7 Best Compound Arm Exercises (with Pictures!)

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
October 26, 2022

Most people would likely recommend compound exercises like squats or deadlifts to develop a massive back, glutes, or quads. Yet, the majority would automatically think about tricep extensions and bicep curls when it comes to improving arm strength and aesthetics. 

While isolated exercises are great in several situations like adding some detail to those biceps, compound exercises are better at overall strengthening and proportionality of the arms.

Compound exercises that aid in strengthening and increasing arm muscle mass include the following: neutral and supinated close-grip pull-ups, dumbbell rows, and diamond push-ups among others.

We often see bodybuilders in the gym frequently doing biceps and triceps poses as if equating the size of their arms to self-esteem. As a result, some people have a tendency to fall into the habit of performing countless isolation exercises for the biceps and triceps.

This somehow discounts how a workout program consisting of a good balance of compound and isolation exercises would be best for everyone who wants to improve strength and upper body aesthetics.

Benefits of Compound Arm Exercises

Mass-Building Efficiency

Compound arm exercises are multi-joint movements that engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously, allowing for heavier weight loads, leading to a more significant release of the body's testosterone, growth hormones, and IGF-1, contributing to more significant muscular hypertrophy. 

Increased Strength and Work Capacity

Compound exercises are most advantageous when performed with free weights since they involve the smaller stabilizer muscles as well and result in significant strength and work capacity development.

More Proportional Upper Body Muscles

Compound arm exercises engage not just the biceps, triceps, and forearms but also several upper body muscles such as the pectorals, deltoids, lats, traps, rhomboids, and the smaller stabilizer muscles. It simultaneously adds bulk to the muscles engaged, producing better-balanced muscle growth for the upper body. 

Gets the Heart Pumping

Compound exercises also help elevate a person's heart rate since they make the body work harder, requiring more energy to activate multiple muscle groups simultaneously and burn way more calories than relying on isolated exercises.

Biceps-Focused Compound Exercises

1. Supinated Close-grip Pull-ups

Supinated close-grip pull-ups are an excellent upper-body workout that develops the inner lats and improves the back, arms, and core muscles. The close-grip pull-up exercise is ideal for improving your upper body muscles since they engage the biceps, lats, traps, and pecs.

close grip chin up

Pull-ups with a supinated close grip on the pull-up bar are great for maximum stress and activation of the biceps. Due to the proximity of the forearms and elbows, the lats are also stretched closer toward the front of the body, which results in better activation.

However, they occasionally outperform the biceps' contribution. The trick is to reduce the involvement of the lats in the pull-up by visualizing curling the pull-up bar with the arms rather than pulling the body up using the lats.

Grab the pull-up bar with a close underhand grip spaced apart by several inches to begin this exercise. Allow the body to hang freely, then gradually raise yourself by bending your elbow until your chin is over the bar. From the bottom of the action to the top, keep your elbows in the same position. Next, slowly lower the body to reverse the movement. Inhale at the bottom and exhale at the top.

2. Neutral Grip Pull-ups

The neutral grip pull-ups are the strongest pull-ups possible because it favors the brachialis over the biceps. The brachialis is subjected to additional strain when using the neutral grip, which also encourages considerable muscular development of the arm as it pushes up the biceps.

pull up

The biceps are not the strongest in the upper arm muscles responsible for raising or lowering the forearm, mainly when supination is absent.

Although the bicep is the most noticeable muscle in the upper arm, its primary function is stabilizing and supporting the stronger brachialis muscle during elbow flexion and extension. However, the mechanical momentum of the brachialis is disadvantaged compared to the biceps muscle during flexion in a supinated forearm.

To perform this exercise, grab the handles of a parallel pull-up bar and let the body hang freely. Next, pull the body up by bending the elbow and maintain the elbow position from the bottom to the top of the motion. Lower back down to full hang and repeat the action for the desired number of repetitions. Inhale at the bottom and exhale at the top.

3. Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows

Dumbbell rows are a workout that entails bending forward at the hips while holding something heavy in one hand and letting it hang toward the ground. Next, the weight is lifted, bringing it closer to the chest before lowering it back to the beginning position.

The upper back is the primary muscle group engaged when performing dumbbell rows; however, the biceps and the forearms also activate considerably. As a result, dumbbell rows improve grip and biceps development in addition to increasing back strength and muscular growth when done in higher training volumes.

single arm dumbbell row

Lean forward on a flat bench and place the right arm and knee on the bench. The left knee should be slightly bent so that the body is parallel to the floor and the torso is aligned. Grab a dumbbell with the left hand and raise it a few inches above the floor, maintaining a straight trunk.

By gradually bending the left arm's elbow, you can lift the weight and bring it closer to your chest. The weight is then slowly returned to the starting position until it is just above the surface. The back is kept straight throughout the lift by engaging the core throughout the range of motion. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions, then do the same with the right hand.

Triceps-Focused Compound Exercises

1. Diamond Push-ups

One of the most effective triceps exercises is the diamond push-up. This bodyweight exercise's unusual hand posture works your triceps brachii more than a regular push-up. It can aid in arm strength development and prepares the body for triceps-targeting workouts like the close-grip bench press and dips.

diamond push up

When performed correctly, diamond push-ups engage the triceps brachii, pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, and quadriceps. In addition, the core stabilizer muscles are also involved during a diamond push-up.

Start on all fours with toes and knees flexed and in contact with the ground. The knees and hips should be in line. The hands should be just a little closer than hip-width. To form a diamond, join your thumbs and index fingers. 

Extend your legs straight and raise your knees off the floor to get into the push-up position. Your legs should be hip-width apart to provide stability. Then slowly bend your elbows and lower the body towards the hands. The elbows should now be at the sides of the body.

Reverse the movement by squeezing the chest and extending the elbow. Repeat the action for several repetitions. A weighted vest may be used for added resistance.

2. Weighted Dips

Weighted dips are exercises for advanced weightlifters as it requires significant muscular strength and recruitment to lift the body and the added weight from a weighted vest or dip belt with weights. This exercise should only be performed if the person already has significant upper body strength. Chair dips are recommended for beginners and regular dips for more experienced weightlifters.

weighted dips

Weighted dips are usually done on a dip machine known as dip stations or parallel bars, utilizing a weighted vest, belt dips with weights or a dumbbell between the legs for added resistance. Dips are one of the best upper-body pushing exercises, and the primary muscles engaged are the pushing muscles of the body. These muscles are the pecs, delts, and triceps.

To perform this exercise, wear a dip belt or a weighted vest and mount the dip bar with elbows straight and locked with the wrist in line with the forearms. Breathe in and slowly begin to lower the body. Lean forward as the body goes lower, and stop when the chest feels stretched. Exhale and push the body up by extending the elbow back to the starting position. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions. 

3. Arnold Press

The Arnold Press, created to develop powerful, sculpted shoulders, is regarded as one of the top strength training exercises. The Arnold press, developed by renowned bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger, stimulates all three heads of the deltoid muscles and offers a full range of motion, helping to create more strength and size.

The Arnold press is a modified conventional shoulder press to target the anterior, medial, and poster deltoid muscles. Most of the pushing force in the Arnold press comes from the deltoids. The traps, triceps, and core are other muscles activated during the Arnold press.

arnold presses

Load and range of motion are two key elements in increasing muscle mass and growth. Arnold press stimulates and isolates all three heads of your deltoids by moving through a full and extensive range of motion, from a low point to arms overhead. Overall, this action will enable you to build greater strength and gains.

Grab two dumbbells while seated or standing, keeping your head and spine neutral. With palms facing the body, and elbows pointing toward the floor, hold both dumbbells above the shoulders. Start pressing upward while spreading your elbows wide and away from the body and slowly rotating the wrist through the top of the motion. 

Press the dumbbells overhead as the wrist rotation causes your palms to face forward. The arms should have a slight bend at the top of the motion. Reverse the action by bringing the weight down and slowly rotating the wrist back to the starting position. Repeat the movement for several repetitions.

4. Close-Grip Bench Press

The close-grip bench press reduces stress on the shoulders and significantly contributes to triceps strengthening and muscle growth. In addition, this shifts more of the workload from the chest and front deltoid to the triceps. On average, less weight is required for the close-grip bench press than for the standard bench press.

close grip bench press

It could be an excellent alternative to standard bench presses for some shoulder conditions. Besides building strong triceps and reducing stress on the shoulders, other benefits of the close-grip bench press are improving bench press lockout and greater upper chest activation.

Like other bench press exercises, the feet firmly planted on the ground and the upper back clutching the bench is crucial. Grip the barbell with the hands at shoulder-width distance. To ensure that the triceps handle most of the eccentric loading while lowering the bar, guide the elbows inward and toward the body. The lower chest should contact the barbell at the bottom of the motion.

Press the barbell off the body using the triceps and chest muscles back to the starting position. Repeat the action for several repetitions.

Final Thoughts

Multi-joint movements allow for heavier weight loads, leading to a more significant release of the body's testosterone, growth hormones, and IGF-1, contributing to more significant muscular hypertrophy. While isolated exercises are great in several situations, like adding some detail to those biceps, compound ones are better at overall strengthening and proportionality of the arms.

References

1. Pousson M, Amiridis IG, Cometti G, Van Hoecke J. Velocity-specific training in elbow flexors. European journal of applied physiology and occupational physiology. 1999 Aug;80(4):367-72.

2. Le Bozec S, Maton B, Cnockaert JC. The synergy of elbow extensor muscles during dynamic work in man. European journal of applied physiology and occupational physiology. 1980 Sep;44(3):255-69.

3. Stroyan M, Wilk KE. The functional anatomy of the elbow complex. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. 1993 Jun;17(6):279-88.

4. Fornalski S, Gupta R, Lee TQ. Anatomy and biomechanics of the elbow joint. Sports medicine and arthroscopy review. 2003 Mar 1;11(1):1-9.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
Inspire US serves as an informational hub for people looking to start their fitness journey.
The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The information being shared is for educational purposes only. You must consult with a medical professional before acting on any content on this website.
Copyright © Inspire US 2022