The 8 Best Arm-Sculpting Exercises.
We all love doing compound exercises with heavy weights at the gym. But bench presses, squats and deadlifts alone aren’t going to get you sculpted arms because they aren’t sufficiently targeting and isolating the muscles of the triceps, biceps, forearms and shoulders.
To maximize arm strength and size gains, we’ll need a combination of compound and targeted isolation exercises. Outlined below is a blueprint for training arms based on in-depth analysis of current research.
The biceps brachialis is a muscle consisting of both a long and short head, and while both heads will always be active to some degree in every bicep exercise, their individual growth will be heavily dependent on the specific exercises you do.
The other muscle in the upper arm that tends to take a backseat to the biceps is the brachialis, which lies below the biceps muscle and actually pushes up your biceps “peak”. So to maximize the time spent in the gym training arms, it’s important to choose exercises that will elicit growth in both the long head and short head of your biceps, as well as the brachialis.
Exercise 1: Chin-Ups (Heavy Exercise For Type II Fibers)
What are chin-ups doing in an arm routine? Surprisingly, they’re actually one of the best exercises to grow your biceps and the research agrees. In a 2014 study by the American Council on Exercise that examined bicep activation through 7 different exercises, the chin-up was the second most effective exercise for the biceps, even out-performing curls.
We’ll start with chin-ups because 1) chin-ups are a compound movement, and 2) the biceps are comprised of mostly type II muscle fibers that require heavy weight to activate. Because it’s easy to overload chin-ups with heavy loads, start your biceps workout with them and go heavy for fairly low reps.
Exercise 2: Incline Dumbbell Curls (Emphasizes Long Head)
The long head of the biceps runs over the shoulder joint, so putting your shoulder into an extended position with incline curls causes it to stretch more, making it one of the best exercises for overall activation and growth of the long head.
Exercise 3: Concentration Curls (Emphasizes Short Head)
Concentration curls are far and away the best exercise for the short head of the biceps, as their activation is maximized with combined flexion and supination. That means making sure you’re turning your wrist out during every rep in order to fully activate the short head.
Additionally, concentration curls help eliminate involvement of the anterior deltoids, which often come into play during curling exercises. Researchers have also noted that there may be psychological factor as well – the fact that you can visually see your biceps working may actually help with the mind-muscle connection.
Exercise 4: Reverse EZ Bar Curl (Emphasizes Brachialis)
EZ Bar Curls are fantastic for activating and growing the brachialis muscle because they put your wrists in a pronated (turned inward) position. The brachialis muscle has no role in supinating the wrist like the biceps do, so flexing the arm with a pronated grip will shift some of the work away from the biceps and onto the brachialis, allowing the brachialis to do the work that otherwise gets taken over by the biceps during regular bicep curl exercises.
The triceps are composed of three heads: a lateral head, long head, and medial head. When each of the heads are properly developed, they resemble an upside-down horseshoe on the back of the arm. And like the biceps, while they’ll all be used to some degree in every triceps exercise, you can maximize the activation and put more emphasis on specific heads by choosing the right exercises.
Exercise 1: Close-grip Bench Press (Heavy Exercise For Type II Fibers)
Similar to the biceps, the triceps are composed of around 67% type II muscle fibers that need to be stimulated using heavy weight. Since the close grip bench press enables us to easily overload it and lift heavy, start with this exercise and use heavy weight for fairly low reps in order to recruit all the motor units of your triceps. Studies show that the narrower the grip, the higher the triceps activation.
An alternative option is weighted dips, which also activate all the tricep heads and allow you to lift heavy weights. If your shoulders hurt when performing weighted dips, then do close grip bench press. And if your wrists hurt when doing close grip bench press, then do weighted dips.
Exercise 2: Overhead Cable Extensions (Emphasizes Long Head)
The long head is the only division of the triceps that crosses over the shoulder joint, so it’s best isolated by performing exercises that involve shoulder flexion like overhead cable extensions. When performing this exercise, make sure that its your forearms that are moving and not your upper arms.
Alternatives for long head activation are lying dumbbell extensions and single arm standing dumbbell extensions, but the cable version is preferred because it takes stress off the elbows.
Exercise 3: Cable Pushdowns (Emphasizes Lateral Head)
Studies have shown that activation of the lateral triceps head is greatest when performing cable push-downs with either a straight bar or v-bar. Use an overhand grip, as underhand grips cause extra stress on the wrists.
Exercise 4: Triangle Push-ups (Emphasizes Medial Head)
A quick glance at the triceps of gymnasts proves that you don’t necessarily have to train with just weights in order to build triceps, and utilizing bodyweight exercises can be effective as well. This is part of the reason triangle push-ups can be a great finisher exercise for the triceps. They’ve also been shown to be the best exercise for targeting the medial head of the triceps.
To put it into practice, here’s an arms-day workout plan using everything previously discussed.
- (Weighted) Chin-Ups: 3 sets of 6-8 reps
- Incline Dumbbell Curls: 3 sets of 6-8 reps
- Concentration Curls: 3 sets of 6-10 reps
- Reverse EZ Bar Curls: 3 sets of 6-12 reps
- Close-Grip Bench: 3 sets of 6-8 reps
- Overhead Cable Extensions: 3 sets of 6-10 reps
- Cable Pushdowns (Bar or V-Bar): 3 sets of 6-10 reps
- Triangle Push-ups: 3 sets to Failure
These don’t necessarily need to all be performed on an “arm” day; they can be fit in with other routines as well. And remember, while you can expect to experience some degree of delayed onset muscle soreness with any kind of weight lifting program, pain is never normal.
Finally, if you’re not already getting regular chiropractic care, you’re missing out on a huge advantage. When even a single vertebra is misaligned, the effects are not only painful, but can also result in diminished function of the nervous system, which is required to coordinate the rest of the musculoskeletal system. When the messages being transmitted by the nervous system are even slightly affected, the results can be quite dramatic.
How dramatic? A recent study from the Journal of Chiropractic Research and Clinical Investigation looked at improvements in agility, balance, power, and speed reaction in 24 athletes without injuries over twelve weeks of regular chiropractic care compared to 22 athletes not receiving chiropractic care. After six weeks, the athletes receiving chiropractic care showed an average 10.57% improvement in agility, power, balance and speed, and after twelve weeks they demonstrated further improvement of 16.7%!
Ready to take your athletic ability to the next level?
At Ascent Chiropractic, our unique, low-force approach to chiropractic care combined with the best of physical rehabilitation therapies allows us to get unmatched, long-term results with patients ranging from the weekend warrior to the pro athlete. To make an appointment at Ascent Chiropractic, call 262-345-4166 or schedule an appointment with our online scheduling app.
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