The Best Arm Exercises For Your Next Arm Workout

The Best Arm Exercises For Your Next Arm Workout

clock-circular-outlinePosted 16 Apr 2024

It’s arm day; You’re training biceps; you’re doing bicep curls – arguably one of the most well-known arm exercises out there.

If you're here looking for the best arm exercises to take your arm workouts up a notch, you've come to the right place. But we’ll let you in on a secret – your biceps only make up one-third of your arm; and whilst we’re all busy obsessing over this muscle on the front of our arm, there’s a mighty muscle at the back that plays a big part in overall arm size and strength too.

We’re of course talking about the triceps – They contain more muscle mass than the biceps and are often neglected in the pursuit of t-shirt-bulging arms. But if building big arms is your goal, you need to be training your triceps alongside your biceps: This is the perfect arm exercise combo.

Building your arms isn’t easy; but if you’re ready to take your arm workouts to the next level we’ve got all the anatomy deets you need, along with our best isolation arm exercises to build stronger and shapelier arms. No matter if your goal is size, strength, or definition – we've got the best arm exercises to help you get there.

Did you know you can access hundreds of pre-made arm day workouts via The Gymshark Training App? Or, create your own arm workouts by combining the arm exercises in this article, with the ability to track your sets, reps, and weights.


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What Muscles Make Up The Arms?

Before we delve into the best arm exercises for your next arm workout, let’s take a moment to understand the muscles of the arm. There are actually 24 muscles in the arm. While we could go through all of them, we don’t have all day, and you’d probably rather be in the gym than reading this. So today, we’re going to focus on the two main muscles: The biceps and triceps.

1. The Biceps

The biceps brachii (or biceps as we know them better) are located on the front of the upper arm. Having big, bulging biceps or sleek strong arms looks great, but our biceps also play a vital role in pulling strength – whether that’s lifting in the gym, bowling a baseball, or hitting a powerful backhand in tennis. If you care about looking good or lifting heavy, there’s no denying that building big biceps will help you get there.

To understand how to build the biceps, we first need to uncover what makes up the biceps. The biceps are divided into two heads:

  • The long head – the bigger and more prominent of the two heads. This is the bulging muscle you see when you flex your arm.

  • The short head - the smaller head, located on the inside of the arm near the shoulder.

Together these muscles perform the concentric motion of bending the elbow ('curling' the forearm up towards to top of the arm). Whilst we can’t isolate our training to train one head more than the other, we can choose arm exercises that emphasize the long head or short head more – but ideally, you want to be hitting both heads equally during your arm workouts to create well-rounded biceps.

If you want biceps that really pop, you also can’t ignore the Brachialis (elbow flexor) and the Brachioadialis (forearm muscles): these help with elbow flexion and are somewhat responsible for building shape and size in the biceps. The brachialis alone also generates about 50% more power than the biceps – so if you want biceps that look good and lift heavy, don’t ignore these muscles [1]! Classic curls work the brachialis and brachioadialis, but the best way to train them is by taking a neutral grip (forearms facing inwards), such as a hammer curl or preacher curl.

Looking for more? Check out our Best Bicep Exercises For Mass.

2. The Triceps

Whilst the biceps may be the jewel of the arms, the triceps brachii are actually the bigger of the two muscles, located on the rear of the upper arm. We know it might be tempting to focus your whole arm workout on building your biceps, but neglecting your triceps could have some unwanted consequences and make your arms look pretty unbalanced!

Just as biceps are named ‘bi’ for containing two heads, triceps are named ‘tri’ because they are comprised of three heads.

These are:

  • The long tricep head – the largest of the three heads: The long head crosses the shoulder joint.

  • The medial bicep head – the smallest head that helps with stabilization.

  • The short bicep head (or lateral head) – the most visible head, located on the outer part of the arm.

These muscles work together to extend the elbow, and also help to control flexion.

Just like the biceps, a good arm workout hits all three heads. However, just like the biceps, you cannot completely isolate each tricep head to train them individually. You can, however, use different grip positions and exercises to emphasize one head more than the others.

Looking for more exercises to chisel your triceps? Discover our Best Exercises For Bigger Triceps.

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Take Your Arm Workouts To The Next Level With The Best Arm Exercises

So training your bis and tris is key to building toned, strong arms. And whilst you certainly can train them on separate days, training them together during your arm workout is even better. This is because our biceps and triceps are antagonistic muscles: When one works, the other rests. If you fatigue your biceps maxing out your bicep curls, your triceps will come away unscathed, making it the ideal opportunity to jump right into some skull crushers.

Although this article is based on isolation arm exercises, there are a ton of compound exercises that will work those muscle groups too (e.g. bench press, press ups, tricep dips) and should still be a staple in your upper body gym workouts. However, isolation arm exercises help you focus all the work through the target muscles, without any other muscles helping out. Use your compound lifts at the start of your session, and use these arm exercises as accessories to those larger lifts.

Scroll down to find out more about each of the arm exercises, and learn how to perform each arm exercise correctly.

The Best Bicep Exercises For Your Arm Workout

The best biceps exercises are curling movements, such as:

  1. Barbell Bicep Curl

  2. Dumbbell Preacher Curl

  3. Cable Bicep Curl

It's incredibly easy to overcomplicate arm exercises, but the most effective lifts are often the most basic. Execute these three biceps exercises correctly in your next arm workout and reap the rewards.

1. Barbell Bicep Curl

Muscles Targeted: Biceps Brachii (Long Head & Short Head)

Overview: If the Barbell Bicep Curl isn't part of your arm workout, now is the time to include it.

This isolation exercise is a classic and with reason too: It’s one of the best for developing the biceps (not to mention building grip strength). Using a barbell to curl with both arms rather than the dumbbell variation allows a heavier weight to be lifted. More weight = greater load = more gains.

How To Do The Barbell Bicep Curl:

  1. Select a preloaded bar of an appropriate weight, or load up a barbell with plates.

  2. Take hold of the bar in a supinated grip (palms up), shoulder-width apart. Stand with your arms fully extended, elbows by your side. Feet should be directly below hips, knees slightly bent and shoulder blades retracted.

  3. Keeping your elbows in the same position (by your side), contract your biceps and curl the bar upwards through a full range of motion. Once your elbows are fully bent and the bar is near your shoulders, pause, squeezing your biceps as you do so.

  4. Then, slowly lower back to the starting position, arms fully extended.

  5. Repeat for desired reps.

TIP: Don’t be one of those gym bros that swings at the bottom of each rep. Using momentum and rushing the bicep curl might mean you can lift heavier, but it won’t help your gains! The biceps should be doing all the work here, so don’t help them out by swinging to get the bar up.

Keep your feet planted shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent and elbows kept strictly by your side. Focus on bracing your core and keeping it tight throughout the movement to stabilize yourself. Aim for a powerful contraction to the top of the rep, with a slow three-second eccentric (downward) movement.

VARIATIONS: Using a supinated grip, as above, will mainly target the short head of the bicep. To work the long head more, perform biceps curls using a semi-supinated narrower grip, using an EZ bar.

2. Dumbbell Preacher Curl

Muscle Targeted: Biceps Brachii (Mainly Short Head & Brachialis)

Overview: The EZ bar preacher curl is well-loved by bodybuilders, but have you ever thought about swapping the EZ bar for dumbbells? Strength imbalances between arms aren’t uncommon (in fact, for many it’s quite noticeable), but using a pair of dumbbells for preacher curls allows for unilateral conditioning to ensure both arms are just as strong as each other.

Using the preacher curl bench or an incline bench reduces the ability to 'cheat' whilst placing more emphasis on the contraction of the muscle throughout the movement.

How To Do A Dumbbell Preacher Curl:

  1. Set up the bench at a 60-degree incline (one setting below fully upright). Select an appropriate weight dumbbell.

  2. Hold the dumbbell in one hand and stand behind the bench. Bring that arm over the top of the bench so the upper arm rests on the backrest, with your armpit hugging the top of the bench (you may have to bend your knees slightly).

  3. Start with your palm facing up, arm bent. Then begin the movement, by extending your forearm down as far as possible.

  4. Pause, then reverse the motion, curling the dumbbell up towards your shoulder.

TIP: The only thing that should move in this exercise is your forearms. Keep your upper arm glued to the bench to ensure the biceps are the only muscle working.

VARIATIONS: Rotate your grip to a neutral grip (thumbs at the top) for a preacher hammer curl. This provides the same amount of muscle isolation, with more focus on the long bicep head, brachialis, and brachioradialis.

3. Cable Bicep Curl

Muscle Targeted: Biceps Brachii (Mainly Long Head)

Overview: Chasing that bicep pump? Cable bicep curls could be your answer.

Cable bicep curls place the biceps under consistent tension throughout the movement. If you’re curling 55lb on the way up, you’re resisting 55lb on the way down – the cable machine will work to keep the resistance the same throughout the movement, with the muscles remaining under tension the whole time.

Plus, these are one of our favorite arm exercises if the gym’s busy. We can’t count the times we’ve got to the dumbbell rack and found all the suitable weight dumbbells are in use. The cable machine means you don’t have to abandon your curls, providing a very similar movement pattern to dumbbell curls, with the option to select the weight you want.

How To Do Bicep Cable Curls:

  1. Set the cable to the bottom of the tower and attach a straight bar attachment. Set the weight by adjusting the pin.

  2. Take hold of the bar in both hands, with a supinated (underhand) grip. Take a step back from the tower, positioning your feet to shoulder width apart, keeping a soft knee. Arms should be extended, bar by your thighs.

  3. Begin the curl by engaging your core, and bending your elbows to move the bar towards your shoulders. Keep your elbows tucked into your sides and ensure only your forearms move.

  4. When you reach the top, pause, squeezing your biceps.

  5. Reverse the movement, slowly lowering back to the starting position, arms fully extended. Repeat.

TIP: Cable bicep curls can be great for increasing training volume in your arm workouts by using them for drop sets: Straight after your final set, lighten the weight by 10-30%, and then repeat the movement until failure. Then, without resting, drop the weight again by 10-30% and repeat until failure. Not only is this a very time-efficient way of training, but drop sets have been found to increase gains by placing muscles under higher stress [2].

VARIATIONS: Target the short head of the bicep more by performing a high cable bicep curl. These work the biceps from a different angle, curling with the arms in an elevated position and requiring higher shoulder stabilization.

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The Best Tricep Exercises For Your Arm Workout

As mentioned, it isn't a good arm workout if you don't hit your biceps and triceps.

The best triceps exercises are pushing movements, such as:

  1. Skull Crusher

  2. Cable Tricep Pushdown

  3. Overhead Tricep Extension

1. Skull Crusher

Muscle Targeted: Triceps Brachii (Lateral Head, Medial Head & Long Head)

Overview: If you're chasing big triceps, skull crushers (otherwise known as the Lying Triceps Extension) should be a priority in your arm workouts. Focus on the slow eccentric movement, before powerfully extending your arms, and engaging the triceps throughout the exercise.

This movement is named a skull crusher for a reason – Start light, go slow, and don't drop the weight!

How To Do Skull Crushers:

  1. Position the bench so it is lying flat. Pick up two dumbbells you can comfortably use for the prescribed rep range.

  2. Sit on the end of the bench, resting the two dumbbells on your thighs, feet planted on the floor.

  3. Lie back on the bench, extending your arms out above you as you do so, making sure your feet are still planted on the ground. Elbows should be soft and not locked out.

  4. Start the movement: Flex your elbows, lowering the head of the dumbbells toward your ears, keeping your upper arms as still as possible.

  5. When the weight is level with your ears, pause, then extend the forearms back to the starting position, squeezing your triceps at the extension.

  6. Repeat for prescribed reps.

TIP: Focus on keeping your elbows in (in other words, don’t let them flare out). It’s tempting to move the upper arm as you lower the bar to your forehead, but it should only be the elbow joint and forearm that move.

VARIATIONS: This tricep exercise can be performed using two dumbbells, as shown above, or using a barbell or EZ bar, allowing both triceps to work together and targeting all three heads of the triceps brachii.

2. Cable Triceps Pushdown

Muscle Targeted: Triceps Brachii (All Heads, But Primarily The Lateral Head)

Overview: The cable machine isn't just for bicep exercises – another reason why it’s a great option for busy gym days. Superset your bicep curls with these tricep pushdowns to isolate the opposing muscle groups during your arm workouts.

Cable tricep pressdowns can be performed using different attachments. Whilst the most common way to do them is using a straight bar, you can also opt for a rope, V bar, or EZ bar attachment. Little difference has been found in terms of tricep activation, but the variations do feel slightly different. Try a few different attachments to see which feels most natural [3].

How To Do Cable Tricep Pushdowns:

  1. Set up the cable to the highest setting on the tower with a rope attachment (or other attachment of your choice).

  2. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart facing the cable, taking hold of the rope in a pronated grip.

  3. Brace your core and keep your elbows close to your sides. Press the rope handles down toward your outer thighs.

  4. When your arms are fully extended, pause, squeezing your triceps.

  5. Slowly return to the starting position, bending your elbows to bring your forearms back up, and repeat.

TIP: A strict posture is key to isolating the triceps effectively. Position yourself with a balanced stance, soft knees, and retracted shoulders; keeping your elbows pinned by your side throughout the movement.

VARIATIONS: Flip your grip and give the reverse grip tricep pushdown a go. This will shift the focus to the medial tricep head, and whilst it may not be the best movement for size like the overhand grip variation, it’s extremely useful for balanced tricep development.

3. Overhead Tricep Extension

Muscle Targeted: Triceps Brachii (All heads, But Primarily The Long Head)

Overview: This arm exercise is proven to be one of the best for activating the triceps, likely because by taking your tricep training overhead, you’re training the triceps at their most lengthened position [4]. The benefit of this? Well, when the weight is at its lowest (elbow fully bent), you are stretching the triceps to their greatest length, **training them through their full range of motion. Plus, you’ll need to really work to engage your core and need assistance from your shoulders to keep the arm steady. For these reasons, the overhead tricep extension feels more challenging than the cable tricep pushdown.

Leave your ego at the door for this lift. As a single-arm movement, the weight you can shift will be limited, but that doesn't reduce its effectiveness. Start with a light weight and build your way up as your stability, and strength improves.

How To Do The Overhead Tricep Extension:

  1. Grip the handle of the dumbbell in one hand. Move your feet into a shoulder-width stance, engaging your core by bracing your stomach.

  2. Lift the dumbbell above your head, fully extending your arm so your upper arm is next to your ear, knuckles facing the ceiling.

  3. Begin the movement by bending your elbow to lower the dumbbell behind your head. Your upper arm should stay fixed beside your ear with only your forearm moving.

  4. Once you have lowered as far as possible, pause, then extend your arm to return the dumbbell back to the starting position, squeezing your tricep as you extend.

  5. Pause, then repeat.

TIP: Make sure you don’t arch your back when lowering the weight behind you. When standing, make sure you contract your abs to hold your body still, squeezing your glutes and legs to keep your body stable. Keep reps slow and controlled and focus on form.

VARIATIONS: You can also perform the overhead tricep extension using both arms at once. This bilateral variation will allow you to lift heavier and save time. But it’s worth noting that the single-arm variation is more challenging for the core, helping to develop stability and balance, and teaching your body how to work evenly on both sides [5].

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Level Up Your Arm Workouts

Whether you’re chasing 3D arms that look good on stage, or you want to add lbs to your bench press, these are the best arm exercises to help you get there. By combining these bicep and tricep isolation exercises into your next arm workout, you’ll build strength, size, and power exactly where you want it.

It’s time to really build those arms – are you ready?

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Written By: Chris Beck

Chris Beck is Senior Editor at Gymshark, with a passion for curating informative conditioning and health content. Chris is an experienced Personal Trainer, and also holds qualifications in Nutrition, Sports Performance and is a certified Crossfit Level 1 Trainer.

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  3. Rendos, N.K., Heredia Vargas, H.M., Alipio, T.C., Regis, R.C., Romero, M.A. and Signorile, J.F. (2016). Differences in Muscle Activity During Cable Resistance Training Are Influenced by Variations in Handle Types. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, [online] 30(7), pp.2001–2009. doi:

  4. Kholinne, E., Zulkarnain, R.F., Sun, Y.C., Lim, S., Chun, J.-M. and Jeon, I.-H. (2018). The different role of each head of the triceps brachii muscle in elbow extension. Acta Orthopaedica et Traumatologica Turcica, [online] 52(3), pp.201–205. doi:

  5. Saeterbakken, A.H. and Fimland, M.S. (2011). Muscle activity of the core during bilateral, unilateral, seated and standing resistance exercise. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 112(5), pp.1671–1678. doi:

  6. Simão, R., de Salles, B.F., Figueiredo, T., Dias, I. and Willardson, J.M. (2012). Exercise Order in Resistance Training. Sports Medicine, [online] 42(3), pp.251–265. doi:

  7. Ahtiainen, J.P., Pakarinen, A., Alen, M., Kraemer, W.J. and Häkkinen, K. (2003). Muscle hypertrophy, hormonal adaptations and strength development during strength training in strength-trained and untrained men. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 89(6), pp.555–563. doi:

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