Best arm exercises for beginners: sculpt big arms and build muscle with the most beginner-friendly arm exercises

We collected the best arm exercises for beginners to kick-start your big arm gains

Best arm exercises for beginners
(Image credit: Getty Images)

What does it take for an exercise to end up on the best arm exercises for beginners list? For one, these exercises need to be scaleable, meaning you should be able to do them with smaller and larger weights as well. The movement should also be simple yet effective; we want toned arms and big muscles, not twisted elbows and wrists.

We have one bodyweight exercise on the list below, but to perform the whole workout, you might need either a dumbbell, a kettlebell or some resistance bands. Also, you should consider investing in a weight bench, too, if you are working out at home, although it's not necessary. A simple chair will do just fine.

In case you would like to build a proper home gym for serious arm gains, you can get an E-Z bar, and we have the best one on our best barbell list. You can also consider getting some gym gloves, to protect your hands from blistering.

But if there is one device we would like to recommend, it is a decent fitness smartwatch. Sometimes also called running watches, these wearables can not only keep track of your workouts, but they most usually have a real-time heart rate tracking function, so you can see how many calories you burned and what was your average heart rate during workouts.

Want to lose weight and build muscle efficiently? Be more mindful about your diet

A word that comes up almost all the time when talking about fitness is protein. Protein is one of the three macronutrients your body needs to function properly, the other two being fat and carbohydrate. General rule of thumb is to cover most of your energy needs with good carbs like vegetables, lean meat/fish and fruits, add  moderate amount protein from a variety of sources to the mix and keep fat levels at bay. Fat needs should mainly be covered by eating good fats, like avocado, oily fish, nuts, coconut oil and so on.

Of the three macronutrients, we can store two in our bodies – carbs and fats – but we can't store protein, so you will need to supply your body with protein throughout the day to aid muscle growth and recovery. The most convenient way to take in protein is to to have a couple protein shakes a day, which is a combination of protein powder and water (or milk/milk substitute).

• Best cheap protein deals

Protein, of course, can and should be sourced from a variety of sources, like fish, nuts, lean meat, vegetables and more. Keeping a healthy diet is equally as important as exercising, not to mention leaving enough time to rest. Overworking and under-supplying your body of key nutrients is the best way to get injured and to lose motivation fast.

If you are doing moderate exercising, you won't need loads of protein either: shoot for 1.2-1.5 grams per body kilogram per day. Assuming you are around 80-90 kilos, you won't need more than 100-135 grams of protein to cover your daily needs. One scoop of protein powder usually has 26-28 grams of protein in it, protein snacks usually have the same, add a high-protein/low-sugar yogurt and two medium size meals with some protein and you are all sorted for the day.

Make sure you also drink plenty of water, that will speed up your metabolism, protect your cells and help muscle regeneration, too.

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Best arm exercises for beginners

Before you start your workout, make sure you're all warmed up and that your heart rate is also in the right zone: roughly 50-60% of your max heart rate. Max heart rate can be calculated by subtracting your age from 220. For a 25 year old, their max heart rate is 195, for reference.

If you would like to increase the size of the muscles, work in the so called hypertrophy-range, which is 8-12 reps in each set, doing 3-4 sets of each exercise. Should you want to get stronger, shoot for a shorter range of 4-6 reps per set, keeping the set numbers around 3-4. If you want to build muscle endurance, go for 14-20 reps per set, this will make your muscles more resistant to fatigue but you won't be able to lift that heavy.

For the best results, try to introduce a bit of variety to your workout by doing different rep ranges each week. This will sustain muscle confusion which in turn will build muscles more effectively over longer periods of time.

Important: if you are concerned or have any concerns about your workout, please consult a medical professional before you start exercising. Also, if you have difficulties with excess weight, you might want to lose weight first and then start working out with weights. Changing your diet is the best way to lose weight, whilst exercising can help you maintain weight loss and improve your cardiovasular system, too.

Best arm exercises for beginners

Bicep curls are one of the staple weight training exercises

(Image credit: Future)

1. Bicep curls

Muscles worked: biceps, forearms

Good for: toning upper arm, building bicep definition

Bicep curls need no introduction. One of the most well-known exercises, the bicep curl is a top isolation exercise and a pull day staple, too. As popular as it is, it pretty much only works your bicep, which only takes up about one-third of your upper arm. If you want to increase upper arm girth, you will need to focus on your triceps, as per below.

Bicep curls can be performed standing or sat down and using either dumbbells, barbells (or more like E-Z bars), kettlebells or resistance bands. And you should use different type of resistance from time to time so your muscles won't get too used to the exercise, because that might hinder muscle growth.

When doing bicep curls, concentrate on only moving your upper arm, especially if you are standing, so you can really bomb your biceps. Try not to rotate your shoulders and keep your chest open as well. Focus on your bicep muscle as you curl the weight.

best arm exercises for beginners

(Image credit: Future)

2. Dumbbell overhead extension

Muscles worked: triceps, forearm

Good for: increasing upper arm girth

Another isolation exercise, the overhead extension concentrates on your triceps. Triceps is being worked when you push with your arm – as opposed to biceps, which is a 'pulling' muscle – and since it's practically twice as big as biceps, as a general rule of thumb, you should work it twice as hard as the front of your upper arm.

To perform an overhead extension, pick up your choice of weight – same lot as above – and sit down on a chair or weight bench. You can perform this exercise while standing, but at the beginning, it's better to just concentrate on your triceps without having to worry about stabilising your body with your core.

Once you have the weight in your hands, carefully lift it over your head and drop it behind your back with your elbows sticking upwards. From here, all you need to do is to extend your arms upwards while making sure you are holding the weights firmly. Make sure your elbows stay tucked on and don't flare to the sides.

Be careful at the end of the set when you place the weight down. Your triceps is probably more tired by the end of the set and you will need to lift the weights back over your head to place the weight down. Best to have a training buddy with you but at least a mirror, so you can see if the weight high enough over your head.

Best arm exercises for beginners

One for the shoulders, the seated shoulder press will round your upper arms nicely

(Image credit: Future)

3. Seated shoulder press

Muscles worked: Mainly the shoulder but also the chest and the triceps, too

Good for: round shoulders

The final isolation exercise, this time for your shoulders. The seated shoulder press works the side of the shoulders, which also happens to be the biggest part of your shoulders, ideal if you would like to have broader shoulders.

The exercise itself is simple: sit down on a weight bench or chair and gold the dumbbells or kettlebells up roughly to shoulder height on your sides. From here, you want to push the weights up so your arms are extended and let them back down again to the starting position.

The weights should move up and down using in a vertical motion, no need to knock the dumbbells together in the top position. 

Best arm exercises for beginners

Push up is probably the best bodyweight exercise to build big arms

(Image credit: Future)

4. Push up

Muscles worked: chest, arms, shoulders, core

Good for: toning arms, strengthening chest

One of best bodyweight compound exercises, the push up (or press up) works your arms and also your pecs (chest) toning and strengthening your upper body all in the same time. Compound exercises are also a great way to burn fat quicker because they work a multitude of muscles in the same time. for the same reason, they are also good to build overall strength.

You should start off doing knee push ups, when that will get arms used to the movement. Keep your back straight as you do the knee push ups, that will work your core, too, making this already excellent exercise even more powerful.

Also, tuck in the elbows a bit and try to focus on activating the back of the upper arms (triceps) and the chest muscles as you push yourself. 

Matt Kollat
Section Editor | Active

Matt Kollat is a journalist and content creator who works for and its magazine counterpart as an Active Editor. His areas of expertise include wearables, drones, fitness equipment, nutrition and outdoor gear. He joined T3 in 2019. His byline appears in several publications, including Techradar and Fit&Well, and more. Matt also collaborated with other content creators (e.g. Garage Gym Reviews) and judged many awards, such as the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance's ESSNawards. When he isn't working out, running or cycling, you'll find him roaming the countryside and trying out new podcasting and content creation equipment.