Sick and tired of those “Hi Betty’s”?!? You know! Those sagging flaps of skin that hang from your arm and cause tornado-like gusts of wind when you casually wave to your neighbor Betty while standing in your front yard?? Well me too! And that’s why today I want to talk about some of my favorite arm flab blasting moves to tone and tighten your arms from hurricane force winds to tranquil beach breezes.
Most biceps and triceps workout routines are based on two exercises: the curl and the extension. Your biceps contract (curl) to bend your elbow to your face and your triceps contract (extend) to bend your elbow back down. There are many variations of these movements, but the principle stays the same: curls flex the elbow and extensions extend the elbow. (And if you want to know more – check out Dan’s post: Suns Out, Guns Out)
EZ Bar Curl
I LOVE the EZ bar when it comes to arm exercises – the EZ bar just does something a straight barbell can’t: it lets you hold your wrists at a slightly more comfortable angle and helps prevent any wrist pain while working out. The bar has 2 zigzags or squiggles as I like to call them on each side so you can turn your hands in different directions. EZ bar curls work:
- Your biceps
- Your brachialis
- Your brachioradialis
To complete an EZ Bar Curl, grab the barbell with the zig-zag/squiggly handle bar. Stand up straight while holding an EZ bar at the wide outer handle. The palms of your hands should be facing forward and slightly tilted inward due to the shape of the bar. Keep your elbows close to your torso at your side. While keeping your upper arms still, curl the weight forward and up while focusing on only moving your forearms. Continue to raise the weight until the bar is up at your shoulders. Then slowly lower the bar back down.
NOTE: I like to use the “21 method” (or as I like to call it – 007s – Double O Sevens – like James Bond) when doing EZ Bar Curls. And I know what you’re gonna ask.. “But, Luisa, What’s the 21 method???” or even worse “What the hell does 007 mean??” Well it means you complete 7 reps at the lower half of a biceps curl, 7 reps at the upper half of the biceps curl, and then finish with 7 complete reps from bottom to top. By completing partial reps you help to strengthen your muscles at their weakest points. Which, for bicep curls, is usually at the beginning or at the end stages. If you can handle a lot of weight at your weakest areas, you’ll apply a huge amount of stimulus to your muscles.
Cross Body Hammer Curl
While regular hammer curls hit the brachioradialis (the muscle on top of your forearm), I prefer the cross body variation because it focuses more on the brachialis (the muscle between the biceps and triceps). By doing the cross body hammer curls, you increase the definition between your biceps and triceps – creating a larger *peak*. The cross body hammer curl works:
- Your forearm
- Your biceps (brachialis)
- Your core
Stand up straight with your arms down at your side, a dumbbell in each hand, and your palms facing in towards you. While keeping your palms facing in and without twisting your arm, curl the dumbbell of the right arm up towards your left shoulder and then slowly lower the dumbbell. Then repeat the movement curling the dumbbell of the left arm up towards the right shoulder. Continue alternating until your sets and reps are complete.
Dumbbell Curl with a Twist
I know what you’re thinking – this sounds like a fantastic alcoholic beverage! But no… unfortunately.. it’s not… In this type of curl, by rotating your forearm as you raise the dumbbells you shorten your biceps, which activates some additional muscle fibers when compared to straight hammer curls, in which you don’t twist your forearm. The twist also puts each of your biceps through its full range of motion. This exercise targets:
- Your biceps brachii
- Your brachialis
- Your brachioradialis
- Your wrist flexors
AND when standing:
- Your anterior deltoid
- Your levator scapulae
- Your upper and middle trapezius
To perform the dumbbell curl with a twist, stand straight and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Let your arms hang by your sides with the palms facing your body. Bend your elbow to raise (curl) the dumbbells toward your shoulders. As you curl the dumbbells, rotate your forearms so your palms face your shoulders at the middle of the curl and then twist out from your body at the top of the curl. Keep the elbows close to your sides and your upper arms as still as possible.
Cable Triceps Kickbacks
The triceps kickback is a single-joint exercise that targets one group of arm muscles – the triceps on the back of the upper arm. The three-headed triceps brachii is a small muscle, yet very few exercises actually hit all three heads (long, lateral, and medial). One of the best (and my favorite) exercises for doing this is actually the kickback. I like cable triceps kickbacks because they allow me to really feel a good squeeze on the muscle so I know that what I’m doing is actually working. Triceps kickbacks work:
- Your triceps
- (AND the muscles of the core and back, including the rear deltoics, trapezius muscles, latissimus dorsi, and the rhomboids work to stabilize the torso during kickbacks as well.)
Roll a bench up to a cable/pulley machine OR if you’re lucky your gym might have a pulley system like the one we have seen above with a “bench” already attached. Set up for the cable triceps kickback by attaching a handle to the pulley cable. Place one foot on the floor and the other knee on the bench, bend over, and stabilize yourself with one arm. Keep your upper body parallel to the floor. Grasp the handle using your other hand with an overhand grip. Hod the handle up by your shoulder with your elbow bent while keeping your arm in tight by your side. While keeping your elbow in place and your body fixed, extend your arm out and back straight as far as possible squeezing the triceps at the end. Then repeat.
FUN FACT: Scientists at the Exercise and Health Program at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse conducted a study using 70 female participants to find out which arm exercise activated the most muscles and essentially blasted away the most arm flab. By attaching electromagnetic (EMG) electrodes to women’s triceps while performing various arms exercises, the scientists were able to record the women’s real-time muscle activity and determine which arms exercises produced the most muscle activity. The study revealed that triceps kick backs were one of 3 exercises (the other two being dips and triangle push ups) that activated the hard-to-tone arm muscles at the higher levels than all of the other upper body protocols tested (overhead triceps extensions, bar push-downs, rope push-downs, closed-grip bench press, and lying barbell triceps extensions).
Triceps Pushdown (with Straight bar, V bar, or Rope)
A triceps pushdown involves pushing a bar down in front of you – pretty simple right? The bar is connected to a cable on an overhead pulley and when you push the bar down, you move the weight. The muscles on the back of your upper arm are attached to the ulna bone of your forearm and pull your arm straight when it is bent. This motion, called elbow extension, is what happens when you do a triceps pushdowns. The triceps pushdown works:
- Your triceps brachii
- Your anconeus
Attach a straight bar, V bar, or rope to a cable placed at the top of the pulley machine and grab with an overhand grip (palms facing down) at shoulder width. Stand upright with your torso straight and a very small bend at the waist forward, bring your upper arms close to your body and at a 90 degree angle to the floor and your forearms pointing out towards the pulley as you hold the bar. Using your triceps, push the bar down until it touches the front of your thighs and the arms are fully extended and run along the length of your body. The upper arms should always remain stationary next to your torso and only the forearms should move. Then bring the bar slowly up and back to the starting position and begin again.
NOTE: Doing a triceps push-down with a straight bar, v bar, or rope work the same muscles, but each has its advantages. The rope attachment enables you to target fibers deep within the triceps and to move through a fuller range of motion when you straighten your wrists at the bottom of the exercise while various types of bars target muscles from different angles. Using a v-bar emphasizes the outer portion of the triceps muscle while using a straight bar puts greater emphasis on the long head.
And as my great bicep mentor, Dan, taught me – if you want to see real growth and strength – it’s not so much about the up (the curl) as it is about the down (the full extension). I.E. always try to get your arm back to neutral (straight) position and curl from there – it will be harder – but it will pay off more in the end.