Is it time to lose the sleeves and the jiggle? How about the double wave? You know, when you start waving, and your arm just keeps flapping in the breeze? Or maybe you just want to be able to carry the groceries easily, or play with and pick up your child or grandchild? So let’s talk about getting strong and toned arms. We’ll work together to make those pipes lean and mean!
No discussion of arms would be complete without also discussing shoulders. And shoulders, from a functional perspective, can be problematic. They are a complex joint, and prone to injury. So any arm workout should be tempered with a discussion of proper form, as well as keeping the weights lighter as you begin any new program. There really aren’t any magical exercises—no perfect proportion of weights—only some good solid ideas that, if done consistently, can develop not only nicely shaped arms, but also some functional strength. Functional strength equals better, more efficient activities of daily living, like lifting a baby, carrying groceries, or loading and unloading the clothes washer and dryer.
The arms are made up of several sections and muscle groups. At the top of the arm resides the shoulder (the superficial or surface muscles group is the deltoid group, but there are the famed rotators as well). Below that are the biceps brachii, and the triceps, and then there are muscles of note in the forearm, but the exercises that work the upper arm also will, to some extent, work the forearm.
Keeping these muscles in mind, let’s build some ideas for a program:
1. Overhead Presses
For the shoulders, this is an all around strengthener. It will work all three of the top muscles, although the activation prime mover can change, depending on the positioning you use. Having your hands in front will activate the anterior portion a bit more than the rest, but may also be more comfortable if you have had shoulder issues before. So with a dumbbell in each hand, raising the weight up overhead with the palms facing each other fits into this model. Externally rotating the arms out to the sides, palms facing away from the body, then pressing overhead, will concentrate the effort a bit more into the medial portion.
2. Biceps Curls
A standard in any workout plan, the biceps curl can be done in several different ways, and again, the hand positioning will alter the exercise a bit. Hammer curls are performed with palms facing each other, and standard biceps curls externally rotate palms up toward the ceiling. The latter is a bit harder, but it can also aggravate shoulder issues, so I recommend that my clients do whichever feels better, based on their bodies.
3. Triceps Kickbacks
This one is a great one for that “waving” area on the back of the arm. These can be done standing, or supported by a bench, but it is important to have at least 45 degrees of forward lean in the body, so if you’re standing, the abs are in tight, and you are hinged forward at the hip, with the back flat. Pressing straight back targets the two top pieces of the muscle, and pressing the palm up targets the “long head.”
4. Pull Ups
I’m including these with the arms, because they are a great compound exercise, meaning they work many muscle groups at the same time. We can do these with body weight, or, at Elite, we have an assisted pull up, where you can counter-weigh your body, so you can do the exercise, but with less than body weight. The grip does make a difference: palms in works back, chest, shoulders, biceps (emphasis on biceps), the outside grip (palms forward) works all of the above, but emphasis goes to the shoulders.
5. Triceps Bench Dips
Another compound exercise that belongs in a well-rounded program for arms! This one works the triceps, again with body weight, but you can mitigate that with your leg position—legs out further makes it harder, legs in closer makes it easier. I have had a couple of clients with lingering shoulder injuries not care for this one and the way it makes their shoulders feel, so keep that in mind. While it’s a great exercise, you have to listen to your body.
So, now that you know the basics, go forth, and build great arms!Get your own personalized plan!
Written by Melissa Abramovich, ACE CPT, NASM CGT, AAHFRP Medical Exercise Specialist at Elite Sports Club-River Glen
Melissa Abramovich went into Personal Training and Group Exercise instruction after successfully losing 140 pounds through healthy diet and exercise. Her desire to help others drove her forward into a career helping others to make healthier choices. She is an ACE certified personal trainer and now also a Medical Exercise Specialist (AAHFRP), helping clients with a myriad of health issues at Elite Sports Clubs. She holds a Bachelor’s degree, and many group exercise related certifications as well.