10 Must-Do Moves for Perfect, Toned Arms

Muscle definition to make you look fit and strong!

Get that Wonder Woman look with these must-do moves for perfect, toned arms! Too many women avoid working their arms for fear of becoming bulky. Rest assured, a little bit of arm muscle won’t make you look like a body builder. Instead, it’ll provide a smoother, more defined shape (think Wonder Woman!), and will build muscle mass that helps you stay lean.

toned arms

Even if your main goal isn’t bulking up, incorporating weights in your arm workout might be in your best interest.

First, weights are the most effective way to grow the muscle. Bigger muscles means your body burns more calories, which in turn helps keep you looking svelte. If you’re after a total-body transformation, muscle is necessary.

Second, upper body strength is functional in every-day life for both men and women. Cleaning and decorating a house requires a lot of upper body strength. Even cooking! If you’ve ever whipped egg whites by hand, then you know what I mean.

Finally, definition along your arm muscles makes you look incredibly fit. Ballerinas, yoga instructors, and gymnasts all have great muscle definition in their arms. It’s important to build well-balanced strength throughout the body, not just the legs and abs. So get those sexy, powerful arms with these 10 essential upper body exercises!

10 Must-Do Moves for Perfect, Toned Arms

1. Bicep Curls

The bicep curl is the quintessential arm exercise. You’ve probably seen people do it at the gym a thousand times. Some people use dumbbells or the EZ barbell, while others opt for machines and cable pulleys. The bicep curl is everywhere, and for good reason.

The bicep curl isolates the large muscle that runs along your upper arm. Bicep definition is key to creating that sleek yet strong Wonder Woman look. When the bicep becomes noticeable, you immediately look fit and fabulous!

We suggest beginners do bicep curls using dumbbells. Focus on maintaining proper form. Keep your upper arm and elbow close to the body and picture the smooth “curl-up” motion.

What to Do: 3 sets of 8-10 reps each, starting with 8 lb. dumbbells and working your way up.

2. Shoulder Presses

The shoulders are an important part of looking toned and this simple press is the best way to target them.

There are multiple ways to perform a shoulder press. Sit or stand, depending on what feels most comfortable for you. If you choose to sit, make sure the back of the bench is close to (but not exactly at) 90-degrees.

What to Do: 3 sets of 8-10 reps each, starting with 5 lb. dumbbells and working your way up.

3. Bench Presses

The bench press is perhaps one of the most common weightlifting moves out there. There’s a reason for that!

The truth is that the bench press is one of the most effective moves for working your chest and even your core. Incorporating bench presses will help you achieve more functional, evenly distributed strength.

You can do this move using either barbells or dumbbells. Beginners might be better off with dumbbells since they’re easier to manage and come in lower weights. If you’re using a barbell, always remember to have a spotter for heaver weight!

What to Do: 3 sets of 8-10 reps, starting with 10 lb. dumbbells and working your way up.

4. Tricep Kickbacks

The second tricep exercise we recommend is the kickback.

Once your arm is extended, hold for just a second to make sure the muscle is properly activated. Swinging the dumbbell with abandon just means you’re building momentum, not strength.

Think slow and steady, and make sure you feel the back of your arm tighten with effort.

What to Do: 3 sets of 8-10 reps each, starting with a 5 lb. dumbbell and working your way up.

5. Overhead Tricep Extensions

Along with the bicep, the tricep lines your upper arm. This duo of muscle is the one that adds muscular definition so that you look toned and strong. For the most powerful arms, you’ll want to build them both evenly, which means making tricep exercises a part of your regular routine.

Overhead tricep extensions are best done with a single dumbbell. You’ll see some people get crazy with the cable pulleys, but we don’t recommend this for beginners.

If you want to make the exercise harder, try doing one arm at the time. You might have to grab a lower weight for this.

What to Do: 3 sets of 8-10 reps each, starting with an 8 lb. dumbbell and working your way up.

6. Lateral Side Raises

Side raises work your delts, which are the main muscles in powerful rounded shoulders. It’s a move that’s deceptively simple. The first couple of reps seem to easy, but by the end of your set, your arms are on fire!

For this move, you’ll want to keep a little bend in your elbows. Holding your arms straight out puts unnecessary strain on your joints, which leads to discomfort and injury.

Additionally, for proper side raises, you’ll want to avoid overloading on weight. Properly executed raises with lower weights are more effective. Go low, and go slow. Don’t let the momentum take over, focusing instead on activating the muscle.

What to Do: 3 sets of 12 reps each, starting with 3 lb. dumbbells and working your way up.

7. Front Raises

Front Raises are the sister exercise to side raises. In fact, you can combine them into a single complex move by lifting to the side first, lowering the dumbbells, and then lifting to the front. This combo exercise is a great way to maximize your time at the gym since it reduces break time.

Like with the side raises, you want to make sure you don’t overload on weight. Overloading means you use momentum to swing the dumbbells wildly. To make the exercise more effective, focus on control. Raise and lower the dumbbells slowly. You’ll feel the burn more intensely this way.

What to Do: 3 sets of 12 reps each, starting with 3 lb. dumbbells and working your way up.

8. Rows

Rows are a great way to target the upper back muscles. There’s many variations you can use (on a bench, leaning over, in plank position, using dumbbells or barbells, etc.).

For beginners, we recommend one-arm rows using dumbbells and a bench.

What to Do: 3 sets of 12 reps each, starting with 10 lb. dumbbells and working your way up.

9. Push Ups

The push-up is the most underrated upper body exercise. It uses arm, shoulder, and back strength, and best-of-all it’s all done with nothing but body weight.

Many women can’t complete a proper push up. They’re harder than they look. So sometimes modifications can be helpful. For absolute beginners, push ups against the wall are a good way to practice the motion and test strength.

From there you can graduate to knee push ups. You do these in the same position as regular push ups, but keeping your weight on your knees. Knee push-ups are great for building strength upper body strength.

Once you’ve mastered these, you’ll be ready for regular push ups!

What to Do: 3 sets of 10 reps, modifying as necessary.

10. Planks

And finally, the last of our top upper body exercises is the plank.

The plank works your entire torso, including arms, shoulders, and abs. It challenges both your strength and muscular endurance. Thirty seconds into the exercise, your arms might start shaking with the effort. This is good. This means you are challenging your muscles! Don’t give up!

When holding the plank position it’s important that you keep your body straight as a board. If you let your hips sag, you’ll put strain on your back. If you raise them too high, you make the exercise too easy, taking the focus away from your arms and abs.

Maintain a neutral position and keep your breathing steady.

What to Do: 3 sets of 30 seconds each, increasing time as you grow stronger.

We hope these ten exercises help you develop balanced upper body strength. Remember that a little muscle definition will make you look fit, not bulky, and that weight lifting is for everybody!

For more lifting advice check out 4 Weight Lifting Mistakes Getting in the Way of Toning Up and 4-Minute Weight Lifting Bootcamp.

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Sofia Lopez

Sofia received her BA from Cornell University and her MFA from San Francisco State University. She creates workouts and fitness challenges. Her hobbies include running, hiking, and listening to audiobooks from the exercise bike.

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