You can use dumbbells to tone your arms. The key is to perform different exercises that each focus on different muscles in your arm. To tone your triceps (the muscles at the back of your upper arm), you will perform pushing motions, such as kickbacks, extensions, and dumbbell presses. To target your biceps (the muscles at the front of your arms), you will be performing pulling motions. Most notably, the curl is a pulling motion that helps tone your biceps. Finally, to increase fitness in your forearms, you will be performing curls using your wrist only.
Does Lifting Weights Tone Your Arms?
One of the best ways to tone your arms is by lifting weights. Contrary to what some believe, lifting weights will not turn you into a bulked bodybuilder overnight. The exercises we recommend and the sets, reps, and routine we provide in this article are all designed to tone your arms by building lean muscle. All you need are a few dumbbells of different weights or a pair of these adjustable dumbbells.
The 10 Best Hand Weight Exercises to Tone Your Arms Fast
Below are 10 beginner-friendly movements that will tone all the major muscles in your arm. First, we’ll cover each exercise. Then, we’ll tell you how to put them together to create an arm-toning workout. Before we begin, it’s important to note the following:
- Exercises 1–4 on this list are designed to target your triceps muscle.
- Movements 5–8 on this list are biceps-specific exercises.
- Exercises 9 and 10 are designed to tone your forearm muscles.
First, we’ll introduce you to this portfolio of incredible exercises, then give you a guide so you can use them to increase your arm fitness and muscle tone.
The tricep kickback is a staple of arm toning. This exercise will focus on the triceps muscle at the back of the arm. Here’s how to perform it:
- Hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides with your palms facing toward each other.
- Bend forward at a 45-degree angle, bending slightly at the knees.
- Keep your back straight and your shoulders back.
- Bend your arms at slightly more than a 90-degree angle.
- Straighten your arms, moving only your elbow joint. When you straighten your arms, do not lock your elbow joint.
- Bend your arms, returning to the starting position. Then, repeat.
The simple motion of straightening your arms while holding the weight in this position will recruit your triceps muscles. Later, we’ll discuss the number of sets and repetitions to perform for each exercise.
Dumbbell triceps extensions are an excellent triceps exercise for building toned arms. For this movement:
- Sit on a bench, chair, or other firm, stable surface.
- Keep your back straight and pull your shoulder blades back.
- Hold a single dumbbell overhead with your arms straight.
- Position your arms so that your elbows are just above your ears.
- Bend your arms until they are slightly past parallel with the floor, lowering the weight behind your head.
- Straighten your arms, pressing the weight up overhead to the starting position.
When performing the triceps extension (also known as the french press), make sure to bend only at the elbow joint. Your shoulders should remain in place. This requires you to use your triceps more effectively.
Despite their name, skullcrushers aren’t a dangerous exercise. In fact, they’re an amazing triceps workout that belong on any list of fantastic arm exercises. To do them:
- Lay on a bench or the floor.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing inwards (toward each other).
- Extend your arms straight out toward the ceiling.
- Bend at the elbow until the dumbbell touches the front of your shoulder.
- Straighten your arms to return to the starting position with arms extended.
It really is that simple. No craniums will be crushed and you’ll be able to use hand weights to increase your upper body fitness and arm muscle tone. Soon, you’ll even be progressing to heavier weights as you grow stronger.
Close-Grip Dumbbell Press
This modified version of the bench press is excellent for targeting the triceps. You might think of bench press as a chest exercise, but this one is designed to provide a workout for your arm muscles. Here’s how it’s done:
- Lie on your back. You can use a bench or the floor.
- Plant your feet flat on the floor.
- Retract your shoulders back and down—think of putting your shoulder blades into your back pockets.
- Grip a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing inward.
- Bring your arms to your side, about shoulder width apart.
- Press the dumbbells away from you, keeping your elbows close to your sides and in line with your shoulders.
- Straighten your arms but do not lock your elbows.
- Lower the weights back down to starting position, keeping your elbows close to your sides.
While a typical wide-grip bench press recruits muscles in the chest and shoulders, holding the dumbbells at shoulder width targets the triceps. For a serious burn in your arms, go straight from skullcrushers into a set of close-grip dumbbell press.
This gym standard workout is a highly effective arm toner when performed effectively. For best results from your biceps curls:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Maintain a straight back.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing forward (away from you).
- Keep your elbows at your sides.
- Bending only at the elbow, bring your forearm up until it touches the front of your upper arm.
- Slowly lower the weight back down to the starting position.
It’s important to lower the weight slowly on the downward motion when performing any sort of biceps curls. During curls, your muscles work as you slowly lower the weight, leading to a better workout and more results.
If you really want to isolate your biceps for arm toning, drag curls are one of the best exercises you can perform. By pulling the weight rather than curling, you prevent yourself from “cheating” and swinging the weight up. Here’s how to do dumbbell drag curls:
- Stand with your back straight and feet shoulder-width apart.
- Hold the dumbbells with your arms extended and palms facing forward, as you would when preparing for a standard biceps curl.
- Instead of curling the weight up, pull your elbows back.
- As you pull your elbows back, bring the weights upward along the front of your body.
- Pull your elbows back until the weights are high enough that they are in line with the bottom of your sternum.
- Lower the weights slowly to the starting position and repeat.
Drag curls are a nice change of pace from the standard bicep curl. They also help prevent you from using your shoulder muscles to swing the weight upward, keeping the focus on your arm muscles.
Hammer curls are a great biceps curl variation. They feature a very natural grip that feels comfortable for beginners, plus they’re a great workout. To do them:
- Stand with your feet hip-width or shoulder-width apart, whichever feels more stable for you.
- Keep your back straight and eyes forward.
- Hold the dumbbells at your side with palms facing inward (toward each other).
- Bending at the elbow only, bring one arm up in a curl motion.
- Slowly straighten your arm until the weight is in starting position with your arm extended.
- Repeat, this time with the other arm.
Because your hands are in a natural position with palms facing inwards, it’s easy to control the weight. This exercise allows more comfortability when curling than most other variations.
The reverse biceps curl is an excellent exercise that works the biceps as well as the brachioradialis muscle in the upper forearm. To perform it, simply reverse the grip you would use during a standard curl. Here’s how:
- Stand with feet hip-width or shoulder-width apart. Keep your back straight.
- WIth your arms hanging at your sides, hold a dumbbell in each hand.
- Grip the dumbbells with your palms facing inward (behind you)
- With your elbows at your sides, bring your forearms up in a curl motion.
- Maintain the reverse grip during the curl motion. Your wrists should be straight throughout the curl.
- After completing the curl, slowly lower the weights back to the starting position.
Because the grip required for reverse curls works smaller forearm muscles, you may need to use lighter weights when performing reverse curls compared to other curl variations. Remember to keep a straight wrist throughout this curl to prevent injury. If your wrists bend downward during the curl, reduce the amount of weight you’re using.
Palm-Up Wrist Curl
The forearm muscles are an often-neglected part of a workout program. However, including forearm exercises is key to toning your arms. Let’s begin with the palm-up wrist curl:
- Sit on a bench, chair, or other stable surface.
- Place your forearms on top of your thighs with your palm facing upwards. Your hands should extend past your knees.
- Hold a light dumbbell in each hand.
- Slowly bend your wrist downward until your knuckles are pointed toward the floor.
- Curl your wrist up until your knuckles face the ceiling.
- Slowly return to the knuckles-down starting position and repeat.
You can leave the heavier weights to the side when performing forearm workouts. The muscles in your lower arm are much smaller and can be trained using lower weights than you would use for bicep and tricep workouts.
Palm-Down Wrist Curl
Now that you’ve been introduced to the palm-up wrist curl, let’s reverse the motion. It’s essential to include both exercises because they work different muscles in your forearm. Just as push and pull motions work different muscles in your upper arm, the same goes for your forearms. Here’s how to do the palm-down wrist curl:
- Sit on a stable bench or chair.
- Place your forearm on your thigh with your palm facing toward the floor. Your hand should extend past your knee.
- Hold a dumbbell in one hand.
- Slowly bend your wrist downward so your knuckles face toward the floor.
- Bend your wrist backwards until the knuckles point toward the ceiling.
- Lower the weight in a controlled manner and repeat.
As you can see, the two forearm exercises are very similar. The major difference lies in reversing the grip from palm-up to palm-down.
The Ultimate Arm-Toning Workout
Now that you have a list of arm workouts, how should you use them? How many sets and repetitions of each exercise should you do? How many times should you work out your arms each week to tone them? Try this workout plan to get great results:
- Choose 2 triceps exercises, 2 biceps exercises, and 1 forearm exercise from the list above.
- For exercise one, perform 10 reps per arm. Then, rest for 90 seconds.
- Perform 4 sets of 10 reps for exercise.
- Repeat for all the exercises in the workout. You will perform 4 sets of 10 reps for all 5 exercises.
- Rest for 2–3 days.
- Perform a second arm workout, this time with the 2 triceps exercises, 2 biceps exercises, and 1 forearm exercises you didn’t include in the previous workout.
Each time you complete all 4 sets of an exercise at your chosen weight, increase the weight next time you perform that exercise. For example, if you successfully completed 4 sets of hammer curls at 10 pounds, increase the weight to 12.5 pounds the next time you do hammer curls. This will continue to push your muscles and encourage more results. By performing 2 dedicated arm workouts per week, you’ll use every exercise on this list to tone your arms.
How Long Does it Take to Tone Arms with Weights?
By performing twice-weekly arm workouts as discussed above, you’ll begin to see visible results in 3–4 weeks. However, this is just the beginning. As you continue to work, you’ll see more results. Keep in mind, it’s essential to include arm workouts as part of a total body fitness and health program. Although we all want our arms to look great, we also have to take care of our cardio fitness, improve strength throughout the body, and build a healthy lifestyle.
How Do You Tone Your Arms with Hand Weights?
In order to tone your arms with hand weights, it’s essential to:
- Perform exercises that target the triceps, such as kickbacks, triceps extensions, and close-grip press.
- Incorporate bicep exercises, such as drag curls, reverse curls, and hammer curls.
- Tone the forearms through palm-up and palm-down wrist curls.
- Perform 4–5 arm exercises in an arm workout 1–2 times per week.
- Allow rest days between arm workouts so your muscles can recover.
By following these quick rules, you’ll see results and build lean, toned muscle in your arms. After just a few weeks of following this plan, the benefits will be visible in the mirror.