Bodybuilding Exercises - Arms

Bodybuilding Exercises - Arms

Pipes, guns, pythons, or whatever you want to call them, there's not many people who lift weights and don't want a big pair of upper arms to show off. You'll see weight trainers doing endless sets of bicep curls and tricep pushdowns in an effort to grow that biceps peak or to fill out that shirt sleeve a little better. There are some massive arms in the bodybuilding world, Phil Heath and Markus Ruhl are great examples, and so many (especially young) bodybuilders want to emulate their heroes with 20-inch (or bigger) arms.

The upper arms are made up of two main muscle groups - the biceps and triceps, although the forearms and shoulder muscles add to the overall look and definition of the muscle group.


Though they are the smaller of the two major muscle groups in the arms, the biceps brachii (biceps for short) are usually given the most attention in weight training, and make up approximately 1/3 of the upper arm girth. The biceps are named as such because they are a two-headed muscle, and attach the upper forearm to the shoulder. The function of the biceps are to flex the elbow joint (think touching your face), and to supinate the forearms (turning your hand outwards).

The main exercises that focus on biceps development are barbell curls, hammer curls, preacher curls and chin ups.


The opposing muscle group to the biceps, the triceps brachii (triceps for short), is a three-headed muscle attached to the back of the arm. It makes up approximately 2/3 of the upper arm's muscle size, and its main function is to straighten the arm at the elbow joint.

The triceps are involved in a number of compound movements, such as bench presses, push ups, dips, and overhead presses, although they are trained through isolation movements such as overhead dumbbell extensions, push downs and lying tricep extensions.

The Best Bodybuilding Exercises for Arms

Close Grip Bench Press

Variations: Close Grip Smith Machine Press

Possibly the best arm-building exercise, close grip bench presses put a huge amount of stress on the triceps, as well as some stress on the chest and shoulder. It's a great movement particularly for the outside head of the triceps, but the entire muscle group is involved in locking out the bar at the top of the movement.

The close grip bench press is performed similarly to a regular bench press, except the hand position changes. The hands should grip the bar approximately 20cm apart from each other, or as close as feels comfortable (depending on the length and flexibility of your forearms and wrists). The bar is lowered to the upper stomach (not the upper chest), with the elbows kept close to the body on the way down. From the bottom position, forcefully contract the triceps and press the bar straight up until the elbows are locked out. Squeeze this position to enhance the stress on the triceps.


Variations: Bench Dips, Assisted Dips

Another great overall triceps mass builder, dips are a basic compound movement that also involve the chest and shoulders. Performed using a set of parallel bars, begin by locking out the elbows with a straight torso, hands firmly squeezing the bars. Bend the elbows and slowly ‘dip' down, keeping the torso fairly upright to maintain the tension on the triceps, and not the chest. Once your upper arms reach parallel to the ground, press yourself back up to the starting position. Once again, squeezing the triceps at the top of the movement will enhance the stress and the growth!

Barbell Curls

Variations: Dumbbell Curls, Preacher Curls

A popular exercise which focuses on biceps development, the barbell curl is a simple exercise although often performed incorrectly. Begin by holding a loaded barbell with arms straight and down, with the bar resting on your thighs. Grip should be approximately shoulder-width, although experimenting with different grips can put more stress on the outer/inner bicep if necessary. Begin the movement by flexing the triceps to stretch the biceps, and then raise the bar without using any bodily momentum. The bar should reach a little higher than parallel to the ground, after which the stress is no longer on the biceps, and then slowly lowered back to the starting position. You will see lots of leaning/swinging/torso movement by others in the gym, which robs the biceps of any real work and will only hinder progress. Start light and work up to a weight you can use with good technique.

Hammer Curls

Variations: Barbell Reverse Curls, Machine Hammer Curls

A great biceps and forearm builder, hammer curls allow you to use a good amount of weight and help build overall biceps thickness. Hold a pair of dumbbells in front of your thigh, with a neutral grip (like holding a hammer). Begin by squeezing the triceps, and slowly raise the dumbbells up to your chest by bending the elbows. Keep your elbows close to your sides and don't allow them to come forward or backward during the movement which removes the stress from the biceps. Slowly lower the weight back down to the starting position and repeat.

Sample Workout

Close Grip Bench Press - 4 x 6-10
Standing Barbell Curls - 3 x 8-12
Dips - 4 x 10 (add weight or use machine assistance if your bodyweight is too light/heavy)
Hammer Curls - 3 x 8-12

Use these four key arm exercises to maximise muscle development and grow a set of guns you can show off!

Don't forget to check out our other articles in this series!





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