Upper Arm Toning Exercises

The upper arms consist of two large muscles and one group of smaller muscles. The biceps are on the front, the triceps are on the back and the deltoids are right above both. Technically, the delts are shoulder muscles, but they run down the top of the arm so you should include them in your exercises. In some upper arm exercises, the delts get worked automatically.


Barbell curls work the long and short heads of the biceps brachii. The long head is distal and the short head is medial. Distal refers to being away from the center line of the body and medial means closer. To do barbell curls, grasp the bar with an underhand, shoulder-width grip, hold it in front of your thighs and lift it straight up toward your chest, squeezing your biceps at the top of the movement. Slowly lower the bar back down and repeat. To place more emphasis on the long head of the biceps, perform the same exercise with your hands spaced about 10 to 12 inches apart on the bar. To target the short head, place your hands about 6 inches wider than shoulder-width on the bar.

Dumbbell Curls

Dumbbell curls work your biceps in similar fashion to barbell curls, except you have the advantage of more range of motion. A twist curl is an example of this. From a seated or standing position, hold the dumbbells at your sides with your palms facing in. Steadily lift the weights and twist your wrists so that your palms face your chest. Squeeze your biceps forcefully, slowly lower the dumbbells back down and repeat. By incorporating the twisting of the wrists, you activate more muscle fibers in your lower arms as well as your upper arms.

Reverse Pull-ups

Reverse pull-ups, also known as underhand chin-ups, work the brachialis and the other part of the biceps known as the brachialis. In addition, the latissimus dorsi muscles on the back get worked. To do these, reach up and grab a pull-up bar with an underhand, shoulder-width grip and simply pull yourself up and lower yourself down. When pulling up, try to get your chest to bar height.


Triceps dips work all three parts of the triceps–the lateral head, medial head and long head. In addition, the anterior delts on the front of the shoulders get worked. You have two equipment options for dips–parallel bars or a bench. To use parallel bars, place your hands on the bars and feet on the foot holds. Slowly release one foot at time until you are suspending your weight in the air with your arms fully extended. Slowly lower yourself down and lift yourself up in a steady motion by bending your elbows. When you lower yourself down, stop when your upper arms parallel the floor. To use a bench for dips, stand with your back to it, reach down and place your hands shoulder-width apart on the edge and place your heels on the floor out in front of you. Lower and lift your body by bending your elbows. To increase the resistance, have a training partner place weight plates on your thighs.

Close Grip Incline Bench Press

Incline close grip bench presses work all three parts of the triceps and they are done on an incline bench. While lying on your back on the bench, hold a barbell straight above you with your hands slightly less than shoulder-width apart. Slowly lower the bar to your chest with your arms tight to your body, then push it back up. The anterior delts also get worked with this exercise.

Lateral Raises

Lateral raises work the medial, anterior and posterior delts simultaneously and they are done with dumbbells. The posterior delts are on the back of the shoulders. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold the weights at your sides with your palms facing in. Slowly raise the dumbbells to your sides until your arms parallel the floor, lower them back down and repeat. When you lift the weights, keep a slight bend in your elbows.

About this Author

Kevin Rail has worked in the fitness industry since 2001 and has been writing since 2004. He has professional experience as a certified personal trainer, wellness coach, motivational engineer and freelance fitness writer. He currently writes a monthly column for Ron Jones High-Performance Health. Rail has a bachelor’s degree in sports management: fitness and wellness from California University of Pennsylvania.