7 Moves you should avoid in your arm workouts
Don’t waste your time or potentially injure yourself with these arm exercises.
Citation By Pete Williams
It’s tough to hurt your arms in the gym unless you drop a dumbbell on them. After all, your arms are mostly along for the ride for many lifts. When it comes down to it, big movements are often powered primarily by the shoulders, legs, back, chest, midsection — you get the idea.
Still, the arms remain a focal point for many guys forever in search of sleeve-bursting biceps and triceps and Popeye forearms. That’s why countless hours are spent on arm isolation exercises that, while not especially dangerous, are not particularly efficient either.
Not only that, some bicep and tricep moves place undue strain on the shoulders and elbows, which can cause injuries to those areas and also contribute to ailments elsewhere along the kinetic chain.
In the interest of greater efficiency and avoiding injury, here are seven moves to avoid in your arm workouts and seven better options to substitute.
Pete Williams is a NASM-certified personal trainer and the author or co-author of a number of books on performance and training.
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Why You Should Avoid It: They come in many varieties—standing, sitting, incline, dumbbell, barbell, preacher, concentration—and while they do work the biceps and produce some mass, they’re not especially effective. That’s because you rarely do anything with just your biceps muscles. So why train that way?
What You Should Do Instead: A pull-up or chin-up challenges the biceps as much as a curl while also forcing you to move from the shoulders and recruit the triceps. In other words, they better mimic the everyday movement of life and sport.
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Why You Should Avoid It: They’re all-purpose, convenient and can be done on bars, benches, and even chairs usually with the goal of blasting the triceps. Unfortunately, dips—especially the bench or chair version—require too much internal shoulder rotation and can damage the rotator cuff.
What You Should Do Instead: Dumbbell skull crushers blast the triceps without taxing the shoulders and also build coordination between the upper back and tris. Lie supine on a bench and lower the dumbbells until your elbows are bent 90 degrees. Then pull back to starting position.
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Why You Should Avoid It: It’s an isolation move that’s tough to do in isolation. That’s because it’s difficult to push a heavy enough dumbbell without leveraging other parts of the body.
What You Should Do Instead: Diamond pushups (with thumbs and index fingers together) hit the triceps more effectively while also targeting the biceps and shoulders.
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Why You Should Avoid It: Another one-dimensional move that hits an area that’s working harder in many other moves. Spend your time more wisely.
What You Should Do Instead: If the goal is to build grip strength and stronger forearms, the farmer’s carry is a better option. You’ll also improve posture, activate the glutes, and even build endurance as you walk further distances with dumbbells, kettlebells, or weight plates.
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Why You Should Avoid It: Like wrist curls and bicep curls, they’re a one-dimensional move working an area (forearms) that you can hit more effectively with other moves that also provide benefits in other areas.
What You Should Do Instead: A waiter’s carry hits the forearms while also challenging your posture and overall core stability. Plus, it will prove valuable if you ever work as a server in a restaurant. Hold a kettlebell or a dumbbell straight overhead with your arm fully extended and begin walking. Switch arms and repeat. You can use a weight plate and hold it overhead like a waiter would hold a tray for a more challenging workout.
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Why You Should Avoid It: Another one-dimensional move that hits the triceps and little else.
What You Should Do Instead: X pulldowns. In addition to working the triceps, you’ll get some benefits to the back and shoulders, too. And because it’s a pulling movement, you can do this in between two pushing movements without taking a break.
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Weighted Arm Circle
Why You Should Avoid It: A favorite of group fitness instructors looking to add some strength training to yoga, spin, or Pilates class, this should be avoided there and in the gym because of the undue pressure it places on the shoulders.
What You Should Do Instead: Physioball Ys and Ts. Lie facedown on a physioball and bring your shoulder blades together to raise your arms to a “Y” 10 times and then a set of “T” for 10 reps. You’ll strengthen and stabilize the shoulders, countering the effects of sitting, and reducing the risk of shoulder injury. Not challenging enough? Add a pair of light dumbbells.