Build Strong Arms and Shoulders With These 9 Exercises

Grow more defined biceps, triceps and shoulders with these trainer-approved workouts.

Giselle Castro-Sloboda Fitness and Nutrition Writer
I'm a Fitness & Nutrition writer for CNET who enjoys reviewing the latest fitness gadgets, testing out activewear and sneakers, as well as debunking wellness myths. On my spare time I enjoy cooking new recipes, going for a scenic run, hitting the weight room, or binge-watching many TV shows at once. I am a former personal trainer and still enjoy learning and brushing up on my training knowledge from time to time. I've had my wellness and lifestyle content published in various online publications such as: Women's Health, Shape, Healthline, Popsugar and more.
Expertise Fitness and Wellness
Giselle Castro-Sloboda
7 min read
Woman with flexed arm muscles

Having a strong upper body has many perks beyond just looking in-shape. 

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If one of your goals is to build a strong upper body then you know it takes time to see any progress. The benefits that come with upper body work include improving your posture, building a stronger core and heart. Your metabolic rate will also get a boost because you're building muscle in the process. Getting stronger will boost your confidence and make picking up heavy items around your home or while shopping a lot easier. It's easy to exercise your upper body whether you have access to a gym or are working out at home. Key items you should have on hand are dumbbells of various weights

Caley Crawford, director of education for fitness chain Row House, recommends picking a couple of arm exercises and doing three to five sets of 12 to 15 reps and resting between rounds. "I encourage incorporating your arm exercises with some full body work as well to train your muscles on how to work together and not just independently," she advises. 

Get ready to build stronger and more defined arms by adding these exercises to your workouts.

Bicep curls

The bicep curl is one of the most popular arm exercises, so you've probably either seen or done one before. This exercise targets your bicep -- the muscle in front of your upper arm, which functions as a stabilizer for your arms and shoulders.

To perform a bicep curl, you will need a set of medium weight dumbbells. Holding a dumbbell in each hand by your sides, turn your palms to face forward. Bend at the elbows, slowly bringing up the dumbbells towards your shoulders. Keep the elbows locked in at your sides and lower back down slowly until your arms are almost fully extended. 

Dumbbell shoulder press

The dumbbell shoulder press, also known as a dumbbell military press, targets your shoulders, chest and arms. Dumbbells are commonly used when you're first learning how to do this exercise because they let you do the movement more safely than using barbells. 

To perform the dumbbell shoulder press, you will need to hold a dumbbell of medium weight (or a weight you can manage pressing overhead) in each hand. While standing, bend your arms in a 90-degree angle outside of your body with your palms facing forward. From this position, brace your core and press both arms straight up above your head, so your biceps are in line with your ears. Lower back down to the starting position and repeat. 

Arnold press

The Arnold press was invented by the one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger. It's a variation of a shoulder press that targets the biceps and the full shoulder head. Crawford says, "This is a multiplanar movement, which engages more muscles than your traditional overhead press." 

To do this exercise, you can be seated, kneeling or standing. Using a set of dumbbells, start off by bringing them to shoulder height with arms bent and palms facing the body (like a bicep curl). Press dumbbells overhead by rotating the dumbbells outwards and pressing up until the palms are facing forward at the top of the press. Then slowly lower the weight, by reversing the rotation so that the elbows are bent and palms end facing the body at the bottom of the press. "One thing to be mindful of is not arching your back as you press up and if you have limited shoulder mobility you may consider doing one arm at a time," says Crawford. 

Tricep pushups

Pushups are a great exercise to target not only your arms, but your chest, back, core and glutes as well. Tricep pushups are different from regular pushups, because your arms are positioned directly at your sides, whereas with the traditional pushup, your arms are at a 45-degree angle. To perform a tricep pushup, start by positioning yourself into a sturdy high plank, maintaining a neutral spine and pulling your elbows close to the body. This will help target the triceps and protect your shoulders at the same time. Slowly lower your body, leading with your chest. Once your chest taps the floor, keep your body engaged and push the floor away as you come back up to the high plank.

If you're unable to do a pushup from your feet, you can modify it by dropping to your knees or doing an incline pushup by positioning your hands on an elevated surface so your body is at a 45-degree angle. 


Chest press

The chest press targets the chest, triceps, biceps and shoulders. It can be done using dumbbells, a chest press machine, cable machines or even a barbell. There are also incline, seated or standing variations that make the exercise easier or harder depending on your fitness level. Most commonly, the chest press is done using a weight bench and a pair of light to medium dumbbells. 

To perform the chest press, you will need to lay down on a flat bench with your feet pressing down against the floor. Start by holding a dumbbell in a pronated grip in each hand above your shoulders. Draw your shoulders down and press your back against the bench. Lower the dumbbells slowly until they are slightly wider than mid-chest and your elbows are slightly below your shoulders. Press back up to your starting position. 


The chin-up is a great exercise to target your upper body and biceps. It's an intermediate exercise, rather than a beginner one -- it requires the ability to pull your chest above a pullup bar. The chin-up requires a narrow supinated position with your hands facing you, allowing you to see your fingers while you grip the bar. 

To perform this exercise you will need a pullup bar that lets you hang freely. If you need ideas on which pullup bar to get, check out CNET's list of the best pullup bars for home use. 

To begin, as you hang from the bar with your hands in the supine position, take a moment to pull your shoulders down by squeezing your shoulder blades, engage your core and squeeze your glutes. This will prevent you from swinging too much. Once you're in a steady position, pull your chest up towards the bar by pulling the elbows downwards. Use that same control to come down to the starting position. 

If you are still working on doing the chin-up unassisted, another option is to modify it using a resistance band or use the assisted pullup machine at the gym. Hanging from the bar to practice grip strength and doing other exercises such as inverted rows, pushups and farmers carries can also help you get closer to achieving this exercise.



The pullup, similar to the chin-up, is a more advanced movement that requires you to pull your chest up to a horizontal bar. The pullup is harder to perform because it requires you to use your latissimus dorsi, also known as back muscles or your "lats," whereas your biceps assist you during a chin-up. The other difference is the pullup uses a wide pronated grip, which means your hands are facing away and you should only be able to see your knuckles and wrists while gripping the bar. 

To perform a pullup you will need a horizontal bar. Place your hands at shoulder width maintaining a pronated grip. Similar to the chin up, take a moment to minimize swinging by focusing on engaging your core and pulling your shoulders down. Some people prefer to either bend their knees and cross their feet or by crossing one foot over the other.

Once you're hanging steadily, stick your chest out and curve your back slightly, inhale and start by pulling your chest up towards the bar. Envision using your back muscles, not your arms to pull yourself up. Exhale when your chest taps the bar and slowly lower back down to starting position.

If you aren't ready to take on the pullup unassisted, there are modified variations you can do such as negative pullups, band assisted pullups or practicing hollow holds. You can also work your way up by hanging from the bar, using the assisted pullup machine, doing inverted rows, lat pulldowns and more.

Plank walk-ups

Plank walk-ups are a progression of your standard forearm plank. "I love this exercise because you're challenging your upper body strength as well as your core all at once," says Crawford. Plank walk-ups target full body muscles that include your triceps, biceps, back, shoulders, abs and glutes. 

To perform this exercise, you will need to get into a forearm plank position. Your plank should be solid while maintaining a neutral spine and no sagging in the hips. Once you're in a sturdy plank, begin by lifting one arm at a time until you're in a high plank position. Alternate lowering one forearm at a time to return to your starting plank. The challenge when doing this exercise is keeping your hips from swaying too much.

Lateral raises

Lateral raises target your shoulders and are usually done seated or standing using light dumbbells, the lat raise machine or cable pulleys. This exercise is a good way to strengthen your shoulders, which benefits you when doing other exercises such as a pushup or pullup. 

To perform this exercise, stand with your feet hip distance apart and hold two light dumbbells by your sides in a neutral grip. Focus on pulling your shoulders down and hold the dumbbells pointing upwards straight out to the side. From here, raise them up until they're at shoulder height and lower back down slowly to starting position. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.