Top 5 Arm Building Exercises Using Free Weights

Updated August 28, 2013

It’s common knowledge that free weight exercises are the best overall muscle builders. For those of you unfamiliar with the term free weights, it simply refers to exercises that utilize barbells and dumbbells.

Free weight exercises do not include cable, machine, or bodyweight exercises. While these types of movements have their place and can certainly build arm size, this article will focus only on barbell and dumbbell arm building lifts.

The beauty of free weight barbell and dumbbell exercises is that they can be performed virtually anywhere. You won’t need any special equipment, as even the most basic of gyms have free weights and benches.

What follows are 5 top free weight arm building exercises. They are listed in no particular order.

Top 5 Arm Building Exercises Using Free Weights

Close Grip Bench Press

The close grip bench press takes some of the stress off the chest and front delts, and places it upon the triceps. This exercises can be performed with heavy weight and high reps, making it an extremely effective triceps builder.

Make sure to keep your wrists over your elbow when performing close grip bench presses. It is a common mistake to bring the hands too close together. This is unbalancing and places extra stress on the wrists and shoulders, making it a more dangerous variation.

Alternating Dumbbell Curls

While barbell curls are the more popular bicep building exercise, dumbbell curls place less stress on the elbows and may be a better choice when trying to fend off elbow tendonitis. Barbell curls force you to supinate your hands until your palms are face up. This can place unnecessary stress on the wrists and elbows.

On the other hand, alternating dumbbell curls allow you to naturally rotate your hands and are far more comfortable. This exercise also allows for a wide range of progression, making it a top muscle building choice.

Seated Two Arm Dumbbell Extensions

The primary function of the triceps is to extend the arm at the elbow. For this reason extension exercises are a good compliment to the heavy close grip bench press.

While standing extension variations are effective, the seated two arm dumbbell extension allows you to move heavy weight in a more stable and controlled environment. This exercise is best performed with some sort of bench or rest behind your back. If your gym has a preacher curl bench you can simply sit with your back against the pad and manuever the dumbbell into position.

Make sure to get a quality stretch at the bottom of the movement.

Barbell 21 Curls

If you’re going to perform barbell curls, then 21s are an extremely effective variation. Instead of performing standard reps, 21s work 3 different ranges as follows:

  • 7 Reps, Lower Half. Instead of full range reps, perform 7 half reps, raising the bar only until it is parallel to the ground.
  • 7 Reps, Upper Range. Without resting, you now perform 7 more half reps, this time starting each rep from the parallel point. Complete each rep by bringing the bar to your chest, and then returning it no lower than parallel to the ground.
  • 7 Complete Reps. Again without resting, perform 7 full range barbell curl reps.

Make sure to experiment with grip width to see which feels best on your joints.

Lying Tricep Extensions

Anyone that has ever performed a dumbbell or barbell pullover has noticed that the movement also taxes their triceps. The reason for this is because a secondary function of the tricep is to rotate the arm towards the body. Unfortunately, most lying extension variations ignore this aspect of triceps anatomy.

Instead of performing lying triceps extensions by lowering the bar to your forehead, ala a skullcrusher, you want to allow the bar travel down below your head. From this position you will now move the bar up and complete each rep by extending the bar completely upward.


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