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Best Exercises to Build Muscle in Your Arms

Transform Your Upper Body With These 18 Strengthening Exercises

When it comes to women lifting weights, a common myth is that you'll get "bulky" or look "manly". According to a 2006 review in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the benefits of weightlifting for men and women are: increased bone mass, lean muscle mass, improved cardiovascular fitness, strength, and an enhanced sense of well being. As for the worry about getting bulky, the authors said it's physically impossible for women to become bulky. "Basal hormonal differences (that is, decreased testosterone) ultimately limit the absolute amount of lean body mass that women can accrue with strength training."

Get ready to build lean muscle and improve your upper body strength with the 18 dumbbell exercises ahead.

Bent-Over Row

  • Lean forward and bend both knees, remembering to keep a flat back.
  • Extend your arms so they are straight. Lift the dumbbells straight up to chest level, squeezing your shoulder blades together as you do. Be sure to keep your elbows in and pointed upward. Don't arch your back.
  • Slowly lower the weights back to the starting position to complete one rep.
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Plank and Straight-Arm Kickback

  • Start in a plank position holding a dumbbell in each hand. Open your feet wider than hip width for a stronger base of support.
  • Lift your left arm behind you as high as you can. Bring the left arm back into plank to complete one rep.
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Rotate Row

  • Start in a shallow squat, holding the weight in your right hand.
  • Pull your elbow back, squeezing your right shoulder blade toward your spine while you twist to the right. This completes one rep.
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Squat, Curl, and Press

  • Stand with your feet directly under your hips holding a dumbbell in each hand. Sit back into your squat, keeping the weight in your heels, and bringing your thighs parallel to the floor without letting your knees go beyond your toes.
  • Push through your heels to return to standing while bringing the weights to your shoulders, performing a bicep curl.
  • Stabilize your torso and keep your arms moving upward, performing an overhead press with the palms facing out.
  • Lower your arms back to your side to complete one rep.
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Upright Row

  • Stand with your feet hip-distance apart, and place a dumbbell in each hand. Your closed palms should be facing your body. Your shoulders should be over your pelvis, with knees slightly bent.
  • Keeping the dumbbells close to your body, raise them to your shoulders, bending your elbows out to the sides.
  • Slowly lower them to the starting position. This counts as one rep.
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Overhead Triceps Extensions

  • Stand with your feet hip-distance apart.
  • Hold one dumbbell (go for your heavier weight) with both hands, bending the elbows behind your head.
  • Straighten your arms to lift the dumbbell into the air, then slowly bend the arms to lower. This counts as one rep.
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Skull Crushers

  • Grab a set of dumbbells, and start by lying on your back with the knees bent.
  • With one dumbbell in each hand, raise your arms so they are above your chest, making sure your elbows are straight but not locked.
  • Slowly lower both arms toward your head, bending your elbows to 90 degrees as the dumbbells reach the mat. Aim to lower your dumbbells so they are on either side of your head, elbows bent and pressing in toward your head.
  • Lift your arms back to starting position. This is one rep.
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Bicep Curl

  • Start by holding a dumbbell in each hand at the sides of your body.
  • Keeping your elbows close to your side, slowly raise the dumbbells to your chest.
  • Moving with control, lower back to the starting position.
  • This counts as one rep.
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Lawnmower

  • Holding one dumbbell in your left hand with your right hand on your hip, squat, bringing the weight toward the floor.
  • Exhale, pull your abs to your spine as you straighten your legs, and pull your elbow behind you, bringing the weight to your chest. Your torso will twist to the left.
  • Bend your knees and squat as you return to the starting position to complete a rep.
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Lateral Arm Raise

  • Stand with your feet hip distance apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand so your palms face in toward the sides of your body.
  • Start with the right side first. With control, keep your arm straight (but don't lock that elbow), and as you inhale, raise your right hand up toward the ceiling. You want your palm to be facing down and your arm to be parallel to the floor. Then, as you exhale, slowly lower your hand back to your body. You should be able to see your hand in your peripheral vision. Your arm won't be directly out to the side but slightly forward.
  • Do the same move with your left arm.
  • Then do both your right and left arms at the same time to complete one rep.
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Bicep Curl and Overhead Press

  • Stand with your feet directly under your hips, holding a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing out. Bend your elbows, bringing the weights to your shoulders, performing a bicep curl.
  • Stabilize your torso and keep your arms moving upward, straightening your arms above you, performing an overhead press with your palms facing out.
  • Bend your elbows, coming back to the end of your bicep curl, then straighten the arms coming back to the starting position to complete one rep.
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Bent-Over Reverse Fly

  • Holding a dumbbell in each hand, stand with your knees slightly bent. Keeping your back flat, bend forward at the hip joint.
  • Exhale and lift both arms to the side, maintaining a slight bend in the elbows and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Then, with control, lower the dumbbells back toward the ground. This completes one rep.
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Lying Chest Fly

  • Lie on your back with your hips and knees both at 90-degree angles. Using your low abs, press your lower back into the mat. Raise your arms toward the ceiling, palms facing each other, keeping the elbow joint slightly bent.
  • Keeping your torso stable, open your arms out to the sides until your elbows are about two inches from the floor.
  • Raise your arms back to the ceiling, bringing the weights together over your chest. This counts as one rep.
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Circuit One: Push-Up and Rotate

  • Begin in a plank position with your feet in line with your hips and your hands each holding a dumbbell.
  • Lower your body toward the floor, then push through your arms, returning to plank.
  • Twist to the left, reaching your left arm, dumbbell in hand, to the ceiling without letting your pelvis raise or lower.
  • Return to plank position, bringing your hand back to the floor. Do another push-up and twist to the right. This completes one rep.
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Kyle Hartman

Plank Dumbbell Row

  • Start in a plank position with your legs wider than hip-width distance; the wider stance makes you more stable. Hold onto your dumbbells, keeping your wrist locked to protect the joint.
  • With your core tight and your glutes engaged, exhale, stabilizing your torso as you lift your right elbow to row; feel your right scapula sliding toward your spine as you bend your elbow up toward the ceiling.
  • Keeping your neck long and energized, return the weight to the ground to complete the rep.
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Bridge With Chest Press

  • Start on your back with your knees bent and your feet hip-distance apart. Hold weights by your chest.
  • Squeeze your glutes as you push your pelvis toward the ceiling, coming into a bridge. Keep your ribs aligned with your pelvis.
  • Holding the bridge, press the weights to the ceiling directly above your shoulders.
  • Lower the weights to complete the rep.
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Single-Arm Chest Press

  • Lie on your back with your heels about a foot away from your butt. Hold a dumbbell in your left hand and bring both hands to the ceiling.
  • Bend your left elbow, lowering your upper arm to floor. Exhale and straighten your elbow, pressing the weight back to the ceiling to complete a rep.
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Dumbbell Thrusters

  • Stand with your legs just slightly wider than hip-distance apart, arms raised to shoulder height with elbows bent, holding weights by your ears.
  • Bend your knees as if you were sitting in a chair, keeping weight on your heels.
  • Press the dumbbells overhead as you straighten your knees to return to standing. This counts as one rep.
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Kyle Hartman
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