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Strength Training: Building Arm Muscles

Exercises for biceps and triceps
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Exercises to build arm muscles

  • Curls can be done with dumbbells, a barbell, or a machine. Choose a weight you can lift 8 to 12 times in a row. If you use dumbbells or a barbell, make sure you keep your elbows at your side and don’t move them as you lift the weights. If you find you have to move your elbows, reduce the weight until you can do the movement correctly. Most machines have you rest your elbows on a pad that keeps your arms in the proper position as you lift the bar.
  • The close-gripbench press doubles as a biceps exercise and a triceps exercise. Lie back on a bench and grasp the barbell on the stand above your head, but keep your hands about 18 inches apart — closer than you would for a classic bench press. Keep your wrists straight and your elbows close to your body. Lift the weight off the rack and lower it to within a couple of inches of your chest. Then lift it again. For these (and all weight training exercises), exhale when you lift and inhale when you lower the weight. Use low enough weight so you can repeat this 8 to 12 times.
  • Arm wrestlers often exercise with hand grippers. This device strengthens the hands as well as the forearms. Even for men who have no intention of challenging anyone to an arm wrestling match, hand grippers help build strength for common daily activities such as opening jars and carrying grocery bags.
  • Ordinary pushups work the same arm muscles as the bench press, says Gary R. Hunter, PhD, director of the physiology lab at the University of Alabama. “The beginner will probably get the same benefit with pushups as with bench presses,” he says. “However, as you get stronger, pushups won’t offer enough challenge.”

How much weight should you lift?

According to Hunter, the rule of thumb is about 60% of the maximum amount you can lift once.

“If you can lift 100 pounds one time, then if you want to sustain strength improvement, you need 60 pounds of resistance,” Hunter says. “As you get stronger, you add a little weight.”

That’s the biggest advantage to weight training — you can increase the weight gradually and keep challenging your muscles. That way you can build strength and muscle mass without the danger of injury.

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Reviewed on December 08, 2009

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