Best Dumbbell, Barbell Arm Workout in a Session

Build Big Arms with This Workout

Cable Curl
Cable Curl. (c) Paul Rogers / Cooloola Fitness

To build big, well-muscled arms, you need to target three groups of muscles:

  1. Biceps of the front of the upper arm
  2. Triceps at the back of the upper arm.
  3. Pronators and supinators of the lower arms below the elbow.

The pronators and supinators are often unintentionally neglected. Don't under-exercise the triceps at the back of the upper arm either because they can make all the difference in building the bulky look of the arms.

This workout program is for a single session and it targets arm muscles almost exclusively with a few intermittent lower-body exercises to provide rest in between exercises. Most exercises are isolation exercises, which means the particular arm muscles are targeted somewhat exclusively.

How to Train the Arms

You can make an arm workout an "arms only" day where you do arms training and little else, or you can work it into an upper body workout with shoulders and back and chest, or you can do the full-body workout with a complete upper and lower body program.

One advantage of isolating arms in a workout is that you don't waste energy on other lifts and you can really hammer those arms. Don't overdo it; start with fewer sets or reps if you are a beginner.

Sets and Reps in an Isolation Arms Workout

Do 3 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions for all exercises. After each targeted group of exercises, do  2 set of 10 squats with dumbbells or bar at chest or shoulder.

(See below.)

Check the basic information if you're new to weight training.


Concentration Curl

Works the biceps by providing stability and isolating the biceps muscles. This can be done sitting, or standing while bending over. Support the arm on the inner thigh as you lift.

Rotational Dumbbell Arm Curl

Note the palms facing inward towards the legs at the starting position and the rotation as the weight is brought up to the chest.

This exercise hits the forearm muscles as well as the biceps. This is a must to include in an arm exercise program unless you target the lower arms separately.

Barbell Curl

The barbell curl hits the biceps full on. The bar fixes and concentrates the muscle contraction at the biceps. Use a standard bar or the ezy curl bar for a slightly different emphasis.

Preacher Curl

Another standard for upper arms. This time, the exercise targets mostly the brachialis, or the muscles of the lower part of the upper arm, rather than the biceps. You need a "preacher bench" or something that can substitute for one, to do this exercise.

Cable Curl

This exercise is similar to the dumbbell rotational curl if you rotate on the way up, but it adds, even more, instability, which is good for hitting muscles that you don't get with a very fixed path, as in a barbell curl. It targets the biceps with work from the brachialis, and brachioradialis of the lower arm.

At this point, do 2 sets of squats with bar or dumbbells.


Assisted Triceps Dip

If you have access to an assisted dip machine, they are good for graduated triceps work. Frowned upon by the purists, these machines can be useful for people starting out.

They hit the three-pronged triceps muscle at the back of the arms.

The Skullcrusher

The skullcrusher, in which a dumbbell or barbell is moved over the head while you lie on a bench, is a little more advanced. But once you get the feel of it, it works and adds variety, which is important when you're exercising regularly.

Also, see this example with a barbell.

Cable Pushdown

This exercise uses any cable apparatus with adjustable plate weights. It works the triceps usefully, especially if you only push from the forearms parallel to the floor position instead of at full elbow flexion at the chest.

Triceps Overhead Extension

This is similar in function to the skullcrusher, except you sit on a bench or chair or stand.

Sitting with your back supported helps stabilize the movement and concentrates muscle contraction in the triceps.

That's it. More than enough to build great arm muscle and strength. It doesn't have to be complicated to get good results. You can do this program as part of a full-body or upper-body workout, or on on its own.

At this point, do 2 sets of squats with bar or dumbbells.

Warm down, refuel.

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