Ripped Arms: A How-To Guide
How was everyone’s weekend? Are we pumped to make it a great upcoming week?? What’s that? I can’t hear your enthusiasm through all the groans ;)
I had a most fabulous day biking and eating around Ottawa with my big sis. I will babble about it and explain the above picture tomorrow. But tonight’s post is all about one of my faaavourite things!
I put the call out for fitness-related questions and got a handful of really good ones to answer. Y’all know I’m a certified personal trainer, so you can take or leave what I lay out for you here. Just remember it’s general advice, specialized instruction for the individual is always best!
Excellent question. I have actually been working pretty hard lately at building up my scrawny arms to get that nice “athletic” look. (I always say I would like to look like a volleyball player who doesn’t play volleyball ;) )
First and foremost it’s important to realize that it is really hard to get defined muscle tone when you still have a layer of fat over top of your muscles. I’m not saying you need to starve yourself down to 13% body fat. But muscle definition is a lot about what you eat, not just what you lift.
Speaking of lifting, it really helps. You can definitely get visible arm definition from yoga, but sometimes you require a little more resistance or different movements to build the arm muscles. Yes, I say build. Muscles don’t “tone” they “grow.” If you want to see them, you have to make them bigger.
We’ll start at the top with the shoulder muscles.
A lot of women are scared to work their shoulders too hard because they don’t want to bulk up on the top. While some women are indeed more prone to getting a sturdier look up there, defined deltoids are an essential part of getting those ripped arms you’re after.
As you can see in the above picture, your deltoids are in three parts: anterior deltoid (front of shoulder), middle/lateral deltoid (top and side of shoulder), and posterior deltoid (back of shoulder).
If you only have time to do one shoulder exercise, do the shoulder press as it hits all three of these areas at once.
You can do shoulder presses with dumbbells or a barbell, seated or standing, or on a 45 degree bench. Most gyms also have press machines, but I find they can be awkward for a lot of people.
Things to remember:
- Keep your shoulders in a “reset” position, ie down and back. Never shrug them up as you raise the weight above your head.
- If you’re standing, try not to lean back when it starts to get hard, it puts a lot of stress on your spine.
- Only lower the dumbbells to just above your ears, or so your elbows are at 90 degrees.
- Don’t let your dumbbells clink together at the top, keep it a nice and controlled movement.
- Lift heavy! Too many women do this exercise with those dinky 5lb dumbbells. Start with at least 10 lbs in each hand, the last couple reps should be really hard to complete. If you want to see those shoulders, you have to work them!
Dumbbell front raise – works mostly the front of your shoulders (can be done with a cable or tubing as well)
Dumbbell lateral raise – works mostly the top of your shoulders (can be done with a cable or tubing as well)
Prone cuban snatch – this move goes by many names, but it will mostly hit the back of your shoulders.
Now! Onto our arms! Back when I first started lifting, I did not isolate my arm muscles. They are often secondary muscles in chest and back exercises so it just wasn’t necessary when I was first starting out. But the longer you lift weights, the stronger your big muscle groups will get, which will allow you to move onto the smaller ones. Personally, I did not see a huge difference in my arms until I started isolating the muscles in them. This is why sometimes chaturangas alone won’t work.
We’re going to start with the triceps as there are more muscles in that group. As the name implies, there are three: long head, lateral head, medial head. Different moves will hit different areas of the triceps. For simplicity’s sake, I won’t go into the specifics of each one. Just make sure you vary your triceps moves, and you’ll be good! Luckily, there are many you can do. Here are some of my favourites:
Dumbbell extension: as with all other standing moves, ensure your shoulders are back & down, and don’t lean back. Your elbows should be the only joint moving.
Cable pushdown: I like staggering my stance with this one to create a more stable base. For the love of God, push down using ONLY your elbows. Donotdonot engage your shoulders. Especially not your back. This is probably the #1 move I see done incorrectly.
Kickback: You can also do this one with your knee on a bench and one arm at a time. Check yourself in the mirror and make sure your back is straight and shoulders are on the same plane. And guess what!? Bend only at your elbows!
Skull crusher: I really love this one, I think because of the badass name. Grab on to a barbell with a narrow grip. Start with your arms straight, then bend only at the elbow to lower it down to your forehead, then push back up.
Cable extension: Just make sure your back is straight and shoulders are down. You can do this with the rope or straight bar attachment. Hey! Bend only at the elbows! No shoulder business!! ;)
Next up we got the biceps! For our purposes, we’ll focus on the biceps brachii (the main biceps muscle) and the brachilis (the outside biceps muscle).
There is essentially only one way to work your biceps: the curl.
The number one thing to remember with the curl is to keep your elbows pinched in at the sides, otherwise you start engaging other muscles. What’s the point of doing isolation moves when improper form means you’re no longer isolating them??
Incline curl: I love this one. The incline allows your arms to fall farther back, which means you have to curl your arms up further. Always leaves me sore.
Hammer curl: This one hits into your forearm a little more. Strong forearms are actually more important than you’d think (cycling anyone??). But I get it’s not really all that feminine. You can also do twisting curls where you start in the hammer position, then curl up so the dumbbells are horizontal at your shoulder. Just engages different parts of your biceps along the way.
Barbell 21s: This is a little complicated. Essentially you are doing 21 reps, divided into 7. For the first 7, you lift only halfway, stopping when your elbows are at 90 degrees. The second 7 are the top half, starting at the 90 degree position and moving to the top. Finally, the last 7 are the whole motion from top to bottom.
And that my friends is just a little snippet of how to get ripped arms!! Including shoulder, triceps and biceps isolation moves into your training at least once a week (lifting heavy) will give you that little bit of definition you’re after. That is of course, if you’ve got a good diet to match your training plan ;)
Thank you for indulging me in this epic arm post! Be back tomorrow with more shenanigans. xoxo