Your First Arm Workout

As part of an overall body workout with weights for beginners, I’ve previously described in detail your very first chest, legs, and back workouts. Now it’s time to concentrate on your arms.

Remember, you perform these lifting exercises all in a single session rather than on separate occasions. I’m just splitting up my descriptions so you can consume the information in blog posts of reasonable length.

There are a few things to keep in mind that are common to all weight lifting exercises:

  • When using weights, exhale with pulling/pushing the weight and inhale when returning to the starting position.
  • Execute the lift/pull using the full range of motion to get the most out of the workout unless you have a medical/physical limitation preventing this.
  • When performing reps, do not return the weight stack to its full resting position until you’ve finished the set, always keeping some tension on your muscles.
  • Always keep control of the exercise without slamming the weight stack down.
  • For the sake of these beginner’s instructions, I’m assuming you’ll be performing a single set per exercise, doing a max of ten reps or lifting to functional failure at or before fifteen reps.

There are only three exercises in my beginner’s weight training routine for arms:

  • Machine Triceps Extensions
  • Machine Biceps Curls
  • Machine Shoulder Press

Machine Triceps Extensions

triceps ext
Photo credit: Bodybuilding.com

This basic exercise can be performed on several different varieties of LifeFitness or Nautilus-type machines including this one. Make sure a staff person at the gym has shown you how each piece of equipment is correctly operated before starting to use them. As a beginner, you can select whichever triceps weight machine is available or that you are comfortable with.

Note: While everyone has heard of biceps, it’s possible that you don’t know what your triceps muscle (it has three heads) does or even what they are. According to Wikipedia: “The triceps brachii muscle (Latin for “three-headed arm muscle”) is the large muscle on the back of the upper limb of many vertebrates. It is the muscle principally responsible for extension of the elbow joint (straightening of the arm).”

The triceps extension machine usually has adjustments for the weight and seat position (typically height of the seat). Select a weight you believe you can lift in a single set for the desired number of reps (choosing the correct weight may require some trial and error at first). Adjust the seat height to where your arms are resting comfortably on the pad and you can easily grasp the machine’s handles. Your arms should be bent at about a 90 degree angle.

To perform a rep, extend your arms forward away from your body. Remember to exhale during this part of the rep. Once your arms are fully extended, return your arms to nearly the starting position but do not allow the weight stack to come to complete rest. Maintain tension in the muscles. The return part of the rep should be executed just a bit slower than the push.

Tip: Do not lift your arms off of the pad. Only your forearms should move.

Repeat this move for the desired number of reps. When finished, maintain control of the weight stack and lower it gently to the starting position.

Congratulations. You’ve just finished working out your triceps.

Since your triceps are also activated when you do your chest exercises, strengthening this muscle group will also improve your chest workout.

Machine Biceps Curls

Machine preacher curls
Photo credit: pixshark.com

I’m going to pull a bit of a bait and switch on you and describe Machine Preacher Curls instead. There’s no real reason why, for the beginner, one exercise is better than another to work the biceps, I just like preacher curls. Also, even if you know nothing about lifting, chances are you’ve seen someone doing preacher curls in a film or television show since it’s one of those exercises that gets a lot of exposure.

The preacher curl gets its name from the pad you rest your arms one which superficially looks like a preacher’s pulpit. As with other machines, this one lets you adjust the weight and the height of the seat. Set the weight for what you think will let you perform a single set of the desired number of reps. Set the height of the seat so you can comfortably rest your arms on the pad in front of you and so you can grasp the machine handles. Your arms should be fully or almost fully extended.

To do a rep, pull the handles toward you (remember to exhale) until they are near your face. Then extend your arms back toward the starting position while inhaling, but do not let the weight stack come to a complete rest.

Tip: Do not lift your arms off of the pad. Only your forearms should move.

Repeat this move for the desired number of reps. When finished, maintain control of the weight stack and lower it gently to the starting position.

Congratulations. You’ve just finished working out your biceps.

Since your biceps are also activated when you do back exercises, strengthening this muscle group will also improve your back workout.

Machine Shoulder Press

This is also known as a Military Press, but it’s usually referred by that name when performed with dumbbells or a barbell.

Machine shoulder press
Photo credit: Bodybuilding.com

As with the other two machines, you can adjust the seat height and the weight. Set the weight to what you believe you can lift in a single set for the desired number of reps. Set the seat height so the machine handles are just above your shoulders, about even with your ears. Grasp the handles.

To perform the lift, push the handles up, remembering to exhale, until your arms are fully extended. Lower your arms while inhaling, moving just slightly slower than you did while lifting. Do not allow the weight stack to come to a complete rest.

Repeat this move for the desired number of reps. When finished, maintain control of the weight stack and lower it gently to the starting position.

Congratulations. You’ve just finished working out your deltoid muscles, that is, your shoulders.

That’s it. You’ve just successfully finished workout out your arms.

Ab Crunch Machine

Okay, I lied. You’re also going to work your abs right now, too. Since I only recommend a single ab workout in a beginner’s overall body routine, it seems silly to write an entire blog post on only one exercise.

There are a number of different types of ab crunch machines that do more or less the same thing, so my instructions might not match the exact machine you’ll be using at your gym. As always, make sure you understand the correct operation of any weight machine before using it.

You’re going to work your abs the same way as any other muscle group. Plan on a single set to start out with for the desired number of reps.

Tip: Traditional wisdom has said you can work your abs every day and that you should perform a high number of reps per set. However, a number of sources including BuiltLean.com are now stating that you should work your abs in exactly the same way you would any other set of muscles, with heavier weights (I’ll talk more about weighted vs. unweighted ab work on another occasion), fewer reps, and only at the same frequency as any other muscle. Also, do your ab work after your other resistance work, since every standing strength move (squats, deadlifts, standing shoulder press) engages your core to help you balance.

Machine ab crunch
Photo credit: Reddit.com

Adjust the machine’s weight to one where you can complete a single set of 10 to 20 reps. Adjust the height of the seat so that you can sit and comfortably, place your feet under the leg pads, and grasp the machine handles. Your arms should be at about 90 degrees with your triceps placed on the arm pads.

Some machines require that you simultaneously pull down with your arms while lifting up with your legs (as you exhale) while others keep the legs in a fixed position requiring only that you pull with your arms. Focus on squeezing your abs as you pull. Once your body is bent to its maximum extent, slowly return to the starting position but not allowing the weight stack to come to a complete rest.

Repeat this move for the desired number of reps. When finished, maintain control of the weight stack and lower it gently to the starting position.

Congratulations. You’ve just finished working out your abs.

Also, with this entry in the series, you’ve just completed your beginner’s full body weight machine workout for the first day.

Conclusion

From here, you can move right into cardio or save that for another session. You’ll probably want to do some stretching while your muscles are warmed up from your workout so you can reduce some of the stiffness you’ll experience later on.

Since you’re trying to build lean muscle, remember to have a protein shake within about an hour of your workout. Weight training tears down muscles. They only build up again as they heal. For that, your muscles need something to build with, which in this case is protein.

The weight machine full body workout is designed to be used two to three days a week. You can do it Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, Tuesday and Thursday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, or any other combination. Just remember that resting is just as important as working, so leave at least one rest day between weight training days.

You can use those rest days for some light to moderate cardio if you don’t want to do aerobics the same day as weights. Or you can use your rest days for just rest and do weights and cardio on the same day, whatever you like and whatever your body will tolerate.

As you leave the gym after you’ve finished with your workout routine, don’t forget to notice that sense of satisfaction at having completed a job well done.

Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day-in and day-out.

Robert Collier

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