The Best Arm Toning Exercises [For Pregnancy & Postpartum]

Have your arms started to get flabby since getting pregnant?

Do you wish you had a simple workout to help you tone your arms?

You are in the right place.

After reading this post, you’ll learn the best arm toning exercises you can do while pregnant or postpartum.

I’ll also go over three easy pregnancy / postpartum arm workouts you can do in just 10 minutes a day.

Keep reading.

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Toning Your Arms While Pregnant

Before we begin, I just want to dispel a myth really quickly. There is no such thing as toning.

Shocking, I know!

But I want you to know the truth. You cannot tone a muscle. 

There are only two things that you can do. You can either gain muscle or lose fat. That’s all. 

That’s why lifting really light weights for a high amount of reps will not tone you.

I’m sorry to tell you, but doing that is actually a waste of time. 

And that’s not what I want for you. 

So in this post, you are going to learn how to help build muscle in your arms, while losing fat. (Don’t worry, your arms won’t look like Arnold Schwarzenegger :). )

The mommas who are able to build muscle and lose fat are the ones that are “toned.”

Okay, got it?  Good.

Can I Lift Arm Weights While Pregnant?

So the next question is, can you lift arm weights while you are pregnant? Yes, you can lift weights while you are pregnant. One of my good friends lifted heavy weights up until she was 39 weeks pregnant!

I don’t suggest that you do this. She had been lifting heavy weights for several years before getting pregnant and kept up her routine throughout the entire pregnancy. 

But, what this means is that you can remain active while pregnant.  It’s a common misconception to think that you must be on bed rest during pregnancy.  

This is so far from the truth!

You can and should do some exercise during pregnancy (as long as your doctor says it is safe for you to do so.)

Here are the recommendations from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG).

“Physical activity in pregnancy has minimal risks and has been shown to benefit most women, although some modification to exercise routines may be necessary…”

So what kind of modifications should you do?

What Arm Exercises Are Safe During Pregnancy?

There are many arm exercises that are safe during pregnancy and postpartum. 

Lifting weights with dumbbells for your arms are very safe. The use of resistance bands purchased from Amazon, for arm exercises is also very safe.  

physical-activity-in-pregnancy

When doing these exercises, it is best to perform them while standing or sitting.  You should avoid arm exercises that have you flat on your back, or on your belly (obviously).

We never want you laying completely flat on your back after the first trimester.

That’s because the uterus can compress one of the big blood vessels in your abdomen known as the inferior vena cava.  The compression of this vessel can decrease blood flow back to your heart.

This can decrease the blood supply to both you and your baby, leading you to feel dizzy, and short of breath.

Can You Do Push-ups Postpartum?

Absolutely. Push-ups are one of the most fundamental exercises you can do. It is completely safe to do them postpartum as long as you have healed and your OBGYN has given you clearance.

In general, women who have had uncomplicated vaginal deliveries can begin doing exercises like push-ups after 2 weeks. If you had a c-section, it is best to wait at least 6 weeks postpartum.

You can also do modified push-ups even when you are pregnant.  

Below, I’ll show you how.

The Best Postpartum Arm Exercises [+ 3 Easy Arm Workouts]

In this next section, I want to show you the best arm exercises you can do while pregnant or postpartum.

These exercises target the three major muscle groups of the arms.  They include

  • The biceps (which are on the front side of your arm
  • The triceps (which are on the backside of your arm)
  • The shoulders (everyone knows where the shoulders are)

Another important thing to know is that the shoulder is composed of three different muscles. The anterior deltoid, the medial deltoid, and the posterior deltoid.

The exercises and arms workouts below will address each of these areas.

Okay, are you excited?

Let’s start.

The Warmup

Before we start training your arms, we have to warm-up.

The warm-up will help increase blood flow to your muscles to prepare them for the workout. It can also help stretch and loosen out the muscles to decrease the risk of straining yourself.

Here are four simple exercises you can do to warm up.

Do each one of these for 30 seconds.

Arm Circles

Arm circles are exactly what they sound like. Keep your elbows straight and draw big circles with your arms out to your side.  

Always draw the circles backward as this will also help open and stretch your chest muscles.

You don’t have to go fast. Just draw big circles. 

Do this for 30 seconds.

Shoulder Raises

The next warm-up exercise is the shoulder raise. In this exercise, you will alternate lifting one arm straight out in front of you and over your head. 

This exercise will target the front of your shoulders.

Take your time. Do this for 30 seconds.

Cross body Shoulder Stretch

The next warm-up exercise is the cross body shoulder stretch.

Take one arm and bring it across your chest. Then hook the opposite elbow under the crossed arm and gently pull on your arm. You should feel a slight stretch across the shoulder muscle.

Hold this stretch for 1-2 seconds and switch sides. Do this for a total of 30 seconds.

Chest Openers

The last warm-up exercise is the chest opener. This exercise will stretch our your biceps and your chest muscles at the same time. 

Find a ledge, a door frame, or a wall that you can grip onto. While keeping your arm straight, turn your body away from your arm until you feel a nice stretch on your chest.  Your bicep will also get a very gentle stretch, but it won’t be obvious.

Hold the stretch for 1-2 seconds and switch sides. Do this for a total of 30 seconds.

Okay, that’s it for our warm-up routine. Now let’s start the workout.

The Best Pregnancy & Postpartum Arm Workouts

There are three different arm workouts you can do.

  • The third workout is if you don’t have access to any equipment

All three are great options, and you could even mix and match exercises from each workout to keep things interesting.

But first, there’s something you need to understand. 

Remember when I talked about how toning your arms isn’t really a thing?

That’s why it’s important that you use weights that are heavy enough to cause some muscle growth.

I don’t want you to use the lightest 2 or 3 lb dumbbells.

In that case, there’s no point in using weights at all.

When choosing your weight (or resistance band), pick something where you will have a modest challenge.

For example, if I recommend that you do 12 repetitions, don’t pick a weight that you can easily do 20. 

Instead, pick a weight where you can get 15 repetitions maximum.

Okay?

Got it?

Good. Let’s start.

Pregnancy/Postpartum Arm Workout With Dumbbells

Single Arm Dumbbell OHP

The first exercise is the single arm dumbbell overhead press

How To Do It: 

Bring the dumbbells up to rest on your shoulders. 

Keep your elbows in front of your body.

Press the dumbbell straight up overhead until your elbow is locked out.

Lower the weight back down to your shoulder and repeat on the other side.

What it Does: 

This exercise will train the medial shoulder muscle, and the tricep muscles.

How Many Should You Do:  

12 repetitions on each arm.

Lateral Dumbbell Raises

The second exercise is the lateral dumbbell raise.

How To Do It: 

Hold the dumbbells at your sides with your arms outstretched or with a slight bend at the elbow.

Begin raising the dumbbells out to your side until they reach shoulder level.

Slowly lower the weight back down.

What it Does: 

This exercise will train the medial shoulder muscles.

How Many Should You Do: 

10 repetitions per set.

Modified Plank Row

The third exercise in this workout is the plank row. But we will modify it to make it less stressful to your abdomen.

How To Do It: 

Kneel down and place the dumbbells on the floor at shoulder-width.

Grab the handles of the dumbbell and begin lifting one dumbbell up towards your chest.

Retract your shoulder blade as you are lifting it and squeeze your bicep muscle.

Slowly lower the weight and repeat on the other side.

*If you are postpartum, cleared for exercise, and you feel ready for it, you can do the full plank row.*

What it Does: 

This exercise will train the biceps and some muscles of the upper back.

The full plank row variation will also train your core muscles.

How Many Should You Do:  

8 repetitions on each arm.

Curl To Press

The fourth exercise is the curl to press. This exercise is pretty straightforward and combines a bicep curl and shoulder press in one movement.

How To Do It: 

Grab two dumbbells and hold them slightly in front of your body with your palms facing forward.

Curl the dumbbells up toward your shoulders while keeping your elbows relatively motionless.

Next, rotate your wrist forward and press the weight overhead.

Slowly lower the dumbbells back down to your shoulders, and then back down to your waist.

What it Does: 

This exercise will train the biceps, shoulders, and triceps.

How Many Should You Do:  

12 repetitions per set.

Dumbbell Tricep Extensions

The last exercise in the dumbbell workout is the overhead tricep extension. 

How To Do It: 

Grab one dumbbell and bring it up over your head.

Slowly lower the dumbbell behind your head by bending at the elbow only.

Keep your shoulders flexed overhead the entire time.

Bring the dumbbell back overhead by straightening at the elbow joint.

What it Does: 

This exercise will train the tricep muscles.

How Many Should You Do:  

12 repetitions per set.

After you do this entire circuit, repeat it once more to complete the workout.

** DONT FORGET, THE REPETITIONS SHOULDN’T BE EASY.***

Use dumbbells that will provide a moderate challenge.  

Pregnancy/Postpartum Arm Workout With Resistance Bands

If you don’t have access to dumbbells, you can also do a similar workout using resistance bands.  Get yourself a couple on Amazon right here.

Resistance bands are a great alternative because they are cheap, portable, and add variety.

Overhead Shoulder Press

The first exercise in the pregnancy/postpartum band workout is the shoulder press.

How To Do It: 

Step on one loop of the band with both feet and grab the other loop with your hands.

Bring the band up to your shoulders with your palms facing forward.

Press the band overhead until your elbows are locked out.

*The wider your stance, the more resistance will be placed on the band.

What it Does: 

This exercise will train the shoulder and tricep muscles.

How Many Should You Do:  

12 repetitions per set.

Bent Over Rows

The second exercise of this workout is the bent-over row.

How To Do It: 

Step on one loop of the band with both feet and grab the other loop with your hands.

Next, bend at your hips and knees and push your butt back so that your upper body is almost parallel to the floor

Begin by pulling the band up towards your ribs by retracting your shoulder blades.

Hold the top position for 1 second and squeeze your bicep muscles at the top.

What it Does: 

This exercise will train the back and bicep muscles.

How Many Should You Do:  

12 repetitions per set.

Bicep Curl

The third exercise is the bicep curl.

How To Do It: 

Step on one loop of the band with both feet and grab the other loop with your hands.

Start with your hands at the level of your hips and palms facing forward.

Curl the band up towards your shoulders while keeping your elbows relatively motionless.

What it Does: 

This exercise will train the shoulders and tricep muscles.

How Many Should You Do:  

12 repetitions per set.

Kneeling Overhead Tricep Extensions

The last exercise in this sequence is the kneeling overhead tricep extension.

How To Do It: 

Bend down and kneel on one loop of the band while grabbing the other loop with your hands.

Bring that loop up over your head with your palms facing the ceiling and your arms extended.

Next, bend at your elbows, keeping your shoulders flexed above your head.

Straighten your arms by extending your elbows.

What it Does: 

This exercise will train the tricep muscles.

How Many Should You Do:  

12 repetitions per set.

After you do this entire circuit, repeat it once more to complete the workout.

** DONT FORGET, THE REPETITIONS SHOULDN’T BE EASY.***

Use a band that will provide a moderate challenge.  

Pregnancy/Postpartum Arm At Home Workout With No Equipment

Ok here is the last workout. This one is for you if you have zero equipment.

Keep in mind, if you are far along in your pregnancy, I do not recommend that you do the kneeling pike push-up. I’d rather you skip that exercise. As an alternative,  get yourself a band and do the shoulder exercises listed above.

If you are postpartum, it shouldn’t be an issue as long as you have clearance.

Here is the workout.

Kneeling Pike Pushups

The first exercise is the kneeling pike push-up. The purpose of this exercise is to mimic a shoulder press using your bodyweight.

How To Do It: 

Bend down and get into a kneeling position with your feet off the ground.

Next, place your hands on the floor in front of you at shoulder-width distance.

Begin the exercise by bringing the top of your head toward the ground.

Do your best to maintain as vertical a position as possible.

*Remember, if you are in the second or third trimester, I want you to avoid this exercise*

What it Does: 

This exercise will train the shoulders and tricep muscles.

How Many Should You Do:  

10 repetitions per set.

Incline Pushups

The next exercise is the incline push-up. This is a modified version of the standard push-up.

How To Do It: 

Find a sturdy ledge such as a desk, where you can lean on.

Place your hands shoulder-width apart on the edge of the ledge and bring your feet back away from ledge.

Next, bend at the elbows until your chest touches the ledge.

Press back up until your elbows are locked out.

Keep your elbows tucked to a 30-45 degree angle from your body.

The taller the ledge, the easier the exercise.

The video shows two more variations you can perform if the incline push-up is too easy for you.

What it Does: 

This exercise will train the chest, shoulders, and tricep muscles.

How Many Should You Do:  

10 repetitions per set.

For more information on push ups during pregnancy I have a detailed article describing 5 safe push up variations for each trimester of pregnancy.

Wall Pulls

The third and final exercise of this arm workout is the wall pull. To do this exercise, you will need some type of sturdy bannister or pole to do it.

You could also use your kitchen sink if need be.

How To Do It: 

Find a sturdy bannister/structure that you can lean from and grab it with both hands.

Bring your feet as close as you can to the bannister and lean back while maintaining your grip.

Next, pull yourself toward the structure by retracting your shoulders and squeezing your biceps

Slowly return to the starting position with your arms extended.

The further you stand from the structure, the easier the exercise.

What it Does: 

This exercise will train the chest, shoulders, and tricep muscles.

How Many Should You Do:  

12 repetitions per set.

After you do this entire circuit, repeat it two more times to complete the workout.

Final Thoughts

So there you have three different arm “toning” workouts along with the best arm exercises you can do during your pregnancy or postpartum period.

I have “toning” in quotes because there is no such thing.  

Our goal is for you to build muscle and burn fat on your arms to make them look toned.

To learn more about training your chest, back and arms check out my posts on:

And if you still have questions about exercise in the postpartum period, check out my Guide to Getting Fit after Pregnancy.


Give these workouts a try and let me know how they go.

Good luck.


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brittany-robles

Brittany N Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Brittany N Robles is a full-time OBGYN, a NASM certified personal trainer, and health & fitness expert. She holds a Masters of Public Health degree in maternal health with a special interest in exercise and nutrition. She is also the co-author of The White Coat Trainer. Learn more about her here.

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2 thoughts on “The Best Arm Toning Exercises [For Pregnancy & Postpartum]”

    1. Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

      Hey Ash,
      Thanks for the comment. I would avoid the planks and push-ups for now. If any of the other exercises cause you pain or discomfort, you should not perform that movement. I am not sure if you are aware but I have a post on 100 exercises to fix diastasis recti. You could refer to that post for push up and plank alternatives with the hopes of rebuilding your core to eventually perform a full plank and push up!

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