10 exercises that work your arms to exhaustion

10 exercises that work your arms to exhaustion


WHEN MOST PEOPLE size up the results of a good pump, they look to the arms for evidence. There’s something about Popeye-worthy biceps and razor-sharp triceps that act as proof of a workout done well. To develop that balance of mass and strength, you have to carefully hone both the front and back of the arms.

These biceps- and triceps-focused exercises—from trainers Josh Holland of Zoomtion Fitness in New York, Jesse Jones of Basecamp Fitness in California, and Eric Emig of Evolution Fitness in St. Louis—provide a serious call to arms. Just don’t blame them if you struggle to button your shirt the next day.

1. Mid-pushup hold

Pretty much what it sounds like, lowering yourself halfway into a pushup and hovering provides a crazy isometric burn for pretty much the entire upper body, and the triceps in particular. Hold for 15 seconds up to a minute, take a minute break, and repeat, going for three rounds.

Holland says: “I’m a big fan of isometrics. Holding this static contraction maximizes arm, chest, shoulder, and core stability.”

2. Pullup/Chinup hold

Often used as a learning technique when building the strength to perform multiple reps of pullups or chinups, prolonging the time you hold your head above the bar gets at that isometric stability Holland loves. Slowly lowering yourself down to straight arms once the hold is complete really pushes that strength-building—it’s actually more taxing on the muscles to lower slowly with control (the eccentric contraction) than it is to pull up (the concentric). An overhand pullup grip works the tri’s more, while using an underhand chinup grip hits the bi’s. Aim to hold your chin above the bar for 15 seconds to a minute before lowering slowly and resting for a minute. Do it three times.

Holland says: “It’s a great way to build pullup strength, and helps to balance out the concentric and eccentric components of doing a pullup or chinup.”

3. Hammer curls

It wouldn’t be an arms article without at least a few variations on biceps curls. This first one is an oldie but goodie, using heavy dumbbells. Hammer curls keep your hands thumbs up, which requires you to stabilize your wrists. Go as heavy as you can handle for 10 reps—and then do curls in three one-minute sets, with a minute’s rest in-between. Play with doing the curls simultaneously, one arm at a time, or alternating, but no matter what, lock those elbows into your sides and don’t use body momentum to throw the weight up.

Jones says: “This is the best way to build biceps and forearms. I prefer neutral-grip because it reduces the stress on the wrists and elbows that we commonly see in overuse injuries such as elbow tendonitis.”