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July 12, 2022
It's hard to beat the appearance of bulging biceps, horseshoe-shaped triceps, and massively rounded shoulders. And fortunately, there are countless arm exercises that you could choose from to train all of your arm muscle groups, using everything from barbells to body weight to machines. Today we're going to go over another group that can help you obtain the arms of your dreams: dumbbell arm exercises.
We'll lay out the 12 best dumbbell arm exercises that will create massive guns. In addition, this post will cover:
Technically, the arms refer to the entire appendage that hangs off the shoulder joint. This means it includes the forearms as well as the upper arms. That said, when people are looking for arm exercises, they are generally only referring to the upper arms, which include the biceps and triceps as well as the deltoids (depending on who you ask).
Biceps: The biceps is a two-headed muscle group that sits on the front of your upper arm. The two heads consist of separate muscle bellies that originate from different locations, come together as they travel down the arm, and then merge into the same tendon which is inserted across the elbow joint. Both heads are worked at different angles, meaning it's important to include long head bicep exercises and short head bicep exercises in your routine.
Brachialis: It sits on the upper arms under the biceps and is the primary arm flexor. If you are looking for strong, developed biceps, you must train them. Brachialis exercises are crucial for bigger, stronger arms.
Brachioradialis: It sits across the elbow, and while it is more of a forearm muscle than part of the upper arm, if you want a fully defined arm, strength training them is essential.
The triceps is a three-headed muscle group that sits on the back side of the arm. The three muscle heads include the long head, medial head, and lateral head. Similar to the biceps, this means that the three muscles all originate from different locations and merge as they travel down the arm. The common tendon then crosses the elbow joint to allow extension of the arm which is the primary function of the triceps.
The triceps are a vital part of the upper arm as it accounts for approximately 60% of the total mass. Being so, having small triceps will make it virtually impossible to have a set of arms of any significance. You must train the triceps!
The deltoids are a set of three muscles that make up your "shoulder" muscles. These three muscles sit around your shoulder joint and allow it to manipulate the arm in virtually any direction. Because the shoulder joint is a ball-in-socket joint, it requires these different muscle heads to be situated in different areas to be able to push, pull, lift, and perform any other arm movement.
And while some people may not consider them an upper arm muscle, they certainly hold a lot of aesthetic value in creating a set of massive arms. If you want that capped look with shoulder muscles that stick out to make a valley with your biceps, deltoid training is essential.
As mentioned above, there are three heads to the shoulder muscles:
Off all these three deltoid muscles, the lateral deltoid is the most important to give special attention to as it's the muscle that sits off the side of the upper arm. Make an active effort to work lateral deltoid exercises into your routine. Further, the anterior deltoid gets a ton of activation during pushing movements while the posterior deltoid gets hit on every pulling exercise.
This doesn't mean ignoring the other two deltoids. You can definitely still elevate your arm workouts by including anterior deltoid exercises and rear deltoid exercises as well. Just make sure you give the lateral deltoids some extra love.
When using dumbbells to train the arms, you are going to want to stick primarily to lighter weights of 80% 1RM or less. This loading scheme would put you in the 8 plus rep scheme.
The primary reason for this is when training the arms, you want to focus on muscle hypertrophy rather than strength. This doesn't mean strength isn't important but rather you should be using big compound lifts to accomplish that.
Further, using heavier loads for dumbbell arm exercises can be a bit challenging as well as dangerous. Being able to just use one arm to stabilize the dumbbell, can cause a lot of stress on the joints. When paired with the fact you should be using bigger compound lifts for strength, there's no reason to go heavy.
A dumbbell workout is an awesome choice. They're effective, easy to use, and are found in basically every single commercial gym. They also offer a ton of unique benefits. Here are a few of the reasons you want to include dumbbells in your arm training.
While barbells are ideal for strength, using dumbbells requires more stabilization due to only using one arm. This causes an increase in activation which can translate to bigger gains, which enables you to build more muscle.
As a dumbbell is a singular implement, you have the freedom to use various grips and arm angles. For example, dumbbells allow a neutral grip which is impossible to perform with a barbell.
Because your arms have the freedom to move, you can position your arms in various positions to help alleviate discomfort. One of the first pieces of advice for those with shoulder issues is to try using dumbbells. And for a good majority of them, it works!
Here we go! These dumbbell arm exercises are the best in the business for building every muscle of the upper arm. We'll lay out what dumbbell exercises you should be using if you want some impressive arms. We've also grouped each exercise by the arm muscle group it targets so you have a clear idea of what moves are responsible for growing each muscle.
Proper form is crucial for optimal growth so pay attention to how these are performed.
Prepare to feel the bicep burn with these first four dumbbell arm exercises. In addition to the biceps, these moves also hit your forearm flexors, the brachialis and brachioradialis, ensuring evenly defined and muscular arms. You're guaranteed to find these exercises in an ultimate biceps-building workout.
Drag curls are basic dumbbell curls with a little variation. Instead of performing the curl with the elbows down to the side, you are going to pull your elbows back as you perform the curl.
This stretches the long head as it crosses over the shoulder joint. Doing so will create an intense burn that we promise you'll learn to love.
How to do the Standing Dumbbell Drag Curl:
While they share some similarities, there are differences between the hammer vs. biceps curls. For example, instead of using a supinated grip (palms facing up), you will use a neutral grip. By internally rotating your arm, you will shift the focus from the biceps brachii and place more stress on the brachialis and brachioradialis.
As mentioned above, these two muscles are often overlooked by many new lifters meaning these guys are severely limiting the size of their arms. Don't be that guy. Do your dumbbell hammer curls.
How to do the Dumbbell Hammer Curl:
A spider curl is a bicep curl that is done while lying face down on a bench with your arms straight down. You will then pick up a pair of dumbbells and perform an arm curl in this position, and because your arms hang freely below your body, you are unable to cheat your bicep curls.
Looking for more information on this bicep-burning move? You'll want to read our article on the spider curl exercise, which includes some great variations to try.
How to do the Dumbbell Spider Curl:
After you finish your spider curls, flip over on the bench and perform some incline dumbbell curls. These are almost a mix of drag curls and spider curls as your arms hang straight down. This position limits your ability to cheat the dumbbell while also adding an extensive stretch to the biceps muscle fibers.
How to do the Incline Dumbbell Curl:
Once you've trained your biceps, you're going to focus on your arm's backside and train the triceps. Compared to the biceps, you may find you can use significantly more weight when training the triceps.
And because the triceps have three heads, it's that much more important to use exercises that target different angles. This includes having at least one overhead extension to hit the long head. Don't forget to cool off after going heavy on your muscles. These best triceps stretches will prevent your arms from being overtight and overworked.
One of the biggest misconceptions about the bench press is that it's an awesome exercise for the chest muscles. While it does train the chest (and well!), you will notice that most guys with a strong bench also have huge triceps.
A bench press will train the entire upper body but you will notice the amount of flexion and extension that occurs at the elbow joint. Further, after the arms break parallel with the chest, the primary movement is elbow extension. This is why the best bench pressers have a ton of triceps-specific training.
You are going to hold dumbbells using a neutral grip when performing this press. This will allow an even greater amount of flexion and extension as well as relieve stress on the elbow and shoulder joints. You can use a slightly heavier weight with this exercise.
How to do the Neutral Grip Dumbbell Bench Press:
With a name like skull crushers, you know this is a killer exercise. While usually performed with a barbell of some sort, you can do them with dumbbells. Plus, this also lets you play with different hand grips to get that variety.
How to do the Dumbbell Skull Crushers:
This is an awesome dumbbell exercise to ensure you hit the entire triceps. While you traditionally perform this exercise standing, some clients may find that kneeling provides more stability for a bigger lift.
Pro tip: We find that using only one dumbbell at a time is more efficient for the majority of lifters performing the dumbbell triceps extensions.
How to do the Dumbbell Overhead Extension:
Powerlifters have the biggest triceps you'll find. This includes the legendary Dave Tate., founder of EliteFTS With personal bests that include a 930-pound back squat, a 610-pound bench press, and a 740-pound deadlift. Tate is the real deal. And he also coined this dumbbell arm exercise for the triceps.
How to do the Tate Press:
As mentioned, the shoulders are a bit of a loner, as we're including them with the arm, but they're not really the arm. We still train them on arm day, though, since they're so incremental to most upper body movements and are crucial for all upper body workouts. And while we are including them in arm exercises, we will be treating them similar to the biceps and triceps, meaning we're focusing on accessory and hypertrophy movements.
The Arnold press is one of our favorite dumbbell arm exercises for the shoulders and is one of the few compound lifts on this list. One of the reasons it is so effective is it trains the front, lateral, and rear deltoids through a huge range of motion that offers some major time under tension.
While these are overhead presses, they are generally performed with smaller weights with a focus on hypertrophy.
How to do the Arnold Press:
Simple, basic, and effective, the lateral raise is one of the most popular arm exercises there is. It's also one of the few moves that most people kind of know how to do. And by kind of, we mean they still mess it up pretty bad, which is why you should take the time to read our how-to.
That said, above we spoke about the importance of training your lateral deltoid and the lateral raise is your golden ticket. Get some!
How to do Lateral Raises:
The dumbbell IYT raise is an excellent exercise as it includes 3 movements in one exercise. The front raise forms your I, the 45-degree raise is your Y, and the lateral raise creates a T shape.
Combined, these three movements train the front and lateral delts at every angle, promising some awesome muscle development. You can perform this exercise standing or sitting, and we'd advise using lighter weights.
How to do the Dumbbell IYT Raise:
Even though the rear delts get trained a lot with other pulling exercises, it doesn't hurt to add one isolation move. And that isolation is the bent-over reverse fly, which is the dumbbell version of the reverse pec deck machine. Again, this is a very simple yet effective dumbbell exercise to hit the rear delt as well as the upper back musculature. Perform these with a lighter weight to give your back a lot of volume.
How to do the Bent-Over Reverse Fly:
Remember that the arms are already trained with every single upper-body compound movement. This means that in reality, you don't even need to use arm-specific exercises to create massive, strong arms. But it also doesn't hurt.
That said, we don't believe in the use of an arm-specific day (apart from a few isolated occasions). To train the arms optimally, add 2 to 4 exercises for each arm muscle per week into your workout split. Keep in mind that more advanced lifters will need more volume while beginner lifters could get away with less isolation work. Further, we like to rotate our arm exercises regularly.
While it's imperative to track the progress of your larger lifts, it's not as vital for your arm training. While you want to see gradual progress, your primary goal with your arm training is to bring each set to momentary failure.
The majority of your work should be in the 8 to 12 rep range but you can go a bit heavier (especially with the triceps and shoulder) or lighter once in a while with some 20 plus reps.
We just laid out the 12 best dumbbell arm exercises there are. Plus, we even gave you some tips on how to alter some of them to give you even more options. Just make sure you use light dumbbells when needed so you do the exercises correctly. And if you invest in adjustable dumbbells or a dumbbell rack, you'll be able to use these workout ideas from the convenience of your home.
In other words, you don't have any more excuses to be walking around with small arms 3 months after reading this sentence. The clock is ticking, so go start training!
Related: The Ultimate Arm Workout
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