How To Get Toned Arms Without Bulking Up

I often get asked how to gain toned, strong arms without them looking too manly. Most women seem to be afraid of developing masculine-like, bulky muscles and avoid upper body workouts. The good news is we don’t have enough testosterone to develop bulky muscles like a man. By doing the right exercises, you are more likely to develop Meghan Markle’s arms than a Schwarzenegger body. So let’s get started *.

Improve your diet

You may have heard it before – A lean body starts in the kitchen.

I can hear your gasp. We all know that we have to eat healthy. We just don’t know where to start!

Let’s start by focusing on real food. What I mean by real food is fresh, non-processed food.

If you regularly eat microwavable meals coming straight from a plastic box, it’s not likely to be the healthiest option for you.

By choosing to eat leans proteins such as chicken, fish and beans, your arms and other body muscles will get leaner. To get even better results, combine lean protein with healthy carbs, fresh fruits and vegetables.

Check out some recipes ideas here.

To gain a healthy body and losing weight, eating healthy isn’t enough. You need to eat fewer calories than you burn.

I am not talking about skipping meals, starving yourself or starting the latest fad diet.  Forget these. They won’t get you very far or long term results.

clean-eating

Instead, spread your meals throughout the day. You will be more likely to develop lean muscles if you consume 5 to 6 healthy small meals than having 2 or 3 big meals a day.

This will also reduce your likelihood to snack or binge on empty calories food such as cookies or donuts.

Don’t forget drinks. Having a healthy meal is great but if it is accompanied by a coke or a beer, you won’t get near your goals either.

I know. Breaking from bad habits can be hard.

So instead of changing your lifestyle drastically, start with small changes.

You can’t have a meal without any sweet drink? Swap it for a caffeine free hot drink or a healthy smoothie. Also try to limit your alcohol consumption to social or  special occasions.

Don’t get me wrong.

It won’t always be easy and slip up may happen. But your fitness journey doesn’t need to end here.

Keep training your brain to your new lifestyle, be consistent and you’ll be 80% of the way to get the killer body that you’ve always wanted!

So, what about the 20% left?

How to train to get toned arms

When people think about toning a specific part of their body, they often tend to overdo it or focus on the wrong exercises.

Working on your weaknesses is completely fine.

However, if you only do isolation exercises, you are missing the opportunity to get stronger and achieve your goals in the long term.

So instead of focusing on this jiggle on your arms, focus on getting stronger.

strong-woman

This requires developing an optimal training strategy.

We are not talking about spending hours working out at the gym. This wouldn’t be really sustainable, right? We are talking about doing a fast-paced training that will give you results in a limited amount of time.

For most people, this is how an optimal plan would look like:

  1 or 2 moderate to high intensity cardio sessions per week for 20 or 30 minutes.

–  2-4 moderate to moderate to heavy strength training per week. These usually last between 45 and 60 minutes (including warm up and cool down).

Moderate intensity cardio includes both traditional activities (such as jogging, cycling, swimming), and any bodyweight exercise circuit training that keeps your heart rate up.

If you are not sure what is best for you, I would recommend choosing an activity you enjoy and aim for at least two intense 20-30 minutes sessions per week. You’ll be more likely to stick to it and achieve your goals.

Moderate to heavy strength training is one of the most effective way to burn fat, lose weight and increase your muscle definition. These include both body weight exercises and weight lifting.

Which exercises you pick will primarily depend on what equipment you have available.

If you workout at home and have little to no equipment, your main option will be bodyweight training.

Bodyweight training is a great way to start your fitness journey. You will learn how to use your own body and develop great functional strength.

Even if you decide to progress into weight training, you’ll always have the basics in your routine, so it’s best to learn how to do them with good form.

And the great thing about bodyweight training is that you can train anywhere. Whether it’s at home, in your office at work or in your hotel room, you can still work on your fitness goals and build a healthy body.

If you have a gym membership, or have more equipment, then you can add some variety with weights. These would usually be a barbell, a pair of dumbbells or kettebells.

gym-equipment

However, regardless if you have access to more equipment, you should still include body weight exercises.

After all, there’s no need for you to use a barbell to bench press, if you can’t do a proper push up with good form. You’ll only end up hurting yourself.

So which bodyweight exercises should you start doing to tone up your arms?

Here are the 4 main bodyweight movement to develop your upper body strength.

Best arm exercises without weights

1# Push ups

Many women dread them or hate them because they find it difficult to do them. I used to have this feeling as well.

Believe me, once you master them, you will love the definition they create in your upper body.

press-ups-on-feet

And these are the muscles that you will target when doing push ups:

– Your chest and the muscles directly under your armpit, called the serratus anterior

– Your shoulders

– Your triceps (or back of the arms)

– Your abdominals

But where to start when you can’t do any push ups?

Start with small steps. If you are a beginner, you may want to start with kneeling press ups or wall press ups.

Whatever stage you are, make sure to do a full rep. You won’t do any favour to your self if you keep cheating.

kneeling-press-ups

So here’s how to do press ups properly:

1) Your body should basically be in straight line, from head to toe and your core tight.

2) Your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and about a 45-degree angle to your body.

3) As you press down to the floor, make sure your chest is touching the floor, not your nose.

How many reps should I do?

Aim for at least 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps with good form and mix them up with other upper and lower body exercises.

Repeat this a few times a week and keep adding progressions and variations as you get stronger.

If you’ve been doing kneeling press ups for several weeks, switch to negative press ups or incline press ups so that you keep getting stronger.

#2 Pull ups

The pull up is one the best functional exercises.

You’ll not only develop a rocking core, but you will also build great upper body strength. This includes a strong back, shoulder, biceps, grip strenght and abs.

However, pull ups are not that simple.

Very often, people get them wrong. It is very common to see people doing half pull ups, dropping half way or not getting their chin above the bar.

This is not an effective workout.

If you struggle to do pull ups, use the assisted pull up machine or a resistance band so you can focus on form and build your strength.

pull-up-for-women

Here’s how to do pull ups effectively:

1) Place your hands on to the bar (about shoulder width apart) palms facing away from you.

2) As you hang on the bar, engage your shoulders and pull yourself up so that your neck/chest touches the bar.

3) Aim for 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps and try different grips with chin ups (chin above the bar, palms facing you) or mixed grip (one palm in, one palm away).

#3 Dips

If you are looking to target this jiggle on the back of your arms while working your chest and your chest, dips are for you.

These are not that easy though.

To perform the standard dip on parallel bars, you will need a base level of body weight strength.

So if you are a beginner, you may want to use other variations. One of them is to use a bench or another stable surface to build your strength.

This can be done either in the gym, outdoors or in the comfort of your home using a secured chair.

triceps-dip

Here’s how to do dips:

1) Position your hands shoulder-width apart on the stable surface of your choice, palms facing down.

2) Walk your legs out until your buttocks are parallel to the floor while keeping your back close to the chair or the bench.

3) Slowly lower your body by bending your arms as low as you can, then push up to starting position. Repeat for three sets of 10 to 15 reps.

As you get stronger, extend your legs away from your body or put your feet up on another bench.

#4 Plank

Planks are one of the most effective exercises you can do to engage pretty much all your body muscles. Both upper body and lower body.

By doing this exercise on a regular basis, you’ll notice that your arms, shoulders, core and thigh muscles more particularly, get toned and defined.

It’s also a great way to develop your strength to do press ups, and it only takes a few minutes of your time!

plank-exercise

So, here’s how to do a standard plank:

1) Get into push up position on the floor, placing your forearms on the ground, with elbows underneath your shoulders.

2) Keep your back straight and your body in a straight line from head to toes with no sagging or bending.

3) If your butt is higher than your back, or your hips are dropping, you are not doing it correctly and you may even hurt your lower back. To avoid this, use a mirror to check your posture.

4) Keep your head relaxed, looking at the floor, core engaged.

5) Squeeze your glutes and hold for 30-60s. Repeat 3 times.

 What about if you have more equipment or a gym membership?

If you have access to a gym, you may want to mix up the bodyweight exercises above with weight exercises.

Here are 3 great upper body exercises to add to your workout.

Best arms exercises using weights

 #1 Bench press

The bench press is often seen as the typical man’s “chest” exercise in the weight area. However, it’s not all about the chest (and certainly not just for guys either!).

This exercise targets your shoulders, triceps, forearms, lats, and pecs, traps, rhomboids, and almost every muscle in your upper body.

You will often see people using a barbell bar but it can also be done using dumbbells or weights plates.

If you are a complete beginner and training alone, dumbbells are a good place to start.

They are safer and allow more control if you don’t have any spotter.

bench-press-exercise

Here’s how to bench press using dumbbells:

First start by selecting a pair of dumbbells (between 2 and 6 kg if you are a female beginner).

1) Lie down on a flat bench holding a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing down and elbows bent a bit beyond 90 degrees, under your torso level. This is your starting position.

2) As you breathe in, squeeze the shoulder blades and press the dumbbells toward the ceiling by extending your elbows and flexing your chest. The inner plates of the dumbbells should be about an inch or so away from each other. Then as you breathe out, slowly return the bells to the start and repeat.2-

3) Aim for 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps.

One you get more comfortable with the movement, increase the load or some variations. One option is to do alternating presses, where you lift one weight up at a time instead of simultaneously, leaving the non-working arm up or aside of you.

Keep challenging yourself and see what works best for you.

#2 Biceps curl

Biceps curls are a great way to get started in training your arms and one of the best exercises to target your biceps.

Hower, biceps curls is an isolation exercise.

Therefore, I would suggest combining it with another exercise that targets multiple joints and muscles such as the chest press or the dip.

biceps-curl

You can do biceps curls using the cable machine, a barbell or a dumbbell as I’m doing above.

1) Stand feet shoulder width apart and knees slightly bent to give you better balance.

2) Raise the barbell (palms facing up) towards your chest, keeping your elbows locked.

3) Lower the weight slowly toward your thighs and return to the start position. Repeat for three sets of 8 to 12 reps.

#3 Triceps chop

If your triceps are a big concern for you, you can target them further with triceps chop.

Just make sure you combine this exercise with another compound movement such as the chin up for a more effective workout.

There are many ways you can do triceps chop, using one heavier dumbbell, 2 light dumbbells, a kettlebell or a weight plate, in a seated or standing position.

Keep testing and see what works best for you.

triceps-chop

Here’s how to do triceps chop in a standing position:

1) Stand feet shoulders-width part, knees soft, holding the dumbbell with a triangle shape in your hands.

2) Engage your core and bring arms overhead, arms straight and slightly in front of your     head.

3) Bend elbows, and make sure they don’t open out to the side. When you are ready,     lower the weights behind your head all the way down to shoulders, keeping the elbows in.

4) Extend arms back up and repeat, aiming for 3 sets of 10-16 repetitions.

How long will it take me to get toned arms?

We all have different bodies. Some women develop toned arms faster than others.

This all depends on your fitness level, your fat percentage and how consistent you are with the exercises.

If your arms are a big concern for you, try to target them 2 to 3 times a week with a rest day between each session.

Now that you’ve made this far, it’s time to put everything into practice!

So here’s my challenge to you:

Non-gym members, do 8 push ups, 16 triceps dips, 30s plank- Repeat 3 times.

Gym members, do 5 (assisted or non-assisted) chin ups, 10 dumbbell bench press, 30s plank- Repeat 3 times.

Make sure you warm up for at least 8 minutes before doing your main workout.

Keep challenging yourself and let me know how you get on with your workout in the comments below!

 

 

These tips are only intended for healthy individuals with no injuries or medical conditions.  Always seek professional healthcare advice before starting a new programme. And remember: all pain is no gain. If you feel any pain while doing these exercises, stop immediately. For more info, click here.

20 Comments
    1. Hi Sami, the challenge and the tips above are designed for busy people like you. This shouldn’t take more than 20-30 minutes of your time.

  1. I’m a gym member but I struggle to achieve results. I will give a go to your challenge and see if anything changes 🙂

  2. I loved your post! I read it carefully and took down notes, your descriptions are so detailed!! , I’ve just started working out after a 10 years hiatus (yes, I know) It’s terrible, some of my muscles are atrophied after my accident, like my right calf, I’m not able to stand on the tip of the toes of my right foot! So I’ve started slowly with the assistance of a physiotherapist. But I definitely want to try all this upper-body excercises and see if I’m capable of including them in my routine!

    1. Hi Nati, Thank you so much for your lovely feedback. I’m sorry to hear about your accident. Some of my clients had similar challenges but with time and determination, they were able to gain their strength back. It’s crazy what the body is capable of. Start slowly and the results will come. Let me know if you have any questions. 🙂

  3. Amazing tips and exercises here! A huge tip you mentioned is watching what we drink. We can drink so many calories and don’t even know it!

    1. Yeah that’s a point that many people struggle with. Soft drinks and alcohol can really ruin your goals!

  4. I feel relieved to see such an informative post that includes eating/drinking right and pushups, I just feel like I need to tone my shoulders to a degree that I’m comfortable with.

  5. What a detailed and inspiring post. I have just started working on my upper arms and so amazed to find your post. The short video clips are really helpful as is the explanation for every workout. Bookmarking this post and will be following up with it.

  6. This is a great post, you really provided some sound advice and I love how you put together video footage of the exercises to properly show us the right way! I learned so much.

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