You may think toning your arms á la J.Lo or Jennifer Garner requires a gym full of equipment. But all you need to build seriously strong arms is a pair of dumbbells and 15 minutes. Oh, and this list of the absolute best arm exercises with weights (or no equipment at all). No pushups required.
Small-but-mighty dumbbells make it possible to work all of your arm muscles—think your delts (shoulders), biceps (fronts of your upper arms), and triceps (backs of your upper arms)—from pretty much anywhere, whether it’s at the gym or in your bedroom.
And yes, strength training is *key* if you want to give your arms a little definition. Your best bet is to incorporate a variety of arm exercises into your workouts regularly. Crank out the below arm-toning exercises two to three times a week, by following the instructions to come. You can either incorporate them into full-body or upper-body workouts, or dedicate a few sessions per week specifically to arm workouts with weights.
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Time: 15 minutes
Good for: arms
Instructions: For a full arm workout, choose six moves from list below. Perform 12 reps of each, then continue to the next move. When you finish all six, rest for 60 seconds, then repeat three more times for a total of four rounds.
Trainer tip: To work your arms from all angles, choose two exercises that target your biceps (think: curls), two that light up your triceps (think dips), and two that’ll make your shoulders burn (think upright rows).
How to: Start standing with feet hip-width apart holding a pair of dumbbells at sides. Palms should be facing forward with back straight and chest upright. Without moving upper arms, bend elbows and bring weights up toward shoulders. Slowly lower the dumbbells back to starting position with control. That’s one rep.
Lying Overhead Triceps Extension
How to: Lie on back with knees bent and feet placed flat on the ground, about a foot from butt. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and extend arms up over shoulders, palms facing toward each other. This is your start position. Slowly bend at the elbows to bring weights toward floor, close to temples; pause, then, slowly bring the weights back overhead. That’s one rep.
Single-Arm Bent-Over Row
How to: Start with feet hip-distance apart and weight in right hand. Hinge at hips, keeping head in line with tailbone. Bracing core, pull right elbow back until right wrist is near ribs. Return to start position. That’s one rep.
Trainer tip: For any single-side moves, don’t forget to switch sides and complete all the reps on the other side before moving on.
How to: Start standing with feet two-fists-width apart with knees bent. Lean forward slightly, with a dumbbell in each hand and elbows at 90-degrees by sides. Press dumbbells back and up, and as you straighten arms, squeeze triceps. Return to start. That’s one rep.
How to: Start standing on the mat, feet hip-width apart. Bring elbows together and up so arms form 90-degree angles. Keeping core stable, open elbows as wide as possible. Then, bring them together again. That’s one rep.
Curtsy Lunge with Biceps Curl
How to: Start standing with feet hip-width apart holding a dumbbell in each hand. Take a big step back with right leg, crossing it behind left while keeping hips facing forward. Bend knees and lower down until the right knee almost touches the floor. At the same time, bend elbows and bring the weights toward shoulders, keeping elbows pointing down. Step through left heel as you come to start. That’s one rep.
How to: Start in plank position, holding dumbbells in either hand on the ground. Pull right elbow toward the ceiling until right wrist is near ribs, then return it to floor. Repeat on opposite side. That’s one rep.
How to: Start standing with feet hip-width apart, with arms resting in front of body and a dumbbell in each hand. Lift dumbbells by raising elbows until they reach chest-level. Slowly lower them back down to waist with control, and repeat. That’s one rep.
Rear Delt Fly
How to: Start standing with feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. Hinge at the hips and let arms hang straight down from shoulders, palms facing your body, holding a pair of dumbbells. Raise both arms out to the sides with elbows slightly bent and squeeze shoulder blades together. Return to start. That’s one rep.
Alternating Military Press
How to: Start kneeling with right leg forward, tailbone tucked and core engaged. Bring elbows up and out so arms form 90-degree angles, like a field goal, with dumbbells in hands. Press right arm up to straight, until right bicep is near right ear. Lower to down to return to field goal position, then repeat with left arm. That’s one rep.
How to: Start seated in a chair and grip the front edges with both hands. Scoot butt forward until it’s hovering just off the seat and legs form 90-degree angles. Straighten arms. This is your start position. Lower body down until elbows form 90-degree angles. Engage the back of your arms to press back to start. That’s one rep.
Seated Arnold Press
How to: Start seated with legs fully extended out in front of body with a slight bend in knees. Hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of face with palms facing each other and elbows forming 90-degree angles. Creating a slight upward arc motion, open elbows up and out to sides until palms face forward. Following the same arc, bring elbows down and back together. That’s one rep.
Overhead Triceps Extension
How to: Start standing, gripping one dumbbell with both hands, and lift the weight overhead, arms straight, feet hip-width apart. Keeping upper arms by your ears and hands at the top of the bar, bend elbows to lower the weights slowly behind your head. Pause, then straighten arms, returning to start. That’s one rep.
Dumbbell Floor Press
How to: Lie on back with knees bent and feet placed flat on the ground, about a foot from butt. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and extend arms up over shoulders, palms facing toward each other. This is your start position. With control, bend arms and lower them to sides until triceps touch the floor (dumbbells will still be raised over wrists). Elbows should form a 45-degree angle with the body. Slowly reverse the movement and return to start. That’s one rep.
Plank with Biceps Curl
How to: Start in plank position, with dumbbells in hands on the ground, directly beneath shoulders. Keep core and hips stable, slowly bringing the right dumbbell toward the right shoulder. Lower it back down with control. Repeat on the other side. That’s one rep.
Plié Squat with Biceps Curl
How to: Start standing with feet slightly wider than shoulders, toes pointed out at 45 degrees, torso upright. Hold a set of dumbbells in both hands. Inhale, bend knees and sink hips down, aiming to get thighs parallel to the floor, while curling the dumbbells toward your shoulders and squeezing biceps at the top. Exhale and drive through your heels back to the starting position, straightening arms. That’s one rep.
Single-Arm Dumbbell Floor Press
How to: Lie on back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in left hand and extend arm upward over chest, palm facing away from you. This is your start position. Slowly bend arm and lower it to the side until tricep touches the ground—elbow should form a 45 degree angle with body. Reverse the movement and return to start. That’s one rep.
Write Your Name
How to: Start standing holding a single dumbbell in both hands. Extend arms out in front at chest height. Slowly and with control, write your name in the air. Each letter is a rep.
Alternating Dumbbell Floor Press
How to: Lie on back with knees bent and feet placed flat on the ground. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and extend both arms up over shoulders, palms facing each other. This is you start position. Slowly bend left arm and lower it to the side, until left elbow touches the ground. Upper arm should form a 45 degree angle with your body. Reverse the movement and return to start. Repeat on the right side. That’s one rep.
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