November 07, 2021 8 min read

Bigger and stronger arms are crucial to looking good and feeling powerful. If you stopped half the lifters in your gym, they would probably agree that a built upper body is part of the reason they are there. But how do you get the jacked arms that you work for in the gym? It’s time to pick up a barbell.

We love barbells because they are simple, efficient, and versatile pieces of equipment. While many people immediately think of deadlifts or bent-over rows when they see a barbell, we think of arms! With just this one piece of equipment, we will show you how to hit all the muscles in your arms. You’ll be seeing results in no time. 

What Muscles Are We Targeting in Your Arms?

We are targeting major muscles to give you the big, sculpted arms that you want. 

biceps muscle anatomy

Biceps Brachii

The first muscle we will target is the biceps brachii, located at the front of your upper arm. These muscles have a long head and a short head. You use your biceps for nearly every arm movement – bending at the elbow, rotating your forearm, and raising your arm in front of your body. They are also aesthetic important, giving your arms that sculpted “ball” of muscle look.

Triceps Brachii

Next up are your triceps, located at the back of your upper arm. Your triceps have three different heads: a short head, a medial head, and a long head. Although you use your triceps frequently (straightening your arm at the elbow, shoulder extension), many weightlifters neglect their triceps workout. We will cover a few of the best triceps exercises because they are crucial for bigger, more muscular arms.

Brachialis

The next muscle we are working on is the brachialis, located underneath your biceps on the front of your arm. This muscle connects to your arm on either side of your elbow, and you use it whenever you bend your elbow. We will work this muscle to help you improve in your curls and develop well-rounded strong arms. Look at this article on brachialis exercisesif you want to hit this hard.

Brachioradialis

Next, we will hit your brachioradialis, located on your forearm and used to assist with elbow and forearm movement. Working this area will earn you well-defined forearms to turn heads and better support your other arm movements.

Other Forearm Muscles

Finally, we will hit a few other forearm muscles that you use every day. Well-defined forearms are essential for looking your best, but are also critical players in weightlifting because they provide much of the grip strength you will use in other moves. The muscles that we will target are the flexor muscles and the extensor muscles in your forearm.

For even more workouts that target these same muscles (and more), check out this article on barbell compound exercises to get you ripped. These compound full-body barbell exercises will have you hitting more than one of your major muscle groups all in one go.

7 Barbell Arm Workouts for Strength and Size

Now that we know which muscles we need to hit to work our arms, incorporate these seven exercises into your workout routine for fast, noticeable results.

1. Barbell Curls

Muscles Targeted: Biceps

This classic move will build your biceps to help you bulk up your arms. The simple but effective nature of barbell biceps curls makes it one of the best arm exercises, best bicep exercises, and a staple in strength training workout routines worldwide. Using a barbell for your curl instead of dumbbells lets you lift heavier by distributing the weight evenly across your body.


 

  1. Starting Position: Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Let your arms hang by your sides, holding the barbell in two hands. Grip the barbell in an overhand grip with your palms facing away from you, slightly outside of your shoulders.
  2. Slowly curl the barbell up towards your chest, using only your arms to lift it. Be sure not to move your torso or use body momentum to lift the barbell. Remember to complete your curl slowly to increase time under tension, which the Journal of Psychology found to be an effective way to build muscle faster.
  3. Hold for a moment at the top.
  4. Slowly lower the barbell back down, returning to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for your desired amount of reps.

Focus on your biceps for full activation of the muscle during this bicep exercise. Take extra care not to swing your body while completing your curls to ensure that your biceps are doing the work and reaping the reward.

2. Barbell Reverse Curls

Muscles Targeted: Brachioradialis, Brachialis, Biceps Brachii

Barbell reverse curls will focus on your brachialis and brachioradialis, building that upper arm shape as you lift the barbell. These are like the barbell biceps curls that we just completed but with a reverse grip to focus less on the biceps and more on your other upper arm muscles. These curls are famous in bodybuilding workouts because they even work out your upper arms.

  1. Starting Position: Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Let your arms hang by your sides, holding the barbell in two hands. Grip the barbell in an underhand grip with your palms facing you, slightly outside your shoulders.
  2. Curl the barbell up, keeping your wrists straight.
  3. Lower the weight back down, returning to the starting position. Do not fully extend your arms at the end of each rep.
  4. Repeat for your desired amount of reps.

As with the bicep curls, keep your torso completely straight during the curl. Do not use any momentum or “swinging” to help you lift the weight.

3. Barbell Skull Crushers

Muscles Targeted: Triceps

It’s time for skull crushers. These can be dangerous, so practice the motion first with little or no weight. Even better, grab a spotter or your personal trainer to help you make sure that you can complete this move safely and without literally crushing your skull.

  1. Starting Position: Lay on your back on a flat bench with your feet on the floor. Hold the barbell above your chest, with your arms locked out and your palms facing away from you.
  2. Lower the barbell towards your forehead, keeping your elbows tucked in. This step can be dangerous if the barbell slips, so keep a firm grip on the bar as you lower the weight down.
  3. Once the barbell is just above your forehead, bring it behind your head. Keep this movement slow and controlled.
  4. Hold the weight for a moment at the bottom.
  5. Return the barbell to the starting position, following the same path of motion you took to bring the bar down.
  6. Repeat for your desired amount of reps.

4. Seated Barbell Triceps Extension

Muscles Targeted: Triceps

Let’s keep working those triceps. This one can be difficult, so be sure to practice the movement before getting started. For safety, we recommend beginning with no weight on the bar and then slowly adding pounds until you can comfortably and safely lift heavier.


 

  1. Starting Position: Sit on the end of a flat bench with your feet on the ground. Stagger your feet if this feels more comfortable for you. Hold the barbell above your head with your arms outstretched. Grip the barbell in an overhand grip with your palms facing away from your body.
  2. Keeping your torso straight, bend at the elbows to lower the barbell behind your head. Be careful to keep your elbows pointed forwards instead of opening out to the sides.
  3. Hold the barbell for a minute at the bottom of the extension.
  4. Lift the barbell, straighten your arms, and return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for your desired amount of reps.

5. Close Grip Bench Press

Muscles Targeted: Triceps

The close grip bench press will shift the focus of a traditional bench press from your chest and anterior deltoids onto your triceps. It is one of the best triceps exercises out there. We want to keep this muscle activation in your triceps and out of your pecs or upper back. To do so, keep your elbows bent and close to your torso for the duration of the exercise.

You will likely use less weight with the close-grip bench press than you would with a traditional bench press because of the focus on your triceps. Start lower and add weight as you become more comfortable with this move. As with a conventional bench press, you might want to grab a spotter to help you complete this exercise safely.

  1. Starting Position: Lie on a flat bench with your shoulder blades pulled together underneath your barbell, which should be in the rack above you. Grip the bar with your palms facing away from you. Your grip on the bar should be narrow, with your hands directly above your shoulders or even slightly closer together.
  2. Unrack the bar and slowly lower it to your chest. Your motion should be slow and controlled.
  3. Pause for a moment at the bottom.
  4. Raise the bar back up to the starting position. You can rack the bar between reps or continue your reps until you feel you need to stop.
  5. Repeat for your desired reps.

6. Barbell Wrist Curls

Muscles Targeted: Forearm muscles (Flexor Carpi Ulnaris, Flexor Carpi Radialis, Palmaris Longus)

Many people neglect their forearms, but they are crucial to developing well-defined arms from your shoulders down to your wrists. Wrist curls will help you focus on your forearms and isolate the muscles in this area.


 

  1. Starting Position: Sit on the end of a flat bench with your feet flat on the floor and your back straight. Hold the barbell in an underhand grip with your palms facing up towards the ceiling. The barbell should hang just below your knees, and your forearms should press against your thighs.
  2. Raise the barbell by curling your wrists. You will experience a shorter range of motion here than larger curls, such as a biceps curl, so do not be thrown off by this smaller range of movement.
  3. Hold the weight for a moment at the top of the curl.
  4. Slowly lower the weight back down to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Your forearms should remain pressed against your thighs for the duration of the move. If you feel your arms lifting off the top of your legs, lower the weight on your barbell.

7. Reverse Grip Barbell Wrist Curls

Muscles Targeted: Forearm muscles (Extensor Carpi Radialis Longus, Extensor Carpi Ulnaris, Extensor Carpi Radialis Brevis)

Now that we have worked one side of the forearm, we want to work the other side as well. The reverse grip barbell wrist curl is very similar to the wrist curl that we just discussed, but in reverse. You might also hear this one referred to as a barbell wrist extension.

Reverse Grip Barbell Wrist Curls

Step-by-Step

  1. Starting Position: Sit on the end of a flat bench with your feet planted on the floor and your back straight. Hold the barbell across your knees. Your palms should be facing down towards the floor. Think of this as the reverse grip of the one that we just used for our wrist curls. The barbell should be hanging just below your knees.
  2. Lift the barbell by extending your wrists. The motion is like one that you would use to knock on a door.
  3. Pause for a moment at the top.
  4. Lower the barbell down and return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for your desired amount of reps.

Just like in the last move, your forearms should press against your thighs for the entire exercise. If they are popping up, this is a sign that you should lower the amount of weight that you are using for this exercise.

Barbell vs. Dumbbells

You might be reading this and wondering what all the hype is about barbell workouts. Barbells can help you target many muscles without workout machines, such as a cable machine or other equipment that most people need to go to the gym to use.

We love barbells because they are versatile and allow you to lift heavier than you could with dumbbells, kettlebells, or other equipment. If you are using a barbell, we recommend lifting heavier to get the most out of every move. Shoot for a lower rep count to build muscle with your barbell upper body workout.

If you are unsure of yourself with a barbell or just unconvinced that this is the best piece of equipment for you, check out this article on barbells vs. dumbbells to decide which one best fits your needs. Some people prefer dumbbells, kettlebells, or even just bodyweight, and that’s okay – whatever gets you working in the gym works for us!

Now that we have covered a few killer exercises to get you bigger and stronger arms, it’s time to grab your barbell and start working those muscles. Incorporate these moves into your upper body workout, and you will be seeing bigger arms in no time at all.