The Best Arm Workouts For Women

Woman on bench, lifting weights.
Women bent over weight rack lifting dumbbell

Butt seriously…where’s the love for our arms?” We guess that Baby Got Biceps doesn’t have the same ring to it, right? 

We love working our backsides just as much as the next gal, but we also think that building Michelle Obama-esque arms should be on all of our radars. So in today’s epic post, we’re talking all about how to sculpt and strengthen sexy ARMS at home, using only a set of dumbbells. We’re spilling the tea on our top five exercises broken down into individual muscle groups. Get ready.

How To Get “Toned” Arms (Plus a Pretty Rad History Lesson)

Before we get into it, let’s cover something kinda huge first: there is no such thing as being “toned.” It’s legit not a real thing. We’d even call it a myth — like Big Foot or the belief that if women lift heavy, they’ll magically look like circa-1970 Arnold Schwarzenegger overnight. 

“But that influencer said…” We know. We are hyper-aware of what the fitness industry has led you to believe this whole time. And hey, it’s partly no one’s fault because “toned” is a universally understood term and easy for fitness enthusiasts, companies and people to get their message across. 

So going forward, it’s something to keep in mind. But the truth is you can either train to improve endurance or train to build strength. “Toning” your [insert body part/region] is ambigious in this sense.

It’s actually pretty crazy how the word “toned” came to be. Let’s turn up the groovy tunes and rollerblade on down memory lane for a sec, shall we? 

Picture this: you have the most fabulous curtain bangs, the Eagles are playing on your 8-track (that’s what they called them right?) wearing your cutest high-waisted shorts and white tennis shoes. Guess the era yet? If you said, “duh, the late ’70s” then cue the disco ball because you’re absolutely right, girl. Why have we time travelled back to the era of step aerobics, jogging and lifting 2.5lb dumbbells? We’re so glad you asked...

The let’s get physical fitness era of the ’70s and ’80s saw a surge in women hopping on the health and wellness train. Think Jazzercise classes, Jane Fonda exercise videos and Richard Simmons all echoing the same word over and over... yup you guessed it: tone.  

As it turns out, “toned” is just a silly marketing term designed to lure women into traditionally male-dominated gyms in a gentle way. Ugh, right? Women were led to believe that lifting heavy would create The Rock-esque biceps, and in order to avoid that, women must not lift the heavy things. Mmm k.

Of course, we now know that statement to be completely false #mythbusted. Muscles grow or muscles shrink. Muscle is firm, fat is soft. The end. 

Sure, you can absolutely lift lighter weights and increase your reps, but that will improve your muscular endurance rather than actually build the muscle. If that’s your end goal — you do you, girl, and smash it out. 

But if you’re wondering what actually creates that elusive “toned” look, in most cases, it means building muscle with heavy weights and losing fat with a calorie deficit. 

Overall, we are so stoked and proud that women have morphed into full-blown fitness badasses over the decades. All right wellness warriors, let’s get into it. 

The Top Five Best Dumbbell Arm Workouts for Women 

Women on bench lifting weights

Psst… the workouts we’re mentioning here are legit the same workouts we’d recommend to your bf, husband, and male counterparts. Talk about raw empowerment. Here at Cira, we know that women (yup, we’re talking to you girl) are more than capable of keeping up with their male besties in the gym. Got it? Cool. 

1. Biceps: Barbell Curl 

Basic in the best kind of way, we love barbell curls not only because it’s a simple movement that completely works your biceps, but also because barbells expose your muscles to heavier loads. Hello, Beyonce a la The Formation Tour arms!  Here’s how you do it:

Step One: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and make a slight bend in your knees. Hold the barbell with your palms facing up, hands shoulder-width.

Step Two: Engage your core, squeeze your bubble butt, and bend your elbows to bring the barbell up to shoulder level. Squeeze your biceps at the top, and lower back down.

Cira Tips: 

  • Keep your elbows at your sides to ensure you’re working those biceps, not your delts.
  • Elbows and wrists hurting? Switch the straight bar for the bar with waves in it (EZ-curl bar).
  • Refrain from relying on momentum to swing the weight up as you get to those last couple of reps. Think about maintaining good form and end the set before you lose your technique. Psst: we totally recommend using our delish pre-game pre-workout supplement to take your workout up a level or two by increasing your energy, endurance and focus. 

2. Biceps: Hammer Curls 

Hammer curls are great because they help stabilize your elbow joint by strengthening your biceps and forearms. So if you love to play sports outside the gym, like tennis for example, this is the workout for you. 

Step One: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with a slight bend in your knees. Hold a dumbbell in each hand making sure your palms are facing each other.

Step Two: Remember to keep your palms facing each other (in), bend your elbows, bringing the dumbbells up as if you would hammer something. Raise the dumbbells level to your shoulders and lower them back down. 

Cira Tips: 

  • You can lift with both arms at the same time OR alternate arms 
  • Be sure to engage that core and squeeze your butt to keep the rest of your body (shoulders, hips, lower back) still.

3. Triceps: Kickbacks 

Ahh yes, triceps. Home to that  stubborn bit of arm flab that we can’t seem to get rid of. How rude. But real talk for a sec though, ok? It’s totally normal to be able to “pinch an inch” of your underarm area. As your main hype squad, we are here to tell you that you are amazing the way you are. Have patience because changing your body takes time, k? 

With that said, dumbbell kickbacks are absolute tricep killers and one of the best exercises to target the underarm area.

Step One: Stand with feet hip-width apart. Bend your body forward, stick your butt out and 

Step Two: Lock your elbows by your sides, pressing the weight back and straightening your arms out to lock completely. Slow and controlled, pull back into a 90-degree angle.  

Cira Tip:

  •  Focus on keeping your core tight and back flat. 

4. Shoulders: Dumbbell Shoulder Press

We are hard-pressed to come up with anything more swoon-worthy than seeing those round, smooth shoulder caps. Ok, maybe Tom Hardy in Drive. But we digress. 

And hey, while strong, defined shoulders look ahh-maze, they also contribute to overall upper body strength. We especially take notice when we do push-ups, planks and mountain climbers.

Step One: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with a slight bend in your knees. Bring dumbbells to about collarbone height, elbows in front of your body, palms facing forward. 

Step Two: Press weight over your head, engaging your core for stability. Slowly bring the dumbbells down but refrain from relaxing until your entire set is complete. Keep everything engaged until your last rep of each set. 

Cira Tips:

  • Squeeze your butt as you press up to refrain from arching your back. 
  • Keep your dumbbells on top of your shoulders and don’t allow them to widen or float away from your body. 

5. Complete Arm Workout: Push-ups

No “best arm workout” list is complete without the classic tried and true push-up. There’s a reason why this exercise is difficult: it strengthens your entire upper body and core. Talk about work smarter, not harder, right? 

Push-ups are great because you can do them literally anywhere and they’re easily scalable. If you’re more of a beginner, simply reduce the amount of bodyweight you have to lift by placing your hands on a chair or bench so that your upper body is on an incline. 

Need more of a challenge? Elevate your feet on a chair or bench and do a decline push-up.  

Step One: Lie on your yoga mat or floor on your stomach and place your hands under your body, about shoulder-width apart. Keep your toes on the ground, heels in the air. 

Step two: Tuck your tailbone in, brace your core, squeeze your legs, keeping your arms close to your side. Then push your upper body off of the floor, elbows fully extended. Slow and controlled, lower your body until your chest is just above the floor. Complete next rep. 

Cira Tips:

  • Squeeze your butt and keep your lower back from sagging toward the floor (much like you would during a plank) 
  • If you’re finding push-ups difficult (because they’re no joke!) just start on your toes and only go to your knees when your form fails. Even if you only do one, that’s progress! Soon one will turn into two, three, four...twenty. Mmhm, we know you’ve got this! 

There you have it, Cira fam! The only five exercises you need to totally smash an arm workout at home. What are your favorites? Let us know in the comments, we love chatting with you.