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How to Improve Your Arm Workout for Size and Definition

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I'm an avid gym goer who believes good health and fitness can improve every aspect of your life.

Important Tips to Improve Your Arm Workout

Whether you want to build big biceps or tone your shoulders, here are some pointers to maximize your arm workout for optimal results:

  • Always warm up
  • Include isolation exercises
  • Pay close attention to form
  • Avoid heavy strain by using appropriate weight
  • Use a variety of exercises and rep ranges to work every angle of your arms
  • Train arms twice a week

Scroll down to learn more about each of these tips in detail, including exercise examples. You'll also find my "Big Arm Routine" with suggested sets and reps—try it during your next workout!

Include Isolation Exercises

Research has shown that the best arm workouts for size and definition use a good mixture of isolation style exercises. These take your body out of the movement and put all the stress on your arms. Some people tend to swing the weight with dumbbell exercises or arm exercises in general, which is fine to a point, but too much swinging momentum takes the tension off the arms. You can stop this by doing seated exercises or by locking your lower body in place.

Of course, all good upper body workout routines should also have some compound exercises. These not only work your chest and back, but they also work your biceps, triceps, and shoulders. However, to thoroughly work your arms, concentrate on good isolation exercises to build arm muscle and leave the compound chest and back exercises for other days.

Isolation exercises focus on one muscle group while compound exercises involve multiple muscle groups. Here are just three examples of each.

Isolation ExercisesCompound Exercises

seated dumbbell curls

bench press

seated dumbbell kick backs

lat pull downs

lying tricep extensions

bent over rows

Pay Close Attention to Form

You've probably heard the phrase "control the weight, don't let it control you." It's good advice because form is everything!

Standing barbell curls and press downs immediately come to mind as exercises often done with sloppy form. Make a conscious effort to keep your back straight and your feet planted firmly on the floor when performing these exercises. Control the weight on the negative part of the lift. The idea is to put yourself through as much pain as you can handle and with as much strain on the muscle so it can grow stronger.

Great Bicep Form

Great Tricep Form

Lighten Up and Try Different Rep Ranges

Biceps and triceps need to be hit from many angles, but not with the same weight and rep scheme as large body parts. Many bodybuilders and weightlifters have bad elbows or bicep tendon soreness. This usually comes from trying to apply the same heavy training principles to their arms as they do to their back or legs. The bicep and tricep are small muscles compared to the back, legs, or chest so why should you work your arms the same way you work your major muscle groups that involve several different muscles?

Lighten up and use some different techniques like drop sets, rest pause, and forced reps. Stay in a rep range of 10–12, never going lower than 8. If you ever feel nagging joint pains, go higher with your rep ranges (15–20) until you can get back to normal.

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  • Drop Sets - Push your muscle to the point of failure, then lighten the weight to squeeze out more reps. Do this as many times as you can.
  • Rest Pause - Break down one set into several mini-sets, with a short rest period between each set.
  • Forced Reps - Use a training partner to assist you with two or three extra reps past failure.

Maintain Variety for Maximum Results

A good arm workout should have variety because being one-dimensional with your exercises will limit your development. There are three muscles in the tricep and two muscles in the bicep, which mean they need to be stimulated from different angles to give you the most growth. You can't have great arms without working all the muscles that make up the arm: inner, outer, front, and back.

You can work the front of the tricep with press downs, the back with extensions, and basically the whole tricep with dips. You can work the biceps' inner head with wide grip barbell curls or the outer head with hammer curls.

Hammer curls can be done across the body or to the side. Extensions can be done seated, lying on a flat, incline, or decline bench. Overhead cable extensions can be done by separating the ropes as you extend your arms, or you can use a bar keeping your elbows pinned to your sides with good form.

Build Lean Muscle With 21's

21’s are a great way to add quality muscle to your arms. The concept is to annihilate your arms with constant tension by performing 21 continuous reps of arm curls that will force your arms to grow bigger and stronger. The first seven reps are partial arm curls that start by pulling the bar from your waist to a half curl position. The next seven reps are performed from the top position by your chin down to a half curl position. To completely pump up the biceps, do seven full reps to complete 1 set of 21’s. Repeat two more times for a total of three sets.

The Right Way To Do 21's

Train Arms Twice a Week

Some people only do arms once a week because they've read it in a book or that's what everyone else is doing. I think the best method is to put more time and effort into your weak areas. If you want bigger arms, it's okay to work them twice a week. Don't be worried about overtraining. Biceps and triceps are smaller muscles which will recover faster.

Try This Big Arm Routine

Ready to get started with your new and improved arm workout? Try this routine next time you're at the gym!


  1. Press Downs (pyramid): 5 sets, 15–8 reps
  2. Seated Overhead Extensions: 4 sets, 10–12 reps
  3. Machine Dips: 4 sets, 8–10 reps
  4. Reverse-Grip One-Arm Press Downs: 3 sets, 15 reps


  1. Seated Incline Dumbbell Curls (pyramid): 5 sets, 15–8 reps
  2. Hammer Preacher Curls: 4 sets, 10 reps
  3. Concentration Curls: 4 sets, 8–10 reps.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Rob Kempster from United Kingdom on August 29, 2017:

This article had some ideas in that I haven't tried yet but will include in my next workout

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