Ask seven people what the seven best arm exercises of all-time are and answers are likely to vary drastically. Movements that spark muscle growth for one person may not yield the same results for another. (That’s another reason we’re constantly on you to change your exercise selection, sets, reps and rest periods on a consistent basis.)
So are the following 7 exercises the best arm moves of all time? Yes, according to Eraldo Maglara NSCA-CPT—because they’ve been the most effective at helping him and his clients sculpt bigger, stronger guns.
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Incline Dumbbell Curl
Incline dumbbell curls are typically performed on an—you guessed it—incline bench that’s set to an incline of 30-45 degrees to place maximum stress on the long head of the biceps.
“By allowing your arms to extend naturally on each side of the bench, the only beneficiary in this movement is your biceps,” he says. “It’s a great exercise to build well-rounded and defined arms.”
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Standing Barbell Curl
Standard barbell curls are a go-to exercise for people looking to add meat to their arms. The reason? Barbell curls have been known to produce serous results.
“It’s effective because the movement demands control and proper technique throughout the exercise,” Maglara explains. “Force your biceps to activate additional muscle fibers by holding an extra second or two at the top of the curl; this will result in bigger mass gains.”
If barbell curls have been a staple in your routine for a while, switch your grip to close or wide, or do them from a seated position.
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Seated Concentration Curl
When done slowly, without relying on momentum, this isolation movement can help tack size on to your biceps peak.
“Your contraction is held throughout the [movement], so your biceps are engaged from the start, middle, and end position of the curl,” says Maglara. Alternatively, you can perform cable concentration curls. With either, remember to squeeze your biceps at the apex of the movement.
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Hitting the deck and repping out push-ups is a great way to strengthen the core, pecs, triceps, and delts. But if you want to shift more attention to the tris, switch to diamond push-ups (aka triangle push-ups). In fact, a study by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) found diamond push-ups to be the most effective move to engage muscle activity.
“The diamond push-up is an excellent exercise to engage and fire up the triceps muscles,” says Maglara. “By keeping your hands close together—like the shape of a diamond—your triceps are kept under tension both concentrically and eccentrically. This results in a great burn.”
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Triceps dips require minimal equipment to execute—a chair, bench, or parallel bars—but offer a high return on investment. In the aforementioned ACE study, dips were also cited as one of the most effective triceps blasters.
“Looks can be deceiving with dips,” Maglara admits. “They may seem like an easy exercise to perform, but you’re lifting your own body weight, and the majority of my clients who have consistently trained with me have found this exercise to be both challenging and beneficial.”
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So long as you’re careful with the weight you choose and perform both the concentric and eccentric portions of the movement with strict control, the exercise won’t live up to its name. And whether they’re done with a cable, barbell, dumbbells, or an EZ curl bar, learning to utilize the skull crusher (or lying triceps presses) can add more mass and definition to your triceps.
“Focus on the bottom portion of the movement by holding the bar for a second or two, and then slowly bringing the bar back to the start position. This will cause the triceps to recruit additional muscle fibers.”
Another tip: move your arms back so they’re at 45 degrees to the floor; this will help the muscles get a better stretch and remain under more tension during each rep. You can also make the move more challenging by moving it to an incline bench.
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Okay, okay, it’s not an “arms” movement per se; however, your level of concentration is directly tied to how you train. More focus equals more muscle growth. Period. It’s the ability to gut out an extra few reps that will make you someone who owns pipes instead of pipe cleaners.
“We tend to focus so much attention on our outside influences instead of our inner forces,” explains Maglara “The only smart way to the top is how well you plan your strategy from the inside.”
He continues, “The best advice a trainer should give you is to use the power of your mind to accomplish your fitness goals. When Arnold Schwarzenegger won the Mr. Olympia contest in 1975, his major objective was to mentally breakdown his opponents as well as connecting with his inner-self to overcome obstacles. It worked!”