Out of all the muscle groups we work so hard to develop, the muscles of the arms seem to be the most universally admired. This is no surprise because the arms are the only body part that is visible when wearing a shirt. So if someone ask you to make a muscle, it’s always the biceps pose they’re referring to. In this article we show 22 arms exercises ranked from worst to best. The better the potential to build muscle and strength the higher the rank! Of course you also hit your forearms when doing these movements but for this article we focus on the biceps and triceps in the first place.
What you will learn in this arms exercises ranked guide:
Arms Exercises: Rank D
Let´s start our arms exercises ranked guide with the D rank. Please keep in mind that exercises on the lower ranks are not ineffective in general. Exercises on the D and C Rank can also be used to train your arms, but they are not as good as the ones in the higher ranks.
With this exercise you focus on your abs in the first place, but you still need some triceps strength to do it. This has to do with the movement of your elbows. Every time you press yourself up you do an elbow extension and this will hit your triceps. We still rank it that low because the range of motion and the intensity are very limited.
This exercise is a complex movement that focuses on your posterior chain, such as the back, the glutes, the hamstrings, the rear delts and of course your triceps! All 3 triceps heads extend and stabilize your elbow, while the long head is also active when extending the shoulder. So everytime you extend your arms in a crab walk, the long head works as a shoulder stabilize. Meanwhile all 3 heads are active to stabilize the elbow.
Reverse Planche Lean
Similar to the crap walk, this exercise works the triceps as elbow and shoulder stabilizer. The more you lean backwards the harder it gets especially for the long head in terms of shoulder stabilization. Of course many other muscles of your posterior chain do their part as well. The rear delts for example are as important to stabilize the lean.
Front Lever Raise
Yes, this movement is latissimus focused in the first place. But the long head of the triceps is doing its part as well. So no matter if you lift your body up or pull something down it’s still a straight arm shoulder extension against some form of resistance. In our personal experience, front lever training can even lead to a sore triceps (sspecially at the origin of the long head). So don’t be surprised if you feel muscle ache in this part of your body after a taxing front lever workout. All frontlever progressions have that same effect. But the more you tuck your body the easier it gets for the triceps and all other involved muscles.
Remember what we told you about the straight arm triceps work in the exercises before? Well it’s similar for the biceps, here both heads are connected to the shoulder and the forearm. So everytime you do a straight arm shoulder flexion or work against resistance in a static position, your biceps are affected too. This is called straight arm biceps strength, and mostly improves elbow stability and biceps tendon strength. Especially gymnasts need that kind of strength for most of their Still rings elements.
Of course this requires doing the back lever with a supinated grip, but please be very careful! Along with the supinated planche it’s one of the exercises with highest risk to tear your biceps. So always make sure you’re doing the easiest progressions first. Simultaneously prepare your biceps tendons with other low impact exercises. Of course you can do the Backlever with a pronated grip as well. This massively reduces the bicep muscle involvement and is way easier for most people.
Biceps Push Up
Similar to the backlever your biceps have to stabilize your elbow joints when doing this exercise with a supinated grip. It’s still a bit different. First, your triceps is way more active due to the elbow extension when pushing yourself up. Second, you’re not stabilizing your body with arms behind, but in front of your body. So the biceps push up doesn’t stretch your biceps tendons to a full degree like the back lever does. It’s still not that easy and it still puts a lot of pressure on your biceps tendons if you’re not used to it.
Supinated Korean Dip
Again the biceps works as a shoulder and elbow stabilizer while the delts and triceps do their part as well. It’s also very tricky to push yourself up because you have to arch your body in order to get your butt around the bar. A fix for that would be rings with that you can dive into and out of the movement without any kind of barrier. The Korean Dip comes with the same risks as the backlever and the biceps push up, so for most people it’s not worth it.
This exercise is more of a compound movement that works many muscles of your upper body at once. The biceps gets some work when you do the pull part and the triceps gets hit when doing the dip. However your arms are not really focused when doing muscle ups, especially when we talk about the explosive bar muscle up with an overhand grip.
When we talk about ring muscle ups it’s a bit different. Here you can pronate and supinate your forearms and with that target the biceps way better. When it comes to triceps activation, Ring Dips can also be a bit better, but it really depends on the execution. If you nearly skip the dip in an explosive bar muscle up you don’t work your triceps as good as if you do a full range of motion ring dip.
Headbanger Chin Up
This exercise is often referred to as a great biceps builder but the truth looks a bit different. Yes the biceps gets activated in this exercise, no question. But the more you push yourself away from the bar the more the lats take over. When you reach the furthest point, the headbagner chin up not only looks like a mix between a Frontlever and a chin up, it actually has the same muscles involved. So in order to be able to do this exercise, you need some strong lats in the first place, and they will always be the limiting factor. Let’s now move to the second part of our arms exercises ranked guide!
Arms Exercises: Rank C
Yeah we know this exercise is very often referred to as a great triceps exercise – especially for beginners. However, this exercise is a bit problematic, because it also puts a lot of stress on your shoulders. If you have the necessary mobility and do it right, it definitely works your triceps but the front delts are doing their part as well.
Additional tip: It’s less risky to do the exercise with outward rotated shoulders. This execution also brings your biceps a little bit into play, mainly as an elbow stabilizer similar to the supinated backlever and planche.
Cobra Push Up
To make this exercise as triceps dominant as possible, place your hands a bit more forward. So instead focusing on extending your back, shift your focus more towards extending your elbows. You can make this a bit harder by lifting your hips or knees off the ground.
Frog Push Up
This looks very similar to Pike Push Ups, but is way more triceps dominant. In the pike push up you move your upper body along a diagonal line and move your shoulders in front of your wrists. You keep your upper body more horizontal and your shoulders further back in the frog push up. Also make sure to not flare your elbows out too much.
Arms Exercises: Rank B
Reverse Bodyweight Triceps Extension
This exercise is similar to the bench dip, the difference is that you mainly push from your elbows without involving your shoulders that much. If you’re doing it with bent legs it’s easier, if you’re doing it with extended legs it’s a lot harder. In addition you can also adjust the difficulty by changing the height of the object.
We still don’t rank it that high because of the limited range of motion. To solve this issue you could either use two objects with a gap in between or by shifting your hips further forward. Keep in mind that both variations make the exercise way harder.
Dips in general are great for your triceps, but you can really put the focus on that muscle if you’re trying to decrease the range of motion of your shoulders and mainly pushing from your elbows. This exercise is not easy and not really suitable for beginners. To still make it work you could use a band as a support. Please be aware that this puts a lot of pressure on your elbows. So don’t do it at any costs!
Arms Exercises: Rank A
Regular Chin Up
Of course this exercise is more of a compound movement that works your back as well. There is still no doubt that you can build a well developed biceps with chin ups alone. To make the most of the chin up, choose a more narrow grip and focus on elbow flexion in the first place. So instead of closing the shoulder angle and moving your elbows all the way back, bring them in front of your body!
From a biomechanical standpoint, the rope climb forces your arm to pull from a position that’s close to the midline of your body. This involves the elbow flexors more than the regular pull up or row. You still need to know that the rope climb is more of a compound movement that works many muscles at the same time. In addition the neutral grip also targets the brachialis and not the biceps the most. This exercise is more of an advanced movement but you can still benefit from it if you’re doing it with feet support.
Here you make the same adjustments as in the regular chin up to target the biceps in an optimal way. The only difference to the chin up is that you’re doing it in a bit more horizontal body position and with that decrease the shoulder range of motion significantly. We suggest doing this exercise on rings because you can pronate and supinate your forearms like when doing dumbell curls. This exercise is also the better alternative to the headbanger chin up we mentioned before.
Reverse Bodyweight Biceps Curl
This exercise targets the biceps in a behind the body position. This results in a great biceps stretch and adds a different stimulus, especially for the long head, that other exercises wont offer. There are still some downsides you should consider.
First of all you need some good shoulder mobility to do it savely. It’s also necessary to have well prepared biceps tendons similar to the back lever because the biceps tendons are really vulnerable in a fully stretched position. And the last downside is that this exercise is really hard to do, even with the easiest progression, so we don’t recommend it to beginners.
Diamond Push Ups
The next exercise on Rank-A is about the triceps. Diamond Push Ups offer a really good triceps workout even if they are a bit more of a compound exercise. In contrast to the name you don’t really have to adjust your wrist into the diamond position. Any close grip will work, as long as you stick to the right shoulder and arm movement. So instead of opening the chest and bringing the elbows all the way back, you try to eliminate the shoulder movement as much as possible and mainly lift yourself up by extending the elbows.
Arms Exercises: Rank S
Let’s now move to the best rank of our arms exercises ranked guide!
Regular Bodyweight Triceps Extension
This exercise is great to target your triceps, but depending on the execution you also need abdominal, lat and chest strength to stabilize your body. The less you open the shoulder angle the more triceps dominant it gets, the more you open the shoulder angle the higher the ab, lat and chest activity! No matter which execution, you can adapt the difficulty of this exercise by changing the height of the object. This movement puts a lot of pressure on your elbows. So don’t force yourself to do it if you get pain or if this exercise feels really uncomfortable for you.
Sphinx Push Up
This is very similar to The Bodyweight Triceps Extension but here you’re doing it on the ground. If you place your elbows right below your shoulder you have a lower range of motion, but also less ab, chest and lat involvement compared to the bodyweight triceps extension. You can make this exercise easier if you’re doing it on your knees. To make it harder and increase the range of motion, you can move your shoulders further forward.
Form tip: Keep elbows close to your body and make sure you’re pushing yourself up with both arms at the same time! There are also some modifications for that exercise, but most of them are only a gimmick instead of making the regular sphinx push up any better.
Bodyweight Biceps Curl
Our arms exercises ranked guide is coming to an end. The last exercise on the S-Rank is the Bodyweight Biceps Curl. In contrast to rows or even the already shown curl row you now just extend and bend your elbows, while your upper arms stay in front of your body. This eliminates your back involvement almost completely and isolates your biceps as much as possible. You can adapt the difficulty of the curl by changing the angle. The exercise gets also a lot harder if you’re doing it with only one arm at a time.
Additional tip: To optimize your biceps work, do it on rings and supinate your forearm when you’re doing the curl. If you got no rings it’s still a killer biceps exercise, no matter if you do it on bars or even tables.
What about the other muscles?
Did you like our arms exercises ranked guide? Please don’t forget that you have to train your whole body evenly. So If you want a complete Workout guide that trains all muscles of your body in a balanced way you should head over to calimove.com and check our Workout Programs. No matter on which Level you are right now, we have you covered. All of our programs are designed as a step by step online course you can follow easily. Just choose the right level for your goal and individual needs and you’re ready to start.
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