Strong, toned arms do more than just look good and boost your confidence. There are also key health benefits that come from working out your arm muscles.

Having stronger arms and shoulders can reduce your risk of injury and can help improve your posture. Stronger arm muscles also help protect your bones and stabilize your joints.

Fortunately, toning and strengthening your arms doesn’t require much. A regular arm workout using just a simple set of dumbbells can get you the results you want.

Let’s take a closer look at the dumbbell exercises that work best for strengthening and toning your forearms, biceps, triceps, and shoulders.

Dumbbells are available in two basic styles: fixed-weight and adjustable. Most fitness centers have many pairs of fixed dumbbells of varying weights.

If you’re working out at home, you may want to buy adjustable dumbbells. This way, you can add or remove the weighted plates depending on the exercise you’re doing.

Use a weight that allows you to do each of these exercises with the correct form while still holding tension in the muscles you’re focusing on.

To start off, try to do two to three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions for each of the following exercises. Once 15 reps of a particular exercise become easy, move up to a heavier weight.

About reps and sets

  • What is a repetition? A repetition (or rep) is one complete exercise movement. For instance, one dumbbell curl.
  • What is a set? A set is a certain number of repetitions. For example, 15 dumbbell curls are considered one set.

Your forearm muscles are used for many everyday activities, like opening jars, lifting things, or carrying groceries. Strong forearms are also important for sports like basketball, tennis, and golf.

There are two types of wrist curls that are especially effective at strengthening your forearms. These include the two exercises described below.

1. Palms-up wrist curl

This exercise works the flexor muscles located on the back or underside of your forearm.

To do this exercise:

  • Start with 5- or 10-pound dumbbells, or a lighter weight if needed.
  • Sit straight up in a chair or on a bench, with your knees at a 90-degree angle to the floor.
  • Hold the dumbbells with your palms up. Rest your forearms on your thighs and let your hands hover just beyond the edge of your knees.
  • Relax your hands so the weights fall slightly below the top of your knees.
  • Slowly curl the weights upward, then return to the starting position.

2. Palms-down wrist curls

A palms-down wrist curl works the extensor muscles on the top of your forearm.

This exercise is done the same way as palms-up curls. The difference is that when you rest your hands over the edge of your knees, your palms are facing down toward the floor.

You may need to use a slightly lighter weight for this exercise, compared with what you used for the palms-up curls.

To do this exercise: Follow the same directions as above, except with your palms facing down instead of up.

Activities that involve throwing, swinging, or pulling all require strong biceps. These are the muscles located at the front of your upper arms.

3. Bicep curls

The standard bicep curl can be done standing or sitting at the end of a bench.

To do this exercise:

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand, with your arms down by your sides.
  • Inhale. As you exhale, slowly curl the weights up toward your shoulders.
  • Focus on using your biceps to pull the weights up. Don’t sway, lean forward, or arch your back as you bring them up. Keep your core engaged and your back straight.
  • Pause, then lower the dumbbells to the starting position.

4. Concentration curls

According to a small 2014 study of people ages 18 to 24, the concentration curl is the most effective exercise for isolating and strengthening your biceps.

To do this exercise:

  • Sit on a bench or chair with your legs apart; lean forward slightly.
  • Pick up a dumbbell with your left hand and rest your elbow against the inside of your left thigh. This is the starting position.
  • With your palm facing up, slowly curl the dumbbell toward your shoulder.
  • Pause, then slowly lower the weight to the starting position.
  • After you do a set with your left arm, do the same with your right arm.

Your triceps, located at the back of your upper arm, help straighten your elbow and stabilize your shoulder joint. Strong triceps help with activities that involve pushing, reaching, and throwing.

5. Triceps kickback

Triceps kickbacks are an excellent exercise for isolating, toning, and strengthening your triceps.

To do this exercise:

  • Stand with a dumbbell in each hand, your arms down at your sides, and your palms facing each other.
  • With your arms close to your sides and your knees slightly bent, lean forward at the waist.
  • As you exhale, straighten your arms so the dumbbells finish slightly behind you.
  • Pause, then bring your arms back to the starting position.

6. Overhead extension

An overhead extension requires only one dumbbell at a time.

To do this exercise:

  • Sit or stand with your back straight. Hold one dumbbell with both hands around the handle.
  • Lift the dumbbell straight up over your head to start.
  • Slowly bend your elbows so that the dumbbell lowers behind your head.
  • Then, slowly raise the dumbbell to its starting position.

7. Chest press

A chest press is also known as a bench press. It’s a classic upper body strengthening exercise that works several muscles at once, including your pectorals (chest), triceps, and deltoids (shoulders).

To do this exercise:

  • Lie on the floor or on a bench, with your feet flat on the floor.
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand, with your palms facing down toward the floor. Bend your elbows so that your hands are at a 90-degree angle from the floor.
  • Inhale, and position the dumbbells a little wider than your chest. This is the starting position.
  • As you exhale, push the dumbbells upward, keeping your elbows slightly bent.
  • Then, slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.

8. Lateral raise

A lateral raise works your shoulder muscles as well as your triceps.

To do this exercise:

  • Stand or sit with your arms at your sides and a dumbbell in each hand.
  • With your palms facing in toward your body and your elbows slightly bent, raise the dumbbells so your arms are parallel to the floor. You should be making a T-shape.
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells to the starting position.

Strong shoulders are important because most arm movements involve the shoulders. Strong shoulders provide support and stability to the shoulder joint and lower your risk of arm injuries.

9. Dumbbell front raise

Dumbbell front raises are similar to lateral raises. This exercise works your shoulder muscles, chest muscles, and your biceps.

To do this exercise:

  • Sit or stand with a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Position your arms in front of you, with your palms facing your thighs.
  • Slowly raise the dumbbells up, keeping your arms straight, until your arms are parallel to the ground.
  • Slowly return the dumbbells to the starting position.

10. Military press

A military press, also known as a shoulder press, targets the muscles in your shoulders, arms, and chest. It can be done seated or standing.

To do this exercise:

  • With your palms facing forward, hold a dumbbell above each shoulder, at approximately chin height.
  • Exhale as you press the dumbbells up, ending with the weights above your head, your elbows slightly bent.
  • Hold the dumbbells above your head for a moment, then slowly lower the weights back to the starting position.

Follow these tips to stay safe during your workout:

  • To prevent injury, be sure to use proper form and avoid using a weight that’s too heavy.
  • If you’re unsure how to do arm-strengthening exercises safely, work with a certified personal trainer until you can do the exercises correctly on your own.
  • For exercises that require you to move a dumbbell over your head — like a military press, chest press, or overhead extension — you may want to have a spotter to help you control the weights when they start to feel heavy.
  • Warm up before working out with weights. Take a brisk walk, or do arm circles, arm swings, or pushups to get your blood circulating and your muscles warmed up.
  • Rest for a day or two in between your arm-strengthening workouts to allow your muscles to recover.

Working out your arms and shoulders has many benefits. It can increase your muscle strength, muscle tone, and lean muscle mass. It can also reduce your risk of injury, improve your posture, protect your bones, and stabilize your joints.

For a complete, balanced fitness program, try to alternate your arm-strengthening routine with exercises that target your lower body and core. Also include aerobic exercise in your weekly routine to boost your cardiovascular health.

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Last modified: 20th July 2021