If you're new to strength training, strengthening your arms is important for building functional strength — strength that allows you to do everyday activities like lift a suitcase, carry bags of groceries or play fetch with your dog.
But you don't need to start with difficult or complicated moves. As a personal trainer, I know how important it is for a beginner exerciser to learn basic movements first to create a solid foundation for your training — and perfect your form before advancing any movement.
This helps you avoid injury and keep your body healthy as you exercise more and more. It's also gives you some staple exercises you can use as a benchmark so that as you get stronger, you can refer to the reps and weight choices you began with and see how you've improved over time.
To help you get started, I put together a list of the best arm exercises for beginners that you can add to your routine to build your strength and skills. This list of beginner arm exercises has options for everyone — whether you have resistance bands, a set of dumbbells or just your body weight to work with.
1. Kneeling Hand Release Push-Up
- Start in a plank with your knees on the floor and hands under your shoulders.
- Bend your elbows until your chest is on the ground.
- Lift your hands a few inches off the ground.
- Place your hands back on the ground and push yourself back up to the starting position.
This is a great first step toward a push-up. Pushing up after a hand release requires more core involvement, and in a full push-up, your core provides much of the support. This exercise starts to gets you comfortable with that movement even if your arm strength isn't quite there yet.
For more of a challenge, do the push-up off your knees, with your legs extended in a full push-up position.
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart.
- Fold forward at the hips and place your hands on the floor.
- Walk your hands out to a high plank with hands under your shoulders.
- Hold for 1 to 3 seconds.
- Walk your hands back to your feet and stand back up.
This move is helpful for beginners, because it challenges your shoulders with just your body weight. For less of a challenge (or if your hamstrings are tight), bend your knees a bit when you hinge your hips.
3. Good Morning Shoulder Press
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and your arms in goal post position, elbows bent and even with your shoulders, hands pointing up to the ceiling.
- Hinge at your hips, sticking your butt back behind you, until your torso is parallel to the floor. Engage your core.
- Press your arms above your head until your arms are straight.
- Bring your arms back to goal post position.
- Stay halfway bent over throughout all your reps, only standing up when you're finished.
Beginners will benefit from this exercise because it not only targets your shoulders but also your back. It also trains our upper body while holding a strong, stable core. To make this one more challenging, use light hand weights (1 or 2 pounds).
Resistance Band Exercises
1. Banded Front Raise
- Step on the middle of a long resistance band with your hands down in front of your thighs.
- Keeping your arms straight, raise your arms up in front of you, stopping at shoulder height.
- Lower down to the starting position.
To increase or decrease the resistance, change where you hold the band. The less slack you have, the more challenging the move will be. Create more slack for the opposite effect. The same applies to any of these resistance band arm exercises.
2. Banded Lateral Raise
- Stand in the middle of a long resistance band with your hands down at your sides.
- Keeping your arms straight, raise them up and out to the sides, stopping at shoulder height.
- Lower back down to the starting position.
3. Banded Biceps Curl
- Stand on the middle of a long resistance band with your hands at your sides.
- Bend your elbows and bring your hands up to your shoulders.
- Release your hands back down to your sides.
4. Banded Triceps Kickback
- Stand in the middle of a long resistance band with your arms at your sides.
- Bend forward at your hips sticking your butt back and aiming to get your torso parallel to the floor.
- Bend your elbows at a 90 degree angle, keeping them close to your ribs.
- Straighten your arms back behind you.
- Bend your elbows, bringing them back to the starting position.
This is a good move for beginners, because it teaches you how to isolate your triceps (back of your arm).
1. Biceps Curl
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand.
- Bend your elbows and bring the weights to your shoulders with your palms facing you.
- Release your arms back down to the starting position.
You can create more or less tension by varying the speed. A slower biceps curl keeps your muscles under tension for longer, which will make the move feel more challenging.
Changing up the tempo will also help you explore where your "sticking points" are — the spot in the movement where your muscles are weakest and could use a little more strengthening.
2. Overheard Triceps Extension
- Start with your feet hip-width apart, holding one dumbbell with both hands, over your head.
- Bend your elbows, lowering the weight down your back.
- Press the weight back above your head, returning to the starting position.
Doing a triceps extension in this way allows beginners to get some shoulder work as they strengthen their triceps. And similar to the biceps curl, you can vary the speed to increase the difficulty. You can also reduce the range of motion to make the move less challenging.
3. Hammer Curl
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing in toward each other.
- Bend your elbows and bring the weights to your shoulders, palms still facing inward.
- Release your arms back down to the starting position.
Due to the slightly different hand position, a hammer curl activates a different part of the biceps muscle than a regular biceps curl.