12 Killer Arm Exercises and Workouts For Different Levels & Equipment

12 killer arm exercises and workouts for different levels and equipment

If you are looking to build bigger and more defined arms, you need to train the biceps and triceps directly and with intensity. 

Killer arm workouts do not need to be complicated, but they do need to make sure they target each head of the triceps and biceps muscles appropriately for overall development of the arm muscles. 

To do so, you can use a variety of equipment, with both free weights and machines having equal value and potential for serious muscle growth.

The 12 best killer arm exercises to do when looking to build a killer arm workout are:

  • Preacher Curl
  • Incline Dumbbell Curl
  • Barbell Curl
  • Standing EZ Bar Cable Curl
  • Dumbbell Hammer Curl
  • Machine Bicep Curl
  • Dip (Strict or Machine Assisted)
  • Skullcrusher
  • Barbell Triceps Overhead Extension
  • Cable Triceps Pushdown
  • Machine Triceps Extension
  • Cable Triceps Overhead Extension

In this article we will discuss 12 of the best arm exercises (six biceps and six triceps) exercises you can do to build serious muscle and definition, and how you can use them in various 3-day workout programs for any level or gym set up.

How Do You Build Killer Arms?

how do you build killer arms

Building killer arms takes time, and a dedicated approach to training. 

While it is not overly complex to build and develop killer arms, there are some specific training techniques and principles to adhere to, which are listed below.

Target the Biceps and Triceps Directly

If you are struggling to get the arm results you are after and are NOT training the biceps and triceps directly with exercises from below, this could be the biggest reason why you do not have killer arms. 

While rows, pulldowns, and pressing movements do hit the arms, the arms are not the primary movers and sometimes still need some additional direct training volume to grow.

Interested in arm workouts that work? Try out the elbow killer arm workout options below, or jump on the Fitbod app and let us build the perfect program for your goals.

Train Arms 2-4 Times a Week

Instead of training arms once a week, and doing insane amounts of volume (or just training them once a week with so much volume), it’s recommended to train arms 2-4 times a week. 

The more often you train them in a week, the less training volume (sets) you need to do on a given day. 

While doing more on a single day or session sounds good, it often results in low quality sets that do not create the stimulus you are after. 

Try training arms 3-days a week, such as with the programs below. The more times you train them during the week, the less time you need to spend training them and often the higher quality your workouts will be. 

Lift in a Variety of Rep Ranges Throughout the Week

The biceps and triceps are muscles, and like most muscles respond well to a variety of rep ranges. The biceps and triceps can be trained in the 5-10 rep range, 10-20 rep range, and even 20-30 rep range; however it is best to train them in all three for optimal development. 

Seeing that the biceps and triceps are subjected to heavy loads during pull ups, rows, and presses (bench and overhead press), I suggest training the arms in the 8-15 rep range a good portion of the time to gain size and strength, and then the other times in the 15-20 or 20-30 rep range to increase size.

Perform Each Set Near Muscle Failure (Sometimes Full Failure)

Training the arms is no different than other muscle groups, in that they respond to intensity. This means that you want to train them with good form, and to muscle failure or very close to it. 

As discussed previously, you should not be training arms (and other single joint movements) with super heavy loads and low reps (under 5 reps), which means that in order to get enough volume to bring about the growth response you need, you want to train the muscles between 5-30 reps per set, with hard intensity.

Related Article: Back & Bicep Workout (5 Examples)

Integrate Drop Sets or Super Sets Into Your Training

Training arm exercises with “normal sets and reps” is highly effective, if and only if you train with hard intensity. 

That said, if you are doing those things and also want to add some more advanced training techniques into your training, you can do so by way of adding drop sets or super sets into your training. 

All of those are ways to increase the training intensity and volume, and let you extend a work set past normal ranges to create muscle damage and serious growth.

Take Adantage of The Eccentric Range of Motion

If you are not controlling the movement in its entirety, you are missing out on a powerful muscle growth stimulus.

The eccentric phase is where the majority of muscle damage occurs, which signals the body to promote muscle growth. Failure to train in the full range of motion and not control the movement on the way down is a wasted stimulus. 

Always Lift with Strict Form

Training arms directly means you need to isolate them, and because they are surrounded by much larger, and stronger muscle groups (shoulders, back, and chest) they are often overshadowed and outworked by larger muscle groups. 

If you are not training movements with good form, and not feeling the biceps or triceps in a specific movement, then you need to review your form.


Need a workout program? Get 3 free workouts on Fitbod right now.


12 Exercises For A Killer Arm Workout

1. Preacher Curl

How To

To perform the preacher curl, set yourself up in the preacher curl seat with the pad set at a height that places the pad under your upper triceps/armpit. Doing this will not allow you to move your shoulders during the curl.

Once you are set up, grab a bar, often the curved EZ curl bar, and perform a full range of motion preacher curls where you take the elbow into full extension and flexion.

Benefits

  • The preacher curl is a great way to isolate the biceps and not use the shoulders in the curl, often an issue with people who are not strict with their form.
  • By using the pad for support during the curl, you can reinforce proper form with heavier loads.

Cons

  • This is a specialized piece of equipment, and can be tough to come by in most home gyms or smaller gym set ups. 

Pro-Tip

Control the eccentric, and focus keeping the elbows and triceps on the supportive pad at all times.

2. Incline Dumbbell Curl

How To

Set an adjustable bench so that you are reclined 15-30 degrees from upright. By performing a dumbbell curl on the incline bench, you increase the range of motion that the elbow moves through and minimize the amount of shoulder involvement in the curl. 

With the dumbbells hanging by your side, perform a dumbbell curl, making sure to not let the elbows move forward or backwards, but rather tasty fixed where they start from.

Benefits

  • This curl variation increases the range of motion of the bicep curl, and can be a potent muscle building exercise for the long head of the bicep (add serious size). 
  • By sitting on the adjustable bench, you minimize the ability to use momentum in the lift (when compared to the standing dumbbell curl). This helps to increase the odds that reps are done properly and target the biceps more efficiently. 

Cons

  • This can be a difficult exercise to master, as it takes some awareness of where to position your elbows and keep them fixed though the movement. Once mastered, this will be a potent muscle building exercise for your arm training.

Pro-Tip

Use less weight than you think, as this is a pretty isolated movement. You can also perform a slightly isometric hold at the top of the movement.

3. Barbell Curl

How To

To perform the barbell curl, you will want to grab a barbell with the hands at about shoulder width, and stand tall, making sure your chest is up and elbows are down by the sides of the ribs. Perform a curl, making sure your elbows stay in line with your body, or even push them forwards as you curl (do not let the elbows move backwards). Curl the bar to about face level, making sure your elbows stay tucked into the body, then slowly lower the bar and repeat.

Benefits

  • The barbell curl allows you to move more weight than some exercise, and can be a good overall bicep and forearm building movement. 

Cons

  • This is often done incorrectly, and can be a tough exercise to master, especially with people who want to lift heavy (too heavy). 

Pro-Tip

Make sure your elbows do not move backwards as you curl, but rather keep them tucked into the body, and push the elbows slightly forward as you curl.

4. Standing EZ Bar Cable Curl

How To

Grab the EZ bicep curl bar attachment, and clip it to a low cable pulley. Stand tall, and have the arms extended out in front of you, reaching towards the low cable. 

The elbows should be slightly lifting in front of you. 

Perform a curl, making sure the elbows stay tucked into the body. 

The elbows themselves should not move backwards, but rather slightly lift forward as you curl the weight up. Go all the way down and repeat.

Benefits

  • The EZ bicep curl done with cables can help produce great muscle contractions and growth stimulators. The cables work to keep constant tension on the biceps, throughout the entire range of motion.
  • Cables are a great way to do drop sets and other advanced techniques as you can quickly and easily change weights.

Cons

  • This can be a tricky exercise for some individuals, as it requires you to support yourself in space and understand how to lock your body in position during tougher, high fatigue work sets.

Pro-Tip

Start with the hands slightly in front of you, so that the elbows are in line with your ribs. As you curl, make sure the elbows do not move backwards.

5. Dumbbell Hammer Curl

How To

The dumbbell hammer curl can be done seated or standing. 

To do this, grab a pair of dumbbells and turn the palms facing in towards your body. Set yourself up like any other bicep curl, and curl the weights upwards, thumbs facing up, making sure the elbows stay into the body and they do not move backwards as you lift the weights. 

After a brief pause at the top of the rep, lower the weights and repeat.

Benefits

  • This is a good exercise to build the biceps and the forearms, and can be helpful in developing a stronger grip strength
  • This will help increase the size and strength of the biceps brachialis muscle, which can increase the width of the bicep (from the side view).

Cons

  • This, like most curls, can be done incorrectly, so make sure you are not swinging the weights.

Pro-Tip

Keep the elbows in front of the body (from the side view) to best remove the shoulder muscles from the movement.

6. Machine Bicep Curl

How To

To perform this exercise, set your seat height so that your upper triceps and arm pits are supported on the top of the pad. 

This will place your shoulders in place so that  you cannot use them to lift the weight. Grab the bar, and perform curls, in the full range of motion.

Benefits

  • The machine curl is great as it sets you up and forces you to do the exercise properly. This makes it great for all levels.
  • This is a great machine to train the biceps with high volume, and very intensely set to failure.

Cons

  • Some home gyms and small gyms don’t have a machine for this, however, you can get similar effect with other curl variations when done properly.

7. Dip (Assisted or Strict)

How To

To perform the assisted dip, place the knees on the pad (the more weight on the machine, the easier it is). 

Place the hands on the bars, and pull your shoulders back. 

As you dip down, let your chest lean forward, and keep the elbows into the body, making sure it feels the stretch in the lower chest and triceps. Your shoulders should NOT fall forward.

To perform the strict dip, do everything the same as above, just do them unsupported on dip bars. You can add extra resistance by wearing a weight belt or holding a dumbbell between your thighs.

Benefits

  • The dip is a great movement to train the chest and triceps at the same time, and can be used to develop strength and muscle.
  • This can be done to increase triceps lockout strength, and can even be done with very heavy resistance (weighted dips).

Cons

  • This is often done incorrectly (rounded shoulders), and can create shoulder pain and discomfort.
  • If you are looking to train one muscle more than the other (for example the triceps), the other muscles may hold you back more than the other (your chest may give out before the triceps, which means your triceps may need more isolated work).

Pro-Tip

Allow a slight lean forward throughout the full range of motion, and never let your hips move forward, as this will pull your torso upright too much.

Related Article: Back And Bicep Workout: 5 Examples (Science-Backed)

8. Skullcrusher (Barbell or Dumbbell)

How To

To perform the skullcrusher, you can use the barbell or dumbbells. 

If you are doing it with a barbell, grab the bar with a slightly narrower than shoulder width grip, and extend the elbows so that the bar is above your forward. With the elbows not allowed to flare out, bend the elbows and bring the bar down to the forehead, and then extend the elbows, making sure they do not flare out.

If you use dumbbells, you will do the same set up and elbows flexion and extension, however your wrists may be more or less rotated based on your individual preferences. The dumbbells themselves should touch just above the front delt.

Benefits

  • The skullcrusher is a great triceps exercise that builds the lateral and long head of the triceps
  • This can be done to increase lockout strength and improve bench press performance (elbow lockout).

Cons

  • This exercise can be done incorrectly, and can place a good amount of stress on the shoulders and wrists if the weight is too heavy or set up is not correct
  • Some lifters get elbow pain or discover when doing this, so make sure to experiment with barbells/dumbbells or changing angles.

Pro-Tip

Make sure you master this exercise with less weight than you think you need. Once you get it, then train with heavier loads.

9. Barbell Triceps Overhead Extension 

How To

To perform this, grab a barbell with a slightly narrower than shoulder width grip. 

The arms should start above the head, with the elbows fully extended. 

Lower the barbell behind the head, making sure the elbows do not flare outwards, but rather point forward or towards the sky, as you bend the elbow. You should feel a stretch in the back of the arm (triceps). 

Once you get to the bottom of the movement, extend the elbows fully, and repeat.

Benefits

  • This has many of the same benefits as the skullcrusher, however it does train the triceps in a fuller range of motion, making it great for developing the long head.
  • This can be done seated or standing, making it a great option if you do not have a bench.

Cons

  • This does require good overhead mobility of the shoulders, so if you cannot place the hands overhead, then you may want to start with the skullcrusher.

Pro-Tip

As you lower the weight, try to push the elbows up and back, to get a deeper stretch on the triceps.

10. Cable Triceps Pushdown

How To

To perform the cable triceps pushdown, start by standing facing the cable stack, with the attachment in your hands. 

Place your elbows by your sides, and slightly lean forward, with the elbows bent and the attachment up by your face. 

With the chest up, and elbows still down by your sides, extend the elbows and push the arms straight, making sure that your elbows do not move backwards. 

The attachment should end over your toes, not on your thighs.

When fully extended, make sure to feel the triceps, then slowly allow them to rebend, making sure to control the full eccentric phase of the movement.

Benefits

  • This is a great way to isolate the triceps and give the shoulders from unnecessary stress. 
  • This is a great exercise to train the triceps in higher volumes and to failure.

Cons

  • This can be done (and often is done) incorrectly. Make sure to pay attention to elbow placement and excessive body movement in the pushdown

Pro-Tip

Lock the body in place, and only allow the elbows to open and close (flexion and extension). Any more movement and that is not from the triceps.

11. Machine Triceps Extension

How To

To perform this exercise, set the seat high so that the back of your triceps is resting on top of the pad. 

This is done in the same way as the machine curl. Grab the handles, and extend the elbows, flexing the tricep muscles at the lockout of every rep. Control the eccentric phase of the movement, and repeat. 

Benefits

  • The machine triceps extension is a pretty straightforward movement, which does not allow for too much form breakdown, making it a great exercise for beginners, as well as advanced lifters looking to train the muscle to complete failure.

Cons

  • Many home gyms and smaller gyms do not have this machine, making it difficult to have access to at times. 

Pro-Tip

Once you have gotten the correct seat placement, train hard, and make sure your elbows stay on the pad at all times.

12. Cable Overhead Tricep Extension

How To

To perform this movement, set the cable height to a low setting, somewhere between hip and knee height. The lower the setting the less you need to lean forward to get the proper angle.

With the cable set, attach a handle of your choice (rope, bar, etc) and step away from the stack. 

Take the handle overhead, and face away from the stack, with the cable line running back behind you and your arms up above your head.

Allow the elbows to bend, making sure to keep the elbow tucked into the head. The lower the cable is set, the less you will need to lean forward. 

Let the hands go all the way down, behind the head, and then extend the elbows so that the cable rope is almost touching the back of your head, finishing in a fully extended elbow position.

Benefits

  • The cable keeps constant tension on the muscle, which means constant stimulus and less weight is needed to get a similar result.
  • The cables allow for a variety of angles to be trained, which may offer a little more individualization based on the individual’s shoulder mobility and height.

Cons

  • This can be tricky to get set up on with heavier loads, which is why this is done best with moderate to higher reps and controlled speeds, rather than very heavy and fast reps.

Pro-Tip

Focus on a full range of motion, and get a deep stretch and muscle building stimulus on the triceps.

2 Killer Arm Workout Routine

two sample killer arm workouts

Here are two sample killer arm workouts you can do to build strength, size, and definition in the biceps and triceps. 

Each workout takes about 30-40 minutes, and is three days a week. 

This program has one training day with heavier loads, day two with moderate loads for more volume, and day three with lighter loads and very high volumes.

The first workout can be done at most gyms that have standard gym set ups, such as: cables, dumbbells, and machines.

The second workout includes dumbbell only movements, which is great for smaller gyms or home gym set ups.

Full Gym Killer Arm Workout #1 

Day 1

  • Seated Incline Dumbbell Curl: 4-5 sets of 8-10 sets
  • Standing Cable Curl: 4-5 sets of 8-10 sets
  • Standing Cable Overhead Triceps Extension: 4-5 sets of 8-10 sets
  • Dips: 4-5 sets of 8-10 sets

Day 2

  • Preacher Curl:3 sets of 12-15 reps, with last set being a drop set
  • Barbell Curl: 3 sets of 12-15 reps, with last set being a drop set
  • Cable Pushdown: 3 sets of 12-15 reps, with last set being a drop set
  • Skullcrusher: 3 sets of 12-15 reps, with last set being a drop set

Day 3

  • Machine Preacher Curl (or Regular Preacher Curl): 3 sets of 12-15, with drop set on each set
  • Rope Cable Curl: 3 sets of 12-15, with drop set on each set
  • Assisted Dip: 3 sets of 10-15, with drop set on each set
  • Machine Triceps Extension: 3 sets of 10-15, with drop set on each set

Dumbbell Only Killer Arm Workout #2 

Day 1

  • Seated Incline Dumbbell Curl: 4-5 sets of 8-10 sets
  • Dumbbell Hammer Curl: 4-5 sets of 8-10 sets
  • Dumbbell Skullcrusher: 4-5 sets of 8-10 sets
  • Single Arm Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension: 4-5 sets of 8-10 sets

Day 2

  • Standing Dumbbell Curl :3 sets of 12-15 reps, with last set being a drop set
  • Seated Incline Dumbbell Curl (Twisting): 3 sets of 12-15 reps, with last set being a drop set
  • Dumbbell Overhead Triceps Extension: 3 sets of 12-15 reps, with last set being a drop set
  • Close Grip Push Up: 3 sets of failure

Day 3

  • Dumbbell Curl: 3 sets of 12-15, with drop set on each set
  • Single Arm Concentration Curl: 3 sets of 12-15, with drop set on each set
  • Dumbbell Skullcrusher: 3 sets of 10-15, with drop set on each set
  • Close Grip Push Up: 3 sets of to failure

Looking for a workout program? Try using the Fitbod App, which will design your program based on your logged training data and goals. The workouts will adapt automatically to your levels of recovery and rate of progress. With over 600 movements and exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try 3 free workouts on Fitbod.


About The Author

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.