which can cause less stress on your back and the rest of your body? (And your softball game may improve as well.) Have fun with it and go exercise your right to bare your arms!