The 10 Best Arm Machines at the Gym

You’re planning your workout and know you wanna work arms at the gym.

Yeah…you and every other meathead on Earth!

Fair enough; who doesn’t want yuge guns (or pipes…or pythons…or whatever your giant arms word of choice is)?

As much as you can get a heck of a workout from only using free weights to work your arms, there are definitely some excellent arm machines at the gym that can work you in ways that barbells and even EZ bars just can’t…

arm machines at the gym

Today, we’re going to explore some of the best of these machines. By the time we’re finished up, you’ll feel like a kid in the candy store the next time “arm day” (which we know is, like, every day other than Monday) comes around.

(and if you’re reading this while you’re already at the gym, at least try to make it look like you already knew what you were doing before you got there!)

The Best Arm Gym Machines – Effective Arm Workouts without Free Weights?

Arm machines are excellent tools for building strength and developing the muscles of your biceps, triceps, and forearms. When trainees employ proper form and a full range of motion (ROM) when using machines, results can be substantial. With so many types of arm machines available for you to use, it’s essential to be familiar with all of your (numerous) options.

In just about any bro gym, you’ll probably come across gym machines for arms specifically designed for bicep curls, tricep extensions, and…the list goes on. The good news is that these machines are generally very user-friendly. If you’re just getting started with strength training, these bad boys make it easy to get getting.

However, even with their relative ease of use in mind, their is still a rather significant burning question in mind when it comes to these fitness center monstrosities…

Why Use Arm Machines at the Gym?

Like any obnoxious salesman, I’d like to answer a question with a question:

Did you know that arm machines can potentially activate more muscle fibers than free weights can?

“Science” says that machine-based exercises can provide better muscle activation in certain exercises!

However, there a few common…hang-ups regarding arm machines that continue to prevail:

  • They are only for beginners or people who don’t want to bulk up
  • They are inferior to using free weights or other equipment
  • They are boring or monotonous

In reality, arm machines can be used effectively and efficiently by anyone, regardless of their fitness level or goals. Like any other kind of fitness training it’s essential to appropriately incorporate these machines into your overall training regimen (not to mention properly selecting weight/resistance, sets, reps, etc.)

The 10 Best Arm Workout Machines at the Gym

Now that we’ve provided you with every justification for using arm machines at the gym, it’s time to get to the contenders for the best machines. In this section, we have selected the top 10 best gym machines for arms that are easy-to-find/common in gyms, easy to use, and, most importantly, effective. 

Triceps Extension Apparatus

This machine allows you to extend your arms behind your head, using a cable or lever system. It mainly works the triceps (no joke!). This machine may cause elbow pain if used incorrectly so start light and slow before dropping the pin.

Preacher Curl (or other bicep curl) Machine

The most popular bicep curl machine, the preacher curl machine is a padded bench with a bar or handles that you curl towards your chest using a cable or lever system. The preacher curl machine helps target the biceps (seriously!), isolating and pumping them up while preventing any “cheat curls” by stabilizing the arms.

Cable Machine

A versatile machine (oftentimes in the form of a “functional trainer” or as a “jungle gym”)  with a pulley system and various attachments, allowing you to perform a wide range of arm exercises.

Tricep Dip Machine

This machine has two parallel bars that you use to lower and raise your body. It targets the triceps, chest, and shoulders. In many cases, additional resistance or support can be applied via the attached weight stack. A good alternative to this one is the seated dip machine.

Assisted Pull-Up Machine

One of the best gym machines, the assisted pull-up machine consists of a platform and a bar with a counterweight system to assist you in pulling yourself up. This one focuses on the biceps, back, trapezius muscles, and shoulders (pretty much all of the/ entire upper body muscles). It’s usually easier and can be safer than regular pull-ups but may not mimic their natural movement as well.

Hammer Curl Machine

Using this machine lets you perform hammer curls using a cable or lever system. It targets both the bicep muscles and the forearms just in case, ya know, you ever wanted to have arms like Popeye.

Standing One-Arm Cable Curl

Using a single-arm handle attachment on a cable machine, this exercise isolates the biceps and provides constant tension throughout the movement.

Close-Grip Bench Press Machine

This exercise machine is one that emphasizes the triceps, chest, and shoulders while improving overall pressing strength.

Tricep Kickback Machine

A machine designed for performing tricep kickbacks(!!!), this targets the triceps and mainly works the back, upper arms.

Wrist Curl Machine

This piece of equipment is perfect for isolating the forearm muscles while also working to help grip strength.

Triceps, Biceps, Forearms and more…What Are the Arm Muscles Comprised Of?

When you think of arm muscles, you likely picture your biceps and triceps (maybe your forearms, too….maybe…). However, there are plenty of different muscle groups housed in the arms. Let’s take a closer look at the muscles worked when you use arm machines, from your shoulders to your fingers, and understand their anatomy, function, and importance.

Upper Arm Muscles

The upper arm muscles connect your shoulder to your elbow, and are responsible for bending and straightening your elbow, as well as rotating your forearm and wrist. 

These four major muscles make up your upper arm:

  • Biceps brachii: (better known to all you meatheads as the biceps) It forms the front of your upper arm and helps you flex your elbow and rotate your forearm with palm up or forward.
  • Triceps brachii: (aka, triceps) Located at the back of your upper arm, it helps extend your elbow and bring your arm closer to your body.
  • Brachialis: Found beneath the biceps brachii, it is responsible for flexing your elbow.
  • Coracobrachialis: As the smallest upper arm muscle, it helps in flexing and adducting your arm.

Lower Arm Muscles

Lower arm muscles run from your elbow to your wrist and fingers, and help in moving and controlling your wrist, hand, and fingers. These muscles fall into two main groups:

Anterior Compartment

These muscles are on the front of your forearm and work to flex your wrist and fingers while also rotating your forearm.

  • Flexor carpi radialis: Helps you flex and abduct your wrist and weakly flex your elbow.
  • Palmaris longus: This muscle assists in flexing your wrist and tightening the palmar aponeurosis. This greatly helps with gripping objects.
  • Flexor carpi ulnaris: Helps flex and adduct your wrist and your elbow.
  • Flexor digitorum superficialis: This muscle helps flex your wrist, metacarpophalangeal joints (better known as the knuckles), and the middle joints of the fingers.
  • Flexor digitorum profundus: Flexes your wrist, metacarpophalangeal joints, proximal and distal interphalangeal joints (all finger joints).
  • Flexor pollicis longus: Helps in flexing the wrist and thumb.

Posterior Compartment

Located on the back of the forearm, these muscles are involved in extending the wrist and fingers.

  • Extensor carpi radialis longus: This muscle extends and abducts your wrist and flexes your elbow.
  • Extensor carpi radialis brevis: Assists in extending and abducting the wrist.
  • Extensor digitorum: The muscle responsible for extending your wrist, metacarpophalangeal joints, and interphalangeal joints.
  • Extensor digiti minimi: This muscle extends the wrist and “pinky” finger.
  • Extensor carpi ulnaris: Helps in extending and adducting the wrist.
  • Abductor pollicis longus: Abducts and extends your thumb and wrist.

With this new-found knowledge, you’re not only fully aware of all of the muscles arm machines work, but are also fully capable of passing any anatomy test.

You’re welcome!

Frequently Asked Questions

After a laundry list of arm machines and a full-scale anatomy lesson, you’re telling me you still have questions? You get two more…then we’re done!

Seated bicep curls, tricep pushdowns, and assisted pull-ups are great options to start with. These machines are very easy to use/navigate and isolate specific muscle groups that beginners are most likely to want to work (they’re obviously trying to earn their “tickets to the gun show”).

We get that you may not have a gym membership or access to some of the arm machines discussed above (you are on Garage Gym Revisited, afterall!) Here are a few suggestions for working your arms without breaking the bank with (usually) expensive machines:

  1. Resistance bands: Affordable and easily stored, resistance bands can be used for a variety of arm exercises like bicep curls, tricep extensions, and shoulder presses, primarily using, without the assistance of the bands, just your body weight.
  2. Dumbbells: A classic choice, dumbbells offer endless possibilities for arm workouts. The sky is truly the limit in regards to arm, dumbbell exercises.
  3. Pull-up bars: Installing a pull-up bar in a doorway provides a “convenient” way to work on your overall upper body strength (and endurance, if desired) and can be used for one of the “kings” of arm development exercises - chin-ups.

You Know the Best Arm Machines Now – Go Get Armed and Dangerous!

Truth be told, it’s not too difficult to locate an arm machine…or 50…at your local fitness center.

You want to get stronger arms, you’re definitely able to (no excuses, man!)

Thankfully, though, after today, you won’t walk in and experience any “analysis paralysis” when it’s time to actually start working. 

Whether you opt for some of the most popular options (ex. Preacher curl machine) or end up opting for some more “alternative” options (don’t sleep on those bands mentioned in the FAQ!) make sure you’re hitting all of the muscles we discussed in our “anatomy” session.

…but, and I hate to have to write this in an article about arm machines…make sure you don’t spend too much time on these exercises. 

…and

Just to make sure you’re never going to skip leg day, check out our article on squat standards. Between these two articles, you’ll be able to develop yuge pythons and learn what to do to achieve that elusive half-ton squat (and not have legs like the guy in the commercial, above!)

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AUTHOR

Tom, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, ISSA-CPT, PN1-NC, DPA, CAPM has been CrossFitting for over 10 years. He has participated in a number of team and individual CrossFit competitions across Europe and the United States. He was the 2012 Chick-fil-A Race Series champion (North Georgia Circuit) and has put together a few gnarly garage and basement gyms in his time!

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