We know you want toned arms—but aside from sheer aesthetics, there are a number of health reasons to boost upper-body strength too. If most of your workouts focus on toning the core and lower body, while overlooking the chest, shoulders, arms, and back, then you’re missing out on some crucial benefits.
Learn more about the importance of upper body exercise and get a workout that you can do right at home too!
The importance of building upper arm strength
Upper-body exercises will improve your athletic endurance, muscle power and strength and cardiorespiratory fitness, according to Frontiers in Physiology.
From a more functional standpoint, upper-body exercises can also increase your range-of-motion, balance, flexibility, posture, metabolism, bone density and protection against injuries, suggests Gabrielle Kassel, CrossFit Level I trainer, and Katie McKinney, ACE-certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor.
Upper body exercises at home
If you want to develop more strength in your arms and upper body, while feeling great about how this area of your body looks, the workout regimen below is a quick, simple and effective place to start.
All of these exercises can be done in your own home with the option to use weights for more resistance and exertion if you choose. In addition to arm strength, most of these exercises also target some areas in the lower-body for a comprehensive routine that works all your muscle groups.
Plank Arm Taps
Targeted Areas: shoulders, biceps, triceps, core, glutes, back
How to Do It: Start in a high plank with your elbows and knees straight, hands shoulder-width apart, and feet wide apart for stability. Tuck in your hips to activate the core, flatten the spine, and tighten the lower-body in an isometric hold. Lift your right arm off the floor, bend at the elbow, and tap your right hand to your left shoulder.
Lower the right arm back to its starting position, then repeat the same action with your left hand and right shoulder. Continue this for 30 repetitions, 15 on each side.
To make this exercise more challenging, place a dumbbell weight in front of you, and grab it as you lift each arm to tap the opposite shoulder.
Targeted Areas: shoulders, triceps, pectorals, core, back
How to Do It: Start in a high plank with your elbows and knees straight, hands close together with the fingers in a diamond shape, and feet hip-width apart. Bend your elbows and lower your chest to the floor, so that your elbows point outward at 90 degrees.
Hold for one second, then straighten your arms and lift your chest back to its starting position. Continue this for 10 to 15 repetitions, keeping the core and hips as tucked in as possible.
Because this is a challenging exercise, start on your knees, rather than your toes. This will make it easier to perfect your form, and avoid injury, before jumping into the most challenging variation.
Bodyweight Tricep Dips
Targeted Areas: shoulders, triceps, pectorals, back
How to Do It: Start in a seated position on the floor with the knees bent in front of you, heels on the floor, and toes flexed to the ceiling. Place your hands on the floor behind you, elbows straight and arms stacked beneath your shoulders, with your fingers facing toward you.
Activate the triceps to lift your glutes off the floor, then bend your elbows to lower back down without touching the floor completely. Keep your elbows pointing backward, rather than out to the sides. This means you need to be conscious about keeping them close to your body, so start slow.
Do this for 10 to 15 repetitions.
Targeted Areas: shoulders, biceps, triceps, pectorals, glutes, back
How to Do It: Start in a supine position, lying on your stomach with the arms extended straight in front of you, resting on the floor. Tighten your quadriceps to lift your legs and extend them out behind you with the knees straight and feet just above the floor.
At the same time, lift your chest up toward the ceiling and activate your upper back and shoulders. As your legs and chest lift, bend your elbows and pull your elbows into your sides until the elbows are at 90 degrees. Hold for three seconds, then extend your arms back in front of you and drop your legs to the ground to rest. Continue this for 10 to 15 repetitions, keeping the lower-body still.
To make this exercise more of a challenge, hold a dumbbell in each hand.
Side Rotation Planks
Targeted Areas: shoulders, biceps, triceps, pectorals, core, back
How to Do It: Start in a high plank position with your elbows and knees straight, hands shoulder-width apart, and feet close together. Tuck in your hips to activate the core, flatten the spine, and tighten the lower-body in an isometric hold.
Lift your right hand off the floor and rotate the whole body into a side plank, so that your weight is balanced on the left arm and stacked beneath the left shoulder. Place your right foot on top of the left foot, so both legs are parallel and straight, then extend your right arm overhead. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds, then lower back into a high plank and repeat the same action with your left arm overhead. Continue this for 10 to 15 repetitions on each side.
To make this exercise easier, use a forearm plan as your base. If you want to make it more challenging, place a dumbbell weight next to you on the rotating side and grab it as you lift the arm overhead.
Developing upper body strength
Whether you perform these exercises with a set of weights or forego equipment and use your own body weight as resistance, all five of these exercises will boost arm strength and tone the whole upper-body at the same time. A win-win for living your healthiest and strongest life.