If you are looking to gain some serious mass in your arms, then you need to focus on compound exercises for arms. Compound exercises use multiple muscle couples along with the primary target muscle. This allows for a heavier load and bigger gains. It is easy to fall into the trap of focusing on isolation exercises and targeting the individual muscles, and while there is a time and a place for those movements, if adding mass is your goal, compound exercises for arms are the way to go.
Often people think about compound exercises as being associated with our larger muscle groups like our back, glutes and quads. But there are excellent compound exercises for your biceps and triceps and the overall strengthening and shaping of your arms too.
As always, when training with weights, ensure you focus on mastering the technique with proper form before you increase the weights and push yourself to the limit. You see better gains through using the correct form than by risking injury for the sake of a few extra kilos in weight.
What do compound exercises for arms mean?
Compound exercises for arms mean lifts that require multiple muscles in order to complete the exercise.
There are two core types of weight-lifting exercises.
- Compound exercises are exercises that require multi-joint and multi-muscle involvement. Because multiple muscles and joints come into play when fuelling the movement, compound exercises are generally performed with a heavier load than their isolated counterparts.
- Isolation exercises refer to single-joint movements that require maximum output from a primary muscle, thus isolating the point/area of tension. As one muscle is largely responsible for moving the weight, these types of exercises are performed with lesser weight than compound exercises, comparatively.
There is room for both isolation and compound exercises in your workout regime. The type of movement you prioritize depends on your ultimate goal. If you want to grow bigger arms, you should focus more on compound exercises for arms, as these are known to lead to a more significant release of our body’s natural growth hormone.
Top 7 Compound Exercises for Arms
Below are the seven best compound exercises for arms.
1. Single Arm Dumbbell Row
The single-arm dumbbell row is a great unilateral exercise for creating balanced strength and mass through your biceps and back on both the left and right sides of your body. In addition to this, the supported position of this exercise allows you to capitalize on using a heavy weight.
Equipment needed: Flat bench, dumbbell
Follow the below seven steps to get the most out of your single-arm dumbbell rows.
- As this is a single-sided exercise, I recommend you start with your weaker side. For example, if you are right-handed, you’d start your rows with your left arm.
- Place your right knee on a flat bench and support your upper body with your right arm, palm down on the flat bench.
- Have your other leg out wide and a dumbbell in your left hand.
- Before commencing your rows, ensure that your spine in a neutral, table top position and your shoulder blades are retracted.
- Pull the dumbbell up towards your lower rib cage, keeping your elbow close to your side.
- Hold for a second and return to starting position.
- Complete all repetitions on this side before switching sides.
Suggested repetitions: 12 to 15 each side
2. Close-Grip Chin Ups
Close-grip chin-ups target your biceps a lot more than a wide-grip pull-up, for example. The closely positioned supinated grip helps shift some of the load from your lats onto your biceps.
Equipment needed: Chin-up bar
The following four steps will guide you to the perfect close-grip chin-up form.
- Grip the chin-up bar with a neutral, shoulder-width apart grip and your palms facing towards you.
- Allow your body to be in a dead hang position on fully extended arms, then using your biceps and lats, initiate the pull-up.
- Pull yourself all the way up until your chin is at the height of the bar, hold for a second, and then lower down slowly to starting position.
- Keep your body in a straight line, and if you’re bending at the knees, aim to have your feet behind you to avoid using your core for assistance in pulling up. Your core should be there for spinal stability only in this exercise.
Suggested repetitions: 10 to 12
Pro tip: Is your body weight not challenging you enough, but you still want to work within that hypertrophy rep range? Add a weight plate on a chained belt for some extra load.
3. Diamond Push Ups
According to the American Council on Exercise, diamond push-ups, also known as close-grip push-ups, are one of the best exercises you can do for strengthening your triceps. As with regular push-ups, you can do them on your knees instead of your toes and go from there.
Equipment needed: None
Master the diamond push-up with the below four steps.
- Place your hands together on the floor to create a diamond shape with your thumbs and index fingers.
- Go into the top of a push-up position on fully extended arms with your body in a straight line and your toes on the floor.
- Bending at the elbows, lower yourself down towards the ground, sending your elbows behind you in the neutral plane of movement created by your hand positioning.
- Hold for a second just above the ground and then push back up until your arms are fully extended and your triceps fully contracted.
Suggested repetitions: 12 to 15
Pro tip: Try these with your feet on a round side down BOSU ball.
4. Close Grip Bench Press
In my opinion, this exercise is one of the tricep strengthening exercises that delivers the most bang for your buck. Not only does it build strength through your triceps, pecs and front deltoids, but it is the ultimate accessory exercise for the bench press itself.
Equipment needed: Bench press rack and barbell
Follow the below four steps for best results on the close grip bench press.
- Grip the bar slightly over shoulder-width apart.
- Unrack the barbell and pull it over to the middle of your chest. Have your arms fully extended.
- Lower the barbell down to a fist height off your chest. Your elbows should be less than 45-degrees to your sides and your wrists should be stacked in line with your elbows.
- Hold for a second and then powerfully push the barbell back up to starting position.
Suggested repetitions: 8 to 12
5. Barbell Overhand Bent Over Row
The overhand grip in this exercise will get you feeling your forearms for sure. This exercise, although primarily a back exercise, will have your arms working hard. A list of compound exercises for arms would be incomplete without this one!
Equipment needed: Barbell
Follow the below 7 steps to perform the perfect Barbell Overhand Bent Over Row.
- Have a barbell racked just above knee height.
- Assume a shoulder width, overhand grip on the barbell.
- Unrack the barbell and take a few steps out of the rack.
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and a slight bend in your knees.
- Hinge forward at your hips to 45-degrees and have the barbell hanging on extended arms.
- Retract your shoulder blades, engage your core and then pull the barbell up to touch your lower rib cage. Your elbows should skim past your sides.
- Hold for a second and then lower back to starting position over the count of 3.
Suggested repetitions: 8 to 12
6. TRX Cable Narrow Push Ups
The TRX push-up provides a lot of variation/progression as you can adjust the cables to a height that is within your capacity. The more vertical your body line is, the easier it will be; the more horizontal your body line is, the harder it will be.
Equipment needed: TRX cables
Follow the below four steps to master the TRX cable narrow grip push-up
- You can do these on the floor too – but why would you when you can do them on TRX cables?!
- Go into a push-up position with each of your hands gripping an end of the TRX cable and your toes on the ground. Your body should be in a straight line, i.e. no sagging at the hips.
- Start on fully extended arms with your hands below your shoulders in terms of hand placement/width.
- Lower your body down towards the ground by bending at the elbows. Stop when your chest is just above your hands, and then push back up to starting position.
Suggested repetitions: 12 to 15
7. Ring Dips
Ring dips feature at a lot of fitness competitions, and that’s no surprise, really. They are a real challenge to perform correctly – or at all! Jokes aside, when performed correctly, ring dips provide the ultimate workout for your upper body, namely your arms and shoulders.
Equipment needed: Rings
Follow the below four steps to perform perfect ring dips.
- You can also use dip bars, but where is the fun in that?
- Have a ring in each hand and support your body weight on fully extended arms, by your sides. If you want to have your knees bent, cross your ankles and have your feet behind you.
- Bend your elbows, lowering your body towards the ground. Your elbows should skim close by your sides.
- Once you reach a 90-degree bend in the elbows, push yourself back up until your arms are fully extended again.
Suggested repetitions: 10 to 12
Incorporating any or all of these compound exercises for arms into your current routine is a great way to ensure you get the most out of your workouts.
Compound exercises for arms are a great way to pack on size and give your biceps and triceps some great definition. Isolation exercises have their place, too, as we have discussed. But if your training goals are shape and size orientated, then your workout should consist of mostly compound exercises for arms, garnished with a few isolation exercises for good measure.
Do you have a preferred compound exercise routine? What compound exercises for arms do you find works best for you? Let us know in the comments.