Whether you want to win an arm wrestling competition, or just get your groceries into your third story walk-up without feeling faint, you could always benefit from stronger arms. If everyday tasks like raking leaves, or picking up your toddler leave you feeling sore and out of shape, it might be time to think about focusing on improving your arm strength. Many people tend to focus on their arms, frankly because they are on display a lot. Tee shirts, tank tops, sun dresses, all of these show off your arms whether they are firm and muscular, or not. Some people feel self conscious about this, and want to make improvements. Taking a little time to up your arm-focused workouts can really help.
Muscles are strange things. On one hand, they make perfect sense: the more you use them, the stronger they become. On the other hand, if you stop using them regularly, rather than just staying the way they are, they shrink, and lose strength. That new office job where you sit in a cubicle all day? Those 3 hours of commuting every day? They are all contributing to muscle atrophy. It can be frustrating. You have great intentions, but not a whole lot of time. With that in mind, I have assembled a list of exercises you can do at home, without expensive equipment or gym memberships, to help you start slowly, but consistently gain strength in your arms. They are easier than you might think too.
Yes, really! Back when I was in college, I got the chance to meet up with a personal trainer as part of a phys ed. class. She had loads of great information and suggestions for me, naturally. It was something she said at the end of her speech that has always stuck with me though: “But, if you can’t do everything I just said, just do pushups”. When I asked her why, she said that pushups are one of the greatest overall strengthening exercises you can do. It works your chest, your core, your shoulders, and your arms. If you are tight on time, or traveling, or just find yourself with 5 minutes to work out, do some push ups!
These are pretty straightforward. Begin by getting into a plank position, with your toes flexed and touching the ground, and your hands directly below your shoulders. Slowly lower yourself down to the floor, resisting the urge to just flop down, and then push yourself back up to your starting position. Do three sets of 8 – 10 reps.
A variation on these is to lower your knees to the ground as well. This is a great modification for those just starting out, as it takes a considerable amount of weight off your arms, allowing you to get your form correct. When and if you feel strong enough to try the traditional push ups, go slow at first. It’s always better to do 10, perfect modified push ups, than one sloppy traditional push up that results in you getting hurt.
Chair or Bench Dips
Dips are a type of arm exercise that zeroes in on your triceps (that muscle running up the back of your arm from elbow to armpit). Basically, the concept behind this strength building exercise is to force those muscles to bear a good bit of your body weight – but without getting into a hand sand. Enter the chair dips!
To do these, grab two kitchen chairs (or really, any firm chairs that don’t roll), and face them towards each other, about 2 or 3 feet apart. Sit on the very edge of one chair while your feet rest on the opposite chair. Put your arms behind you on the chair, and push yourself up so that your butt is off the chair edge.
Now, slowly and evenly lower yourself past the edge of the chair, bending at your elbows. Try to lower down until your elbows are at 90 degree angles, parallel to the floor. From here, push yourself back up to your starting position, and repeat. Do three sets of 8 – 10 reps
You don’t technically need chairs for this. You could use your bottom step, the edge of your couch, etc. Just make sure it is totally stable before putting your weight on it.
These can be done with a set of dumbbells (if you have them), resistance bands, or even water bottles and cans of soup. It does not have to be a large amount of weight if you are just starting out. These are meant to strengthen your biceps, or in other words, the muscle people squeeze when they tell you to “make a muscle”.
If you are using dumbbells, or water bottles, stand up straight with your arms close to your sides, and wace your palms outwards towards the front wall. Alternating arms, bend one elbow, keeping your arm facing forward, until your hand is up by your shoulder. Repeat on the other side. Do three sets of 10 reps.
If you are using resistance bands, stand on the band, assume the same position as with the curls, and bend your arm up, pulling on the band. You can either tighten up, or loosen the band as needed. Do three sets of 10 reps
Again, these do not explicitly require a chin up bar, but you will need a bar of some kind. That could be a swing set, a tree branch or a door frame that you really, REALLY trust. These work your arms and back, and are sometimes a little more difficult for the beginner. If you find you are not able to perform these just yet, don’t be discouraged! Come back to them in three or four weeks, and keep trying. I will also post some variations below.
To perform a chin up, stand facing the bar (if it is a high bar, you may find it helpful to start out standing on a chair or a stool), and bring your arms underneath it to grasp it. Your hands should be shoulder width apart, and your palms should be facing you. Grip the bar firmly as you let it take your weight, and lower yourself down slowly. From this position at the bottom, pull yourself back up by bending your elbows, until your chin is just above the level of the bar.
Variation 1: A good way to work up to an eventual chin up (which can be a process), you may want to start with what is called a “dead arm hang”. Basically, you will get into position as though you are at the “bottom” of a chin up, but instead of pulling yourself up, you are simply going to hang there for as long as you can.
Why? Well, this helps strengthen your grip, your forearms and your back. Even though you are not pulling yourself up, it still requires a decent amount of strength to simply hang by your hands alone.
Variation 2: If you feel like you have the dead hang down pat, try this next step. Begin by standing on a chair, so that you can get into the “top” position of a chin up. From here, slowly allow the bar to take your weight, but all you are doing here is lowering yourself down. Sometimes called a “reverse chin up”, this is actually an important resistance exercise which helps you build up the strength needed for those eventual pull ups.
Ready to get started? Udemy has an excellent strength building class called “Thrive 90“. Go get started!