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How to Get Stronger Arms: 7 Trainer-Approved Exercise Moves

by Grace Gavilanes - November 15, 2018

As an instructor at Chicago’s Shred 415 and Wattage, Emily McKean (@em_mckean on Instagram) practically lives in fitness studios. And because she’s surrounded by people who want to look and feel their best, the trainer is a pro at developing new workouts targeting different body parts, like arms, abs, legs and booty. In collaboration with Lively, McKean created this workout for those who keep searching “how to get stronger arms” on Google. Because — let’s be real — all that holiday shopping (read: carrying all those bags!) practically calls for stronger, more toned arms.

If you have had the pleasure of taking one of McKean’s classes or even just quickly scanned her Instagram, you know she’s strong and a total badass when it comes to creating and following through with her workouts. So, are you ready to take on the exercise moves she designed for us?

RELATED: The Ultimate Guide to Stronger, Leaner Abs

“This one is a bit of a ‘bro’ workout that’s going to give you that upper body pump,” says McKean, describing the workout.

Challenge accepted.

emily mckean how to get stronger arms

How to Get Stronger Arms

What you need: dumbbells (or barbell) and pull-down machine

The Workout

Barbell (or Dumbbell) Chest Press: 6-8 reps

Lie back on bench, neutral spine (slight arch in lower back), pinch shoulder blades together as if you were trying to crush a nut between your shoulder blades. Hands about shoulder width, brace core and take deep breath, lift bar out of rack and lower to your “safe zone” (sternum area, that V between your chest) When lowering the bar think of making an “A” or “arrow head” with your head and elbows vs making a “T” and having elbows flair out at 90degrees. That will place unnecessary strain on the shoulders. Touch chest with bar, push feet through the ground and press the bar to the ceiling. Exhale on the way up.

Dumbbell Bent Over Row: 8 reps on each arm (3-4 sets)

Hold dumbbells by your side, think big chest and shoulders back. Keep your shoulders and scapula locked in place. Hinge at the hips to bend over slightly, brace core to protect your spine. To engage the row, think of pulling your elbows back, like starting a lawn mower vs. pulling straight up like an elevator. Allow arm to swing slightly forward on its natural path to return to start of movement. There should be a good stretch in the lat, not much pressure on the shoulders to lift/row the weight.

Barbell or Dumbbell Overhead Press: 6-8 reps

Hold dumbbells shoulder-height, palms can face each other (neutral grip) or face forward (standard grip) neutral grip is best for beginners and people with shoulder complications. Forearms should be vertical at bottom of lift, not angled. Contract glutes, brace core, deep breath and press the dumbbells overhead. If looking at the top of lift from the side (arms extended overhead), your arms should aligned with your ears (ears should be hidden behind arms from the side view). 

Lat Pulldown: 10-12 reps (3 sets)

Sit on bench, grab handle (overhand or underhand grip), hands placed at or around shoulder-width. Think big chest and shoulders back, scapula should be set back and locked in place. This will place the tension on the lats where we want it. Brace core, deep breath and initiate pull from the scapula and think of a string pulling your elbows down and slightly backwards. Lower bar to around chin level or whatever your mobility allows. Squeeze shoulder blades together at bottom of lift. Return to start. Keep shoulders set back and tension on the lats. 

EZ Bar Bicep Curls: 5 reps (2-3 sets without rest)

Grab bar with underhand grip (palms facing up), hands slightly wider than your body, elbows tight to body. Big chest and shoulders back. Contract glutes, brace core, deep breath and curl your arms bringing the bar up to your face flexing your biceps at the top of lift. Elbows should be at your side. Then track slightly forward as the bar raises to face. Elbows should not track behind body; your side view will show this. Avoid swinging the bar on the way up and lower the bar slowly for best results. 

Tricep Pushdowns: 12-15 reps

Step up to cable pulley machine. You can use a variety of handles from the rope, angled bar, straight bar or whatever else feels good and places tension on the tricep. You can use an underhand or overhand grip (both work tricep, just different parts). Overhand will be easier and allows you to use a heavier weight. Big chest, shoulders back, contract glutes, brace core, deep breath. Push handle straight down by straightening your arms and flexing your tricep. Return to start slowly. 

Side Lateral Raises: 12-15 reps (2-3 sets)

Hold dumbbells by your side, palms facing each other. Big chest and shoulders back and slight forward lean. Squeeze glutes, brace core, deep breath and raise the dumbbells straight out to the side until you reach shoulder height or make a “T” with your arms and body. At the top of lift, slightly angle your hand so your pinky is higher than your thumb. (Think of pouring tea). That will help hit your side delts. Lower weights slowly. Avoid swinging and swaying when lifting the weights. 

  • Workout how-to by Vital Proteins trainer Dan Caron

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