In the gym where I teach kettlebell classes, someone recently asked me what the “best” arm exercises. This question isn’t nearly as simple as it looks. To start with, I asked him what he meant by “best.” Normally when someone has the impression that there are best and worst exercises, they have been conditioned by the fitness magazines and by modern fitness culture.
There is no best unless you know what your goals are. And even then, what is best for someone else may not be best for you.
Now, having said that, I have built pretty strong arms for myself. My goal has been strength, not muscle, although you may have heard that you can’t get stronger without building some muscle. I agree with that almost whole-heartedly. If you are getting seriously strong, you are going to build some muscle. And of course, every guy who asks about arm exercises want big arms, whether they’ll admit it or not.
There are three exercises that I focus on whenever possible. They have made me stronger than anything else I have tried and they have given me bigger arms. They might work for you as well.
Here is a video I shot about a year ago talking about plate curls for wrist strength. Wow, I was a skinny little lad back then. Weak wrists can severely limit the amount of weight you can move with your arms. If stronger arms are your goal, it is never going to be a bad thing to increase your wrist strength.
Too many guys want stronger wrists so they immediately begin doing a zillion wrist curls. In my experience, for strength training, the wrist responds better when trained statically–holding its locked position against resistance–than dynamically (waggling it all over for wrist curls).
Pullups and chinups
For the last six months I have been working on the one arm chin. To make progress I have done a lot of pullups. Pullups with weight, with no weight, with different hand placements, with disadvantageous leverages, and so on.
If you can pull your bodyweight through the air while hanging from your arms, and you do it while progressively adding weight and staying injury-free, you will get stronger arms.
Honorable mention: axle curls
I am putting these in here because it feels awesome to use an axle to do curls with. I can’t do much weight with it yet: I’m stuck at 125 on the Swager Strength Thick Bar, but I’m getting there.
Again, stronger wrists are never a bad thing when you’re chasing more powerful arms. Once you have tried curling an axle, even if you just have itty bitty plates on the end, you’ll understand how many different muscles are activated in your arms just to hold onto the dang thing.
So there you have it, a list of my three favorite arm movements. They make me stronger. But find out for yourself. There might be something better for you.
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