Want to strengthen your arms, but aren’t exactly sure where to start? This beginner arms workout is just what you need to add to your routine—and it only has four moves.
Your arms actually include a bunch of different muscles, including your biceps (muscles along the front of your upper arm), triceps (the back of your upper arm), deltoids (shoulders), brachioradialis (forearm muscles), and rotator cuff (small muscles in the back of your shoulder). Building strength in these muscles is important for pushing and pulling—both in everyday life, like when pushing a door open or pulling it closed, and in your strength training routines, such as when you perform an overhead press or a row.
“With every movement, you are using those smaller arms muscles—the biceps and triceps—as accessories to help you to perform larger movements,” ACE-certified personal trainer Sivan Fagan, CPT, owner of Strong With Sivan, tells SELF.
That means if you’re looking to work your arms, you don’t necessarily need to focus only on “arms exercises.” Compound movements—exercises that work more than one muscle group across multiple joints—can also hit your arms muscles, too. And if you’re a beginner, including some of these exercises can provide a bigger bang for your workout buck. That’s why the beginner arms workout Fagan created for SELF below includes some compound moves, too.
Take, for instance, the overhead press. When you push the weights above your head, you’re primarily working your shoulders, but your triceps and the upper part of your chest muscles come in to assist the move. And with a row, your lats and rhomboids are really working, but your biceps fire too to help complete the exercise. So with these compound moves, while you’re definitely working your arms muscles, you’re also hitting other bigger muscles as well.
Then you can add isolation moves—exercises that use one joint and target a smaller area—to the mix to really double down on the arms work. For example, the hammer curl really targets your forearms, which are normally a little weaker than your biceps, whereas the wide-grip biceps curl works on the inner part of your biceps. By combining compound movements and isolation exercises, you’re getting a really comprehensive workout focused on strengthening every part of your arm in just four moves.
Before you begin this arms workout, it’s important that you warm up your body—especially your shoulder joints and your shoulder blades—beforehand. Exercises like the open-and-close book, (where you lie on your side and fully extend your arm up to the ceiling and then to the floor on the opposite side of your body) are great ways to do this, says Fagan. You can also grab a resistance band and try this upper-body warm-up!
This beginner-friendly workout will kickstart your arms routine. Ready to give it a go? Gather your dumbbells and read on for the directions.
What you need: A pair of light dumbbells. Because you’ll be working the same muscles with little to no rest between exercises, you might want to opt out for a lighter weight than what you would normally use. While the weight will vary depending on your experience and fitness level, 5-8 pounds can be a good starting range.
Kneeling overhead pressBent-over row to triceps kickbackHammer curlWide-grip biceps curl
Perform each exercise for 45 seconds, shooting to perform as many quality reps as possible. Slow down if you feel your form beginning to falter. Try not to rest between moves.After completing all four exercises, rest for 60 seconds. Complete four rounds total.
Demoing the moves below are Alex Orr (GIF 1), a non-diet NASM-certified personal trainer and CNC, and host of The Birdie and the Bees podcast; Francine Delgado-Lugo (GIF 2), cofounder of FORM Fitness Brooklyn; Gail Barranda Rivas (GIF 3), a certified group fitness instructor, functional strength coach, Pilates and yoga instructor, and domestic and international fitness presenter; and Denise Harris (GIF 4), a NASM-certified personal trainer and Pilates instructor based in New York City.