Can You Build Your Arms Without Using Weights?

The myth: You can't build your arms without using weights. True or false? Mike Dawson has the answer.

ca. 1926, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA --- Young boys struggle to lift their chins over the chin-up bar at the Pillsbury Settlement House. Minneapolis, Minnesota, ca. 1926. --- Image by © Minnesota Historical Society/CORBIS

Photo: Corbis

With short-sleeve season upon us, there is a serious spike in curling at my local gym, with guys literally lining up for dumbbells. Meanwhile, the chin-up bars are almost always empty.

While weight lifting can increase the size of your arms, it is hardly the only—or even most effective—way to, ahem, fire those guns, bro. In fact, two of the best moves for working the biceps and triceps don't even require a gym.

The first is the aforementioned chin-up (underhand grip, palms facing you). Countless electromyography (EMG) tests, which measure the activity in a muscle, show the chin-up works the biceps far more effectively than any curl move. Bonus: This single move also builds and tones your upper back, forearms, triceps, shoulders, and core.

So why isn't the chin-up bar packed? Because most guys can do only a few when they first try them—and those with gym egos (read: every guy) feel downright embarrassed. Suck it up, soldier—this happens to everybody. If you keep at it, in a week or so you'll be topping 10.

For triceps, say hello to the old middle-school gym-class special: the close-grip push-up (your index fingers and thumbs touch, creating a diamond space between your hands). Researchers at the University of Wisconsin measured the building power of several popular triceps exercises, including those that involve weights, and found this "diamond" push-up fires the most muscle while also strengthening the upper back, shoulders, and core.

Do yourself a solid and add these secret moves to your routine before you even thinking about donning that tight-fitting tee. Your sex life will thank you.

— Dawson is a magazine writer and editor and a regular contributor to Details.

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