- Well-defined arms come from a combination of lean muscle and low body fat, a personal trainer said.
- To achieve this look, focus on the major muscle groups like the biceps, triceps, and deltoids.
- Prioritize good form, consistency, and nutrition for best results.
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As the weather warms, tank-top season is quickly approaching, which is the peak time of year for showing off athletic biceps, triceps, and shoulders.
If you want to build more impressive arms in a few months, don’t waste your time with endless curls or try to move huge weights, Bryan Goldberg, a personal trainer, said.
Instead, he recommended focusing on targeted exercises as part of an overall strength-training program. Combined with good nutrition, these moves can help you get the coveted V-shape of an athletic upper body, he said.
Work on adding muscle or reducing body fat
People often try to reach their aesthetic goals by “toning” their arms to change their shape. Muscle tissue doesn’t work that way – you can make muscles bigger or smaller, but you can’t sculpt them to look more defined.
Having good muscle definition is a combination of growing bigger muscles and maintaining a lean physique, according to Goldberg.
“The toned look is lean muscle, which comes from lifting weights, building the muscle, and then dropping body fat to a place where you’re able to see it. That’s the secret sauce,” he said.
Lift weights, even if you don’t want to be a bodybuilder
It’s also a myth that lifting weights will make you “bulky.”
Strength training is crucial for changing your body composition, or the ratio of lean muscle to body fat. You can build bigger muscles if you put in a lot of hard work and eat in a calorie surplus – but not overnight.
And weight lifting can help burn fat and gives the body a trimmer look.
“There’s a stigma about muscles and muscle growth, and people are sometimes scared of getting bulky,” Goldberg said. “I hear this even from guys, ‘I don’t want to look like a body builder.’ Don’t worry. It’s not going to happen.”
Include exercises for all the major muscle groups
The first step to strong arms is to have a consistent workout routine that includes major strength-training movements like push-ups, presses, pull-ups, rows, and deadlifts.
“When it comes to developing your arms, bigger compound movements also involve smaller muscles. You don’t need to tack on a whole lot more,” Goldberg said.
To maximize arm gains, fill your workout routine with movements that target each part of the arms, including:
- Biceps: Curls are the classic arm exercise, and they target the biceps. Use different variations like Zottman curls, hammer curls, and cable curls for best results.
- Triceps: On the back of the arm, strong triceps come from exercises that bend and extend the elbows close to the body, including kickbacks, cable pressdowns, bench dips, narrow push-ups, and skull crushers.
- Deltoids: For rounder, fuller shoulder muscles, Goldberg recommended more raising movements instead of just presses. Lateral raises, front raises, and reverse fly exercises will hit all three parts of the delts.
Prioritize lighter weight with good form
With any of these exercises, it’s important not to try to lift too heavy, according to Goldberg. The arms are relatively small muscles, and taking on too much weight can force other areas of the body to compensate. This leads to “cheating” the movements by swinging or using momentum. That, in turn, takes tension off the arm muscles, and less tension means less muscle growth.
“You could do 20 sets of exercise, and if you’re throwing the weight up and not feeling the pump, you’re better off doing one good set,” Goldberg said.
It’s also important to keep the movement tight. If you feel the tension release at the top or bottom of the movement, you’ve gone too far and need to shorten the range of motion, he said.
For more defined arms, good nutrition is key
As with any other aspect of fitness, you can’t out-train a bad diet. Hard work in the gym can make your muscles bigger, but for clear muscle definition, you need to be eating right for your goals.
“It doesn’t matter how many lateral raises or curls you do. If you’re not lean enough, the muscles won’t show,” Goldberg said.
Fitness aficionados will often do cycles of eating in a surplus to build muscle (bulking) and eating in a deficit to lose fat (cutting). If you want to see progress by the summer, you need to decide which to prioritize now. For most people, slightly reducing body fat leads to quicker results, Goldberg said.
“If you’re not already lean,” you don’t need to bulk up “to see any definition in your arms,” he said.
“Keep exercising and lifting weights and do a slight calorie cut,” he added. Reducing calories by about 10% is a good place to start – for instance, if you typically eat about 2,000 calories in a day, trimming down to 1,800 calories is a rough estimate for healthy, sustainable fat loss.
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