Top Exercises For Sculpted, Strong & Toned Arms

Looking for Toned Arms?

Aesthetically and practically speaking an arm consists of more than the bicep, contrary to popular belief. In fact, the bicep does not contribute that much to an impressive arm. In a normal hanging position, from a head-on perspective, you want the arm to have the following: in terms of its contour, or silhouette, 1) you want the shoulder to cap out, like a “C”, 2) you want the tricep to ripple out the back, in the shape of a parentheses, 3) you want the forearm to accentuate itself by branching out from the upper arm, 4) you want the bicep to be thick enough to fill out the width of your arm, and compliment the width of your tricep, 5) you want the bottom of your bicep to be defined enough that it defines a line as a concave dip, 6) you want the line of your shoulder to be defined enough cut from your chest down to your tricep, and 7) you want your rear shoulder to be defined enough to accentuate your tricep.


Exactly how big, or how defined you want any of the above is a matter of either your own preference or whichever system of aesthetics you subscribe to. Clearly, however, for “those arms” you need to focus on your shoulders, specifically your deltoids, your triceps, biceps, and forearms. This is how.
Each muscle group will be addressed individually, with the points referred to above. A general exercise for each point is given, although that does not mean you need to do that specific exercise – there is a multitude of options. You also do not need to do each muscle group on the same day. You could choose to do your arms as a single day – shoulders, biceps, triceps, or you could split them – shoulders with legs, triceps with chest, biceps with back, or whichever split works for you!

shoulder exercises

For the Shoulder


For the shoulder, you want points 1, 6, and 7. So you want your shoulder to pop out like a “C”, you want a defined line from your chest to your tricep, and you want a well-developed rear shoulder. This is a relatively straightforward process, provided that you are consistent and systematic with your workouts, diet, and supplementation. The shoulder in the arm consists of three muscle heads that you need to be aware of: the posterior, anterior, and lateral. The anterior is the head that sits on the front of your deltoid, next to your chest, the anterior head sits at the back, above the tricep, and the lateral head sits in the middle, in between these two heads.


For point 1, you need some well-developed size to your shoulder, and particularly a well-developed lateral head of your deltoid. This is achieved through a combination of presses (barbell military press, dumbbell military press), which are good for building size, and any motion where your hand lifts from your hip to shoulder level while keeping your arm straight, and in line with your collar bone (side lateral raises). For point 6, you want to accentuate the insert from your bicep into your shoulder (or the line going from the top of your outer chest all the way to your tricep. This is achieved through a well-developed anterior deltoid head. The motions that stimulate this head sufficiently are front lateral raises, which are similar to side lateral raises, but the movement remains perpendicular (at 90 degrees) to your collarbone.


Most people do not actually need to do front lateral raises, as they do so much pressing, and the result is that this exercise is often overdone. However, if you find that your shoulder develops slowly, or your anterior head is lacking, by all means, do both. For point 7, this is straight forward enough. The rear delt, or posterior head, creates a line almost parallel to the head of your tricep, accentuating both the tricep and the cap of your shoulder. It is actually a pulling movement that stimulates it for growth best, so rear fly’s, which is like a chest fly, but in reverse, with your chest facing the ground and your hands starting in front of your chest, also rows, that you do for a back workout, similarly work the posterior deltoid head. In conclusion, for the shoulder workout you need to ensure you at least have your military presses, and your side lateral raises, and if you feel you need to, front lateral raises and rear delt flys.

barbell biceps curls

For The Bicep


Relevant to the bicep is points 3, 4 and 5. The bicep is, of course, the magical muscle, and most people love exercising them, but perhaps it’s time to get a bit more scientific with your approach. The bicep consists of two heads, for these purposes we’ll refer to them as the short head and the long head. The short head is the interior side of the bicep, which sits alongside your ribs, while the long head is the exterior side. For a full looking bicep, referring to point 4, you need adequate development in both heads, otherwise, the bicep will look out of place in comparison to the rest of your arm.


The short head is relatively easy to work, and that’s why people show it off so much – when you lift your arms up and bring your elbow into a right angle, showing the inside of your arm, you are displaying your short head bicep. This gets worked from your dumbbell and barbell curls, focus curls, EZ curls, and so on. The more your pinky finger turns into your shoulder, the more tension you place on your short head, and therefore the more development will arise. The long head of the bicep is often overlooked, despite being one of the “showey” muscles. A well-defined long head of the bicep accentuates the line of your bicep on the outside of your arm and gives that popping effect in between your bicep and tricep.


To hit the long head of your bicep you need to do hammer curls and reverse curls, where your palms are facing down while you hold the weight. This equally will satisfy point 5, by defining the insert of your bicep into your forearm. If you are at least consistently and systematically hitting the long head and short head of your bicep, point 3 should get satisfied, as the forearm is constantly working throughout curls. If however, you find that your forearm development is lacking, a basic exercise to do is to hold a weight in your hand, and while keeping your arm straight, lift your hand towards your shoulder. This is obviously a very small movement, but a few sets of that and your forearms will be on fire.

triceps exercises

For The Tricep


The tricep consists of three heads – the lateral, which is the part that sits on the outside of your arm and pops out, the long head, which is the part next to the lateral which gives the “horseshoes” look, and the medial, which lies at the bottom of the long head. For ad adequate development, you need to focus on the lateral and the long head, and as long as you squeeze properly on certain movements, the medial should not be too much trouble. Regarding point 2, for the tricep to ripple out the side of the arm, you need a well-developed lateral head.


The trick to this is close grip bench press, or dips, and tricep extensions. For the sake of balance, you need to ensure, as I stated earlier, that your long head compliments your lateral head. To hit the long head, keeping your hands closer together in a tricep extension will yield the best results. For every 1 rep of a tricep extension with my hands apart (which hits the lateral head), I will do 1 rep with my hands together (which hits the long head). Some will find, however, that one head is more prone to growth than the other, if this is the case, adjust accordingly. For example, if your lateral head responds twice as fast to the long head, then do double the reps to the long head than you do for the lateral head.

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Faye Reid

Faye Reid

Writer and expert

Faye Reid has a Bachelor of Science in Sport and Exercise Physiology and a Master of Science in Exercise Physiology and Sports Nutrition. Faye has worked with numerous high-profile oranisations, such as Men's Health, Sky Sports, Huddersfield Giants, Warrington Wolves, British Dressage and GB Rowing, providing her expert sports science support. Find out more about Faye's experience here: She puts her passion into practice as goal attack for her netball team, and in competitive event riding.

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