While many upper-body exercises involve equipment like dumbbells and barbells, arm exercises without weights are a solid way to put your muscles to the test, too. After all, the weight of your body is equipment in its own right—you can use it to load your arm muscles and make ’em work. There’s no heavy lifting required, and a gym membership is totally optional.
To be totally clear, it’s hard to work all of the muscles in your arms without weights, so equipment-free arm exercises are only going to be able to target certain areas, primarily the tops of the shoulders (the deltoids) and the triceps. Other arm muscles, like your biceps, typically need some external resistance to work against. But the exercises listed here are definitely useful for hitting some key muscle groups when you don’t have access to equipment.
Most no-equipment arm exercises are some version of planks or push-ups, which means they also require you to engage your core, so you’ll work those muscles at the same time. This means you might not feel the same concentrated burn in your arms like you would with, say, a shoulder press, and that’s totally OK. Just because these equipment-free arm exercises don’t isolate the upper body doesn’t mean they aren’t working it. And trust us, you’ll feel the proof a few days later.
Next time you’re looking to get in an arm workout at home, try combining 4 to 6 of the 16 moves below to create a workout—doing 45 seconds of each move, with 15 seconds of rest in between, and then repeating the whole thing three times, is a good place to start. Some of these arm exercises focus more on specific muscles like the triceps, while others will really challenge the shoulder muscles (including the deltoids and rhomboids), the pecs, and latissimus dorsi (or the lats, the broadest muscles on each side of your back). These are all important areas to strengthen, not only so you can lift heavier weights, but also so you can comfortably perform activities of daily living like carrying grocery bags or lifting your suitcase.
While these exercises are useful for anyone, no matter your fitness level, they’re especially good for beginners. When you focus on just using your own body for resistance (and don’t add weights) it’s easier to learn proper form, which can help prevent potential injuries that arise when you start lifting heavier.
A few of these exercises do require a surface, like a box, bench, or step. Use a stair in your house, your sofa, a park bench, or any other similar and stable surface you can find.
Demoing the moves below are Crystal Williams, a group fitness instructor and trainer who teaches at residential and commercial gyms across New York City; Amanda Wheeler, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and cofounder of Formation Strength, an online women’s training group that serves the LGBTQ community and allies; Teresa Hui, a native New Yorker who has run over 150 road races, including 16 full marathons; and Cookie Janee, a background investigator and security forces specialist in the Air Force Reserve.
Ready to get started? Here are 16 arm exercises without weights you can do at home to help build your upper-body and core strength, all in one.
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