It’s no secret that arm muscle is notoriously difficult to build, and even with the best arm workouts it will take time and dedication. To help you get started we’ve compiled the best arm workouts for women so you know you're doing the right exercises to get the results you want.
How you work out your arms affects the end result; for a lot of people, the best arm workouts aren’t those that help you to get big arms fast, but regular-sized, well-sculpted and toned arms.
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Having slim, toned arms makes all the different to how you look and feel in sleeveless clothing and so, whether you’re a man or a woman, if bulging biceps aren’t your style, then you’re in the right place.
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We’ve designed this workout to help build strong, toned arms but without a focus on excessive, visible muscle gain. As such we’re working with a low-mid weight but a high rep count, so you want to choose a weight you’re going to comfortable lifting 50 times in a set. It’s ideal if you can have a few different weights to swap between for the different exercises, but all of the exercises can be done with one weight.
We've chosen the best arm exercises for women that are difficult in terms of exertion, but simple when it comes to the exercises themselves. What’s more, it can be done in the gym or at home with just dumbbells.
All of these arm workouts for women follow the same basic structure: there are two rounds each made up of four exercises (round one focuses on biceps and round two focuses on triceps). We’ll do ten reps of each exercise on each arm (or twenty if we’re using both arms at the same time), and repeat that set five times with a 30 second rest in between. Allow yourself 1 - 2 minutes in between each exercise to recover.
What weight dumbbells should I use to tone my arms?
For a beginner we recommend you start with 2kg, if you’ve got some strength use 3kg or 4kg. Stronger women might want to use 5kg - 7kg.
As mentioned we will do five sets of all of these exercises, so when choosing your weight pick one that you can do three sets comfortably with, that you find the fourth set tough with and the fifth set hard (but still doable) with. It’s better to get to the end with a lower weight than not to finish.
If you stick to this arm workout - and we really hope that you do - you’ll find you’re able to increase your weight as time goes on and you get stronger. You might not be able to increase for all exercises at the same rate, so do bear this in mind.
The idea with this arm workout is that everyone can do the full set (which should take approximately 45 minutes) but that the level is adapted by the weight you use.
If you’re short on time, keep the weight the same (or up it if you can and still do the exercise accurately), but do three sets of each exercise instead of five.
- Read our guide to the best dumbbells (or buy one of the top choices below)
Best arm workouts for women: the best bicep workouts with dumbbells
Exercise: Bicep curls
Sets: 5 per arm
Starting with your right arm, hold the dumbbell horizontally with your arms down by your sides and palms facing up. Then, keeping your elbows locked to your side, slowing lift the weight towards your shoulder (as shown above).
Do this ten times (ten reps) using your right arm and then repeat on using your left arm. Repeat the set five times, so that's 50 curls per arm in total.
You should stand with your feet hip width apart and keep your back straight as you perform each curl; don't create momentum by tilting your hips backwards or swinging your arms to move the weight. Instead lift and slow the weight slowly, in a controlled manner. If you find yourself needing to swing to get through a set then your weight is too heavy.
Exercise: Hammer curls
Sets: 5 per arm
Keep the same stance your had for your bicep curls, but this time hold the dumbbell vertically instead of horizontally and start with the weight at hip height. Your palms will be facing each other rather than the ground or ceiling.
Once again in a slow and controlled manner, lift the weight up to your shoulder and then lower it back down. Do this ten times with your right arm and then ten times with your left arm. Repeat the set five times, so that's 50 curls per arm in total.
Exercise: Standing dumbbell fly
Sets: 5 (using both arms together)
Stand with your feet hip width apart and your knees slightly bent. Hold the dumbbells as you would for a hammer curl but instead of bending at your elbow and lifting towards your shoulders in front of you, raise your arms from yours sides to to shoulder height so that your arms and body form a T shape.
Your posture should not change; if you find yourself hunching your shoulders or your elbows bend excessively to relieve the weight then drop down a kg. Keeping your shoulders back will help maintain your posture.
Because we're moving both arms at the same time so we're going to twenty reps, five times over.
Exercise: Renegade rows
Get into a high plank position (shown above, but without the dumbbell in your resting hand unless you want to make the exercise harder).
Starting with your right arm, pick up one of your dumbbells at a ninety-degree angle and lift it, pulling your elbows upwards towards the ceiling. You should pull until your weight is in line with your chest.
Do this ten times and then switch arms, transferring your weight to be supported by your right side down. While one side of your body will support you, you should use your core to yourself as central as possible.
Repeat the set five times.
Best arm workouts for women: the best tricep workouts with dumbbells
Exercise: Tricep extensions
Holding the dumbbell above and behind your head with both hands, bend at the elbow to lower the weight. Only your forearms should move; your upper arms (brachium) should stay locked to the side of your head.
Because we're using both hands together do 20 reps in each of the five sets, changing which hand is at the top of the weight with each set.
Exercise: Skull crushers
For this next tricep exercise each arm will have its own weight, but we'll still move both at the same time.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor (as if you are about to start crunches). Lift your arms directly above you so that your arms are extended straight above your head. Then, bending at the elbow as with the tricep extension, slowly lower the weights to the floor either side of your head. Do ten reps on both arms and repeat this five times.
This is another exercise where you may find you need to drop down a weight in order to do it a slow and controlled manner. Not only will it make it a better arm workout, it will hopefully avoid you hitting yourself in the face with a dumbbell if you're trying to lower a weight that's too heavy.
Exercise: Upright row
Hold your dumbbells horizontally again, with your palms facing your body and resting by your hips. Once again each arm has its own weight but we’ll still move both at the same time.
Bending outwards, not upwards, at the elbow, pull the weights up to your chest. If you picture yourself doing the “Kentucky fried chicken” move from the Pizza Hut song you can't go far wrong.
Exercise: Overhead raises
For our last tricep exercise, hold the dumbbell horizontally at shoulder height with your palm facing towards you. Extend your arm straight up to raise the weight above your head, twisting your wrist so that your palm is facing outwards as you do. Return the dumbbell to shoulder height.
Perform ten reps on each arm and repeat the set five times.
Don't forget to stretch
The best arm workouts for women wouldn't be complete without a good stretch to stop you waking up feeling like you lifted a car the next day.
Following the arm workouts outlined here, you should finish with these stretches:
Cross body shoulder stretch. One after the other, stretch each arm across your body and hook your other arm around the outside of your forearm, just below your elbow. Use your bent arm to pull your extended arm into your body until you feel a stretch in your extended upper arm and shoulder.
Overhead tricep stretch. One after the other, bring an arm above your arm and let it hang behind you so that your fingertips are touching the bottom of your neck. Place your other hand on your bent elbow and pull it gently until you feel a stretch in the back of your arm (your triceps).
Wrist extension and flex stretches. One after the other, extend each arm in front of you at shoulder height, palm facing outwards and fingers pointing up. With your other hand pull the fingers of the arm your stretching back towards your body until you feel a stretch in your wrist and forearm. Do the same thing again but with the the fingers of the arm you're stretching pointing downwards this time.
Looking to shake up your workouts? Why not check these top cardio workouts for building fitness and stamina next?
A word on nutrition
The best arm exercises for women that tone your arms can only go so far on their own.
If you're looking to build muscle, and after all that's what toning is, then you need to ensure your diet contains enough protein for your body to repair muscle that is torn during exercise so that it can grow.