The Best Arm Workout for Muscle Mass and Strength

Do you want bigger, stronger, more defined arms? If your answer is yes, then you’re in the right place. This article is all about helping you build the biceps and triceps you’ve always wanted with the best arm workout possible.

Welcome to the Gun Show

A pair of well-developed biceps and triceps make your entire physique more powerful-looking and aesthetically pleasing, helps you feel strong and fit, and makes your clothing fit better and look more flattering.

In addition, your arms are involved in almost everything you do that requires upper-body strength. Greater arm strength means not only an enhanced physical appearance but also greater functionality in everyday life.

Some claim that all you need to build great arms are compound exercises for your upper body. However, most people require direct arm training to really make them grow.

This workout allows you to flex your way to success with the best exercises for building a pair of great guns. It is available as a premium workout in our workout tracker StrengthLog, which you can download for free with the button for your device:

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Before we delve into the arm workout, let’s look at how your arm muscles work and contribute to your upper body strength.

If you want to skip the anatomy lesson, click here to jump straight to the workout.

Biceps Anatomy and Function

The biceps brachii (or simply the biceps) might be a small muscle, but its popularity is far greater than its size suggests. If someone asks you to flex a muscle, you are far more likely to pull up your shirt sleeve than to drop your pants and flex your quads.

The biceps muscle is located at the front of the arm between the shoulder and elbow. It has two heads: the short head and the long head. They originate from different places on your shoulder blade and come together at the elbow.

biceps anatomy for arm workout
  • The short head is on the inner side of your upper arm and contributes to the width of your biceps.
  • On the outer side of your upper arm, the long head gives your biceps a peak.

The biceps have two main functions: flexing your elbow and rotating (supinating) your forearm. Elbow flexion is the movement of bending the elbow, while forearm supination is when you turn the palm of your hand upwards.

In addition, it aids in the forward flexion of the shoulder joint when you raise your arm in front of your body.

While you might be most familiar with the biceps, two other muscles help flex the elbow. The brachialis beneath the biceps and the brachioradialis in the forearm team up with your bicep when you use your arm muscle strength to curl or pull something.

Of the three, the brachialis is the strongest flexor. Your biceps muscle is not very good at bending your elbow. Instead, its primary function is to rotate your forearm.

Triceps Anatomy and Function

The triceps muscle is located at the back of the arm and is significantly bigger than the biceps, making up roughly two-thirds of the mass of your upper arm muscles.

In fact, it is larger than the latissimus dorsi or the pectoralis major, both of which you’d probably think of first if someone asked you to list the most sizable muscles in the upper body.

The triceps connect at your elbow and your humerus (upper arm bone). Its primary function is to extend your elbow joint – the opposite of your biceps. Whenever you push something, be it closing a door, a barbell when you bench press, or your body weight when doing push-ups, your triceps play a key role.

As you might have guessed, the tri in triceps stands for the three sections or “heads” of the muscle group: the long head, the lateral head, and the medial head.

triceps anatomy for arm workout

Of the three heads, the long head is the largest, making up around half the size of the triceps. If you want big arms, building the long head should be a number one priority triceps training goal.

The lateral and medial head are smaller but no less important for triceps function. You find them at the outer and inner sides of your tricep, respectively.

Who Is This Arm Workout For?

This complete arm workout is intended for intermediate or advanced lifters and bodybuilders looking to add lean mass to their upper arms. It features a combination of the best compound movements and isolation exercises to target your biceps and triceps from all angles as effectively as possible.

If you are a beginner and new to weight training, this arm workout is too much for you. In fact, you likely don’t need a dedicated arm day yet. Your biceps and triceps will respond optimally from a full-body workout or an upper/lower split.

Check out our Bodybuilding for Beginners workout routine or our Upper/Lower Body Split program for ideal workout routines for your fitness level. They will help you gain muscle and strength in your entire body, including your biceps and triceps. This arm workout will be waiting for you once you’re past the beginner stage of your lifting career.

The Best Arm Workout for Muscle Mass and Strength

This arms workout contains eight different exercises: four for your biceps and four for your triceps.

The first exercises for each muscle group are core lifts that allow you to handle a lot of weight for optimal muscle and strength gains.

After the compound exercises, you move to barbell isolation exercises, where you use heavy loads but target the arm muscles more directly.

You then move to dumbbell- and cable work to finish up and set the stage for muscle growth with a great pump.

Here is an overview of the arm workout:


  1. Chin-Up
  2. Barbell Curl
  3. Hammer Curl
  4. Preacher Curl


  1. Close-Grip Bench Press
  2. Barbell Lying Triceps Extension
  3. Tricep Pushdown
  4. One-Arm Dumbbell Triceps Extension
  • Intermediate lifters: do three sets per exercise.
  • Advanced lifters: do four sets per exercise.

You can see the exact set configuration and rep ranges in StrengthLog.

Enough jibber jabber! Time to hit the weights. Get ready for the best arm workout you’ve ever had!

Arm Workout Training Volume, Frequency, and Rest Times

Not counting warm-up sets, this arm workout puts you through 12 to 16 sets of both biceps and triceps training. According to recent research, that’s the optimal training volume to maximize muscle growth.1

optimal training volume for arm workout

You can do this arm workout more often than once per week if you want, but it is demanding enough that I don’t recommend you do it more than twice weekly, tops. Remember that your arms get their fair share of work when you train back and chest, too.

You don’t need to worry about timing your rest intervals down to the second. Rest until you feel ready for your next set.

Standard recommendations for most lifters are 2–3 minutes for compound exercises and 1–2 minutes for isolation movements.

rest times

Even if you want to keep things going, go for at least 60 seconds of rest between sets to perform your best.

Warming Up for Your Arm Workout

A proper warm-up before your arm workout helps prepare your body for the work to come. It increases your heart rate and blood flow, elevates your core temperature, and loosens up your muscles and joints.

Warm muscles improve your performance, make your workout more enjoyable, and might even reduce your risk of injury.

Here is a sample warm-up routine before your arm workout:

  • Start with 5 minutes of light cardio, such as jogging, jumping jacks, or rowing. This step is optional but helps you get your heart rate up and your blood flowing.
  • Perform dynamic stretches where you move your body through a full range of motion. Some good dynamic stretches for your arms include arm circles, shoulder shrugs, and arm swings.
  • Finally, perform a series of ramp-up sets for the first exercise of your workout. The first exercise in this arm workout is the chin-up, so supinated lat pulldowns are the ideal warm-up.

Remember that the purpose of your warm-up is to prepare you for the training session. Don’t go all-out and exhaust yourself before the workout even starts.

Arm Workout Exercise #1: Chin-Up

Can bodyweight exercises build bulging biceps? You bet! The chin-up is a prime example.

You might think of the chin-up as an exercise for your back muscles, and you would be correct – it is a fantastic exercise for building wider lats. However, done correctly, it is also one the best exercises to include in your arm day workout if you want to add lean mass to your biceps.

To emphasize your arms and turn this exercise into a true biceps blaster, you can make three critical adjustments.

  • First of all, you want to use a shoulder-width grip (or slightly narrower). You place your lats in a disadvantaged position, and your biceps have to spring into action to save the day.
  • Secondly, instead of pulling yourself straight up like you would when training your upper back, keep a bit of a distance between your body and the chin-up bar. Curl your body up like you would perform a regular biceps curl and you will force your biceps to take over more of the work from the lats.
  • Thirdly, mind-muscle connection is essential – focus on your biceps during the exercise. Consciously squeeze your biceps as you pull your body up to engage them more and visualize them doing the work.

Before you jump up and grab the bar, you should make sure your biceps are warmed up and ready. Do a series of ramp-up sets of supinated lat pulldowns to pump blood into your biceps and prepare them for this specific movement. Do 12, 10, and 8 reps using increasingly heavier weights, and your biceps will be ready for the main event.

How to Perform Chin-Ups

  1. Stand underneath a pull-up bar and grip it with an underhand grip, hands slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hang with your arms fully extended and your body in a straight line with a slight bend in your knees.
  3. Engage your core and retract your shoulder blades, drawing them down and back.
  4. Pull yourself up by bending your elbows and raising your chin above the bar.
  5. At the top of the movement, your elbows should be fully flexed.
  6. Pause briefly at the top of the movement and focus on squeezing your biceps before lowering yourself back to the original position.
  7. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

If you struggle to complete a significant number of reps, you can loop a resistance band over the chin-up bar and stand on the other end of the band. The band reduces the weight you have to lift and makes it easier to pull yourself up.

And if you still can’t or don’t want to do them, you can switch them out for more supinated lat pulldowns. Hold the bar slightly narrower than shoulder-width, pull it all the way down to your chest, and squeeeze your biceps.

Arm Workout Exercise #2: Barbell Curl

The barbell curl is the most popular arm workout exercise for building bigger biceps (and one of the ten most popular exercises overall). It’s easy to learn and master and allows you to use heavy weights to overload your biceps for maximum muscle growth.

Keep your back straight, and don’t swing the barbell to get it up to ensure that your biceps and nothing else are doing the work.

However, once you can’t do any more strict reps, don’t hesitate to use a slight momentum to do one or two more. That is called a “cheat curl,” but as long as you utilize the technique sparingly and only at the end of a set, you’re not cheating yourself out of any gains. You’re not recklessly heaving the barbell up; you use just enough momentum to get past the sticking point. Resist the weight as hard as you can on the way down.

How to Perform Barbell Curls

  1. Stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Hold the barbell with an underhand grip at around shoulder-width or slightly wider. Your palms should be facing forward.
  3. Bend elbows and curl the barbell up towards shoulder height, keeping your elbows close to your sides.
  4. Continue curling the bar until your forearms are nearly vertical and the bar is close to your chest. Squeeze your biceps at the top of the movement for a second to maximize the contraction.
  5. Lower the barbell back to the starting position with control.
  6. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

Arm Workout Exercise #3: Hammer Curl

The hammer curl is a variation of the standard dumbbell biceps curl. You hold the dumbbells with a neutral grip (like holding the handle of a hammer) rather than the underhand grip you see in other biceps curls.

Hammer curls target your entire biceps with emphasis on the long head. 

In addition to being a terrific biceps-builder, hammer curls also develop the brachialis muscle that lies beneath your biceps and helps add mass to your upper arms.

They also hammer away on forearms more than your typical biceps curl, making them a great all-rounder for building bigger and stronger arms and improving grip strength.

How to Perform Hammer Curls

  1. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms at your sides, holding a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing each other.
  2. Bend your elbows and curl the dumbbells up towards your shoulders, keeping your upper arms close to your sides. Don’t swing the dumbbells up; focus on contracting your biceps to curl them up.
  3. At the top of the movement, your forearms should be parallel to the ground, and your biceps should be fully contracted.
  4. Lower the dumbbells back to the starting position, under control.
  5. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

Arm Workout Exercise #4: Preacher Curl

It’s time for one of the best arm exercises for truly isolating your arm flexors and finish your biceps session with a sleeve-bursting pump: the preacher curl.

With the preacher curl, there is no need to go for as much weight as possible. For the best results, you want full range of motion, squeezing your biceps at the top of the movement and lowering the weight slowly and deliberately. Using lighter weights and having complete control of the movement trumps heavy loads here.

Feel free to perform the preacher curl the way you prefer for this arm workout. You can use a barbell, a dumbbell, a cable machine, an incline bench, or a dedicated machine designed specifically for the preacher curl. All variations are great for building biceps muscle mass.

How to Perform Barbell Preacher Curls

  1. Grab a barbell and sit down at a preacher curl bench, resting your upper arms against the pad.
  2. Lower the barbell as far as you can, with control, to straight arms.
  3. Reverse the motion and return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

How to Perform Dumbbell Preacher Curls

  1. Use a preacher curl bench, or position the back rest of a regular training bench so that it leans back slightly.
  2. Grab a dumbbell, stand behind the bench, and rest your upper arm against the back rest.
  3. Lower the dumbbell as far as you can, and then reverse the motion, returning to the starting position.
  4. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

Arm Workout Exercise #5: Close-Grip Bench Press

The traditional barbell bench press is often considered the king of upper-body exercises. The close-grip bench press might not have the same royal connotations, but it might very well be the monarch of your triceps workouts.

By moving your hands closer together on the barbell, you shift the emphasis from your pecs and front delts to your triceps. Your chest and shoulders are still involved in getting the bar off your chest, but your triceps do significantly more of the work.

You can use heavier weights in the close-grip bench press than other triceps exercises, making it a great way to overload your triceps and force them to respond by growing bigger and stronger.

How far apart should your hands be for optimal triceps activation? While there is no one-size-fits-all distance, most studies position the hands on the bar at 95–100% of the biacromial distance.

Hey now! What does “biacromial distance” mean?

It is the distance between the two bony points at the top of your shoulder blades that you can feel on your shoulders. They are called acromion processes, and the distance between them is your biacromial distance.

  • If you hold your hands too close, you put stress on your wrists and place your shoulders in a vulnerable position without activating your triceps more.
  • If your grip is too wide, you turn the movement into a regular bench press: a fantastic exercise, but a chest exercise, not a triceps exercise.

How to Perform Close-Grip Bench Presses

  1. Lie on the bench with your lower back in its natural arch and pull your shoulder blades together and down.
  2. Grip the bar. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart or slightly closer.
  3. Take a breath, hold it, and unrack the bar.
  4. Lower the bar with control until it touches your chest somewhere where the ribs end.
  5. Push the bar up to the starting position while exhaling.
  6. Take another breath in the top position, and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Arm Workout Exercise #6: Barbell Lying Triceps Extension

Like the barbell bicep curl allows you to use heavy weights for maximum overload, barbell triceps extensions do the same, but for your triceps. It is one of the best isolation exercises for all three heads of your triceps when performed correctly.

“Correctly,” in this case, does not mean the typical “skull crushers” where you lower the bar to your forehead. Instead, lower it as far below your head as you can. Doing so places maximum stretch and stress on your triceps, including the one with the greatest growth potential: the long head.

You can use a straight bar, an EZ bar, or a pair of dumbbells when doing this exercise. Pick the one you prefer and crush those triceps, not your skull.

How to Perform Barbell Lying Triceps Extensions

  1. Lie down on a flat bench with your feet on the floor and your head close to the edge.
  2. Hold a barbell over your chest with an overhand grip and your arms extended. Keep your hands relatively close together, spaced approximately 6 inches (15 cm) apart.
  3. Keep your elbows pointing straight up and lower the barbell behind your head, bending your elbows.
  4. Lower the barbell as far as you comfortably can while maintaining control and tension in your triceps muscles.
  5. Reverse the motion and extend your arms back up to the starting position.
  6. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

Arm Workout Exercise #7: Triceps Pushdown

The tricep pushdown is the most popular triceps exercise – easy to learn as a beginner and still highly effective for building triceps mass and strength as part of an advanced arm workout.

The most common mistake many people make when performing tricep pushdowns is using too much weight. Hoisting the entire weight stack might look impressive, but you’re in the gym to build big and strong arms, not to impress people in the gym.

Use a weight that allows you to keep your elbows tucked to your sides and only move your lower arm. That maximizes the tension on your triceps instead of transferring it to other muscle groups.

Contract your triceps forcefully when you extend your arm and squeeze the muscle as hard as you can.

You can perform pushdowns using either a straight bar or a rope attachment. Some people feel that a straight bar puts stress on their wrist, and in that case, a rope offers a more gentle alternative.

How to Perform Tricep Pushdowns

  1. Stand facing a cable machine with your feet comfortably apart. Grip the bar with an overhand grip, keeping your hands about shoulder-width apart. Your elbows should be slightly bent, and your upper arms close to your sides and perpendicular to the floor.
  2. Engage your core and maintain an upright posture throughout the exercise to help stabilize your body and isolate the triceps.
  3. Start by extending your arms downward, focusing on pushing the bar down towards your thighs. Keep your upper arms close to your sides and stationary during the movement.
  4. As you lower the cable, squeeze your triceps and focus on contracting the muscle. Feel the tension in your triceps as you fully extend your arms.
  5. Return to the starting position by allowing the cable to rise back up using the same path. Maintain control throughout the ascent.
  6. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

Arm Workout Exercise #8: Dumbbell Triceps Extension

All effective arm workouts include an overhead extension movement that directly targets the long head of the triceps. One of the best and most effective is the dumbbell triceps extension.

Research shows that overhead extensions can make your triceps grow up to 40% more than triceps extensions with the upper arm in a neutral position.2

The best way to ensure you’re targeting your triceps and only your triceps is to use lower weights and focus on proper form, range of motion, and complete control of the movement. Feel your triceps working and get a good stretch at the bottom and contraction at the top.

How to Perform Dumbbell Triceps Extensions

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in your right hand with an overhand grip.
  2. Raise the dumbbell overhead so that it is directly above your shoulder.
  3. Keeping your upper arm stationary, bend your elbow and lower the dumbbell behind your head.
  4. Get a good stretch at the bottom of the movement, then extend your elbow to raise the dumbbell back to the start position.
  5. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions, then switch arms and repeat with your left hand.

How to Incorporate This Arm Workout into Your Training Split

This arm workout fits like a glove into almost any three- four- five- or six-day training split.

Here are some examples:

Three-Day Split

  • Day 1: Chest and back
  • Day 2: Legs
  • Day 3: Chest and arms

Four-Day Split

  • Day 1: Chest and back
  • Day 2: Legs
  • Day 3: Shoulders
  • Day 4: Arms

Five-Day Split

  • Day 1: Chest
  • Day 2: Back
  • Day 3: Legs
  • Day 4: Shoulders
  • Day 5: Arms

You could even split the biceps and the triceps parts of the workout and use them separately in a back + biceps or chest + triceps workout. Or merge it into a Push/Pull/Legs routine. It is versatile enough that you can implement it into your training no matter how you train.

Can You Use Supersets With This Arm Workout?

You bet!

Supersets are a training method where you perform two exercises back-to-back with little or no rest in between. You can use any two exercises for a superset, but the original concept uses opposing muscle groups, like biceps and triceps.

To superset this arm workout, pair the first biceps exercise (chin-ups) with the first triceps exercise (close-grip bench presses), the second biceps exercise with the second triceps exercise, and so on. Like this:

  1. Chin-Up + Close-Grip Bench Press
  2.  Barbell Curl + Barbell Lying Triceps Extension
  3.  Hammer Curl + Tricep Pushdown
  4.  Preacher Curl + One-Arm Dumbbell Triceps Extension

Rest as little as possible between exercises in a superset, but rest normally between two supersets.

Supersets are no more or less effective for building muscle than traditional sets, but allow you to do more work in less time, which is great if you are short on time.

Track This Arm Workout in the StrengthLog App

Give this arm workout a go and say goodbye to noodle arms for good.

It’s available exclusively in our workout log app.

A workout log is the best way to keep track of your progress. 

Remember that progressive overload is the key to consistent gains over time. To continue making progress, you must gradually increase the demands on your muscles.

A training log helps you stay consistent, set and achieve specific goals, track your progress over time, identify patterns in your training, and hold yourself accountable to your fitness goals. 

While this workout requires a premium subscription, StrengthLog is 100% free to download and use as a workout tracker and general strength training app. All the basic functionality is free – forever. It’s like a personal trainer in your pocket.

Download StrengthLog for free, keep track of your weights and reps, and try to beat your previous numbers each workout.

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Want to give premium a shot? We offer all new users a free 14-day trial of premium, which you can activate in the app.

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For more stand-alone bodybuilding workouts like this, check out these great resources:

Good luck with your training!


  1. J Hum Kinet. 2022 Feb 10;81:199-210. A Systematic Review of The Effects of Different Resistance Training Volumes on Muscle Hypertrophy.
  2. Eur J Sport Sci. 2022 Aug 11;1-11. Triceps brachii hypertrophy is substantially greater after elbow extension training performed in the overhead versus neutral arm position.
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Andreas Abelsson

Andreas is a certified nutrition coach and bodybuilding specialist with over three decades of training experience. He has followed and reported on the research fields of exercise, nutrition, and health for almost as long and is a specialist in metabolic health and nutrition coaching for athletes. Read more about Andreas and StrengthLog by clicking here.