The best arm exercises to do from home (that don't require a huge variety of dumbbells)

The best arm exercises to do from home (that don't require a huge variety of dumbbells)

2021-01-20

The best exercises for training your biceps and triceps from home if you don’t have a whole rack of dumbbells.

If there’s one thing to learn from the pandemic, it’s that you don’t have to work out at the gym in order to get stronger. There is a myriad of exercises you can do from home that prove just that – challenging your muscles without using any, or minimal, weights. Usually, these go-tos are compound exercises, meaning that they work multiple large muscle groups at a time. Think press-ups that work the shoulders, chest and core, or squats that target every muscle in the lower body.

Yet, all of these big muscle groups are also supported by the smaller muscles, so it’s important to add in some isolation and accessory work. For example, strengthening your triceps will help you push your way out of your press-up. Given that strengthening the chest, back and shoulders is so important to counteract the amount of time we spend hunched at a desk, isolating the arms is also crucial right now. 

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Remember that biceps are utilised in all pulling movements, supporting the back muscles in lifts such as rows and pull-ups, and triceps are used in all pushing exercises, supporting our chest and shoulders in exercises such as chest press and overhead press. 

At the gym, you can easily strengthen the arm muscles on the cable machine, doing curls or kickbacks, or use one of the many barbells to perform skull crushers. But with little equipment at home, it’s hard to find exercises that will target these muscles effectively. We asked personal trainer and wellness coach Lavina Mehta MBE for her tips to target our arms from home while using minimal dumbbells. 

Tips for training arms at home

Use supersets 

If you don’t have dumbbells that are heavy enough for you to feel like you’re fatiguing the biceps or triceps, try burning them out before you even start. “You could perform a compound move first, such as a press-up, and then move straight into an isolating move such as a tricep kickback. That will be way more challenging because you’ve already pre-fatigued the muscle, so you won’t need as much weight to make them work,” says Lavina. 

Remember tempo

It can be easy to just fly through exercises, particularly when they don’t feel challenging. But taking your time will pay off. “Go very slow on the negative, or lowering, part the movement. That will put the muscle under tension for longer, which makes the exercise tougher even without a huge range of kit,” Lavina says. 

The best arm exercises to do at home

Tricep extension 

These can be done with one heavier dumbbell by placing both hands on one head of the weight. Alternatively, you can use two lighter dumbbells by holding the middle of the bar in each hand and pressing your knuckles together. 

  1. Extend your arms straight over your head, squeezing your biceps into your ears.
  2. Without moving your upper arms or elbows, bend the arm to lower the dumbbell behind your head. 
  3. Squeeze through the back of your arms to extend the dumbbell back to the top. 


Tricep kickback

This exercise is really isolating, so opt for a lighter weight. If you only have heavy dumbbells, you might want to perform this move one arm at a time or skip it altogether.

  1. Holding your weight, hinge at the hips so you are bent at nearly 90º. Keep your knees soft and your core engaged so you don’t arch through your spine. 
  2. Squeeze the back of your shoulders and row your arms back. Your elbows should be bent at a right angle and your triceps in line with your back. For more support, these can be done kneeling on all fours, with one arm rowed back.
  3. Extend your arm back as far as it will go without swinging or using momentum.
  4. Squeeze the tricep at the top of the exercise, then lower back to the starting position. 

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Bicep curl

The traditional bicep curl is probably one of the best exercises there are to target the front of your upper arms. If you have heavier dumbbells, use just one by holding the heads in each hand and curling up. If you have lighter dumbbells, you can take one in each hand. You could even refill an empty milk bottle with rice or flour until it is at your desired weight and hold the handles as you curl.

  1. Hold the dumbbells in your hands with your palms facing forwards and the back of your hands resting on your thighs.
  2. Bend your elbow to curl your arm up. As you do this, keep your elbows and upper arms tucked into the side of your body and don’t let your wrists tip forwards or backwards.
  3. When your fist meets your shoulder, squeeze for a second then begin to slowly lower down to the starting point. 


Hammer curl

As above, these are a great exercise for the biceps, but the slight change in hand position helps target the forearm, wrist, and grip strength too.

  1. Hold the dumbbells in your hands with your arms by your sides. Let your palms face towards your thighs.
  2. Bend your elbow to curl your arm up. As you do this, keep your elbows and upper arms tucked into the side of your body and don’t let your wrists tip forwards or backwards.
  3. When your fist meets your shoulder, squeeze for a second then begin to slowly lower down to the starting point. 

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