January is a great month to start shaping your Summer arms. Honestly, any day is a good day to step closer to your goals. So, if you’re reading this come April, that’s okay! You haven’t missed the boat.
If you’re seeking to tone your arms, try adding cardio training to the end of your lifting session. Building strength is great, but to tone, you may want to burn some extra calories.
Think of it like making a cake. Let’s say the muscles are the cake, and extra fat is the icing. If you want to see the texture of the cake (muscle definition), you need to wipe away some of the icing. The more icing that is layered on top, the harder the definition is to see. You can bake a bigger cake (building bigger muscles), but if the same amount of icing is still on top, you won’t see the definition you want. This post focuses on baking cake.
Are you ready for boomin’ biceps and struttin’ triceps? Let’s do this!
Select two to four of the supersets below to perform during your arm workout. If you’re a beginner, aim for levels 1 and 2. If you’re an advanced lifter, go for levels 2 through 5. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can do all five supersets in the same workout; by the end, your arms will probably feel like toast. Feel free to use as many or as few of these exercises as you deem appropriate for your fitness level.
I’ve organized the supersets by level, with level 5 being the most difficult.
Bicep Curl Machine
This machine is great if you’re starting out because it helps you maintain a stable position during the lift. During bicep curls, the only part of your body that should move is your forearms. The seat will probably need adjusted before you start. You want to set it at a height that will allow the back of your upper arms to lay flat against the arm pad. If your elbows touch the pad, but the rest of your upper arm is in the air, the seat needs to be lowered. If your upper arm is on the pad, but your elbows are up in the air, the seat needs to be raised. Hold the handles with your palms facing up to begin the curl.
Triceps Extension Machine
As with the biceps curl machine, make sure the seat is properly positioned before starting the triceps extension machine. You determine the height the same way: your upper arms should lay flat on the pad. Once in position, push the handles down to work your triceps. Be sure to keep your upper arms against the pad. They may feel like they want to come off the pad into the air, but don’t let them. Again, the only body parts that move during this lift are the forearms.
EZ-Curl Bicep Curl
This curl is moving into level two because instead of a machine holding your body in place, you provide the stability. Position your feet hip-width apart with a slight bend in the knees. Keep your shoulders back and brace your abs. You want to maintain this position throughout the lift. With an underhand grip, bend at your elbows and bring the bar in front of your shoulders, then return it back down to the thighs. That is one repetition.
If you feel the need to arch your back, then brace your abs harder. If you still feel compelled to arch, move to a lighter weight. Exercising with safe form is important to avoid injury and focus training on the targeted muscles.
Cable Triceps Pushdown
Use a cable machine with a flat or angled handle. The handle should be connected high on the cable machine. With your shoulders back and abs braced, place your hands on the bar with an overhand (“pronated”) grip. Your elbows should be at your sides the entire movement. Push the bar down so you have a 90-degree angle in your arms; there should be tension in the cable. This is your starting position. Press the bar straight down, squeezing your triceps (in the back of your upper arms) at the bottom. Return to starting position. That is one repetition.
Dumbbell Hammer Curl
Using dumbbells is slightly more advanced because your arms are now moving independently of one another. You also engage your core to keep your back from arching and/or your body from swaying, as is true with the EZ-Curl Bicep Curl.
Use the same set-up cues as the EZ-Curl Bicep Curl, except this time, hold the weights with a neutral grip (palms in). Curl the dumbbell up in front of the shoulder with your palm still facing in. Then, return it down beside your leg. You can curl by alternating arms (right left right left) or with both arms together. Doing one arm at a time gives the resting arm a little recovery between repetitions. Lifting both together eliminates that recovery. If you decide to curl with both arms at the same time, be sure to lock in those abs. It is a common temptation to swing your body during this move. Swinging provides momentum to help raise the weights. Don’t let yourself fall into that temptation. Maintain a stable base and keep your core firm, which will force the biceps to carry the load.
Dumbbell Triceps Kickback
With your back flat, tip forward from your hips and raise an elbow. There should be a 90-degree angle in your arm. This is your starting position. Keeping the elbow in place, extend the dumbbell back so your arm is straight, squeezing your triceps at the top of the move. Then, lower the weight back to starting position. That is one repetition.
To add more stability, or if this is your first time performing this lift, you can use a flat bench. Put your right hand and knee on the bench, keeping your back flat. Your left foot should be flat on the floor, and your left hand should be holding the weight. Bend your left elbow to 90-degrees; this is your starting position. Then, perform the rest of the move the same way as indicated above. When you have finished set one, switch sides.
No matter which method you use, the only body part that moves during this lift is your forearm as it extends back, and returns forward.
Barbell Preacher Curl
Set the seat the same way you did for the machine bicep curl. Load the bar with the appropriate amount of weight on each side, secure the weight, and begin curling. Curl the bar up, then lower it back down until you have a very slight bend in the elbows (in other words, don’t lock out your arms at the bottom), then go back up.
Although this exercise does not require the same stability as the dumbbell curl, it is a challenge due to the arm pad. This lift restricts your ability to swing your arms and contort your body for momentum or extra assistance–things that can compromise safe and/or effective lifting technique. By using the arm pad, you isolate your biceps to a greater extent. You may find yourself lifting lighter than normal due to the isolation of this exercise. That is okay.
Overhead Triceps Extension
Attach a rope handle slightly above your head on a cable machine. Pull the handle out and face away from the machine; there should now be tension in the cable. Lean into your front leg, with your back at a flat diagonal. Your elbows are in, close to your head. Palms face in. Brace your abs throughout the movement to help keep your body stable.
Push the ropes, squeezing your triceps as your hands go forward. At the bottom of the move, your elbows should still be in their starting position with your arms now extended straight. Bend your elbows back to 90 degrees and start again.
Reverse Cable Curl
Connect a handle at the bottom of a cable machine. Using a handle with a slight angle may be more comfortable for your wrists. Position your heels beneath your hips, slightly bend your knees, brace your abs, and keep your shoulders back. Hold the bar with a pronated grip. As with other bicep curl movements, your elbows stay by your sides and point down at the top of the movement. The only body parts that should move during this lift are your forearms.
Curl the bar up in front of the shoulders and return it down to start position. That is one repetition. In this exercise, we shake up the curl with a grip change. By using an overhand grip, you engage the forearms to a greater extent than with an underhand grip.
Always be sure to have a spotter when doing this lift. Lay on a bench and brace your core. With your hands shoulder-width apart, hold a barbell or EZ-Curl bar straight up in the air. Bend your elbows and bring the bar toward the top of your forehead, making a 90-degree angle in your arms. Press the bar back up. That is one repetition.
Be sure to keep your elbows in as you lower the bar down and press back up. They should stay in the same place throughout the move. Because you’re bringing the bar toward your head, it is important to have someone there to spot you during this movement.
Implementing the Workout
When in the gym, perform each pair of exercises one right after the other with a 30-second break in between. After you do exercise A once, do exercise B once, then return for your second set of exercise A. If you’re looking to build muscle, take a little more recovery and stay at the lower end of the repetitions. If you’re looking to lose weight and build lean muscle, aim for less recovery with more repetitions.
Lift Smart. Love Hard. Stay Positive.