Everybody has fun with “Top 10” lists, and they sometimes contain information that you can actually use to improve your life or achieve a personal goal. If you’re serious about building big, muscular arms, then this is the list for you! But before I give you my Top 10 list for arm-building success, let me explain my selection criteria.
First, the exercises on this list are simple and for beginners who need to start with a solid foundation in arm-building fundamentals in order to achieve long-term success from their biceps, triceps and forearm workouts. Though I’ve said that these exercises are simple, this does not mean that they’re easy. Their simplicity lies in the intuitive benefits that come from each arm-building movement and the fact that you can do these exercises with a minimal time commitment. Getting the most from these exercises will still require careful attention to training technique and workout variety – the 2 keys to arm-building success that are not always easy for beginning bodybuilders.
In my experience, you’re a beginner if you’ve been training your arms once or twice per week for 6 months or less. You’re also a beginner if you been trying to build your arms for more than 6 months with exercises other than those provided on my list. Why? Because if you haven’t mastered the arm-building exercises listed in my Top 10, you’re not ready for the intermediate or advanced workout methods that you’ll eventually need to build truly Awesome Arms.
Second, to make my Top 10 list, the equipment needed for each arm-building exercise must be universally available. That means that you can do all of these exercises with dumbbells, an EZ-curl bar and a basic workout bench which you can find in any gym or health club. You can also do these exercises at home with a very small investment in this equipment for your home gym. There’s no need for fancy machines or trendy gimmicks here.
Finally, each of my Top 10 arm-building exercises will help you to simultaneously build mass, shape and power in your biceps, triceps and forearms. These muscle areas are directly targeted during each exercise to maximize growth and efficiency from your workouts.
Now that I’ve told you how I came up with my list, here are the Top 10 exercises for building the big, muscular arms that you desire! They’re not listed in any particular order, so there’s no reason to think that one particular exercise is better than another. You must decide what works best for you through experimentation with each exercise. But rest assured that any arm-building program that includes all of these exercises will definitely add inches, symmetry and power to your biceps, triceps and forearms.
1. EZ Bar Preacher Curls
The EZ bar preacher curl is one of my all time favorite biceps exercises. The preacher bench is a terrific training tool as it forces the biceps to work in relative isolation from the back and shoulders. Unlike standing barbell curls which usually involve biceps-cheating torso swing, preacher curls keep your arms at an angle that forces your biceps to provide the leverage needed to lift the weight. The EZ curl bar offers both narrow-grip and wide-grip hand positions. When you use the narrow grip, your hands are in a semi-neutral position and therefore increase involvement of the brachioradialis in the curling motion. If you have no experience with preacher curls, you should probably begin with the narrow-grip position.
As you become more experienced with this exercise you should move to the wider grip as it forces supination or a “palms up” positioning of your hands. Since the biceps function primarily as a hand-supinator, the more you supinate your hands the more resistance you will place on your biceps. If you’ve got the potential to build biceps peaks, EZ bar preacher curls will certainly tap that potential.
2. Dumbbell Preacher Curls
The dumbbell preacher curl is another one of my favorite biceps builders. This exercise really allows you to make the mind-body connection so essential to arm-building success. While many competitive bodybuilders use this exercise exclusively as a “shaper” during pre-contest training, the dumbbell preacher curl also works as a tremendous mass builder when used in a pyramid cycle. In fact, this exercise is the best high intensity bodybuilding movement for simultaneously adding size and shape to your biceps.
3. Dumbbell Concentration Curls
As the name suggests, this exercise places concentrated resistance on the biceps when performed properly. Besides building your biceps, this exercise also stresses and develops the brachialis. The brachialis is a true forearm flexor. It originates on the lower anterior surface of the humerus, ends on the anterior surface of the coronoid process of the ulna (the large bone on the inside of the forearm) and is visible on the outside of the upper arm between the biceps and the lateral head of the triceps. Development of the brachialis and biceps gives the front of your upper arms that thick, dense look that says “mess with me at your own risk!!”
4. Seated Alternating Dumbbell Curls
This exercise is one of the best biceps builders ever as long as you sit on a bench that has a back rest to prevent torso movement. Too many people do this exercise either standing or sitting on a bench without back support. In order to make sure that your biceps get the most work from this movement you must stabilize your torso so as to prevent any jerking motion. Also, remember to supinate your hands throughout each repetition to stimulate maximum growth for your biceps.
5. EZ Bar Triceps Extensions
This exercise, also known as “Skull crushers” is a terrific mass-builder for your triceps. For maximum growth, EZ bar triceps extensions require that you keep your upper arms in a position perpendicular (90 degrees) to the exercise bench throughout each repetition. If this position causes you any elbow strain or discomfort, you can lower the angle by moving your arms slightly forward to reduce the stress on your elbows. Don’t worry – making this minor adjustment won’t impede your ability to get the benefits of this exercise.
You should also place your hands in the narrow-grip position on the EZ bar which, when combined with proper arm position, ensures that each triceps head receives maximum resistance throughout the exercise motion. Lower and extend the weight in a smooth, continuous motion without jerking or swinging the bar with your back or shoulders. When done correctly, you can’t beat EZ bar triceps extensions for building big, muscular triceps.
6. Triceps Pushups
You’re probably familiar with standard pushups which are performed with your arms in a shoulder width position. While standard pushups involve the triceps, chest and shoulders in the “pushing” motion, triceps pushups are designed to minimize chest and shoulder involvement so as to maximize training resistance on the triceps. This exercise is deceptively simple in that it appears to the untrained eye as just another pushup. But like every exercise on my Top 10 list, technique is extremely important and proper hand position determines whether these pushups will add muscular inches to your triceps.
For proper performance, take a standard pushup position with your hands and arms extended and shoulder-width apart. Then slide your hands closer together until your thumbs nearly touch each other. This is the starting position. With your hands in this position, slowly lower your arms underneath you and then push yourself back up to the starting position as you would with regular pushups. Make sure that you keep your back straight and your head up for maximum resistance on your triceps. As you extend your arms, concentrate mentally on maintaining proper form and technique with each repetition. For added resistance or pyramid cycles, have a training buddy gently place a 5-10 pound barbell plate on your back to force your triceps to work harder and build greater mass.
7. Seated Triceps Dips
Seated triceps dips are another terrific triceps builder, yet I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen anyone doing them in the gym. Maybe people ignore them because, like triceps pushups, they look too simple to do any good. Well, the proof, as they say, is in the pudding, and seated triceps dips have certainly added considerable power and density to my triceps.
To do this exercise, sit on a workout bench with your legs together and extended on the floor in front of you. Your arms should be fully extended and shoulder-width apart behind you. Slide your body slightly forward to suspend yourself so that your arms are bearing your bodyweight between the bench and the floor. With your arms extended, lower yourself as though to sit on the floor and then push yourself back up by extending your arms and returning to the starting position. This exercise, when performed properly, will add tremendous power, shape and definition to your triceps – guaranteed!
8. Single-Arm Triceps Extension
The single-arm triceps extension, also known as the “French dumbbell press” is a triceps-builder that I recommend primarily as a shaping movement. Although it is possible to build mass with this exercise, the over-head arm position may prevent you from using sufficient weight to generate the type of power and mass-building potential available from Skull crushers and triceps pushups. You should experiment with this exercise and use it in a manner that gives you the best results. But remember, I do not recommend using heavy weight with this movement because of the risk of shoulder injury. Consistent use of light-to-moderate weight will provide the best results from this triceps builder.
9. Reverse-Grip EZ Bar Curls
This exercise puts primary stress on the brachioradialis and extensor muscles of the dorsal or outer surface of your forearms. Since your hands are pronated in the narrow-grip position, your wrists are extended which forces involvement of the extensor carpi radialis and extensor carpi ulnaris. This pronated or “palms down” positioning of the hands also takes the biceps out of this exercise, which isolates the brachioradialis as the primary forearm flexor. If you’re serious about building big, muscular forearms, reverse-grip EZ bar curls are a good first step.
10. Wrist Curls
Wrist curls work to develop the two large muscles on the inside portion of the anterior surface of the forearm. These muscles, the flexor carpi ulnaris and flexor carpi radialis, are the wrist flexors and combine to form a thick, muscular region from the elbow to the lower forearm. While these muscles do considerable work during your biceps curling movements, wrist curls isolate these flexors so as to maximize resistance on this section of your forearms. If you want to add thickness and power to your inner forearms, heavy wrist curls will do the job.
So, there you have it – my Top 10 list of arm-building exercises for beginning bodybuilders. Try them, have fun with them, and make sure that you use safe amounts of weight and proper training technique with every exercise. You’ll be very happy with the results!