We dug through our extensive fitness index for the best of the best free weight exercises for toned arms you can do with a pair of dumbbells. Based on simplicity and effectiveness, these upper-body training moves are just what you need to start the summer. Mix and match the exercises, play around with weights and reps and have fun with it! You'll see those guns perk up in no time.
1. Scarecrow Squeeze:
Those spooky farm figures sport some spectacular upper body strength. The trick here is to level the elbows with the shoulders whenever the arms are lifted, and to have a 90-degree bend throughout the sequence. Lift, lift, close and open equates to burn, burn, burn and burn!
- Step 1: Stand with your feet under your hips, roll your shoulders back and down, and hold the weights at your side. Create a 90-degree bend in the arms — you'll maintain this bend throughout the entire move.
- Step 2: Brace the abs and slightly bend the knees to keep pressure out of the lower back. Lift the arms up like wings. Make sure the elbows are at the same height as your fists and shoulders.
- Step 3: Squeeze the shoulder blades together and rotate the shoulders to lift the hands only. (You won't be able to get your fists in line with your shoulders because there is limited mobility with the rotator cuff. Just lift until you feel that natural stop.) Squeeze the shoulder blades together. Close the weights in toward each other without dropping the elbows or crunching the shoulders into the ears.
- Step 4: Reverse the entire exercise by opening up to the sides, then lowering the fists and finally bringing the arms back to your side.
Shape those shoulder caps and lengthen your arm muscles with a super simple exercise, the L raise. These are best performed with lighter weights and great form. Stand tall, knees soft, and extend the arms going no higher than the shoulders. Not sure if you're doing it right? If your arms are shaking, you've got it!
- Step 1: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a set of dumbbells at your sides with your palms facing in. Roll your shoulders back and down and brace the core.
- Step 2: Exhale and lift the arms: one comes forward and the other moves out to the side, creating an “L” shape. Keep the arms at shoulder-height. Lower to the hips and repeat on the other side. Control the move — no swinging!
While we're in the alphabet, let's take a look at the T-Raise. You guessed it – you're creating a T-shape with your arms as you raise them.
- Step 1: Flip your hands so the palms face outward, away from the body.
- Step 2: Exhale, lift the arms to match your shoulder height, then release. You'll feel this in your upper back as the shoulder blades draw together; the shoulders as they partially rotate, and the biceps as they stabilize. Go ahead and go heavier on this one!
4. Strict Press:
Whenever you see the word "strict" in front of an exercise, that means you're not using any other muscle group or momentum to help you achieve the full range of motion. These can be tough! Sit on the edge of a bench or on a stability ball and draw the abs in as you push and return the weights. The shoulders, biceps and triceps will transform!prevnext
5. Kneeling Tricep Pushback:
The back of your arm is comprised of three long muscles, forming the triceps. Even though there are three of them, they are usually much weaker than the biceps on the flip side! By coming down to the floor and dropping your upper body, you can really go deep with the tricep push. Pick a high number with a low weight and go to your happy place.
- Step 1: Grab a dumbbell and come to all fours. Keep your hips over your knees and shoulder over the wrist of your stabilizing arm. The back is flat and the working arm is straight beside you at hip-height holding a dumbbell. This is as low as the arm will go.
- Step 2: With the palm facing the ceiling, push the weight upward about 6 inches.
- Step 3: Release back to the hip line. Continue on this side for allotted time, then switch to other side.
6. Curl to Press:
Why not combine exercises to really max out those arms? Take your standard bicep curl, bringing the palms toward the shoulders, and rotate the wrists to continue into your basic press. Pick up some heavier weights for this one and take it slow. Feel the pump!
- Step 1: Perform a traditional bicep curl and when your weights or band hit the shoulder, turn your hands with wrists facing out and lift arms straight overhead in goal post position.
- Step 2: Slowly return hands to shoulders, turn wrists toward body, lower your curl, and repeat!
» Pump up with fitness instructor Tina: 30/20/10 Arm Bootcamp [VIDEO]prevnext
7. Side Plank with Arm Extension:
Tap into your yogilates side with a stable left or right low plank. Add one free weight in the top hand and weave the arm underneath the bottom side, then open the body back to the beginning position. Yes, you can drop the bottom knee to make the plank easier; after all, you're focusing on the arms here! Reach the top arm straight over the shoulder, careful not to let the weight go behind you! This will tone and strengthen the tiny stabilizing fibers of the rotator cuff.prevnext
8. Bent Over Row:
Like a see-saw, work the biceps and triceps with a complete row. Feet stay under the hips, bend the knees a little, then lean forward keeping a flat back. The weights go from your knees to your hips in a straight line. Make the shoulder blades kiss as you row backward. To keep an even tempo, move to the beat of your favorite training song! Oh, and it's easier, too, if you smile just like fitness instructor Crystal.prevnext
9. Standing Rear Delt Raise:
Get your upper back ready for full sun exposure. We're talking tank tops, sundresses, bathing suits – the works. Pick a moderately heavy weight so you can do at least three solid sets. The elbows stay soft so you can accurately target the back muscles and shoulders. You can even do this one resting the torso against an inclined bench.
- Step 1: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Hinge at the hips and lean forward so your hips go behind your heels and the back is flat. Gaze in front of you at the floor and hold dumbbells in front of you with arms extended, palms facing in.
- Step 2: Keeping your arms straight (without locking the elbows), lift your dumbbells to the side of your body. If you have to jerk your body to complete this movement, decrease your weight. Avoid putting the work in your lower back. Squeeze your shoulder blades together then release the weights back under the chest with control. That is one rep.
Sounds pleasant, doesn't it? At least you can lie down for this one! There is no actual skull crushing involved, but it sure makes you feel like one bad mama jama.
- Step 1: Lie on the ground with knees bent, feet flat on floor.
- Step 2: Holding a heavy dumbbell in both hands, straighten arms until the weight is directly over your shoulders.
- Step 3: Keeping arms tights to body, bend your arms only at the elbow, lowering the weight slowly toward your forehead. Hold for a beat.
- Step 4: Squeeze the back of your arms to press back into the start position.
11. Upright Row:
You might need to look in the mirror for this one to make sure your elbows are not surpassing the shoulders. If they do, no biggy! But then it's called a "high pull" and you're working different muscles! Keep the weights at your body's center as you move them up and down, elbows sticking out to the sides. Every arm muscle gets some lovin' here!
- Step 1: Begin standing with feet shoulder-width apart with a slight bend in your knees, palms facing down on the tops of your thighs, grasping a dumbbell in each hand. Keep your knees slightly bent and your chest up.
- Step 2: Pull your hands directly up until your elbows and forearms are virtually parallel to the ground while squeezing your shoulder blades together. The dumbbells should end at chest level. Pause at the top and lower the dumbbells to the starting position. That is one rep.
12. Pushup Row:
Any kind of pushup is ideal for training upper body strength. Add a row into the mix with free weights, and you've got yourself a sun's-out, guns-out result! The trick here is keeping the torso square to the floor as you lift and keeping the booty locked down. You can grab a friend a ask her to alert you to any unintentional booty popping to keep you in top form!
- Step 1: Grab a pair of weights and get in pushup plank position with your hands grasping the handles of the weights, core tight.
- Step 2: Lower your body, keeping elbows tight to your ribs.
- Step 3: Pause at the bottom of your pushup, then press yourself back up into plank.
- Step 4: Once back in the plank position, bend your left elbow and pull the weight up toward the side of your body. Try to graze your right side when you “row” the dumbbell up, keeping your elbow straight.
- Step 5: Once back in the plank position, bend your left elbow and pull the weight up toward the side of your body. Try to graze your right side when you “row” the dumbbell up, keeping your elbow straight.
- Step 6: Repeat the row movement with your right arm. That’s one repetition.
13. Weighted Scissor Arms:
Dipping into the step aerobics basics, you'll find a variety of scissor-like movements just like this one. Use light weights so you can perform more reps at a quick pace. Bend the knees and sit into your heels to support the back as you alternate arms up and down, palms facing each other. This helps create the long, lean look while working the upper back, too!prev