Arm day is constantly dubbed every guy's favorite day in the gym, second only to training chest. What's interesting is that for however many guys overtrain their arms, it seems just as many women undertrain theirs. And this is unfortunate. Instagram might convince you to emphasize training only your lower body and abs, but overall muscle development shouldn't be neglected if you want that complete fit look.
Take a look at your favorite female physique competitor, or even some actresses with athletic builds (think Brooke Ence in Wonder Woman or Gina Carano in Deadpool). You probably admire their arms just as much as their legs and abs. In our enthusiasm to build arms like female action movie stars, we've got three different arm workouts for you to implement into your training. But first, let's get familiar with the anatomy and function of our upper extremities.
Arm Yourself With Education
The biceps brachii and the brachialis make up the pull and curl portion of the upper arm. The name comes from the Latin "biceps" meaning "two heads" and "brachii" meaning "of the arm."
The two heads are generally known as the long and short heads of the biceps. Although they connect at different parts in the shoulder, they do share a common insertion point on the elbow tendon.
The biceps brachii has two functions. The first is to flex the elbow. As you bring the wrist closer to your face (like when you pop that biceps pose) you're flexing the elbow. The second is rotation of the forearm. Forearm supination is when you're checking the time on your watch—any rotation of the forearm requires the biceps brachii.
The brachialis is seldom seen, so it's often the forgotten part of the pulling group. The brachialis sits deep between the triceps and the biceps and is mainly activated with shoulder flexion, in isometric movements, or when a biceps movement is paused during activation. When developed, the brachialis can push the triceps and biceps apart, making the arm look bigger. As it pushes the biceps higher it can add to the peak of the muscle.
If biceps pull and curl, then their opposing muscles push and extend. And that brings us to the triceps. Triceps brachii translates to "three heads of the arm."
The three heads of the triceps are the long head, the lateral head, and the medial (deep) head. As females age, we tend to hold more body fat in this area, making triceps development more of a priority as the years pass. The long head of the triceps sits right in that troublesome posterior part of the upper arm. So, while the guys might focus on the horseshoe shape and thickness that develops the lateral head, women may want to prioritize long head exercises.
In doing this, it's important to remember that shoulder extension is ideal for long head activation. This means any exercise where the arm goes behind the body, such as in a triceps kick-back or a single-arm cable push-down. It also means keeping your form as perfect as possible on any overhead extension or dip.
Notes For Beginners
Muscles contain high amounts of oxygenated blood; cut into a muscle and it's red, fleshy tissue. Tendons and ligaments are pale and tough and don't have the same sort of blood supply. Muscle can adapt well to the first few months or even years of training, whereas connective tissue can take a lot longer.
The muscles of the arms complement and assist all the other muscles of the upper body. In doing so, they can be unintentionally overtrained. As a rule, for the first year of serious lifting, it may be wise to partner arm exercises with a larger muscle group. The textbook workouts include biceps with back in the same session ("pulling" muscles), and triceps with shoulders, chest, or both ("pushing" muscles). These routines are etched in stone because they work for growth and allow strength gains without overdoing it.
If you have under two years of training, keep it strict and simple. Training arms need never be boring as we can incorporate bars, cables, dumbbells, different body angles, and different hand positions. What all these variables have in common is elbow bend, and incorrect form, overuse, or both can end up leading to a very frustrating elbow injury. Such injuries are notorious for taking a long time to heal and are the common curse of the newbie lifter.
Think through your wrist. Be it a biceps or a triceps movement, the position of your wrist will dictate how much strain you are putting through the complementary muscles of the forearms. If your wrist looks like it's cocked to sniff perfume, then you are truly setting yourself up for an elbow strain. Advanced trainers cringe when they see this on a barbell curl, skullcrusher, or triceps push-down. Keep the weight on the heal of your hand (not in your fingers) and keep the wrist neutral (straight) or ever so slightly flexed.
Stay where you start. We've all seen the videos of someone performing a standing curl where their back flexes more than their biceps, or the push-down that is doing more for the anterior deltoid than it is for triceps. A good reminder to avoid these things is to "stay where you start." You may be seated or standing, but wherever your upper body is at the beginning, keep it right there. Don't tilt, sway, roll your shoulders, or lean back. Lock your shoulders down away from your ears and concentrate on the position of your elbows and the movement of your wrists.
Once you’ve completed the arm workouts in this article, it’s time to graduate to All Access. 30 Days To Your Best Arms with Julian Smith is a great next step on the road to amazing arms!