Here's some good news after a year that didn't have nearly enough of it: You don't need a full rack of dumbbells, or even a gym, to build muscular arms.
Sure, there's something iconic about a big, heavy curl. But commonly, those who use big weights to train their arms end up working against themselves by relying too much on body English and momentum. Sure, used strategically, adding a little extra "oomph" might have some positive effects on your gains, but it's definitely not how you should train your arms all the time.
So, here's a secret: Training at home with only 10-20-pound dumbbells—or even less, if that's all you have—is actually great for arms, because it allows you to focus on your technique and mind-muscle connection.
Don't believe me? Try this workout and see what your arms have to say about it.
How to Do This Workout
Yes, the first few reps will be easy (depending on what weights you have access to, of course). But stick with it. Focus internally on recruiting your target muscle to initiate the movement, contract it strongly at the midpoint, and feel the muscle eccentrically return your joint to the starting position. This isn't the time to accelerate your reps either. Keep a consistent tempo and use zero momentum.
One other note: Yes, the range of 15-25 reps is pretty large. But that's just so that it can work around what weights you have. If you have weights that will have you struggling by 15 reps, use them. If all you have are lighter ones, then use those. Even if you're lasting the full 25 reps in each set, the volume and short rest periods in this workout will ensure you'll be getting the benefits. But respect those rest periods!
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Lean against a wall and hold the dumbbells with your palms facing up. Touch your elbows to the wall and keep them there during the entire set. Curl the dumbbells up, flex your biceps strongly at the top for one second, and slowly rotate the dumbbells so your palms face down. Lower the weights slowly, for 3-4 seconds, and rotate your palms to face up at the bottom of the rep.
Alternating Hammer Curl, 10-2 Countdown
This sounds a lot more complicated than it is. Once you get started, it's easy to count—but the burn isn't so easy to tolerate.
Stand and hold two dumbbells at your side with your palms facing your thighs. Curl and hold the weights at 90-degrees. Now do 10 full range of motion hammer curls with your right arm. Make sure to keep your elbow soft at the bottom of the rep to keep constant tension on the biceps. Flex your biceps strongly at the top. After 10 reps, hold that dumbbell at 90 degrees again, then switch arms. Do 10 reps on the left, using a moderately slow eccentric (lowering) of about 2 seconds. Next, do 8 reps with the right, then 8 with the left. Continue this countdown with 6, 4, and 2 reps per side. Rest for a minute and repeat for 3 more rounds.
Preacher Curl or "Couch Spider"
Lie over the arm of your couch or kneel on the cushions and drape your arms over the back of your couch if it's not pressed up against a wall. Let your upper arm hang vertically, perpendicular to the floor, with almost a 90-degree angle at your armpit. Soften your elbows to get tension in your biceps. Curl the weights up with your palms up and flex your biceps strongly at the top. Lower the weights slowly, for 3-4 seconds.
Using a reverse grip helps to stress the triceps more than other push-up variations. These are tougher than they sound!
Place two dumbbells shoulder-width apart on the floor with the handles in line with each other, or place your hands on an elevated surface like a step or bench with a reverse (palm/wrists facing forward) grip. Lower your body slowly toward the floor, for 3-4 seconds, with your elbows close to your ribs. Keep your body straight and press up, but don't lock your elbows.
Rolling Triceps Press, 10-2 Countdown
Lie with your back on a bench, or if you don't have a bench, on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat. Hold the dumbbells with straight arms above your shoulders with your palms facing each other. Bend your left elbow to 90 degrees and simultaneously lower the right dumbbell to the top of your right shoulder and do 10 full reps. Use a moderately slow eccentric (lowering) of about 2 seconds. Then return the dumbbell to 90 degrees and switch arms. Do 10 reps, then switch sides. Now do 8 reps. Continue this countdown until 2. Rest for a minute and repeat for 3 more rounds.
Dumbbell Triceps Extension
Depending on the weights you have available, either hold one dumbbell with a hand on either side, or hold dumbbells together as if it's one large weight. Brace your abs and slowly lower the dumbbells behind your neck, taking about 3-4 seconds to lower the weights. Notice a stretch in your triceps. Extend your arms up and contract your triceps strongly.
Yes, you can build legit muscle while training at home. Follow the program Full-Body Muscle-Building Home Workouts in BodyFit to learn how! See how much you can do–and grow–without ever setting foot in a gym.