Arms are the new abs. Just letting you know. I mean, abs are great, but how often do we reveal our stomachs on a daily basis? Bare-midriff tops were once cool, but sadly that prime period of abdominal exposure is over. Arms, on the other hand, are very “in” (thanks, Michelle Obama). Last I checked, full sleeves are not worn regularly unless you’re Travis Barker. So why not put a little extra effort into one of the more exposed areas of your body and focus on building strong, sexy arms?
I love when people ask me about exercises that will shape their arms. Many of the questions are usually brought up with a funny story about an embarrassing goodbye wave. You know, when a person waves with their hand and the triceps feel compelled to join in. How does someone get rid of that second wave? I also hear questions about toning the arms for more definition and building that “V” shape at the base of the shoulders. Fortunately, there are some simple steps anyone can take for better looking arms.
Whether you are a guy or girl, you can follow a basic recipe that will tighten, tone and shape your arms. If you want them to look as good as possible in the least amount of time, follow the formula below:
5 Simple Steps
Step 1) Drink water! Nothing else. Drink 20 to 30 ounces first thing in the morning and maintain hydration throughout the day by spreading out another 40 to 60 ounces. This ensured hydration will boost the metabolism and will aid in the “toning” process.
Step 2) Do cardio! Cardiovascular exercise should be completed 6 days a week. Bike, treadmill, elliptical, it doesn’t matter… as long as you “get your sweat on.” Maintain a good pace for 30 to 50 minutes to help with the “shredding” process.
Step 3) Check your calories. If you are trying to decrease the overall size of your arms and tone up muscle definition, reduce your overall calorie intake by 200-400 calories. If you are trying to build up your arms with muscle do the opposite and increase your calorie consumption.
Step 4) Get rest! Don’t over-do it. Make sure you are getting 6-8 solid hours of sleep per night. This is a crucial step, which allows your body to repair itself.
Step 5) Complete 5 basic arm exercises! Workout your arms EVERY OTHER DAY with moderate, not heavy, weight. Bring your arms to the point of fatigue with multiple reps over a few sets. Focus on resistance training with your own body weight (i.e. push-ups and pull-ups). Completing many repetitions in a row at a moderate to intense pace will cause the muscles to adapt and change in shape.
5 Basic Arm Exercises
Exercise 1) Close Grip Push-ups on the Ground or Bench
Focus on lifting your own body weight through a full range of motion. Hands should be closer than shoulder width. Keep your back straight and hips slightly elevated. Your elbows should remain close to your body at all times. Beginners – start on the mats with your knees on the ground. Advanced – do the pushups on the side of the bench with your toes on the ground. Try to touch your chest to the ground (or bench) and push yourself all the way up to a full extension in the arms. Breathe out when you push up!
Target Areas: front shoulders and triceps
Sets/Reps: 3 sets of 20+ reps
Exercise 2) Upright Row with a Barbell
Good form is extremely important during this exercise. Keep your feet a little wider than shoulder width and your weight shifted into the heels. Then lift a barbell up to your chin. Keep your back straight the whole time, elbows out and exhale when you are lifting the barbell up. The movement is slow and the bar should be held close to the body at all times. Hands should be positioned about 6 inches apart on the barbell. Start with a lighter weight and work your way up to something more demanding.
Target Areas: side shoulders and biceps
Sets/Reps: 3 sets of 15+ reps
Exercise 3) Triceps Rope Pull Down
Place a rope on one of the pulley machines. Stand about a foot away and keep your elbows tucked into your sides at all times. Pull the rope down and straighten your arms at the bottom. Flex the triceps when they are fully extended. Breathe out as you are pulling down into the extension. Hold the flexed arms for about 3 seconds at the bottom extended position.
Target Areas: Triceps
Sets/Reps: 2 sets of 12+ reps
Exercise 4) Dumbbell Bicep Curl
Find a pair of dumbbells that are a comfortable weight for you. This might be somewhere between 5 lbs and 20 lbs depending on your fitness level. Keep your knees bent with your weight shifted into your heels. Curl one arm at a time and breathe out until you reach a full contraction in the biceps. While your arms are fully extended, your palms should be facing away from you. Lift with moderate intensity until you notice an increased difficulty to maintain proper form.
Target Areas: Biceps
Sets/Reps: 2 sets of 20+ reps on each arm
Exercise 5) Lateral Shoulder Dumbbell Lift
Hold a pair of light dumbbells at your sides. With a straight back and a slight bend in the knees, lift your arms away from your body until they reach shoulder height. Your arms will be straight during the entire duration of the lifting motion. Breathe out as you lift the dumbbells and keep your palms facing down. This will help create the V-shape at the base of the shoulder.
Target Areas: Shoulders
Sets/Reps: 2 sets of 12+ reps
The most important part of your workout routine is consistency and sustainability. Results don’t come from sporadic bouts of exercise and large fluctuations in eating behaviors. Set a goal for 5 weeks of consistency and do your best to reach it. The cardiovascular exercise alone will help tone the existing muscle on your arms and will lead to the most dramatic difference on your physic. Resistance training is always secondary to cardiovascular training and will help you add shape to your arms as you tighten and tone. Don’t think twice about waving goodbye to flabby arms! Toning the arms is a lot easier than building “six pack abs” and you’ll have many more opportunities to show them off throughout the year!
By Matt Dawson
Matt Dawson is a personal trainer and weight-loss specialist at the Aztec Recreation Center. He recently completed his Master’s Degree at San Diego State University and is currently pursuing a Doctorate of Physical Therapy. Matt believes in developing fun and sustainable workout programs for people of all shapes and sizes. Email Matt@DawsonFitness.com for more information on one-on-one consulting.