Workout programs often target major muscle areas like the upper body, lower body, and core. That’s all fine, but sometimes the arms get lost on the upper body workout programs in favor of the shoulders and back, and that’s a shame. There are a lot of complex and important muscle groups in your arms, and they deserve individual attention to make sure you have the strength and functional fitness for your busy life. And let’s face it, of all our body parts, our arms are the ones most often on show, in short sleeves and tank tops. It’s worth a little extra focus to make sure you work out your arms properly. That’s why these eight best arm exercises for women will hit each of the muscle groups!
The muscle groups of your arms
The exercises we describe are designed to help you tone up and strengthen your biceps, your triceps, and your forearms. There’s at least one exercise for each area, so you’ll be sure to have your arms fit and looking good from your wrist to your shoulder!
These are one of the areas of most concern to many women - the dreaded ‘bat wings’! These exercises will help tone up the muscles of the back of your upper arm.
Don't be afraid that these exercises will build up a bulky biceps - that’s not what we are after here. By following the guidelines we describe, your biceps won't get big and bulky, but they will get strong and toned. Toned biceps have an added benefit - they help hold your triceps together and keep them in place when you aren't using them!
Most exercise programs completely neglect the carpal muscles of the forearm, but not us. You need these muscles to open jars, lift and carry heavy items and maintain a strong grip. Strong forearms will also help prevent problems like carpal tunnel syndrome, so it’s worth looking after these important muscles!
8 Best Arm Exercises For Women
Exercise #1: Biceps Curl
The biceps curl is a foundation move for strong, toned upper arms. Strong biceps are not only functional and look great, but a toned biceps muscle also helps to keep your triceps in place (and not flopping around), as well as providing stability and injury protection to your shoulder and elbow.
- Primary: Biceps
- Secondary: Forearm
- Stand with your feet hip width apart and keeping your core tight and your back straight. Resist the temptation to look down at your hands!
- Hold a dumbbell (or a substitute) in each hand so your palms face away from you.
- Bend your right elbow, bringing the weight almost to your shoulder. Keep your elbow close to your hip - don't swing your arm to raise the weight.
- Hold for a second or two, then slowly lower your hand back to the starting position, in a smooth, controlled movement.
- Repeat with the left arm.
Note: You can also do both arms at the same time if you prefer.
Exercise #2: Push Up
Push ups work all of the muscles of the upper arm, as well as your forearms, and even the muscles of your shoulders and back. They are a great all-around exercise you can do anywhere.
- Primary: Triceps
- Secondary: Biceps
- Start in a plank position, with your spine straight from your head to your tailbone. Your hands should be slightly wider than your shoulders, but not in front or behind them.
- Slowly bend your elbows and lower your chest to the floor. Only go as low as you can manage!
- Straighten your elbows, pushing your chest back up to the start position.
- If a standard push up is too difficult for you, try lowering your knees and resting them on the floor while you complete the movement. Remember to still keep your spine straight!
Exercise #3: Triceps Dip
The triceps form an area that a lot of women are concerned about. Keeping your triceps firm and toned will keep your upper arms looking tight and fit!
- Start with your palms resting on the seat of a chair, a coffee table, or a weight bench - whatever you choose, you want it to be about the same height as your knees.
- Place your feet about hip width apart, and out in front of you far enough that as you execute the dip, your bottom doesn’t hit your chair, table, or bench.
- Slowly bend your elbows, lowering your bottom to the floor, until your elbows are at a ninety-degree angle. That angle is a minimum- as you get stronger you can dip lower!
- Straighten your elbows, raising your body until you are back to the start position.
Exercise #4: Overhead Triceps Extension
The overhead triceps extension is another great workout for your triceps. It not only builds strength and muscle tone, it’s also a great stretch for your upper arms and shoulders.
- Stand with your feet hip width apart.
- With a weight in each hand, straighten your arms so your weights are above your head, and the weights are parallel with the floor. Your palms should face each other over your head.
- Slowly bend your elbows, lowering the weights toward your shoulder blades. Resist any temptation to lean back!
- Straighten your arms to raise the weight back to starting position above your head.
Exercise #5: Concentration Curl
This variation of a biceps curl helps to build stability as well as strength. It also brings your shoulder into play, establishing flexibility and preventing rotator cuff injuries.
- Start sitting on a weight bench, chair, or coffee table. Place your feet in front of you, but slightly wider than hip width apart.
- With a weight in your left hand, lean forward, keeping your spine straight, and rest your left elbow against the inside of your left knee, with your palm facing toward your right foot. Start with your arm straight, so the weight is close to the floor.
- Slowly bend your arm at the elbow, stabilizing it against your knee. Raise your hand until the weight is slightly lower about than shoulder height.
- Hold briefly, then lower your weight back to the start position in a controlled movement.
Exercise #6: Supinated Row
The supinated row beats other ‘row’ movements because it not only works both of the major muscle groups in your upper arm but it’s also a great workout for the often neglected muscles of your forearm. Exercises like this build grip strength and help prevent conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome because they develop stability for the elbow and wrist joints.
- Primary: Biceps
- Secondary: Triceps, Carpals
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip width apart, and lower yourself into a squat position, keeping your back straight. Your arms should be in front of you, between your knees, holding your hand weights so your palms face forward.
- Bend your elbows, raising them up past your shoulder blades, and pulling the weights up until they are right in front of your body. Really concentrate on pulling your shoulder blades together too!
- Hold briefly, then lower your hands back to start using a controlled movement - don’t push the weights back out in front of you, or let your hands fall.
Exercise #7: Reverse Curl
This movement really targets the smaller muscles in your forearm. These muscles may be small, but they are really important. Not only are they essential for a lot of daily tasks like carrying, typing, or opening jars, they help with grip strength and protect the delicate structures of the elbow and the wrist.
- Primary: Carpal muscles (forearm)
- Stand with your feet hip width apart, and your back straight. Hold your weights so that your hands are in front of you, with your palms facing backward.
- Bend you arm at the elbow, keeping your elbow close to your hip, and your wrist straight, raising the weights in front of you to your chest.
- Hold briefly, then lower the weights back to the start position in a controlled movement - don't just drop your hands!
Exercise #8: Skull Crushers
Skull crushers are another great triceps workout, and like overhead triceps extensions, if they are done correctly will also give these muscles a great stretch and improve flexibility and elasticity.
- Lie on your back with your knees slightly bent, and with a dumbbell in each hand. Hold the dumbbells so they are parallel with your spine.
- Straighten your arms perpendicular to the floor.
- Slowly bend your elbows, bringing your hands (with the dumbbells) down until they are next to your ears. Move slowly, and keep your hands shoulder width apart - you don’t want to live up to the name of this exercise and hit yourself in the head!
- Slowly straighten your arms, returning the dumbbells to the start position.
Your Arm Workout
These exercises don't require any fancy equipment. You’ll probably want a yoga or exercise mat, and if you have a set of dumbbells or hand weights, then that’s great. If you don’t, you can use frozen water bottles, or even canned veggies or fruit. We won't be lifting so heavy that you need to get an expensive weight set!
Remember how we said these exercises won't bulk you up? Well, that’s because our program has you concentrating on doing a few sets of many repetitions, with low weights. It takes a little longer than churning out a couple reps with as much weight as you can manage, but that’s what leads to bulk.
For this program, and to get maximum toning, you want to make sure that you can complete each set without losing your form or pushing too hard. If that means you have to modify some of the movements at first or use light weights, then that’s fine - it’s more important you can complete all the reps!
In order to help you complete all the reps without losing form, it's also a good idea to alternate the muscle groups. For example, follow a biceps exercise with a triceps exercise, to let the opposite muscle rest.
A sample program might look something like this:
- 3 circuits of twelve reps for each exercise, done three times a week (you can increase reps, sets, or even weights as your fitness improves).
- Start with a simple warm up, with 20 seconds each of shoulder shrugs, windmills, and arm swings across your body.
Here’s an example arm circuit sequence:
- Biceps Curl - Make sure to complete the same number of reps for each side.
- Triceps Dip
- Concentration Curl - Do the same number of reps on each side.
- Overhead Triceps Extension
- Reverse Curl - Do the same number of reps on each side.
- Push Up
- Supinated Row
- Skull Crushers
Notice how our circuit also has you moving around - you go from sitting to standing exercises and more. That’s important because that helps to keep your heart rate up! It also makes you ‘reset’ your position before each exercise, which helps protect your form.
Allow yourself a minute or so between the circuits to take a drink of water, dry your hands, and stretch and shake out your arms.
Following our circuit program of the eight best arm exercises for women will help you develop strong toned arms that look good, prevent injury, and help you cope with your everyday activities. Because these exercises don't take a lot of time or a lot of equipment, you can do them anywhere.
Try building a set into your day whenever you need a break, whether it’s getting up from your desk at work, while your kids are napping or playing at the playground, or even while you watch TV. If you can get your exercises in at least three times a week, you’ll be amazed at the results!
Have you got a favorite arm exercise, or have you tried this circuit? We’d love to hear from you!