The Best Weightlifting Progression for Toned Arms

To tone your arms, focus on higher repetitions and lower weight.
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Getting lean, sculpted arms is a goal of many fitness enthusiasts. Strong, toned biceps and triceps help you perform many daily duties, like carrying your groceries or lifting a heavy box off the ground.


If you're looking to target this part of your body and reduce arm fat, you might be wondering how to tone your arms and what the best weights for toning your arms are.

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To tone your arm muscles, consider starting with 2- to 3-pound dumbbells, all the way up to 5- to 10-pound dumbbells for women and 10- to 20-pound dumbbells for men. Once you can do 12 to 15 repetitions with little effort, it's time to increase the weights.

Muscle-Toning Exercises for Your Arms

When designing a program to work the muscles in your arms, you need to include exercises that target both your biceps and triceps muscles.

To tone your arms, make sure to build a well-rounded arm workout that challenges both your biceps and triceps, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). If you want toned and trimmed arms, your first order of business is to determine the amount of resistance or weight to lift, the number of repetitions to perform and the arm-toning exercises you'll include, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Before you can determine the best weights for toning arms, make sure your program includes a day of moderate to heavier weight and lower reps, in addition to the higher reps with lower weights you'll perform.


Including both high-rep, low-weight sets and moderate-weight, lower-rep sets means that you'll get the maximum toning benefits. By varying the rep range and the amount of weight you lift, you are constantly challenging your muscles to change and adapt to the load, according to a December 2016 study in the ‌Journal of Sports Science Medicine‌.

There are several exercises that tone without the bulk if you use a lighter weight. Examples of muscle-toning exercises for your arms include dumbbell curls, hammer curls, overhead triceps extensions, triceps kickbacks, triceps dips and incline dumbbell curls.


You can do these moves individually or superset one biceps exercise with one triceps exercise. For example, do 12 to 15 reps of dumbbell biceps curls, followed by 12 to 15 reps of overhead triceps extensions. Rest for 15 to 20 seconds; then repeat.

Why Cardio Is Also Important for Toning Your Arms

Weight loss happens from the body as a whole and cannot be targeted to a single area. Toning your arms happens through a combination of cardio conditioning to burn off the fat and weight training to strengthen and tone the muscles once they're visible.

Cardio sessions can burn a lot of calories to control weight and improve your health. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends three to five days per week for 20 to 30 minutes per day. If you have a lot of weight to lose, increase the duration up to 50 to 60 minutes. Keep your arm-lifting exercise intensity moderate to hard and gradually progress to prevent overtraining.

Best Weights for Toning Your Arms

Once you have a variety of exercises to choose from, it's time to focus on the best weights for your toning arms.



You might be wondering, what weight dumbbells should I use to tone my arms? To start, keep the weight of the dumbbells low and the repetitions high. The amount of weight you choose depends on your fitness level, skill level and the condition of your body, according to the Mayo Clinic.

If you're a beginner, starting with anywhere from 2- to 3-pound dumbbells, all the way up to 5- to 10-pound dumbbells for women and 10- to 20-pound dumbbells for men, should give you enough resistance, but still allow you to keep the reps high.


Once you can do 12 to 15 repetitions with little effort, it's time to increase the weights. Just make sure you're doing the exercises with proper form to avoid injury. Working with a certified personal trainer can help ensure you stay safe and are doing the right exercises that will help you reach your goals.

You don't have to use just dumbbells for toning your arms. You have several tools you can use for weight when it comes to muscle toning. Barbells, resistance bands and kettlebells all work too. Typically, the best hand weights for toning are dumbbells. Because they're smaller and easier to grasp and work with, training with dumbbells is a good place to start.


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Putting It All Together

Because your primary goal is muscle toning, use four basic guidelines to build a solid arm workout:

  • Perform three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions per exercise.
  • Train your arms two to three days each week (with at least 48 hours rest between exercise sessions, per ACE).
  • Complete three to five muscle-toning arm exercises during each toned-arm workout.
  • When the exercise becomes too easy, increase the amount of weight you lift.


It's important to note that the 48-hour rest period between arm-toning workouts is vital to obtaining your desired result of more defined arms with less body fat. When you lift weights, you create microscopic tears in the muscle tissue, according to ACE. When these tears heal, the muscle fibers grow back stronger and possible larger than before.

If you don't give your body adequate recovery time, you'll constantly be breaking down muscle tissue and it won't heal. Occasionally, 48 hours is not long enough rest time. If you're still sore after 48 hours, wait until that soreness is gone before exercising your arms again.

A Note About How Your Diet Affects Muscle Tone

Diet is a factor to consider when trying to reduce body fat and add muscle to your body, according to the Mayo Clinic. A healthy, balanced diet will provide adequate energy for your body as well as aid in recovery from exercise.

Avoid cutting any one nutrient from your diet completely. Carbohydrates, fats and protein are all important to your health and weight goals. No matter how much weight you'd like to lose, you should not restrict any type of food.

You may also want to consider seeing a dietitian if you're not sure what and how much you should be eating. Many insurances cover medical nutrition therapy, but if that's not an option, Choose My Plate has a number of free resources.




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