Powerlifting & Strongman

How To Strengthen My Arms

Whether you’re looking for increased definition or to build muscle mass, having stronger arms is one of the main goals for many gym goers. Anyone putting the hours down in the weights section is bound to love showing off those guns, and it’s a great way to feel good about yourself.

But if you’ve not yet got your arm routine sorted, then knowing how to go about reaching your goals can be tricky. There are lots of ways to approach your strengthening regime so we’ve put together a few basics so you can start to design your own workout.

What arm muscles to work out?

A big part of fitness is about having balance in your workout routine, so going to the gym just to work your arms isn’t going to bring you overall health. However, if you want more strength and definition in their arms and there are lots of general rules you can apply when designing your workout routine.

When training your upper arms, you’ll be looking to strengthen the following muscles:

- Biceps (front of the upper arm)

- Triceps (back of the upper arm)

- Deltoids (the muscles that cover your shoulder joint)

- Brachialis (helps to lift the elbow)

The biceps (or biceps brachii) is a two-headed muscle and the triceps (triceps brachii) is a three-headed muscle. This means both the biceps and the triceps can be split up into multiple sections, which each join onto the body at either two or three points respectively.

The Brachialis tends to be the forgotten muscle but can be worked out too to give your arms overall strength. And never forget your delts!

What exercises should I do to strengthen my arms?

There are lots of different exercises you can do to strengthen your arms. Free weights are the way to go – but when you’re starting out, don’t try and start with the heaviest weight you can lift. When it comes to developing muscle strength, form is key. You can start with just the bars, small dumbbells or even baked bean tins! Watch yourself in the mirror, take a video, have a friend guide you – these are all great ways to perfect your form before you start to add on the weight loads. Think about it, if you were going to learn how to walk along a tightrope, you wouldn’t do it with a whole bunch of weights first!

How to work each arm muscle:


Here’s a general outline of what exercises you can do for each muscle in your upper arms:

Biceps – bicep curls, barbell curls, incline dumbbell curls (on a weight bench), standing biceps cable curls, reverse-grip bent-over rows and concentration curls (with weight bench).

Triceps – triceps dips, triceps extensions, angled single-arm overhead extensions, decline-bench skullcrushers, incline close-grip bench presses, cable skullcrushers and cable kickbacks.

Deltoids – upright cable rows, front barbell raises, cable front raises, shoulder presses, cable rear-delt fly, bent over delt raises, side lateral raises and upright barbell rows.

Brachialis – cross-body hammer curls (palms facing the body), regular hammer curls and reverse grip or EZ bar curls.

There are lots of videos and images online with plenty of information to help guide you so make sure you research the best technique for each exercise before you do them. It’s also a good idea to take a friend (preferably one who is already experienced at weight lifting) so that they can spot you if need be as well as correct your technique.

And lastly, your gym will have lots of personal trainers on hand so it’s also worth investigating the options available in case you’d prefer to have someone who knows the ropes when you are first starting out.

How much weight should I be lifting?

The ultimate question! If you’re just starting out, you’ll want to find out how much weight you can handle for each exercise. It’s a good idea to take a notebook with you to training, so you can write down each amount as you go and also remember for next time.

Start off with just the bar (as these are weighted too) and then slowly add each increment.

Remember lifting weights is not just about how much your muscles can take, but also how much your hands and joints can withstand too – which all takes practice. Basically, don’t go piling on the weights to try and impress – no one in the gym minds how much you’re lifting.

Once you have found your max, take it down an increment and you’ll have your starter weight which you can work from. Don’t worry if this takes longer than expected – finding your starter weights for each muscle group can take a few training sessions, especially as you still getting used to the weights.

How do I structure my workout?

Next, it’s onto reps and sets. Contrary to belief, it’s not just about reaching rep max – how much you’re lifting and how long for also affects your training. If you have a particular goal in mind, you may want to bias your workout to a particular style of training, but it’s best to aim for a well-rounded regime.

I want to bulk – lift 80-90% of your maximum weight load for 1-5 reps, for 3-5 sets with 3-5 minutes in-between.

I want to build strength and muscle – lift 75-85% of your maximum weight load for 6-12 reps, for 4-6 reps with a 0-30 second rest in-between.

I want to improve my endurance – lift 50-70% of your maximum weight load for 12-20 reps, for 1-3 sets with a 0-90 second rest in-between.

It can be difficult to work out what weight is right for you for each goal. But keep making notes and you’ll soon be able to work on a structure.

The percentage above relates to your RPE or Rate of Perceived Exertion – basically how hard you are working. If at the end of your five reps for bulk training you don’t feel like you have reached rep max, up the weight and try again. As you progress through your training, you can start to set yourself goals.

Find your starter weights for each type of training. Then, once you are comfortable lifting your range of weight loads, up them to start again with heavier loads. Small increments is the way to go.

One rep max


This is not something you want to do when you are just starting out, but as you get more confident lifting weights, one rep max can be a great strengthening tool. One rep max is the largest amount of weight you can lift in one go. Not only great for bodybuilding, knowing the maximum amount of weight you can lift is great for working out what weights you should be lifting for bulk, strength and endurance.

By knowing how much you can lift, the percentages are a lot easier to work out and you can go on actual numbers rather than feel which is a lot more accurate.

It’s not just about weights

Having well-defined arms is not just about lifting weights. Definition comes from having a low body fat percentage and building muscle comes from giving your body the right nutrition – mainly proteins, healthy fats, fruit and vegetables.

Recovery is also important – there is such a thing as overtraining! So, make sure you get enough rest, sleep, water and try to cut down on things like alcohol to aid your progression.

It’s also important you don’t try to add too much weight at once. A poor form will hinder your development and racing through your routine with too much weight won’t work your muscles fully. Make sure you concentrate on proper technique and whether you’re lifting 5kg or 100kg, fully extend each muscle and keep tensed throughout the whole movement.

Vary your workout

Your body is brilliant at learning – it wants to make sure you’re working as efficiently as possible and will react and adjust to every routine you adopt. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you maintain a level of variety in your workout to ensure your body is always guessing.

Throw in some battle ropes, circuits, weight bags and boxing for added power and explosivity.

HIIT (high intensity interval training) is also great for resistance training and helps you to get into the fat burning zone, so always try to include some interval training in your workouts.

And finally, watch out for noob gainz… Your progression gradient will start off pretty steep and then will start to round off as you develop. This is normal, so even though you might be progressing by tens of kilograms at the start, it won’t be the same as you start to get into a routine.

Give your body time and increase your weight loads only as and when you’re ready. Don’t expect the increments to be massive – you may only be adding 1-2.5kg at a time but that’s absolutely normal.

Happy training!