Sleeveless shirts and dresses are calling your name, but your arms aren’t having any of it. Instead, they are doing their best turtle impression, content to hide in 3-quarter-sleeve tops forever.
That used to be me, too. I’ve been there. After having my kids things weren’t exactly . . . toned.
After I discovered weight lifting, that all changed. I voraciously read everything I could on the subject.
I tried every kind of training method and learned all I could about building muscle and losing fat.
And it wasn’t long before I was trading my long sleeves for tank tops. You could say I have a mild obsession** with racer-back, sporty, cute, layered, bright tank tops. Okay, a large obsession.
In this article I will share with you the exact methods I used to build sexy, toned arms.
**Disclaimer: By reading and utilizing the advice herein, you will in no way hold the author of muscleMATTERS responsible for your inevitable spending spree(s) on tank tops or any other arm-baring articles of clothing.
What “Toned” Really Means
When we think of “toned,” we think of tight, defined, shapely muscles. It’s often thought that using light dumbbells and high repetitions is the key to getting toned.
Sure, you need to do some resistance training if you’re going to achieve a “toned” look. But it’s going to take a bit more work than that.
Others believe that simply losing some body fat will do the trick. And that’s true as well. If you have any muscle mass hiding under the fat, that is.
While both schools of thought are correct, they’re each only using half the equation.
A toned look requires, first, having a decent amount of muscle mass and, second, ample fat loss to reveal said muscle mass.
In other words: Grow the muscle then shed the fat. This is where the “toned” look comes from.
Biceps & Triceps & Shoulders, Oh My!
Let’s delve into the anatomy of what we’re working with in order to better understand how to go about our sexy arms quest.
Located on the front of the upper arms, the biceps are probably the most well-known muscle group. Biceps are commonly referred to as “mirror muscles” because we see them in the mirror daily.
When someone talks about strength or muscles, people often flex their biceps to show off what they’ve got.
It’s for this reason we often pay more attention to the biceps during our workouts.
Be honest with yourself now. How many biceps curls have you done, in every form imaginable, over and over again, with little to no difference in the appearance of said biceps?
I’ve been there, done that. I spent so much time on isolation lifts for my biceps, practically begging them to grow. But they remained flagrantly disobedient, leaving me fatigued and flat.
You want to know the #1 secret that finally got my biceps to grow? Patience, Grasshopper. Stick with me, we’ll get there.
So what are the opposite of “mirror muscles” then? Yep, you guessed it: Triceps.
You would think the muscle group that takes up the most room in the upper arm– 2/3rds to be exact–would get some attention of some sort. But, sadly, muscle groups that are “out of sight, out of mind” hardly get the love they deserve.
The only time the triceps get attention is when you realize, to your gut-wrenching surprise, that the backs of your arms now jiggle whenever you wave.
Where the hell did that come from? That never used to happen!
Then you set upon a path of triceps fat destruction, intent to banish the gelatinous intruders, hoping to never experience the dreaded arm-jiggles ever again!
But, alas, we cannot target specific areas for fat loss. It just doesn’t work like that.
But don’t drop the triceps exercises altogether. You still need them. They are but only one part of the triceps fat destruction plan.
When taking into account what goes into the appearance of a set of tight, toned arms, the shoulders are often overlooked.
But the shoulders, which consist of 3 muscle heads each, are much like the whipped cream on top of an ice cream sundae.
When trained correctly, they are the ultimate toppers on a delicious set of arms.
By “correctly,” I mean training each head (front, medial, & rear) of the shoulder equally. But, unfortunately, we run into the “mirror muscles” issue again.
Naturally, many people are going to focus more on building their chest (mirror muscles) as opposed to their back. Since the front delts assist in performing chest exercises, they receive more attention than the rear delts.
Not only is this not good for the appearance of the shoulders, it is most definitely not good for the health of the shoulders either.
When one muscle is significantly stronger than the opposing muscles, this causes an imbalance. Muscle imbalances almost always lead to injuries.
A tear or an impingement in the rotator cuff are among the most common injuries due to muscle imbalances.
The best way to prevent this type of injury is to perform 2 back exercises for every 1 chest exercise.
Not only will this method promote a healthy balance and minimize injuries, it will also ensure that you build a set of well-rounded shoulders to top off those sweet guns.
Your Recipe For Arm-Baring Success
Compound lifts, the first ingredient in our Sexy Arms recipe, are exercises that target more than one muscle group at a time. This is beneficial because it saves you valuable time in the gym. And working multiple muscle groups at once has its own list of benefits.
You remember the #1 secret that got my biceps to grow? Oh, yeah, I didn’t spill the beans yet. Well, here you go . . .
It wasn’t until I started focusing on compound lifts, instead of isolation lifts, that my biceps finally started to grow the way I wanted them to.
Using compound lifts enabled me to lift more weight, with all my muscles working as a team, in comparison to the amount of weight I could lift for a single biceps isolation exercise.
Sure, the biceps have help in performing the exercise, but they are being challenged far more through compounds.
How Compound Lifts Affect the Muscles of the Arms:
Compound lifts that target the back muscles also work the biceps and rear delts.
Compound lifts that target the chest muscles also work the triceps and front delts.
Compound lifts that target the shoulders work every shoulder head + the triceps.
Recommended Reading – For a More In-Depth Conversation on Compounds: Compound Exercises: Gain More Muscle, Save More Time
Eat to Gain!
Compound lifts aren’t the only thing you need to succeed in your quest for sexy arms.
Remember, in order to get that tight, toned look we’re striving for, we must have some muscle to show off. So the first order of business is compounds. The next order of business is eating.
Or, more specifically, gaining. Weight, that is.
You have to give your body what it needs so it can build lean muscle mass. It’s not possible to build something out of nothing. So it would stand to reason that your body needs a little extra food if you want it to build a little extra muscle.
Now, I will say, you can build muscle while maintaining your weight. But the pace is so painfully slow that your results will not be obvious for a long time.
It already takes so much time and energy to build muscle in the first place because, honestly, your body doesn’t really want to expend the energy to do so.
It would rather use the least amount of energy possible by maintaining weight. Building muscle takes a lot of energy.
Gaining weight while working to build muscle will ensure that your efforts are maximized, not wasted.
Do you need to gain 10 lbs a week for this to work? Hell no.
The optimal amount of weight a woman should gain is 1-2 lbs a month, and 2-4 lbs a month for guys. So, at max, for a lady, that’s 1/4 – 1/2 lb a week.
Gaining weight at such a slow pace means you need to plan to gain for at least 10-12 months. This gives your body ample time to build the muscle you need for the look you want.
Some might be inclined to think “more is better.” Maybe they want to gain weight faster to gain muscle faster. It doesn’t work like that.
Your body gains muscle slowly. If you upped your calories in order to gain 5-10 lbs a week, the only extra weight you’d gain is fat. And who wants that?
The one thing above all else that will ensure your muscle-building efforts are not in vain is Progressive Overload.
Working hand in hand with Compound Lifts and Gaining weight, Progressive Overload is the “secret sauce” that makes this recipe successful.
Progressive Overload essentially means increasing the amount of weight you lift, or the amount of sets/repetitions you perform from workout to workout.
Your muscles need to be challenged in order to grow. They are constantly adapting to the work you subject them to.
It is up to you to increase the work the muscle have to do. This will give them no choice but to adapt to the new stress you’ve subjected them to, and grow.
Recommended Reading – For More In-Depth Info on Progressive Overload and How it Benefits You: Muscle Confusion: Myth or Miracle
A Little Something Extra
With the 3 ingredients above you have a practically perfect recipe for sexy arms. But sometimes you need something a little extra.
What I’m suggesting here is simply a bit of garnish. While these extras are not mandatory, they do come in handy.
When you want to overcome a training plateau or inject a little life into your workouts due to boredom, these 6 training methods can be exactly what you need:
- Supersets – A workout set containing 2 exercises
- Tri-Sets – A workout set containing 3 exercises
- Giant Sets – A workout set containing 4+ exercises
- Drop Sets – 1 exercise performed for as many sets as possible, decreasing weight as you go.
- Pyramids – 1 exercise performed for X amount of sets, pyramiding up in weight as you you go.
- Pre-Exhaustion – Performing isolation exercises for specific muscles before performing a compound lift.
Recommended Reading – For More In-Depth Info, Including How to Implement These Methods: Of Supersets & Pyramids: 6 Simple Training Methods to Bust Through Plateaus & Banish Workout Boredom
The final step in getting the arms you want–the pièce de résistance–is uncovering those beautiful muscles you’ve worked so hard to build.
While building hard-earned muscle mass you also accumulate a bit of body fat. This is normal. Keeping your weight gain under control, as we talked about earlier, will keep your fat gain in check.
This is because lifting weights, and progressively increasing those weights, serves as the catalyst for muscle growth. So the gradual weight you do gain will be more muscle than fat.
Had you gradually gained weight without lifting, the majority of your weight gain would be, you guessed it, body fat.
When taking on a fat loss goal, weight lifting becomes even more important. Continuing your weight training, while lifting as heavy as possible, helps your body maintain the muscle you worked so hard to build.
Dieting down, or “cutting,” will reduce the body fat on your arms so your tight, defined muscles can emerge.
Recommended Reading – For Fat Loss Success: Who’s Counting? | IIFYM: How to Eat What You Love & Still Lose Weight | Your Ultimate Guide to Weight Loss Success: 7 Things You Need to Know
Putting it All Together
This isn’t a simple process. It does take time, patience, and lots of hard work. But it’s totally worth it.
The best part is, once you have your muscle base, all you have to do is maintain it. Or if you’re feeling really daring, you can build more.
Put these methods together and use them to your advantage. And the next time those sleeveless tops call your name, you’ll be saying, “Yes, please!”