On the stage, in the gym, or on the beach, a massive, well-crafted set of arms command more respect and admiration than probably any other body part.
Building impressive biceps, triceps and forearms requires each grouping to be hit from a range of different angles.
This requires a selection of superior movements which target specific areas but also work synergistically to flesh-out every inch of the upper extremities.
Crucially, these movements must be included in a plan of attack of sufficient volume and intensity to spark the anabolic response needed to engage muscle protein synthesis and prompt continuous muscle growth.
With the following rundown of the best arm-building movements, you’ll be well-armed to do just that.
The Best Bicep Exercises
1. Barbell Curl
If limited to doing only one biceps movement, this would be it. You’ll struggle to find a more traditional biceps mass builder, a certifiable classic that’ll stack more meat on the bis (and forearms) than any other movement.
Though other movements can be used to both refine and enhance the overall shape of the biceps, the standing barbell curl is all about adding thickness from all angles. It does this by allowing heavier weights to be lifted and by perfectly-replicating the biceps’ basic function (flexion at the elbow joint).
Related: 48 Different Ways To Do A Bicep Curl
Barbell Curl Tips
- Stand upright with arms stationary and curl the bar forward (1-2 count), exhaling as the biceps are contracted. Lower the bar slow (2-3 count) while inhaling in preparation for the next rep.
- Vary the grip spacings from session to session to target (or, more accurately, emphasize) different areas.
- As with all the movements to follow, super strict form must be adhered to. However, a little cheating (via minimal hip thrusting) on the final 2-3 reps is permissible.
2. Incline Dumbbell Curl
The incline dumbbell curl works well to stretch out the long biceps head, thus optimizing biceps peak development (the short head is also nicely emphasized).
The more horizontal the bench, the greater the stretch, and the better developed the biceps will become.
This is a taxing movement that’ll provide a massive pump and serious metabolic stress.
Incline Dumbbell Curl Tips
- Lie back on an incline bench, keeping elbows locked into the sides and palms facing up.
- Curl weights in strict fashion (no cheating).
- Go super slow on the eccentric phase (up to 4 seconds to prolong the stretch)
3. One-Arm Preacher Curl
The one-arm preacher curl is a variation that places greater emphasis on the lower biceps region and, by its unilateral nature, encourages an extreme peak contraction and full attention to be directed at each biceps grouping in turn.
It’s arguably the best way to emphasize the short head of the biceps, to force a maximum amount of growth-inducing blood into this area, and thus to create maximum thickness when the arms are viewed from the front.
One-Arm Preacher Curl Tips
- Begin with back of arm firmly against a preacher bench pad and fully extended. Curl weight while keeping the elbow tight against the bench, and return slowly.
- Hit the weaker side first while energy is highest.
- Keep each rep slow and controlled (no bouncing at the bottom, unless you wish to tear a biceps tendon) and move only the forearm up and down as the biceps are shortened and lengthened respectively.
4. Dumbbell Hammer Curl
Thoroughly engaging all of the elbow flexor muscles, thereby placing the elbow and wrist in a biomechanically advantageous position, the dumbbell hammer curl recruits more overall musculature (compared to other curl variations) and is therefore essential for well-developed upper arms.
Primary muscles targeted are the biceps (both heads), brachialis (cylindrically-shaped and positioned on the sides of the arms, between biceps and triceps) and forearm flexors (and to a more limited degree, extensors).
Dumbbell Hammer Curl Tips
- From a standing position with palms facing in throughout the movement, keep elbows tucked and curl the weights to shoulder height.
- From workout to workout, alternate between bilateral and alternating hammer curls (more weight can be lifted when alternating while, bilaterally, more control is required to maintain good form).
- With alternating hammers, be sure to limit ‘cheating’ to the final 2-3 reps.
5. Zottman Curl
An old school movement that’s making a welcomed resurgence, the Zottman Curl is a great variation for targeting both the biceps and forearms with equal intensity.
It’s also a great way to ensure maximum tension is kept on the forearms (both extensors and flexors) to enhance this often-neglected area.
Zottman Curl Tips
- With a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing up (supinated), curl weights to just below the front delts.
- Forcefully contract the bis, then, switching to palms facing down (pronated), slowly lower the weights.
The Best Triceps Exercises
6. One-Arm Dumbbell Kickbacks
An underrated triceps mass builder, the one arm kickback allows for the lifting of big weights without the excessive elbow strain that may occur with other triceps movements.
In addition, due to the required shoulder positioning, the long head is taken out of the equation, thus allowing for greater recruitment of the lateral head (giving greater gains from the side) and hard to target medial head.
One-Arm Dumbbell Kickback Tips
- Bracing body against dumbbell rack or with one knee on a bench, bend your working arm until elbow is in line with shoulder, elbow is at 90 degrees and fist is pointing directly at the floor.
- Keeping elbow up throughout movement, extend your arm to a full contraction and hold for a one-count.
7. Triceps Dips
A superior compound movement for upper body mass gains, the tricep dip can be used to thoroughly blast the chest, shoulders and triceps.
However, by using it strictly for the tris, this key three-headed grouping is enlisted to carry the weight of the body (plus any extra resistance), thereby receiving maximum stimulation.
Triceps Dip Tips
- Keep torso upright and head facing forward, lower the body from dipping position, feeling the triceps stretch all the way down. Push body upward using triceps strength.
- Do not fully lock-out at the top on this movement; rather, keep tension focused on the tris with a shorter range than would be desirable with other triceps movements.
Related: Want Bigger Triceps? Flip Your Grip!
8. Rope Pressdowns
A simple isolation move that has a seemingly infinite number of variations, the triceps rope pressdown targets all three tricep heads while ensuring that continuous tension is kept on the tris at all times.
The rope variation also allows hands to move past the hips on the downward phase so as to achieve a full extension and maximum stimulation across all three heads.
Rope Pressdown Tips
- Keep the body upright (not bent forward) and elbows bent and tucked tight into the sides (forearms parallel with the floor).
- Using pure triceps strength, fully extend at the elbow joints, pressing the hands past the hips (behind the body) to achieve a full contraction.
9. Close Grip Bench Press
While many advanced lifters have well-developed lateral triceps showcasing impressive size from the side, few have fully fleshed inner triceps (or long head development). When viewed from behind, subpar development of the long head highlights a distinct lack of proportion.
A serious triceps multi-joint mass-builder (rivaled only by the dip), the close-grip bench press builds the tris from all angles, with an emphasis on long head development.
Close Grip Bench Press Tips
- Assume a bench press position and grip the bar with hands shoulder-width apart (around 8-10 inches). Slowly lower the bar, displacing elbows slightly as the weight is lowered. Without pausing at the bottom and using only triceps strength, press the weight back to the starting position.
- Don’t be tempted to space the hands less than six inches apart as doing so will not provide any additional benefits and may only lead to super-stressed wrist and elbow joints.
10. One-Arm Dumbbell Triceps Extension
Enabling a greater range of motion compared to the barbell version, the one arm dumbbell tricep extension provides a good stretch to fully develop the triceps long head, one of few exercises to fully tax this area.
It’s not a mass builder like the dip or close-grip bench so there’s no need to load up with heavy weights. Rather, keep the poundage moderate, achieve a full range of motion, and feel the triceps working from extension to full positive contraction.
One-Arm Dumbbell Triceps Extension Tips
- Grasp dumbbell with a pronated grip and fully extend your arm above the head, bracing the upper body with the opposite arm. Slowly lower dumbbell to opposite side of the head, to just below the ear, squeeze tricep and extend arm while keeping tension on the tri.
- Move only the forearm and lift only with the tricep. No bouncing at the bottom. Do not go to full lockout on this movement. Keep the rest of the body stabilized throughout.