Girls need curls, too! If you want to really rock that tank top at the gym or go sleeveless during summer, then doing the best arm exercises for women is a must. Learn all about arm training and try three full workouts to sculpt your arms!
Arm day is constantly dubbed every guy’s favorite day in the gym, perhaps second only to training chest. As a longtime pro bodybuilder, though, I think most guys are guilty of overtraining their arms—giving them far more volume than they need to grow—and just as many women undertrain theirs.
This is unfortunate! To many women are fixated on how to lose arm fat, rather than building the arms they want with strategic, well-designed workouts. Instagram might convince you to emphasize training only your lower body and abs, but overall muscle development is essential! And if you’ve been struggling for years to get that first pull-up, training your arms can definitely play a part in getting there.
Got your attention? Then let’s get serious about biceps and triceps workouts for women!
Arm Yourself With Education
Biceps: The biceps brachii and the brachialis are the two big muscles on the front part of the upper arm. The name comes from the Latin “biceps” meaning “two heads” and “brachii” meaning “of the arm.” The two heads are generally known as the long head and short head of the biceps.
The biceps brachii has two functions. The first is to bend or “flex” the elbow, like when you pop that biceps pose. The second is rotation of the forearm, which is why coaches often cue to rotate a weight as you curl it.
The brachialis sits deep between the triceps and the biceps and is targeted by classic arm exercises like hammer curls and reverse curls. When developed, the brachialis can push the triceps and biceps apart, making the arm look bigger. As it pushes the biceps higher, it can add to the peak of the muscle.
Training at home? Arm your gym with a complete set of dumbbells and reap the benefits daily.
Triceps: The three heads of the triceps are the long head, the lateral head, and the medial (deep) head. As women age, we tend to hold more body fat in this area, making triceps development more of a priority as the years pass.
The long head of the triceps sits right in that troublesome posterior part of the upper arm. So, while the guys might focus on the horseshoe shape and thickness that develops the lateral head, women may want to prioritize long head exercises.
In doing this, it’s important to remember that shoulder extension is ideal for long head activation. This means any exercise where the arm goes behind the body, such as in a triceps kick-back or a single-arm cable push-down. It also means keeping your form as perfect as possible on any overhead extension or dip.
Do I Need An Arm Day?
As a rule, for the first year of serious lifting, it’s great to partner arm exercises with a larger muscle group. This could mean full upper-body workouts, or classic pairings like back-and-biceps and chest-and-triceps or shoulders-and-triceps. These approaches are popular because they work! They give you enough stimulus to grow without overdoing it and risking a tendon injury—which takes a long time to heal and is a common curse of the newbie lifter.
No bodybuilder was as renowned as Arnold for his huge arms and massive delts. And no bodybuilder trained as hard. Here’s his blueprint and workout for world-class upper-body development!
Few bodybuilders are made in the mold of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sure, everyone wants to be the next Arnold, but who could conceivably duplicate the mind-numbing training volume and frequency he achieved? He didn’t just train shoulders and arms for 60-plus sets—he did it 2-3 times a week with incredible intensity!
That’s one reason “The Oak” stood out among his peers. Where others would call it quits, Arnold took pleasure in his own pain. While this kind of volume can’t be sustained long-term, it certainly can flip your personal anabolic switch and help you dial in your ideal physique—provided you can learn to love a bone-crushing delt-and-arms workout.
Here’s a blueprint of how Arnold trained these body parts!
Arnold’s Shoulder Workout
Arnold trained shoulders with the same high-volume approach he employed with other body parts, ensuring that each deltoid head was targeted from different angles. Because multijoint presses from the front of the neck recruited the anterior (front) delts to a greater degree than behind-the-neck presses, he typically included both in his shoulder workout for maximal development.
“There’s no one exercise that will work all three areas of the deltoids,” Arnold once said. “Therefore, when you’re planning your shoulder routine, you have to include the right variety of movements, so that you get full shoulder development.”
His full-throttle approach occasionally meant that he did 50 or more sets in a single workout! Remember, too, that Arnold trained shoulders with arms at least twice per week—an impossibly challenging combination of volume and frequency that helped build the biggest delts the world had ever seen at the time.
Here are some of the basic principles Arnold followed when training shoulders:
- Arnold went heavy with presses and upright rows, especially early in his workouts when his energy levels were highest. Multijoint movements like these are the best mass builders, as they engage the greatest degree of musculature in the deltoid region.
- He sought out alternative exercises that worked the target area from different angles. When using dumbbells rather than the barbell on overhead presses, for example, he lowered the weights several inches below the bottom position of the barbell movement, and he brought them together at the top to elongate the range of motion.
- His focus on introducing variation into his training was instrumental in popularizing the Arnold press. The Arnold press is an overhead press that begins with your hands facing your body in the bottom position. You turn your wrists as you raise the weights, a movement that puts more emphasis on the front delts than the standard overhead dumbbell press does.
- Arnold used single-joint movements to complement overhead presses and isolate each delt head. Here, too, he sought subtle differences that would build better overall size. For example, the cable lateral raise in front of the body has a different feel than when the cable runs behind you.
- For upper traps, Arnold included a number of movements, including barbell cleans, upright rows, and shrugs. He favored shrugs for building meaty upper traps, but was keen to back off the weight in favor of being able to fully shrug his shoulders as high as possible.
- Arnold’s basic approach followed a pyramid format: He’d add weight on successive sets for fewer reps. He still kept the weight in classic muscle-building rep ranges, rarely doing fewer than eight reps.