Showing up at the gym at five o’clock is futile; crowded dumbbell areas, every squat and power rack occupied, and a sense of claustrophobia take place. You look around and scratch your head wondering where to start and how in the world you will get an effective workout in this zoo you call a gym.
The answer may seem simple, but one that many have scoffed at time and again: adopt a minimal equipment workout that enables you to train arms from anywhere. As foregoing traditional equipment such as dumbbells and barbells, not to mention weight machines and utilizing your body weight, isn’t anything new; the concern lies in the effectiveness of said workouts.
Many see bodyweight training as easy or only used for maintenance. However, you can build appreciable muscle mass if you do bodyweight training correctly. A recent study by the leading researcher in muscular hypertrophy, Brad Schoenfeld, reported that sets performed in the lower rep range and heavier loads (3 sets of 7 reps) and lighter weight with higher reps (25 to 35 reps) yielded similar hypertrophy results. 
Advantages of No Equipment Training
Let’s look at some advantages of no-equipment training and see if it’s a good fit for your next arm workout:
The Solution to a Crowded Gym
Nothing is more frustrating than entering the gym ready to put your perfect plan for bigger arms into action when you look around and find no place to go. So when every rack, dumbbell, barbell, and machine is occupied, creativity is paramount. Fortunately, there are plenty of options to fall back on. Chin-up bars, suspension trainers, and even the floor become highly effective tools for building larger, sleeve-busting arms.
Builds muscle mass
By now, you know all too well the infamous definition of insanity: doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. A no-equipment arm workout will surely spur more than enough diverse stimulation and shock your arms into growing. It’s not just a minor modification of a dumbbell arm curl or a slight shift in elbow angle during a triceps pushdown. It’s an entirely new challenge.
Using Little to No Equipment Will Put Excitement Back Into Your Training
The sheer novelty of doing something new will boost motivation and skyrocket your progress to new heights. Science Daily looked at a study concluding that people learn from new experiences without even trying . This trigger can be advantageous when trying new exercises, especially ones you’ve never tried before.
Now let’s look at some specific, highly effective arm exercises when the gym is crowded, and you’re unable to use the traditional means to build your arms, or you just want something new.
Bodyweight Biceps Exercises
Add the following bodyweight biceps exercises to your exercise arsenal:
Suspension trainer biceps curl
Generally speaking, muscle activation is greater during suspension training versus comparable traditional movements. A study from the Sports Biomechanics Journal looked at many criteria regarding muscle activation, including electromyographic signals, and found that suspension training was superior to the more traditional moves. 
For the suspension biceps curl, affix a suspension trainer rig high on a sturdy bar or station. Grasp the handles and place your feet close to the anchor point. Lean back and extend your arms so they are perpendicular to your torso. With your palms facing the ceiling, bend only at your elbows to bring your forehead toward your hands. Your body should remain in a plank position and move toward the anchor point. Once your biceps are contracted and beside your head, reverse the motion and straighten your arms.
Variations: A simple modification to either progress or regress the difficulty is to adjust your stance. The closer your feet are to the anchor point, the more challenging the exercise. The more your feet are placed below your hips, the easier it is. Whichever variation you choose, keep your elbows high and stationary while performing the move slowly and under control.
Another non-traditional biceps builder is the reverse grip chin-up. Normally performed to develop the back, a few tweaks can make this into one effective biceps builder. To place the most stress on your biceps, grasp the overhead bar with an underhand grip about shoulder-width apart. Contract your midsection and round your back slightly. This will take the stress off of your back. Curl your body up with your biceps, bringing your shoulders toward your hands. Flex hard at the top and then return under control.
Variations: If you’re not the best at the chin-up and need to make the exercise a bit easier, you can loop a band around the bar overhead and step into the other end to lessen the body weight lifted. Or you can place your toes on a bench or box to assist you. Either way, work your way to lifting your body weight over time. Another regression is performing the same exercise on a lower rack with your feet on the floor and legs extended out in front of you as if you were going to perform a reverse rack row.
To progress the exercise, pause at the top of the movement for a count of two before slowly lowering to the start position.
Inverted rack curl
Think of this as a combination of the suspension curl and chin-up. Assume a sitting position under a stable bar in a rack or Smith machine. Take an underhand grip above your head and straighten your body from shoulders to feet. Curl your body up and your forehead toward the bar, then return to the bottom extended position.
Variations: Raising the bar will make the exercise a bit easier since more body weight will be supported by your feet. Lowering the bar raises the difficulty since your arms will be under more total body load.
Suspension trainer lateral curl
Stand with your right shoulder closest to the suspension trainer. Grasp the handle with your palm facing the ceiling and extend straight to your side. Your entire arm should be nearly level with your head. Begin by curling your arm and raising your body toward your hand. Extend back down by straightening your arm. This biceps exercise is considered a bit advanced, so be careful not to loosen up your form at risk for injury.
Variations: As with other suspension trainer exercises, the closer you move your feet toward the anchor point of the trainer, the more challenging it becomes. The less angle to the anchor point, the easier it becomes.
Best Triceps Exercises
Here are some of the most effective bodyweight triceps exercises:
Suspension trainer triceps extension
The triceps extension is a demanding but adjustable exercise that can be done pretty much anywhere with a suspension trainer. Affix a suspension trainer overhead on a pull-up bar or some other stable foundation. Grasp the handles facing away from where the suspension trainer is anchored. Back your feet up and extend your entire body with your hands overhead. Maintaining a planked body position, bend only at the elbows as your body lowers toward the ground. Your hands should move past your ears. Reverse direction and straighten your arms out once again.
Variations: As with suspension trainer biceps curls, adjusting your stance can make the exercise more or less challenging, depending on your strength and ability. Moving your feet back toward the anchor point will impose more body weight into the movement, and moving them out will make it easier. Adjust as necessary.
As an old favorite but often forgotten exercise for triceps is the push-up with hands placed close together. Also called diamond push-ups, a study from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse looked at the triceps activity with electromyography comparing traditional triceps exercises such as pushdowns, close-grip bench presses, and skull crushers with triceps push-ups. The study found that triceps push-ups had the most significant muscle activation. 
Start by assuming a plank position with your hands about six inches apart. Lower your body toward the floor while keeping your elbows by your sides. Stop just a few inches from the floor before returning to the top position.
Variations: There are many ways to make triceps push-ups more challenging. First, you can simply place your feet on an elevated surface or a bench to transfer more stress to your upper body. Additionally, you can add instability, such as your feet looped into a suspension trainer or placing your hands on a small medicine ball. You can also slow the exercise’s cadence and pause at the bottom for a count or two.
Rack triceps press
Stand in front of a stable bar in a rack or Smith machine bar that is about hip height. Grasp the bar with an overhand grip a little wider than shoulder width. Step back with your feet until your body is straight and your arms arm extended out in front of your torso. Bending your elbows, slowly lower your body toward the bar as your head moves closer to the bar. Allow your head to dip below the bar as your elbows are fully bent. Reverse the direction until your arms are extended once again.
Variations: Raising the bar higher will allow you to perform more reps and is apt for beginners. As you move the bar lower to the floor, more stress is placed on your triceps for a more advanced version.
Suspension trainer triceps press-down
Getting that powerful triceps contraction can easily be achieved without a cable machine. Utilizing a suspension trainer stand facing the anchor point of the trainer. Hold the handles by your sides with your palms facing behind you. Slowly raise the handles by bending at the elbows as your body leans back slightly. Once your hands are parallel with your elbows, press and straighten them back down and back as you contract your triceps.
Variations: Standing closer to the anchor point will increase the amount of stress on your triceps, calling for more intensity and strength. Advance to more difficult variations only after you’ve mastered the basics first.
Whichever variation you choose, be sure to master the basic movement before progressing to more challenging versions.
Sample No Weight Equipment Arm Workout Program
Here’s a quick sample program you can plug into any workout any day of the week. Use as a shock to replace your normal arm program or adopt it for several weeks, progressing with each exercise. Shoot for performing the following routine at least twice per week.
- Suspension trainer biceps curl: 3 x 10-15 reps
- Biceps chin-up: 3 x as many as possible
- Inverted rack curl: 3 x 10-15
- Suspension trainer lateral curl: 3 x 10-15
- Suspension trainer triceps extension: 3 x 10-15 reps
- Triceps push-up: 3 x as many as possible
- Rack triceps press: 3 x 10-15
- Suspension trainer triceps press down: 3 x 10-15
If you’re still skeptical about building appreciable amounts of muscle without dumbbells, barbells, and other more traditional means, then maybe it’s time you try the above program. Perfect the exercises, progress like you would any other program, and be sure to challenge yourself with more difficult versions. You have nothing to lose and only more muscle to gain to fill out those sleeves just in time for summer.
- Schoenfeld B., Wilson, J, & Lowery, R. (2016). Muscular adaptations in low- versus high-load resistance training: a meta-analysis. Eur J Sport Sci., 16, 1–10.
- VIB (the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology). (2020, February 5). Novelty speeds up learning thanks to dopamine activation. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 12, 2023, from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200205132255.htm
- Aguilera-Castells, Joan & Buscà, Bernat & Fort-Vanmeerhaeghe, Azahara & Montalvo, Alicia & Peña, Javier. (2020). Muscle activation in suspension training: a systematic review. Sports Biomechanics. 19. 55-75. 10.1080/14763141.2018.1472293.
- Boehler, B. (2011). Electromyographic analysis of the triceps brachii muscle during a variety of triceps exercises. University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
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