In the upper body region, arm workouts do more than just help build muscle mass. These muscle groups help improve overall strength, grip, and body posture in unison with a strong core. Over the years there have been plenty of workout routines that target specifically the upper arm but neglect other muscles such as the forearm, deltoid, and trapezius.
To level the playing field and create a balanced workout routine, here are the 7 best exercise machines that target different muscle groups in the arms.
Table of Contents
The 7 Best Arm Machines at the Gym
- Tricep extension machine
- Preacher curl machine
- Cable machine
- Tricep dip station
- Assisted pull-up machine
- Seated overhead press
- Seated dip machine
To add some diversity to your workout routine, you can use these arm machines while mixing them with body-weight exercises and free weights. Remember, there is no one sure-fire method to tone your upper arms and other related muscle groups. A decent amount of variety will help meet your fitness goals but how do these machines benefit you, and how can they be used to their fullest extent?
Tricep Extension Machine
Tricep extensions are an excellent exercise to gain strength for more traditional exercises such as the bench press and military press using free weights. Primarily the tricep extension machine works these muscles:
- Medial tricep head
- Anterior deltoid
The range of motion activated by this machine is a great way for beginners and veterans to gain strength in these muscles.
Benefits of Tricep Extension Machines
- Lower risk of injury
- Suitable for all fitness levels
Lower risk of injury
Using free weights bears a level of risk of injury since they do not guide each movement. As such, when used to improve strength and lift heavier weights, they could cause some damage with poor form. This machine eliminates that from the equation since it allows you to keep excellent form which will build strength on the medial tricep head.
With each rep performed in a guided motion, more muscle strength is built, which can also be very effective when varying your workout routine with other traditional exercises.
Suitable for all fitness levels
Beginners are often worried about tearing a muscle or dislocating a joint. Some are overzealous and try to lift heavy in the first few weeks to rush the results. Doing so without acquiring proper muscle strength and form can often lead to counterproductive results. To gain more tricep strength and get good form, tricep extension machines are one of the best gym machines that are effective for both these purposes.
Tips for using the tricep extension machine
- Have good grip and form
- Acquire a good range of motion
- Do not build momentum for reps
Have good grip and form
Using the tricep extension machine requires discipline, as you need to improve your grip and form. This can be achieved by having a natural comfortable grip and not bending your wrists when lifting the weights to your chest.
Acquire a good range of motion
A good range of motion is paramount for applying enough pressure on the targeted muscles. Do not overextend, and avoid bringing the bar too close to your chest with each repetition. Feel the pressure on the triceps even in recovery.
Do not build momentum for reps
It is possible to wear out your joints or not achieve the results you’d like to when building momentum for reps. Building momentum does not apply the needed amount of pressure on the muscles and jerks the joints abruptly.
Here is the best way to use tricep extension machines to reap the best benefits regardless of your fitness level.
Tricep extension machine exercises for arms
The triceps extension machine is not complex since it only allows the repetition of the same movement that focuses mostly on the upper arm instead of several upper body muscles at a time. There are different variations of this machine with grab bars either facing upwards or sideways but despite these variations, this machine works the same way.
Ensure you are seated comfortably without slouching, if the model you are using has a backrest, ensure that your back is comfortably resting on it. Adjust the seat to the perfect position for comfort, and set the weight level to what you can manage.
Rest your elbows on the elbow rest with your arms slightly raised, and bring the bars toward your head. On models where the grab bars are facing sideways, lift the weight with your palms facing down to focus on the triceps instead of the biceps.
Preacher Curl Machine
A preacher curl machine is a great machine for isolating the bicep which achieves greater activation this targeted muscle group. That’s why we also selected it as one of the best gym machines for biceps.
- Bicep brachii
- Forearm flexors
Benefits of Preacher Curl Machines
- Good muscle isolation
- Extending loading capacity
- Increased stability
Good muscle isolation
Preacher curls are one of the best exercises to isolate the bicep from other muscle groups. This is great for supersets and other workouts that require isolating only certain upper body muscles at a time.
Extending loading capacity
This machine allows workouts using heavier weights while preventing injury that would otherwise occur when using free weights and the traditional bicep curl machine. The preacher curl helps take the strain off the joints and prevents possible elbow and shoulder injuries.
Doing the bicep curl movement while seated with the support provided by the preacher curl machine helps bring more stability than what you get from a bicep curl machine or free weights. The support underneath the elbow makes movement more fluid and reduces form breakdown.
Tips for using the preacher curl machine
- Perform each rep naturally
- Complete reps with good form
Perform each rep naturally
Movements on the preacher curl station should never be forced, even when lifting heavier weights. Although a good amount of resistance is what you’re after, do not perform movements if they do not feel natural to your wrists.
Complete reps with good form
As the posterior of your upper arm is resting on the elbow rest, do not allow the forearm to touch the elbow rest. The forearm should be slightly raised from the elbow rest which means your arms must be slightly bent when performing repetitions.
To see the proper form to maintain when doing a preacher curl, check out this video:
Preacher curl machine exercises for arms
Machine preacher curls don’t have that much variation unless done with free weights. Therefore, this machine is sort of a one-trick pony unless it has custom modifications that extend its functionality.
Although this machine has limited function, it does not make it any less effective. When used right and by heightening the intensity through slowing down repetitions, you can maximize efficacy. Using the machine is fairly simple – select the desired weight and rest your elbows on the machine. Use the bars to lift until the arms are vertical.
A list of the best exercise machines is not complete without the cable machine. There is just so much versatility to this machine since it can work the triceps, deltoids, and trapezius muscles at the same time. Not to mention that you can do bicep curls and use the cable machine as a variation of the seated row machine. Here are some of the key muscle groups targeted:
- Trapezius muscles
Benefits of the cable machine
- Versatility of workouts
There are a few machines at the gym that can reach the cable’s versatility. From performing bicep curls to triceps extensions and even being more effective than the seated row machine in building muscle mass, it is no wonder why this machine is one of the favorites at the gym.
You can use it to burn body fat, tone muscles, and increase muscle strength. That’s why the cable machine was an easy choice for our list of the best upper body gym machines.
Cable machines honestly have the best customizability since you can use different handles and bars. These modifications make it comfortable to do different workouts and that is why the cable machine just might be one of the best machines at the gym.
Tips for using cable machines
- Use the correct height and attachments
- Have complete control at all times
Use the correct height and attachments
These gym machines have appropriate height configurations and attachments for the different exercises they facilitate. Ensure that you are using the appropriate attachment at the correct height range for each exercise or variation.
Have complete control at all times
Quite often at the gym, you might hear metal clanging as a result of weights being lowered in an uncontrolled manner. Avoid this at all costs by lowering the weights gently; this fully activates the intended muscles and makes the workout more effective.
If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the attachments and the design of these gym machines, here is a video detailing how to do a few effective workouts using this machine:
Cable machine exercises for arms
- Reverse Grip Pressdown
- Cable French Press
- Rope Pressdown
Reverse Grip Pressdown
The reverse grip press-down targets primarily the tricep and activates all three heads. It can be done using a bar attachment gripped with the palms facing upward. The cable’s height should be at the head or above and the workout is done with a downward motion.
Cable French Press
Place the cable above your head and stand with your feet apart (one before the other) and feel the triceps extend throughout your entire range of motion as you do the cable French press. Alternatively, you can set the cables at the lowest height and pull the cable behind you while seated. The latter is focused more on the triceps, unlike the former which also helps with burning body fat and strengthening your core.
Another comprehensive workout that targets most of the upper body is the rope press down. Using a single movement, the deltoids, abs, triceps, forearms, and biceps are activated. The activation of these muscles strengthens all the activated muscles and significantly boosts endurance.
Just choose the desired weight and place the cable height above your head. Use the rope attachment to pull down the weight from the shoulders. Gently lower down to below your hips and smoothly return to the starting position.
Tricep Dip Station
Dips are one of the most basic yet effective body-weight workouts making the tricep dip station a very basic piece of equipment that builds good upper-body strength. The muscles activated include:
Benefits of the tricep dip station
- Improved posture
- Works for different types of workout regimes
Unlike other arm workout machines that focus solely on one or a few arm muscles, the dip station also activates the core, shoulders, and some back muscles. The effect this has on the body improves overall posture through core and arm muscle strength. In a sense, the dip station works the entire upper body in one simple movement.
Works for different types of workout regimes
Different strokes for different folks. Some prefer to do calisthenic exercises and others prefer weight lifting – the tricep dip station amalgamates both these types of workout regimes since dips can be used either for a strictly body-weight exercise program or to add variation to weight lifting.
Tips for using the tricep dip station
- Engage the core
- Do not rest your muscles between repetitions
Engage the core
For proper form, engaging the core is an essential move. Doing this not only strengthens your core but also boosts performance throughout your sets.
Do not rest your muscles between repetitions
The most common rookie mistake on the tricep dip station is locking elbows between repetitions. Unfortunately, doing so relieves pressure from the muscles and defeats the purpose of the workout. Do not lock your elbows, and keep your arms parallel with the bar when lowering your body.
Although this machine is one of the simpler pieces of equipment at the gym, check out this video that depicts the best and safest way to use it.
Tricep dip station exercises for arms
- Tricep dips
Tricep dips work the entire upper body in a simple movement that doesn’t require complex exercise machines at the gym. All you have to do is grab hold of the handlebars and slowly elevate yourself. Bend your knees and lower your body, repeat this motion to complete a set.
Assisted Pull-up Machine
Pull-ups are effective for building upper body strength and assisted pull-ups maximize the effects of this workout. The muscles worked are:
- Posterior deltoid
Benefits of the Assisted Pull-up Machine
- Improves form
- Targets more muscle groups
Beginners can get the hang of proper pull-up form by using this machine and gradually build that upper body strength. Since it guides the movement, there is no room left for explosive reps that could cause injury and reduce focus on building strength.
Targets more muscle groups
You can get more out of your upper body exercise with the assisted pull-up machine because it activates the back, triceps, biceps, and shoulders. Working all these muscles at once prepares you for more complex strength exercises.
Tips for using assisted pull-up exercise machines
- Control your movement
- Do not lose form
Control your movement
Maintain control when using the assisted pull-up machine by pulling yourself up smoothly and returning the same way to your starting position. Avoid dropping too suddenly, engaging your back and arms will help prevent that.
Do not lose form
With each rep try to keep your shoulders in line with the hips to engage all the muscles this machine intends to activate.
See more tips on how to efficiently use assisted pull-up machines in this video.
Assisted Pull-up exercises for arms
This might be one of the easiest exercise machines on this list since it just boosts the regular pull-up by adding a counterweight to assist the movement. Just make sure that you have a good grip and good posture when doing assisted pull-ups.
Seated Overhead Press
The seated overhead press machine is mostly used for shoulder muscles but those aren’t the only muscles worked by this machine. The other muscles worked by the seated overhead press machine are:
- Upper pectorals
Benefits of the seated overhead press machine
- Focuses on upper body muscles
- Builds good form
Focuses on upper body muscles
The seated overhead press does not require much core strength and this means all the focus is on the upper body muscles. All muscles affected by this machine help boost sheer upper body strength and muscle mass gains.
Builds good form
Seated overhead presses can be done using free weights but quite often you can lose proper form after a few sets and this could put you at great risk of injuring yourself. With the help of this machine, maintaining proper form has been intentionally made easier to build muscle strength.
Tips for using the seated overhead press machine
- Perform each rep with intent
- Keep muscles activated
Perform each rep with intent
Keep your chest tall, and do not allow the weight to rest in recovery. Take a deep breath in before raising the weight again.
Keep muscles activated
Keep the weight resting on your muscles without locking your elbows, and slowly raise the bar. Refrain from building up momentum for reps.
Here is a video that shows the perfect form to use:
Seated overhead press machine exercises for arms
Perform the seated overhead press in a smooth and controlled motion as follows:
Maintain a strong grip around the handlebars with your elbows bent and gently raise them above your head. Ensure that every movement is smooth and that you maintain tension in the triceps at all times, even in recovery.
Seated Dip Machine
If you are looking for a high-impact workout that doesn’t exhaust other muscles, the seated dip machine is what you’re looking for. This machine isolates the:
Benefits of the seated dip machine
- Good muscle isolation
- Maintaining balance
Good muscle isolation
Whether the goal is improving strength or gaining mass, this dip machine does it all. Isolating the muscles makes workouts more purpose-driven and goal-oriented. The muscles isolated by this machine are mostly the triceps while engaging the pectorals and trapezius as well.
The bench/chair dip is effective but be prepared to lose some balance from time to time, especially if you are a beginner. Introducing the seated machine makes it easier to maintain balance since your entire weight is not resting on the arms. As a result, the seated machine variation is safer than the traditional method. Also, being able to load the weight takes this exercise to another scale.
Tips for using a seated dip machine
- Cultivate discipline
- Activate the core
Resist the urge to move your limbs such as your feet and elbows. Keep your feet flat on the ground and your elbows tucked at all times. If you find that hard, start with lighter weights and build up from there.
Activate the core
Activating the core with each repetition when inhaling builds good posture and prevents your shoulders from slouching. As a result, the workout becomes more effective by building sheer upper body strength.
To get a clearer picture of what’s expected, take a look at this video before taking a jab at this exercise:
Seated dip machine exercises for arms
As a simple arm machine, the seated dip machine also does not have plenty of variations. The only way to make exercises more exciting is by adding some weight to heighten the intensity of this workout. Fundamentally, the seated dip machine is similar to the traditional dip station but it adds some weight and you do it seated.
How does this machine work? It is simple, adjust the seat to have a perfect 90-degree angle on the elbows and then steadily press downward and gently return to the starting position. Ensure that the elbows don’t lock at the bottom before returning to the starting position.
Anatomy of Arm Muscles
The upper arms consist of the biceps, triceps, and deltoid muscles. Of these muscles, the biceps and triceps are often given the most attention at the gym but this does not make them more important. The deltoid helps prevent injury to the shoulder by providing protection and stability.
Bicep & Triceps
The more common muscle group’s anatomy can further be broken down into different individual muscles that can be worked out either individually or collectively. Take the bicep muscle group for example, it can be broken down into three distinct muscles namely the long head, short head, and brachialis. The triceps are also made up of three muscles which are colloquially termed the long, medial, and lateral head.
Lower down the arm, we get the forearm which has flexors, extensors, and the brachioradialis. All of these muscles play a different role in improving grip strength for upper arm workouts – whether on gym machines or when using free weights.
FAQs About Arm Muscles
Arm machines are very effective for isolating muscles and ramping up the loading capacity. The fixed nature of most machines enables movements to be fluid and makes it easy to achieve maximum results with minimal risk of injury. These machines are useful to both beginners and experienced gym-goers.
Some muscles are just stubborn to develop, and there is nothing you can do about this but focus more on them at the gym. These muscles include forearms, obliques, calves, and lower abs. These muscles also take a while to recover after being worked out at the gym which explains their stagnant growth. The triceps can also take longer to build if you do not do workouts that engage all three heads of this muscle group.
This question does not have a simple answer since many variables play a role. For example, it depends on your fitness level and goals. You should also consider if there is a good mix between the two workout forms or if it’s a binary either/or situation. However, when it comes to safe workouts to prevent injury, machines trump free weights by a long shot.
It might be best to have a healthy mix of these two types of exercises depending on your fitness goals instead of sticking religiously to one.