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The Best Arm Exercises

Want buff arms like Michelle Obama's? Experts pick exercises that are best for strengthening and toning the arms.
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4 Multi-Tasking Arm Exercises

Try these four multi-joint, multi-muscle exercises from Agresti, Nutting, and Incledon to develop beautifully toned arms and upper body strength.

1. Push-up/Tricep Push-up

  • Prepare: Start on your hands and knees, fingers spread, wrists under shoulders, knees under hips. Extend one leg back to rest on your toes, then the other, forming a straight line from your heels to your shoulders. Keep the butt and ab muscles tight, the ribs knitted together, and the shoulders sliding down the back. Be sure the neck is in line with the spine (don't hang your head or jut your chin out.)
  • Perform: Bending the elbows, slowly lower the body as far down as you can while maintaining proper form. Then, straightening (but not locking) the arms, come back to the starting position. Repeat to fatigue (strive for 12-15 repetitions).
  • For a challenge: Do the push-up with the elbows pointing back and close to your sides to emphasize the triceps. 
  • Working muscles: Pectorals (chest), deltoids (shoulders), triceps.

2. Reverse Plank Pull-up

  • Prepare: Using an assisted machine like the Smith machine at your gym, set the bar about midway up and stand under it. Using a palms-up grip, grab the bar, aligning your shoulders with your wrists. Then walk your feet out away from you until your body is in a reverse plank, hanging in a straight line, with your heels on the floor. 
  • Perform: Bending your elbows slowly bring your body up to the bar and straightening your elbows, lower back down. Repeat to fatigue (strive for 12-15 repetitions). 
  • For a challenge: The lower the angle of your body, the tougher the exercise. Beginners should work at a higher angle off the ground. 
  • Working muscles: Latissimus dorsi (back), deltoids, biceps.

3. Bicep Curl/Shoulder Press Combo

  • Prepare: Holding a pair of free weights or standing on an exercise band and holding it with the palms face up, stand tall with feet hip-width apart, abs tight. 
  • Perform: Lift the weights or band toward your shoulders (flexing elbows), turn the palms to face out and continue pushing the weight or band over your head in a fluid, continuous motion. Then reverse the motion, bring the weight down to your shoulders with the palms out, then turning them to fully extend the elbows, bringing the arms to the starting position.
  • For a challenge: Chances are, you can use more weight while doing this combination move, so try it. Try not to rest between each repetition. Repeat to fatigue (strive for 12-15 repetitions). 
  • Working muscles: Biceps, deltoids, triceps.

4. Tricep Dips

  • Prepare: Sitting with your hands on the edge of a sturdy bench, fingers pointing toward you, slowly walk your feet out in front of you and take your bottom off the bench.
  • Perform: Slowly lower and lift your body weight, being sure to fully extend the arm and maintaining perfect posture throughout (do not roll the shoulders in). Whether your knees are bent at 90 degrees (easier) or legs are straight out (harder), be sure to lower yourself straight down (keeping a 1-inch gap between your back and the bench for the entire range of motion) and not in a swinging motion toward your feet. Repeat to fatigue (strive for 12-15 repetitions).
  • Challenge: Try this with one heel stacked on the other.
  • Working muscles: Triceps, deltoids.

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Reviewed on April 24, 2008

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