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Shape Up Your Arms

Por Leslie Rodríguez, RD, LD* -
Shape Up Your Arms

By targeting your upper arms with specific exercises, you can tone and strengthen them and increase their mass.


The two main muscles in your upper arm are the biceps and triceps. The bicep is the muscle that flexes the arm. The tricep straightens (extends) the arm. From vigorous training, men, in general, tend to achieve greater gains in muscle mass than women do, but women can successfully tone and strengthen their arms too!

Resistance training, in a sense, breaks down muscle so they can rebuild with increased strength. This takes time. Limit your training to two or three sessions per week with at least 1 full day of rest in between. If you start off with doing too much, you may put strain on your joints. Start slowly. Increasing muscle mass will require months of concentrated effort, using exercise that requires a high level of exertion. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see immediate results. Stick with it!

You can use gym equipment, barbells, dumbbells, or things you find around the house to give your arms a workout. For example, try a plastic one-gallon milk container filled with water, which weighs about eight pounds. Fill it with less water if eight pounds are too heavy.

Start your arm strengthening routine by warming up with a series (set) of 10 repetitions (reps) per exercise using relatively light weights (3-5 pounds).  It should be easy for you to lift. Then, rest for a minute and do a training set using a weight heavy enough to allow only 10 reps before you get tired. Use rhythmic movements. Inhale when lowering. Exhale when lifting. On each rep, completely straighten the arms at the elbows. When you can do 12 or more reps per set, increase the weight and return to 10 reps per set. After 6 weeks of the above routine, increase to two training sets of 10 reps each. After another 6 weeks, do three training sets.

Here are some exercises to get you started:

Tricep Kickbacks

1. Stand with left leg forward, slightly bent. Place left hand above the knee for balance. Right leg should be shifted slightly backwards. Bend right arm to a 90-degree angle, with the elbow pointing behind you.
2. Without moving your upper arm, move lower arm backwards until the weight is pointing away from the body. Hold at this position for one second.
3. Return the weight to the starting position.

Tricep Dips
1. Sit on a bench. Grip the edge of the seat with both hands on either side. Arms should be straight (not locked). Prop feet on an exercise ball, legs straight.
2. Contract abdominal muscles. Lift buttocks off the bench, supporting yourself on your hands. Keep back straight. Squeeze shoulder blades together and lift chest.
3. Keeping the elbows over the wrists, slowly drop buttocks toward the floor until upper arms are almost parallel to the floor. Elbows and shoulders will be at a 45 to 90 degree angle.
4. Straighten arms and repeat. Don't round shoulders. Set shoulder position first. Roll shoulders back and down. Squeeze shoulder blades together.

Basic Bicep Curl
1. Stand up or sit on a chair (whatever is most comfortable) with feet shoulder width apart. Hold weights down by your sides with palms facing forward.
2. Slowly, without moving the upper part of the arms, bend the arm bringing the weights up to the shoulders.
3. Keeping the movement nice and slow, return the weight to the starting position. Repeat this exercise for another 3-5 repetitions, or more if you feel comfortable. Depending on personal preference, you can do the Bicep Curls with both arms simultaneously or alternatively (lifting first with one arm and then the other).

Bicep Hammer Curls
1. Sit upright in a chair with legs bent and feet forward. Hold weights with palms facing the body.
2. Bend arm at the elbow keeping the wrists straight. Lift weight towards shoulder without moving upper arm. Stop the motion when the weight meets the shoulder and hold for one second.
3. Return the weight to the starting position. This constitutes one repetition per arm. Then, repeat the same motion with the other arm. Perform this motion for 10-15 repetitions on each arm, alternating repetitions between arms.

These exercises are specifically designed to help tone the bicep and tricep muscles. If all-around fitness and muscle toning is what your goal is, also include exercises that strengthen the shoulder, back, chest, and leg muscles.

Flaccid upper arms most likely reflect excess fat rather than untrained muscles. Women, especially, may find that their upper arms store a considerable amount of excess fat. Unfortunately, focusing exclusively on your upper arms won't accomplish "spot reduction" (toning of a specific muscle).  The best type of exercises to reduce overall body fat, including fat in the upper arm, is aerobic activities like walking, jogging, or cycling. These activities burn calories significantly faster than strength training. Even better, combine upper body exercises and cardio workouts to blast calories and tone at the same time. You can do this by boxing, doing martial arts, playing badminton, basketball, softball, or tennis, canoeing, kayaking, rowing or swimming.


When you have achieved the desired results, you can change to a maintenance program of one or two sessions per week. You don’t have to continually add reps or weight.

*Specialist in sports nutrition and physical activity with MyDiet™

 

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