Arm strength is an important part of any fitness program. Strong arms are necessary for many daily activities such as carrying, lifting, pushing, and pulling.

There are plenty of ways to tone and strengthen our arms without using weights or going to the gym.

The purpose of this article is to show you which muscles to focus on if you want strong arms, as well as to provide 8 weight-free exercises that will tone all the muscles in your arms.

Which Muscles Are We Targeting?

You have multiple muscles in your arms, from your hand and wrists to your shoulders.

The muscles in your chest and shoulders are also important for many routine arm movements.

The arms themselves primarily include the following major muscles:

Biceps Brachii

The biceps muscle is responsible for bending the elbow and moving the hand and forearm inward.

Coracobrachialis

The coracobrachialis muscle is located in the upper arm. It spans from the shoulder to the middle of the upper arm. Its main function is to assist in raising or flexing the upper arm.

Brachialis

The brachialis is a muscle that is located in the upper arm and spans from the middle of the upper arm to just below the elbow. This muscle plays an important role in elbow flexion.

Triceps brachii

The triceps muscle has three heads, which start at the shoulder and end just below the elbow. This muscle is responsible for extending the elbow and shoulder.

Other muscles besides the arm muscles contribute to the strength of your arms. These include the shoulder, upper back, and chest muscles.

These muscles, although not traditionally thought of as arm muscles, are key to stabilizing force and every movement needed when using your arms for tasks.

These muscles include:

  • Pectoralis major. The pec major is responsible for most of the movements of the arm, including pushing, lifting the arm, and bringing the arm down from a flexed position. It also adducts the arm from a horizontal position and assists with the rotation of the upper arm.
  • Pectoralis minor. This muscle is an important scapular stabilizer.
  • Posterior shoulder muscles. These rear shoulder muscles move your upper arm backward, such as during pull-apart motions.
  • Deltoids. These muscles around the front, side, and back of the shoulder move your arm upward in all directions. They’re also responsible for the rotation of the upper arm.
  • Rotator cuff muscles. These muscles are important to shoulder stabilizers, but they also assist with initiating arm movements.
  • Latissimus dorsi. This muscle in your upper back moves your upper arm downward, in, or backward, such as during a lat pulldown or rowing motion.

You should focus on strengthening all of the muscles in your arms to make sure that they are all equally strong.

The Best Bodyweight Arm Exercises

The following exercises will work your arm muscles as much as possible without needing to add weight. The exercises go from easy to difficult, and may also work other muscle groups in your body, including your core muscles.

Although it is possible to strengthen the back and biceps without using an external weight, it is much more difficult to do so without a pullup bar or suspension trainer.

When you are performing these exercises, concentrate on actively using the muscles in your arms to contract with each repetition. This will help to increase muscle activation and make your training more effective.

Arm Circles

This exercise, which focuses on the shoulder muscles, will isometrically strengthen the biceps and triceps. You can make the circles either smaller or larger, but make sure that you keep the tension in your arm throughout the duration of the exercise.

To perform arm circles:

  1. Stand tall with your arms straight out to your sides and your muscles contracted down the length of your arm.
  2. Slowly make circles with your arms by rotating them around your shoulders while keeping them straight and your elbows locked with tension.
  3. Perform 3 sets of 10–20 repetitions in both directions. You can perform sets of large or small diameter circles to slightly change the effort required.

Arm Front Raises

This exercise targets the front of your shoulder and uses your biceps and triceps to isometrically strengthen. To make this more challenging, grab two cans of soup or two water bottles to add weight.

To perform arm front raises:

  1. Stand tall with your arms out to the front, locked out straight with your thumbs toward the ceiling.
  2. Raise your arms overhead while keeping them straight and locked out until they point straight up overhead, with your upper arms blocking your ears when viewed from the side.
  3. Slowly lower your arms to the starting position.
  4. Perform 3 sets of 10–20 repetitions.

Arm Lateral Raises

This exercise strengthens your biceps and triceps by contracting them against a static object. To make this more challenging, grab two cans of soup or two water bottles to add weight.

To perform arm lateral raises:

  1. Stand with your arms at your sides and your palms facing inward toward your hips.
  2. Keep your arms straight and raise them to the side until your body makes a “T” when viewed from the front.
  3. Slowly lower to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for 10–20 repetitions.

Wall Angels

It strengthens the shoulder and triceps and improves shoulder mobility.

To perform wall angels:

  1. Stand with your back against a wall with your knees bent and your feet roughly 1–2 feet (about 0.5 meters) away from the wall. Your head, upper back, and tailbone should be in contact with the wall.
  2. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees and raise your arms until your upper arms are parallel to the floor as if you’re putting your hands up.
  3. Extend your arms overhead until they’re straight. Aim to keep your arms, head, upper back, and tailbone in contact with the wall.
  4. Return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for 3 sets 10–12 repetitions.

Push-Up: 3 Sets of 10 Reps

Start in a high plank position, with your hands placed a little wider than your shoulders. Keep your gaze straight down toward the floor. Use your arms to lower yourself to the floor, then push yourself back up by engaging your arms and core. Try not to let your hips sag or your butt stick up in the air.

An effective way to increase your strength is to start with 10 push-ups and then increase the number weekly.

Muscles targeted: Triceps, chest, and shoulders

Triceps Dip: 3 Sets of 12 Reps

To do a triceps dip, choose a stable surface like a couch, chair, or bench. Place your hands shoulder-width apart on the surface and move your pelvis and booty forward, leaving enough space to dip down.

Shift your feet forward so your legs are almost straight, then lower your body slowly before pressing back up and focusing on using your triceps to lower and lift.

Muscles targeted: Triceps

Side Plank With Arm Extension: 3 Sets of 10 Reps on Each Side

To perform this exercise, start by lying on your right side with your feet stacked. Use your right forearm to push up into a side plank. You should keep your right arm perpendicular to your body, and your left arm should be in line with your body. Place your left hand on your left hip, and reach your right hand up to the sky. As you do this, twist your torso toward the ceiling and look behind you.

To complete this exercise, extend your left arm toward the ceiling, making sure not to lift it higher than your shoulder, and then lower it back down. Make sure your torso is in a reasonably straight line with your head, neck, and legs, and engage your left arm by extending it toward the ceiling. Complete a full set before repeating on the other side.

Muscles targeted: Obliques, arms, legs, and shoulders

Superman With Arm Extension: 3 Sets of 10 Reps

To do the Superman exercise, lie down on your stomach with your legs extended and your arms bent so that your elbows are by your sides. Engage your shoulders and glutes while lifting your arms, chest, and legs off the floor. Straighten your arms in front of you, then bring them back into the bent position. Lower back down to the starting position.

Muscles targeted: Shoulders, lower back, and glutes

Inchworm: 3 Sets of 10–12 Reps

Lower your entire body to the floor and press back up, keeping your hips lifted the whole time. To begin, assume a high plank position with your wrists under your shoulders and your legs extended behind you. Next, lift your hips towards the ceiling as you slowly walk your hands back towards your feet until you reach a forward fold. If necessary, bend your knees to allow your palms to flat on the floor. Then, slowly walk your hands forward to return to the high plank position. Finally, lower your entire body to the floor and press back up, maintaining lifted hips the entire time.

Muscles targeted: Chest and shoulders

Plank Tap: 3 Sets of 15–20 Reps

To complete one rep, start in a high plank with your hands shoulder-width apart. Your shoulders should be stacked over your wrists, and your legs should be extended behind you with your feet at least shoulder-width apart. Keep your core and glutes engaged and your hips as still as possible. Tap your right hand to your left shoulder, then your left hand to your right shoulder.

Muscles targeted: Triceps, deltoids, lats, glutes, and core

Decline Push-Up: 3 Sets of 10 Reps

To do this exercise, start by putting your toes on a raised surface like a step, box, or exercise ball. Then, bend your elbows and lower your chest towards the floor. Finally, push through your palms to straighten your arms and return to the starting position.

Muscles targeted: Deltoids, triceps, chest, and core

Arm Exercises With Weights

You can use dumbbells, barbells, or kettlebells into a weighted arm routine. No weights? No problem. Grab milk jugs, laundry detergent containers, or a weighted backpack. Any heavy objects you can safely get a grip on will do!

What you want in terms of weight for your dumbbells depends on your fitness goals. It is easier to start with lighter weights and more repetitions so that you can gauge your fitness level and make necessary adjustments in weight or reps.

You can always up the weight as you go.

Biceps Curl: 3 Sets of 10–15 Reps

To do this exercise, hold a weight in each hand with your arms extended straight toward the floor. Slowly bend your elbows, bringing the weights up toward your shoulders. Then lower the weights back down to the starting position, making sure your elbow and wrist are aligned the whole time.

Muscles targeted: Biceps

Lateral Raise: 3 Sets of 10–15 Reps

To do this exercise, either stand or sit with your arms at your sides and a dumbbell in each hand. Keep your palms facing your body and your elbows slightly bent, then lift the dumbbells until your arms are parallel to the floor. Your body should be in the shape of a T. Finally, lower the dumbbells slowly back to the starting position.

Muscles targeted: Shoulders and triceps

Triceps Kickback: 3 Sets of 10–15 Reps

Focus on keeping your back flat and keeping your core engaged. To do this exercise, stand with a dumbbell in each hand, your palms facing your body. Slowly lean forward by pushing your hips back and slightly bending your knees. Focus on keeping your back flat and your core engaged.

Bend your elbows up to 90 degrees, so they are in line with your back. Extend your arms fully behind you, and then return them to the 90-degree bend, keeping your upper arms stationary so your elbows remain high.

Muscles targeted: Triceps

Overhead Triceps Extension: 3 Sets of 10–15 Reps

To do this exercise, either stand or sit with a straight back and hold a dumbbell with both hands around the center. Raise the dumbbell over your head, then slowly bend your elbows so the weight sinks behind your head. Finally, slowly lift the dumbbell back to the starting position.

Muscles targeted: Triceps

Rainbow Slam: 3 Sets of 10–15 Reps

To do this exercise, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a medicine ball over your head. Swivel your body so you’re facing your right side and raise your back heel off the floor. Bend your knees like you’re doing a lunge. Slam the ball to the floor as hard as you can, and then catch it. Reverse the movement, and continue to switch sides.

Start with your arms above your head, then turn to your left and repeat the lunge and ball slam. Go back to the starting position.

Muscles targeted: Shoulders, core, legs, glutes, and back

 

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Rhoda is an award-winning dietitian, mature age model, and CEO of Sayvana Women.  

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