11 Vein Popping Compound Exercises for Arms 

When it comes to arm training, most people automatically gravitate toward isolation exercises like biceps curls and triceps pushdowns. These exercises allow you to target your arms with laser-like precision, which is part of their appeal. You’ll really feel these movements working. 

But, on the downside, isolation exercises reduce the amount of weight you can lift, which may make them less effective. Also, doing lots of isolation exercises can be very time-consuming. The good news is that there are lots of compound exercises for arms.

Compound exercises involve movement at multiple joints and involve several muscles at once. Because of this, they allow you to lift heavier weights and are also very time efficient. You can train the entire body, and your arms, with just a few compound exercises. In contrast, using isolation exercises, you’ll need at least ten and a much longer workout. 

Most compound exercises are also more functional, which means they mirror how your body works in “real life” outside of the gym. That means they’re the best choice for athletes and anyone who wants to improve their physical performance

You don’t have to give up isolation exercises completely. After all, they can be useful. But if you want great results in less time, compound arm exercises may be your best choice. In this article, we reveal the 11 best compound biceps and triceps exercises and also provide some handy tips to help you get the most from your workouts.

Compound Exercises For Arms

Anatomy of The Biceps and Triceps

The correct name for the biceps and triceps is biceps brachii and triceps brachii. These names mean two-headed arm muscle and three-headed arm muscle, respectively. The biceps and triceps are on opposite sides of your upper arm and affect your elbow and your shoulder joints. 

The biceps are located on the front of your upper arm. They flex your elbow, supinate your forearm (turn your palm up), and also flex your shoulder. The biceps have two heads – the short head and the long head. Both heads work together to bend your elbow, but the long head is responsible for shoulder flexion. 

The triceps are located on the back of your upper arm. They extend your elbow and your shoulder joint. There are three triceps heads – the lateral, medial, and long heads. Of the three, the long head is the only one that crosses your shoulder joint, and so it is the head involved in shoulder extension. 

Your triceps make up about 60% of your upper arm mass.  

11 Compound Exercises for Arms

Build your best arms ever, saving time and energy in the process, with these compound biceps and triceps exercises!

1. Close Grip Pulldowns

Lat pulldowns are a popular and effective upper back exercise. However, they also involve your biceps. Switching to a narrow, underhand grip makes the movement more biceps-centric.

  1. Reach up and grab the bar with an underhand grip, hands about shoulder-width apart.
  2. With straight arms, sit down on the machine and place your legs under the thigh pads.
  3. Lean back slightly and lift your chest.
  4. Keeping your shoulders down and back, bend your elbows and pull the bar down to your upper chest.
  5. Extend your arms and repeat.

2. Chin-Upschin ups

Like lat pulldowns, chin-ups, and their close cousin pull-ups are great back builders. That said, when you do underhand chin-ups, your biceps get an excellent workout too. However, to do this exercise, you’ll need to be strong enough to lift your entire body weight using just your arms!

  1. Hang from a bar with an underhand, shoulder-width grip.
  2. Your feet should be clear of the floor.
  3. Bend your arms and pull your chin up and over the bar.
  4. Descend under control and repeat.

3. Close Grip Bent-Over Rows

Bent-over rows can be hard on your lower back, but providing you don’t suffer from back pain, this is another useful and efficient lat and biceps exercise. Also, bent-over rows work your trapezius and rhomboids, which are essential postural muscles between your shoulder blades.

  1. Hold a barbell with an underhand, shoulder-width grip.
  2. Bend your knees slightly, lean forward, and angle your torso to about 45-degrees.
  3. Let your arms hang down from your shoulders. Do not round your lower back.
  4. Bend your arms and pull the bar up and into your midsection.
  5. Extend your arms and repeat.

4. Close Grip Seated Rows

If bent-over barbell rows are uncomfortable or hurt your lower back, try this exercise instead. It’s everyMan doing seated cable row bit as effective but much lower back-friendly.

  1. Sit on the seated row machine and put your feet on the footplates.
  2. Bend your legs slightly and sit up tall.
  3. Grab the bar using a shoulder-width, underhand grip.
  4. Pull the bar into your abdomen, keeping your elbows tucked in close to your sides and your torso rigid.
  5. Extend your arms and repeat.

5. Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

Single-arm dumbbell rows aren’t just a good back and biceps exercise; they’re also very lower back-Single arm dumbbell rowfriendly. With one free arm, you can support yourself and take any unwanted stress off your lumbar spine. Plus, working one arm at a time means you can identify and fix any left-to-right strength imbalances.

  1. Hold a dumbbell in one hand and stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Bend your knees slightly and lean forward, placing your free hand on a knee-high bench.
  3. Let the weight hang down from your shoulder, palm turned inward, and arm straight.
  4. Bend your arm and pull the weight up and into the side of your ribs.
  5. Extend your arm and repeat.

Note: Do the same number of reps on both sides. 

6. Push-Ups

Push-ups are probably the most widely performed exercise on the planet. Almost everyone who works out does push-ups! The humble push-up is a chest and shoulder exercise that also works your triceps.

  1. Squat down and place your hands on the floor about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Walk your feet back until your body is straight. Brace your abs.
  3. Bend your arms and lower your chest down to within an inch or so of the floor.
  4. Do not let your hips drop or thrust your head forward.
  5. Push yourself back up and repeat.

Note: Make push-ups easier by resting on your knees or harder by putting your feet on a chair, bench, or step. 

7. Diamond Push-Ups

While regular push-ups are a decent triceps exercise, diamond push-ups are much more triceps-centric. They’re basically the same but, instead of placing your hands shoulder-width apart, your thumbs and first fingers are touching to form a diamond shape.

  1. Bend your arms and lower your chest to the back of your hands.
  2. Keep your elbows tucked in to your sides.
  3. Push yourself back up and repeat.

Note: You can make this exercise easier by resting on your knees or harder by raising your feet. 

8. Parallel Dips

Parallel dips are a classic calisthenic and gymnastics exercise. They work your chest and shoulders and also your triceps. In fact, they’re one of the best bodyweight triceps exercises around.

  1. Place your hands on the top of the parallel bars about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Support your weight on your arms.
  3. Bend your elbows and descend until your upper arms are roughly parallel to the floor.
  4. Push yourself back up and repeat.

Note: Make dips harder by wearing a weighted vest or donning a dip/chin belt. 

9. Bench Dips

If parallel dips have a disadvantage, it is that you need to be able to lift your entire body weight using just your arms. If that’s too challenging for you right now, give bench dips a try. Not only are they easier, but you can also do them using a regular exercise bench, a sturdy chair, or even a stair or step, so they’re much more accessible.

  1. Sit on your bench and place your hands next to your hips, fingers pointing forward.
  2. Straighten your arms and lift your hips up and forward.
  3. Extend your legs in front of you.
  4. Bend your arms and descend until your elbows are bent to 90-degrees.
  5. Push yourself back up and repeat.

Note: This exercise can be hard on the shoulders, so take care not to descend too far or place your feet too far out in front. 

10. Close Grip Bench Press

The close grip bench press is the freeweight equivalent of diamond push-ups. It’s a popular accessory exercise with powerlifters looking to beef up their triceps for a bigger bench press. Bodybuilders also love this exercise for its triceps-building effect. 

  1. Lie on the bench press with your eyes directly beneath the bar.
  2. Hold the bar with a slightly narrower than shoulder-width overhand grip. 
  3. Unrack the bar and hold it over your chest. 
  4. Bend your elbows and lower the bar down to lightly touch your sternum – no bouncing. 
  5. Press the weight up and repeat. 

11. Dumbbell Curl and Press

This is the ultimate arm compound exercise because it works your biceps and triceps at the same time. Ifseated bicep curl you are in a hurry but still need a good arm and upper body workout, this is the exercise for you. 

  1. Seated or standing, hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms by your sides. 
  2. Bend your elbows and curl the weights up to your shoulders. 
  3. Next, press the dumbbells up and overhead to arms’ length.
  4. Lower them back to your shoulders and then back to your sides. That’s one rep; keep going!

Hints and Tips for Better Results

Get more from your workouts and make faster progress with our handy hints and tips!

How Many Reps Should I Do?

The correct number of reps depends on your training goal. The accepted reps ranges by goal are:

  • Muscle strength – 1-5 reps per set
  • Muscle size – 6-12 reps per set
  • Muscle endurance – 13-20 reps per set

The weight used should take you close to failure within the appropriate rep range for your training goal.

How Often Should I Train My Arms?

For best results, you should train your arms 1-2 times per week. This provides a good balance between training and rest. Allow 2-3 days between workouts for recovery, e.g., Monday and Thursday.

Are Isolation Exercises Pointless?

Absolutely not! The only issue with isolation exercises is that they can be time-consuming. Compound exercises allow you to train more muscles in less time. But, if you want to focus exclusively on one muscle, isolation exercises are the best option.

Can I Just Train My Arms and Forget About The Rest of My Body?

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Your arms are one small part of your body, and developing them in isolation from the rest of your body won’t do much for how you look or your physical performance. Train all muscle groups equally for the best results. Big arms on an otherwise out-of-shape person look ridiculous.

Do Compound Arm Exercises Also Work My Forearms?

Yes, they do! Gripping a barbell, dumbbells, or a handle works all of your forearm flexors, and several of the muscles involved in elbow flexion are also forearm muscles. Working your biceps and triceps with compound exercises means your forearms get a workout too. 

Bottom Line

Exercises like dumbbell curls and triceps kickbacks can be very useful for targeting your biceps and triceps, but they may not be the most efficient way to work your arms. After all, you can hit your biceps and triceps at the same time as you train your back, chest, and shoulders if you choose the right exercises. 

Push-ups, rows, pull-ups, and overhead presses should be part of your workouts anyway; they’re the cornerstones of upper body training. As an added benefit, these chest, back, and shoulder exercises also involve your arms. For a lot of people, that means direct arm training with isolation exercises is unnecessary. 

After all, when you’re doing something like pull-ups or bench presses, it’s your smaller arm muscles that always fail first. The biceps and triceps get a good workout, whether they want one or not! 

That said, if you are a bodybuilder and want to build the biggest arms possible, isolation exercises are a must. You need to do direct arm exercises to increase muscle mass and sculpt aesthetically pleasing arms. 

But, if you’re short or time or running low on energy, it’s good to know that you can save time and effort by training your arms with compound exercises. In most cases, those same exercises will make you stronger too!


Patrick Dale is an ex-British Royal Marine and owner and lecturer for a fitness qualifications company. In addition to training prospective personal trainers, Patrick has also authored three fitness and exercise books, dozens of e-books, thousands of articles, and several fitness videos.

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