Have you ever heard the expression “everyday is arm day”? There is no better way to improve your body image than building up your arms. Despite that, not many people know how to work out the individual muscles and how they will affect your overall look.
For example, while many focus on your biceps, it’s actually your triceps that make up about 55% of arm muscle mass. And did you know that the biceps and triceps aren’t your only upper arms muscles? Thankfully we have all the info you need right here.
We’ll take a look at what muscles you need to be working, the best exercises for them, and how to use workout equipment to build your biceps and triceps. Let’s get started!
How to Do Tricep Kickbacks Properly
Understanding Your Biceps and Triceps
If you want to get effective workouts for your upper arms, then you need to know which muscles you should be targeting. In total, there are four muscles in your upper arm: triceps brachii, biceps brachii, coracobrachialis, and brachialis.
Here we’ll look at each of these muscles in simple terms, so you know where they are on your arm and why it’s important to work them out. Let’s start by looking at your triceps.
The tricep is the muscle that is at the back (posterior) of your upper arm.
You probably know that ‘tri’ means three, such as we see in a triangle, tripod, or triathlon. In terms of this muscle, it doesn’t mean that there are three separate muscles, but that the tricep originates from three points. They are called the long head, lateral head, and medial head.
The tricep starts at three different points at the top of your arm. These strands join together, and then all end at the same point on the elbow. Let’s have a look at the 3 heads of triceps.
Long Head – The long head of your triceps starts just under your shoulder blade and runs all the way down to your elbow. This is the largest and longest part of your triceps and runs along the inside of the arm, next to the body.
Lateral Head – The lateral head is just a little smaller than the long head. This starts on your upper arm bone (humerus) and runs down to the elbow, on the outer side of your arm. With it being on the outer arm, it’s the most aesthetically dominant of the three muscle parts.
Medial Head – The medial head is the smallest part of the triceps, but not by much. The medial head starts near the top of your humerus and is underneath the long and lateral heads, in the middle of your arm. You can’t see the medial head from the surface, but working it out will help to push out the other triceps heads.
The biceps are the muscles that are at the front (anterior) of your upper arm. It’s one of three muscles on this side of your arm, but by far the most dominant.
As you’ve probably worked out by now, the biceps aren’t two muscles, but one muscle made up of two different parts. These are called the long head and the short head. Let’s take a look at where they are on your arm.
Long head – Despite the names, both the long and short heads are almost identical in size and shape. The long head starts from over the middle point of your shoulder joint and is on the outer part of your bicep, furthest away from your body when you have your arm outstretched.
Short head – The short head starts from the inner point of your shoulder joint and runs along the inner part of your arm. As they connect quite quickly, it’s hard to see any definition in these two parts on even the leanest of biceps.
The biceps and triceps dominate the arm, but there are another two muscles underneath the biceps. One of them is the coracobrachialis which is a long and thin muscle. It starts close to the short head of the bicep and ends halfway up the humerus.
The brachialis starts close to where the coracobrachialis ends. This muscle forms in the middle of the humerus and runs to the elbow. While not seen from the surface, working out this muscle can push out the long and short heads to greatly increase the size of your bicep.
Specific Bicep and Tricep Exercises
Now you know the different parts of the upper arm, you’ll probably have an appreciation for why these specific areas need to be worked. For example, if you only ever do exercises targeting the long head of the triceps, your lateral and medial heads may be weak and undersized.
Here are some exercises you can do to target each part of the upper arm.
Long Head Tricep Exercises
For those looking to isolate the long head, here are the three best exercises for a long head tricep workout.
Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press – With this exercise, you want your grip to be slightly narrower than shoulder width. It’s easiest to do on an EZ bar but can be done with a regular barbell. Lie back on the workout bench and push the barbell up from underneath your chin.
Cable Triceps Pushdown – For a cable machine arm workout, there’s nothing much better than the cable triceps pushdown. This is where you take the cable attachment from chest height and push it down to groin level.
Triangle Pushups – A perfect triceps pushdown alternative is the triangle pushup. This is like a regular pushup, but you put your thumbs and index fingers in a triangle or diamond shape, and push up from your chest area.
Lateral Head Tricep Exercises
For lateral head tricep exercises, try these workouts.
Close Grip Dips – A great home workout is close grip dips. Sit on the edge of a bench (or similar) and place your hands next to your hips, fingers facing forward. Lower your body to the floor and then push yourself back up for as many reps as you can manage.
Overhead Tricep Presses – The overhead press is the simplest and easy way to work your triceps. Hold a dumbbell behind your neck and lift up as high as you go. Make sure not to overload the weight because it could be dangerous. It’s always better to start on the lighter end and move up from there.
EZ Bar Skull Crushers – Lie on a bench, holding an EZ bar, or straight bar, straight up with your palms away from you. You then lower the weight to your head (hence the name) and then push back up. You want to move the weight by bending your elbows and not pulling your shoulders back.
Medial Head Tricep Exercises
For medial head tricep exercises, you can’t go wrong with these workouts.
Incline Skull Crushers – Here, follow the same instructions with the EZ bar skull crushers above, except do them lying back on an incline bench at around 45 degrees.
Single Dumbbell French Press – This is the same as the overhead tricep press above, but instead, you do them with a single dumbbell. You can do these standing, sitting, or even lying on a bench.
Standing Barbell French Press – This is the same method of lifting a weight from behind your head and pushing straight up. Doing the exercise with a barbell is another great way to target your medial head. Using the barbell instead of dumbbells positions your hands differently, allowing you to work a slightly different area of the muscle.
Short Head Bicep Exercises
Now let’s look at the best short head bicep exercises!
Chin Up – For a workout at home, there are not many better exercises than the chin up. Of course you can do this back and bicep workout at the gym too. With chin ups, you’ll want to pull yourself up with your palms facing toward you. Instead of focusing on squeezing your back muscles for the movement, really use your arms and work those biceps.
Wide-Grip Barbell Curls – To target that short head, practice your regular barbell curls but try to make your grip as wide as comfortably possible.
Spider Curls – With a spider curl, you’ll want to lay down on an incline bench at around 45 degrees, facing the floor. You then pull either dumbbells or a barbell up towards you for as many reps as you can manage.
Long Head Bicep Exercises
Here are our favorite long head bicep exercises.
Incline Dumbbell Curls – This is the same as spider curls, but the other way around, so you are lying on your back. You can either lift one dumbbell at a time or both, it’s up to you.
Close-Grip Barbell Curls – Whereas a wide grip targets the short head, close grips are better for the long head. Try regular barbell curls but with your arms positioned slightly narrower than your shoulders.
Close Grip Preacher Curls – These are called preacher curls as you are almost in the praying position, with a pad under your arms. It’s easiest to use arm workout machines for this exercise, but you can also use a preacher curl pad or exercise ball if you must.
Using Equipment for Arm Workouts
We’ve looked at how to target the specific arm muscles, but now let’s take a look at how you can get great biceps and triceps workouts using different workout equipment.
1. Calisthenics for Biceps and Triceps
Calisthenics generally refers to exercises that just use your body weight rather than relying on gym equipment. Here are three easy ways to get a calisthenics arm workout.
Chin-ups – For bicep calisthenics, you can’t beat the chin-up as the best calisthenics bicep workout. Not only is it great for the biceps, but it also works your brachialis too. And for those looking for bodyweight forearm exercises, chin-ups are perfect for that as well!
Dips – We mentioned close grip dips as one of the best lateral head tricep exercises, but any type of dip is great for your triceps. They are also great for your deltoids, lats, and pecs too.
Triangle Pushups – Again, triangle pushups are a great workout. To make them even harder, you can do them as a decline pushup. This is where you raise your feet (on something like a bench), therefore making you push up more of your body weight.
2. Kettlebell Exercises for Biceps and Triceps
For those who love using them, here are some effective kettlebell exercises for arms.
Kettlebell Bicep Curl – This is perhaps the simplest kettlebell bicep workout. Here you just need to stand up with your kettlebells and curl them up toward your chest.
Kettlebell Overhead Tricep Extension – For a kettlebell tricep workout, try this. All you need to do is position the kettlebell behind your head and then raise it straight up.
Kettlebell Overhead Press – Here, we have a brilliant general kettlebell arm workout. Start out with your knuckles close to your chin, with the main part of the kettlebell resting on the back of your hand. Rise up into an overhead press, and repeat.
3. Tricep Workouts with Dumbbells
A triceps workout at home with dumbbells is very easy with these exercises.
Overhead Tricep Extension – This is the same as the kettlebell overhead tricep extension above, but just using a dumbbell instead of a kettlebell.
Triceps Kickback – Lean over a bench with your dumbbell hanging down by your side. Then move it straight back, as far as your arm can go. You’ll quickly feel a burn in your triceps. You can even lift it back the other way and go as far as you can for a bicep combination.
Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extension – These are the same as the skull crushers above. Instead of using a barbell, you can use a dumbbell. You can either do them at the same time or alternate arms with single dumbbell extensions.
4. Bicep Workouts with Dumbbells
There are also some brilliant bicep workouts with dumbbells. Here are our favorites.
Any Curl – Whether it’s with an arm curl machine, dumbbells, or barbells, any type of curl is going to be one of the best long head bicep exercises. Let’s look at our two favorite curl variations.
Dumbbell Incline Biceps Curl – If you want to add some difficulty to your curls, then laying back on an incline bench is a great way to do it. This works both the long and short head, as well as the brachialis.
Dumbbell Hammer Curl – For those looking for the best exercises for arm wrestling, try the hammer curl. Here you stand with the dumbbells resting by your side, then bring them across your body, in front of your chest. This arm wrestling workout is another good exercise for your brachialis.
Reverse Dumbbell Curls – Essentially you are performing regular bicep curls, and all you have to do is reverse it. Instead of putting your hands in hammer-fist position or palms up (supinated), all you need to do is keep your palms facing the floor (pronated).
5. Band Exercises for Arms
Resistance bands are perfect for home workouts. Here are three great resistance band exercises for arms.
Seated Resistance Band Biceps Curl – For an effective resistance band arm workout, trap part of the band under your foot. You can then pull the band up in a curl motion, making it a perfect resistance band bicep workout.
Seated Row – Another one of the best band exercises for arms is the seated row. Sit down with your feet stretched out. Wrap the band around your feet and pull back in a rowing motion. You can do this just by wrapping around one foot, and also with one arm or both. This does primarily focus on the back muscles, but it also works your biceps a lot too.
Tricep Extension – Again, trap the band under your feet, but this time it goes behind your body. Pull the band up from behind your neck for one of the best arm band workouts for triceps.
6. Barbell Bicep Exercises
If you’ve been paying attention so far, you’ll know that curls are the best exercise here.
Barbell Curl – The regular barbell curl is the simplest and easiest way to build up your biceps. You can either do these sitting or standing, whichever you’re more comfortable with.
Wide Grip Barbell Curl – For working the short head, a wide grip curl is best. This will effectively work your back and bicep. Your grip only needs to be slightly wider than shoulder width.
Close Grip Barbell Curl – And for the opposite effect, a close grip is better for working the long head. Your grip doesn’t need to be extreme, just a little more tucked in than a standard grip.
7. Barbell Tricep Exercises
Barbells are also great for the triceps. Here are the best barbell tricep exercises.
Barbell Close Grip Bench Press – An effective barbell tricep workout is to do bench presses with as close a grip as possible. You only want to have around a 4-5 inch gap between your hands.
Skull Crusher – For a brilliant tricep workout with barbell, we go back to the skull crusher. Again, make sure not to overload the weight, as you don’t want the name of this exercise to become a reality!
Overhead Triceps Extension – We’ve mentioned it a few times, but the overhead triceps extension is always a winner. It’s a great barbell exercise to push that weight straight up from behind your head.
8. Cable Tricep Workouts
Cable tricep exercises are a great way to build up your tricep muscles. Try these workouts.
Triceps Cable Rope Pushdown – For both a great back and tricep workout, simply push down from head height to hip height. This is very safe on the cable machine, allowing you to push yourself harder.
Skull Crusher – How do skull crushers work as cable tricep workouts? The answer is that you want to lie down on a bench and pull the cable from behind your head and down to your chest area. They aren’t true skull crushers but a perfect alternative for those looking for tricep cable exercises.
Standing Overhead Cable Triceps Extension – From a standing position, grab the cable from behind your head and thrust your arms forward over your head. This is another one of the most brutally effective tricep cable workouts.
9. Cable Bicep Workouts
Even when you’re doing cable arm exercises, the curl is an unbeatable exercise for biceps. Basically all you have to do is position yourself properly with the cable machine instead of using dumbbells or barbells. Check out these three workouts.
Cable Bicep Curl – Position the cable as low down as possible on the machine, and curl up as you would do with a barbell.
Cable Preacher Curls – Hopefully your gym has a preacher bench, or a dedicated machine for preacher curls. Not only are these great for your biceps, but they will help to grow your brachialis too.
Cable Spider Curls – As a reminder from before, spider curls are where you lay on your front on an incline bench. These cable arm workouts are particularly good for your short head biceps.
10. Arm Workout Machines
Using dumbbells, barbells, and cables is great, but sometimes it is nice to set yourself up with the controlled and stable movements of the arm workout machines that most gyms have. These are the top two you should look for.
Hammer Strength Preacher Curl Machine – Hammer Strength is just a brand of workout equipment, but it’s one of the best since it allows you to load machines with plates, and also because it takes you through a perfect movement. Most gyms have one of these machines, and it is the perfect way to get a great bicep pump.
Tricep Extension Machine – This machine looks very similar to how the preacher curl machines look, but the difference is in the handles. Instead of grabbing the handles at the bottom with your palms supinated (facing up) and then lifting up, you grab the handles in hammer position at the top and extend down.
Hopefully now you have a clear idea of how to work each of your upper arm muscles and how to do it with the equipment you have. If you follow these exercises, then you’ll soon have the biceps and triceps you dream of! Just make sure you don’t skip leg day!
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