why are my arms so skinny
Strength Training

Why Are My Arms So Skinny? 7 Mistakes You’re Making

Your arms are one of the most prominent areas of your entire body when it comes to aesthetics, which is why, for many people, arms size is an important issue.

If you find that your arms are skinny and do not have the muscle mass you’d hope for, there are likely a variety of factors at play. You might not be eating enough food to build muscle, or you might be eating the wrong type of food (i.e. not enough protein).

You might also not be performing the right exercises in the gym to build muscle size in your arms, or you’re simply not lifting heavy enough weights. 

Here, we’ll outline in more detail the potential reasons why your arms are skinny, and how you can go about fixing any mistakes you might be making.

1. You’re not exercising your arms enough

This might seem obvious, but your arm muscles might be underdeveloped simply because you’re not working them enough. Now, this doesn’t mean you should train your arms every single day to beef them up as that can lead to burnout and injury.

You need to find the right frequency of training for your body and this can sometimes take a bit of trial and error, but experts state that a muscle group should be trained 2-5 times per week in order to see muscle gain.

The amount you train your arms each week will depend on your previous experience with resistance training as well as your current levels of fitness. Plus, your workouts should take into account your training frequency.

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If you are training your arms most days of the week, then each workout should only consist of a few sets on your arms. If you work your arms on fewer days, then these workouts will need to include more sets.

2. You’re not allowing time for recovery

On the flip side of this, you might be training your arms too much. It can be tempting to constantly train muscles that you want to get bigger, however, recovery is an essential part of the process.

Each time your muscles are worked, they need roughly one to two days to recover afterward. This is to not only allow fatigue and pain to pass but also for the effects of the exercise to take root. If you don’t give your arms the time to recover, then you’re hindering your own progress.

An effective workout routine will target the desired muscle groups several times a week with breaks in between to allow for sufficient recovery.

3. You’re focusing on the wrong exercises

A common mistake, particularly with beginners, is to perform an isolation exercise when trying to build particular muscles, like those in your arms. Exercises like biceps curls and tricep extensions are great for targeting specific muscles, but they’re best used in conjunction with compound exercises.

Compound strength training exercises recruit multiple muscle groups at once and generally allow you to lift more weight, as well. One of the main benefits of compound exercises is their efficiency; you’re likely to see results far more quickly if you’re incorporating movements like bent-over rows and bench presses into your workouts.

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An isolation exercise can be particularly useful, however, if you find that a single muscle has not developed as much as those around it. Biceps exercises, for example, allow you to just target that muscle if need be.

4. You’re not lifting enough weight

To develop muscle and make your arms bigger, you need to be lifting heavier weights – there’s no getting around it. When starting out, you should begin using a fairly light weight so that you can perfect your form and avoid injury.

As time goes on, you should gradually increase this weight. Ideally, your sets should consist of between 8 and 12 reps if you’re focusing on size and your form should be correct during the entire movement. Plus, the last few reps should be challenging, without affecting your form.

Building strength is a gradual process, but if you consistently challenge yourself and increase the weight you’re lifting over time, you should see progress.

5. You’re not using progressive overload

Further to this, you’ll only see changes in your arm muscles if you implement progressive overload into your exercise routine. Progressive overload is the process of gradually increasing certain aspects of your training – the weight, the number of reps, or the frequency – over an extended period of time.

This is how you avoid hitting a plateau in your training, as your body is consistently having to adapt to changes i.e. your muscles will continue to get stronger.

6. You’re not eating enough

In order to gain muscle, you need to be consuming more calories than you are expending each day. First, you need to work out how many calories you burn in a day – you could use a fitness tracker for this, or you can use the Mifflin-St Jeor BMR formula:

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Men = (4.536 x weight in pounds) + (15.88 x height in inches) – (5 x age) + 5
Women = (4.536 x weight in pounds) + (15.88 x height in inches) – (5 x age) – 161Men = (4.536 x weight in pounds) + (15.88 x height in inches) – (5 x age) + 5

The results from the formula determine how many calories you should consume each day to maintain your current weight. To build muscle, you should consume roughly 200 to 300 calories more than this.

7. You’re not eating the right foods

That being said, food choices are essential; eating only fatty food will not help you improve muscle mass in your arms. You should ensure you’re eating a balanced diet with fats, carbs, and proteins.

That last one is the most important, as proteins are the building blocks of your muscles. Protein should make up between 10 and 35% of your daily food intake, and some choose to also drink protein in the form of shakes.

Final thoughts

If skinny arms are an issue for you, there are several different factors that could be the root of the problem – the trick is to figure out what you’re doing wrong and address it. It won’t be a case of just doing some bicep curls more often; you’ll need to make some long-term changes, but the benefits will be worth it.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exercises make your arms skinny?

There aren’t exercises that will specifically make your arms skinny, though they will become underdeveloped if you neglect to train them and only perform exercises that focus on other areas of the body.

George Gigney

George is a Level 3 Personal Trainer and qualified Behavior Change Specialist. He has been training clients for several years and writing for over a decade, focusing on sport, wellbeing, and fitness.

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