- Starting a strength training routine can lead to fast initial progress known as newbie gains.
- For sculpted arms, a personal trainer recommends combining compound movements with arm-focused exercises.
- Good nutrition and improving your strength can also help maximize your arm gains.
If your goal is athletic arms, strength training can be a great way to see results, particularly if you’re a fitness beginner.
Starting a strength training routine can lead to a short period of rapid improvements known as “newbie gains.”
With the right exercises and plan, you can take advantage of newbie gains to sculpt your upper body, according to Noam Tamir, founder and CEO of TS Fitness in New York City.
Start with compound exercises like presses, pull-ups, and rows
“Toning” is something of a myth — you can make muscles bigger or smaller, not change the shape. But you can get more defined muscles, according to Tamir.
“For that, you’re looking for a bit of hypertrophy [muscle growth] with an overall lowering of body fat,” he said.
To build muscle and burn fat, it pays to focus on compound exercises that activate multiple muscle groups at once, such as presses, pull-ups, rows, and planks, since they burn more calories overall.
“Do the bigger muscles first,” Tamir said. “If you do arms first, you’ll be too fatigued to complete the full body movements.”
Then, you can finish with specific exercises to target the arm muscles, which won’t burn many calories on their own.
Exercises that target the arms include tricep extensions, bicep curls, and lateral raises
Workouts that target the arms include three major muscle groups.
The biceps, the muscles on the front of each upper arm, often get the most attention, said Tamir. However, people who want to get rid of a saggy appearance to the upper arm will benefit from working on triceps, a muscle group along the back of the upper arm, which are bigger.
“The triceps make up two-thirds of the arm and it’s the back part of the arm that people are worried about,” he said.
Finally, the deltoids are a muscle group that makes up the shoulders, which help round out the physique and create the illusion of a smaller waist.
Exercises to work each muscle group include:
Triceps: extensions, kickbacks, bench dips, narrow push-ups, skull crushers, and other exercises bend and extend the elbows close to the body.
Biceps: variations on curls such as hammer curls, cable curls, or Zottman curls work the muscle from every angle.
Deltoids: shoulder presses are the classic, compound exercise, but movements like lateral raises, front raises, and reverse flys will hit all three parts of the muscle group.
If you want to burn body fat, nutrition is key
Muscle definition also involves being relatively lean, according to Tamir. The best way to achieve a lower body fat is to maintain a caloric deficit by burning more energy that you eat in the form of food.
Since it’s much quicker (and easier) to eat calories than to burn them, trying to maintain a calorie deficit through exercise alone can result in overtraining and burn out, particularly for exercise newbies, Tamir said.
“If people want to lose body fat, I really preach the nutrition side of things,” he said.
Track your strength gains, too
Even if you have an aesthetic goal such as having more defined arm muscles, it’s always a good idea to measure your progress in other ways, according to Tamir.
“It can take months to put on muscle but benefits in strength happen quickly,” he said.
Performance-based metrics of improvement include how much weight you can lift and how many reps you can do. Tracking your strength over time can keep you motivated and help you continue to make gains long-term, Tamir said.