CrossFit isn’t known for bicep curls.
The majority of a Crossfit workout program is based on the idea that functional, compound movements should make up the majority of your training. The problem here is that many newcomers want to focus on arms and other show muscles.
This is totally fine – there’s nothing wrong with balancing out your physique and performance. This is especially true when many movements like presses and thrusters require strong arms. Weightlifting also requires strength and health in the muscles around the elbows and shoulders.
Today, we’re going to take you through 8 great, simple arm workouts that go from simple to challenging. They also include examples of home workouts all the way up to the most interesting and challenging workouts you can perform at your local box!
Why Strengthen the Arms?
They’re not the only key to staying healthy – the arms play an essential role in gymnastics, and a secondary role in weightlifting while supporting the weight.
The way that the elbows stay healthy is by maintaining a balance of mobility and strength on both sides of the joint. This means that both the biceps and triceps should be mobile, pliable, and very strong. The workouts we discuss today are going to be a great way to achieve this – it’s one of the reasons that we focus on antagonistic or stability movements so often.
This is also beneficial to keep the joint aligned – it’s not just about the stress placed on tendons by muscles, but how they pull the joint itself into different positions. Neglecting the strength and mobility of these tissues is an easy way to damage both the elbow and shoulder – as the bicep and tricep are attached to both.
There’s also no reason to ever intentionally neglect a muscle. While you may want to focus on being more human, and this often involves scoffing at aesthetic-driven training, keeping the biceps involved and trained through a full range of motion is key to a balanced physique and strength-performance.
1. Beginner’s Push Workout
If you’re new to CrossFit and physical training in general, the first place to start is getting good with the basics. This short, sweet workout is an easy way to train the chest, shoulders and triceps without doing anything too technical or strenuous.
It’s the simplest on this list, and it comes with some easy scaling options:
Every Minute on the Minute (EMOM), 10-12 minutes:
Push up – 3 reps
The push-ups for this exercise can be scaled to incline push-ups, where the hands are elevated and you’re not lifting quite as much of your body weight.
This is an easy way to build strength and progress towards full push-ups, hand-release push-ups and a variety of upper body push movements.
2. The Beginner’s Antagonist Workout
If you can perform a push up (even an incline version) and you have a bar or ledge to hold onto, this is a great workout to start training key CrossFit skills and arm strength.
The workout relies on two simple movements: the push-up and the chin-up hold. These are key stepping stones towards complicated gymnastics on the rings and floor alike. Working these basics is a great way to prep the shoulders and elbows to perform well and stay healthy.
EMOM, 10 minutes:
Push Up – as many reps as possible (AMRAP) for 15 seconds
Chin-Up Hold – 15 seconds
These simple movements are a great way of getting familiar with the demands of these two simple movements. As before, you can scale the push ups down to incline, or make them more difficult if you’re able to by adding a decline.
3. The Intermediate Antagonist Workout
With the last workout being a simple approach to this same principle of circuiting the front and back of a joint together, but using more advanced workouts. This intermediate version will work the shoulders, arms and chest in a way that includes more stability-work and joint synergy.
This introduces more isometric movements: where you contract muscles to stay still in one position, rather than to move. The hand-release push up is a key way of improving your scapular health and coordination, while the chin-up hold with a slow eccentric adds a whole new challenge to the chin-up hold.
EMOM, 10 minutes:
Hand Release Push-Up (1-second hold) – 20 seconds
Slow-Eccentric Chin-Up Hold – hold for 5 seconds at the top, lower for 10-15 seconds
This is a great way of building up the strength for a chin up, with a very specific strength exercise while lowering, and a push-up variation that focuses on using both sides of the arm/upper body simultaneously.
No matter how good you get at CrossFit and the various gymnastic components, you’ll always benefit from working this type of control movement.
4. The Advanced Antagonist on Rings
This is the final step for the antagonist workouts that have taken us from the very earliest, beginner’s movements to being prepared for basic CrossFit skills. The next step after this is to transition to the essential gymnastic movements: chin-ups and dips.
This includes the ring push-up and ring row, so you’ll only need to take up one spot on the rig – and keep a box nearby for your feet. This is the first workout that is likely to require you to be in the gym, but it’s easy to add to the end of a workout and only takes 10 minutes.
If you’re in need of your own gymnastics rings to be able to perform these exercises at home, check out our guide.
EMOM, 10 minutes:
Ring Push Up – 15 seconds
Ring Row – 15 seconds
This is a great 30 on/30 off workout that can challenge even the most advanced athletes. This scales really well, too, as you can adjust the height of the box to create an incline (easier) or decline (harder).
These are great skills to develop, fantastic exercise for the triceps, and build amazing stability in the upper back and elbows. Include this at the end of your regular WOD if you’re looking to add some extra strength and size to your arms, shoulders, and upper back.
5. Two Simple Circuits
This workout advances on the earlier workouts, breaking down into a pull and push section. This allows you to work on the movements themselves and really feel the exercises working the triceps and biceps individually.
The first movement in each circuit is a strength exercise and should be your main focus. The second exercise is more of a “burner” and is going to focus on building strength in the muscles rather than relying on coordination alone.
- Push Circuit, 5 rounds, 2min Rest
Dips – 5 reps
Hand-Release Push-Up – 10 reps
- Pull circuit, 5 rounds, 2min Rest
Chin-Up – 5 reps
Incline Ring Row – 10 reps
These provide two simple high-volume workouts that are easily added to the end of a workout to make sure you’re getting plenty of bicep and tricep work on top of your regular CrossFit WOD. It’s an easy addition 1-2 times a week to make sure you’re developing the ‘show’ muscles, as well as the ‘go’ muscles.
This is a brutal arm workout that is based on the common CrossFit workouts that rely on a 21-15-9 pattern. This means performing 21 reps of each exercise, then 15, then 9. This is an easy way of really pushing yourself to the limit in hypertrophy/endurance training in a short space of time.
If you’re really pushed for time, this CrossFit takes on Bodybuilding “pump” workouts is a great way to get your arms working without spending too much time or energy. This is important because the arms are usually an afterthought, but a 5-minute circuit shouldn’t be a problem for even the most time-pressed CrossFitters.
21-15-9, for time
These are a well-balanced series of exercises that are going to burn in the best possible way. It’s a small time commitment but you can add it to every single workout without too much problem and these reps will quickly add up to inches on the arms.
This workout breaks down into 3 parts – an early strength circuit, a high-rep compound workout, and it finishes off with a brutal banded barbell curl.
This isn’t an easy workout, but if you’ve got 10-15 minutes you can get it done with huge results.
- Chin/Dip Circuit, 3 rounds, for time
Slow-Eccentric Chin-Up – 6 reps
Slow-Eccentric Dip – 6 reps
- Press/Row Circuit, 5 rounds, for time
Dumbbell Overhead Press – 12 reps
Dumbbell (Seal) Row – 12 reps
- Curl Finisher, for time
Banded Barbell Curl – 30 reps
This is going to be a tough one, so you don’t want to perform this more than 1-2 times a week or you’ll find your arms feel sore and as heavy as lead the day after. It takes some serious recovery, but this workout is a great way to add meat to your arms in a functional, specific way.
8. Descending Pairs
This takes a similar form to the previous workout, but it has 3 pairs of exercises and a greater focus on weightlifting movements with gymnastics following up, and specific movements to finish the muscles in isolation.
This is a great workout for more advanced athletes who are comfortable with high-rep work on Olympic weightlifting accessories like the push press. It shouldn’t be performed after a WOD that involves lots of these movements, and should not be performed until technical breakdown.
- Barbell Work, 5 rounds, 60s rest
Push Press – 10 reps
Supinated Barbell Row – 10 reps
- Gymnastic strength, 15-9-6 for time
- Bicep Superset, 2 rounds,
Banded Barbell Curl – AMRAP for 30 seconds
Dumbbell Hammer Curl – AMRAP for 30 seconds
These 3 circuits cover the majority of the movements and muscles that are involved with effective performance in CrossFit, as well as improving the strength/size of the muscle. This is an easy way to make sure that you’re well-balanced.
If you’re interested in a balanced training program and being prepared for everything, there’s no reason to exclude your arms.
While you’re not likely to focus on doing 10 types of curls every session, there’s no harm to strengthening your biceps and triceps. These are essential for stabilizing the elbow and shoulder, improving performance in gymnastics, and maintaining a healthy body.
Conditioning in the arms isn’t going to damage your CrossFit performance. While the focus should always be on functional, compound movements, you can use this type of movement to improve your physique and appearance. Don’t neglect the biceps or triceps when they play such an important role in so many exercises!
Adding arm work to your CrossFit routine is easy, beneficial, and can be achieved in a short space of time using these simple workouts.