10 Best Exercises for Toning your Arms

10 Best Exercises for Defined Arms, Plus a Workout

Reading Time: 8 minutes


Date: 2022-10-28

Everyone has an area they wish was a little more toned or defined. For a lot of people, that's their arms, especially during the summer and the warmer temperatures. It's the season for tank tops and sleeveless shirts! But no matter the season, strong arms are an important part of creating a well-balanced, fit body. 

Let’s review the muscles of the arm and some of the best arm exercises for building strength and definition in those muscles. Then we’ll finish with an arm workout you can add to your client’s next workout session!

Muscles of the Arm

It seems that the first approach to building muscle and strength is to target the biceps. The biceps play a major role in arm muscle development. This includes increasing arm size and strength. Though other muscle groups make up the arm musculature too. These muscles impact arm size beyond what just your biceps can produce on its own.

Building stronger arms and muscle definition requires training all these muscles groups:

  • Biceps

  • Triceps

  • Shoulders

  • Forearms

There are different muscles that make up each muscle group. For instance, the biceps brachii is made up of the biceps short head and long head muscle. The short head is located on the inside of the upper arm and the long head is located on the outer part of the upper arm. The primary function of the biceps is flexion and forearm supination.

The triceps are made up of the lateral head, medial head, and long head. The lateral head is located on the most outer part of the arm. The medial head is located on the inner part of the arm and the long head runs down the back of the arm. The triceps is mainly responsible for arm extension. This is the muscle most people are referring to if they say they have flabby arms or arm fat they want to get rid of. Your role as their personal trainer will be to help them see the importance of strengthening the whole arm rather than simply focusing on this area. 

The shoulder or deltoid is also made up of three different muscles. These include the anterior deltoid, lateral deltoid, and posterior deltoid. The deltoid muscle produces arm rotation and is the prime mover of shoulder abduction. 

Lastly, the forearm muscle is important because you don’t want to have big upper arms and small forearms. This muscle group is often overlooked but also targeted throughout all exercises involving your arms. Increasing the muscle definition in your forearms will help avoid muscle imbalances and provide functional arm strength. This not only makes the arms look better but also minimizes the risk of injury. 

10 Exercises for Defined, Toned Arms

Here we have put together 10 of our favorite exercises to help you build muscle and tone your arms and shoulders.

Bicep Curl

Start by standing up straight with a dumbbell in each hand. Extend your arms at your side. Keeping your elbows close to your body and your upper arms stationary, bring your forearms to your shoulder using your biceps. Then lower the weight back down in a controlled manner.

Reverse Fly

Start with a dumbbell in each hand and bend forward at the hips so your chest is parallel to the ground. Feet should be shoulder-width apart, and dumbbells hanging straight down. Have your palms facing inward toward each other with your arms slightly bent. Keeping your back in a straight line, extend your arms straight out to the side. Hold at the top for a brief pause to avoid bouncing, and then, with a controlled tempo, lower back down to the starting position.

Tricep Extensions

You can do a tricep extension with either one single dumbbell or two dumbbells, one in each hand. Start by standing straight up with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Lift the dumbbell straight overhead and have your arms fully extended, then keeping your upper arms in place, slowly lower the dumbbell towards the top of your back, bending your arms only at the elbow. Then slowly raise the dumbbell back up to the starting position.

Learn more: Does lifting weights make you bulky?

Lateral Raise

Start by standing straight up with a dumbbell in each hand, and feet hip-width apart. Keeping your core tight, raise both dumbbells at the same time out to the side, keeping a slight bend in the elbow. Then lower them back down to your side at a slow controlled pace.

Front Raise

Like the lateral raise, you begin by standing straight up with a dumbbell in each hand, feet hip-width apart. Then, keeping the core tight, raise both dumbbells straight out in front of you to shoulder height. Your palms should be facing each other with thumbs facing upward. Then lower them back down to the starting position at a slow and controlled pace.


Start by laying on the floor face down, with your hands about shoulder-width apart. The ball of each of your feet should be touching the ground. Keeping your core tight and body in a straight line, use your upper body to push yourself up from the ground. Pause at the top, then lower yourself back to the ground at a controlled pace. 

You can always make this exercise harder and target different areas of your arms by altering your hand position. You can try narrow, wide, diamond, and even single arm if the regular push-ups become too easy.

Bent Over Double Dumbbell Row

Start with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing inward. Standing with your feet about hip-width apart; you will have a slight bend in the knees and bend forward at the waist. The dumbbells should be hanging straight down toward the ground. Then, ensuring to keep your core tight and your back in a straight line, you will pull the dumbbells towards your waist, engaging the back muscles. Pause for a second at the waist and then lower back to the starting position.

Push Press

You can do this exercise with many different pieces of equipment, though a dumbbell or kettlebell is the most common. Start standing up straight with a slight bend in the knees and feet about shoulder-width apart. Have the dumbbells in a front rack position and the head of the dumbbells touching the shoulder, palms facing inward towards your ears. Then, using your arms, push straight up; it is ok to use your legs to help a little bit. Push up to full extension, then lower back down to your shoulders at a controlled pace so as not to drop the dumbbells on your shoulders.

Plank to Push-up

Start at the top of a plank position with toes and palms on the ground, feet shoulder-width apart, tight core and glutes, and a flat back. From there, one hand at a time, move from your elbow on the ground to the palm of your hand on the ground. Repeat on the opposite arm and then back down. It's best to keep the same pattern so you don't lose track. A good pattern to follow is left elbow to hand, right elbow to hand, and then back down left hand to elbow, right hand to elbow. Once you have gone up and back down on both hands, that is one rep completed. Follow that same pattern until all reps are completed.

External Rotation

For this exercise, you will be using smaller muscles, so it is important to keep the weights light to start. Begin with a small dumbbell in each hand and stand straight up with feet about hip-width apart. You will want to hold your arms out to the side and bend your elbows at 90 degrees with your hand up and in line with your head. You will then rotate just your forearms forward to be parallel with the ground, keeping your elbows in place. Then bring them back up to starting position. That completes the rep.

Full Arm Workout - Bringing It All Together

There is a great variety of exercises you can do to tone your arms, so make sure you vary the exercises. Try to work your arms 2-3 days per week and complete 3-5 sets of each exercise. As you increase the weight, the reps should be lower and vice versa. So, if you are doing 12-15 reps the weight will be much lighter than if you are completing 3-5 reps.

For even more options, here’s an arm workout you can tweak to fit your client’s needs. This arm workout can be performed in the gym and requires a variety of equipment. Some exercises include equipment that can be easily transported for your personal training session. All you need is 20 minutes to complete this arm workout for optimal results.

Arm Warm-up

It is important to warm up prior to any workout. This ensures proper blood flow and reduces your risk of injury. Warming up the upper body for an arm workout stimulates the muscles you will use the most. This leads to better recovery and reduced muscle soreness.

#1. Overhead Reaches

In a standing position, reach overhead with one arm. Reach as far as you can across the body. Allow your hips to shift the opposite way. Hold for a few seconds and switch to the other side. Repeat for 30 seconds total. 

#2. Arm Swings

Start by making backward arm circles for 20 seconds. Then perform forward arm swings for another 20 seconds. Be sure to initiate movement at the shoulder to properly warm up the entire arm. 

#3. TRX Overhead Extension

Position your body facing away from the anchor point. Place the TRX straps above your head and bring your feet back towards the anchor point to angle your body. With your arms straight above your head, begin to lower yourself down. Bend at the elbow and press back up to the starting position by extending your arms. Repeat for 2 sets of 10. 

#4. TRX High Row

Securely grip the TRX handles and walk your feet forward to position your body. Pull your body up with your arms. Be sure to lead with your elbows and pull your body towards the handles. Keep your elbows high and squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top. Lower yourself back down and repeat for 2 sets of 10 reps.

Arm Workout

#1. Dumbbell Curls 

Start with both dumbbells down to the side of the body. Then curl both dumbbells up and towards your shoulders. Lower them back down slowly still contracting the biceps. Perform 3 sets of 12 reps. Rest for 30 seconds in between sets.

#2. Kickback Extensions

Keep a dumbbell in each hand and achieve a bent over row position. Maintain a neutral spine and keep your knees slightly bent. Also, keep your upper arms tight to the side of the body. Now, extend your arms up and back behind the body. Squeeze your triceps and lower the dumbbells back down. Only move your forearms throughout the exercise. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps. Rest for 30 seconds in between sets.

#3. Lateral Raises

Grab two dumbbells and rest them to the side of the body. Begin by raising them straight up and away from the body until they reach shoulder height. Lower them down slowly and repeat. Perform 3 sets of 12 reps. Rest for 30 seconds in between sets.

#4. Cable Extensions

Attach a rope attachment to the cable machine. Stand up tall and press the rope down by extending your arms. Keep your upper arm tight the side of the body and press down until your arms are straight. Return to the starting position and repeat for 3 sets of 15 reps. Rest for 30 seconds in between sets.

#5. Concentration Curl

In a seated position, rest one elbow on the top of your leg. Place one dumbbell in that arm and begin performing biceps curls. Keep your arm rested. Lower the dumbbell down slowly and repeat. Perform for 3 sets of 10 reps on each arm. Rest for 30 seconds in between sets.

The Cooldown Stretch

You made it through the workout. Now it’s time to cool down and stretch. This will help promote better recovery and prime the body for the next workout.

#1. Overhead Shoulder Stretch 

With one arm, reach over the shoulder and behind the body. Bring the opposite arm up and underneath to grab your other hand. Try to bring those hands together and hold for 20 seconds on each side. 

#2. Cross Body Arm Stretch

Pull one arm across the front of the body. Pull and hold with the opposite arm. Hold for 20 seconds, then switch to the opposite arm.

#3. Shoulder Dislocates

Grab a band or PVC pipe and achieve a wide grip. Bring the band above the head and behind the body as far as you can. Be sure to keep your arms straight the entire time. Return to the front of the body and repeat for 10 reps. 

Nice work! You have completed your 20-minute arm workout. This workout will improve strength and muscle definition in your entire arm.

Love setting up your own exercise programs and want to learn more? Interested in stepping that up a notch to develop workout programs for clients? Explore ISSA's online course for personal training. You can learn more for your own benefit or to help others get fit and build healthy habits.

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