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Tank Top Workout: Upper-Body Exercises

It's not too late to buff up your arms and shoulders for tank tops. Here's how.
By Linda Melone
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Nothing shows off a toned upper body and arms like a skimpy tank top. Firm shoulders, arms, and upper-back muscles take center stage.                                               

If you're still wearing long sleeves to avoid the exposure, fear not. WebMD spoke to top fitness experts about how you can make your shoulders and arms more toned and fit.

Shoulder Shapers

"The shoulders are the most important muscle group of the upper body for appearance as well as function," says Brad Schoenfeld, MS, CSCS, a fitness trainer in Scarsdale, N.Y. "Even if you have nice arms, you won't look good if your shoulders are stooped." Well-developed shoulders also give the illusion of a smaller waist, like built-in shoulder pads. 

The main shoulder muscles include three parts, or deltoid heads. "These include the posterior, medial, and anterior deltoid heads," Schoenfeld says. "Your workout should include exercises targeting all three."

He recommends doing the following three exercises three times per week as part of your total-body fitness routine. Each time, do 3-4 sets of 12-15 repetitions (reps) per set. Use enough weight or resistance so that it's a challenge to do 12 to 15 reps, but you can still maintain good form.

  • Overhead Shoulder Press (works the anterior deltoids): Stand with feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, and hold onto dumbbells. Position dumbbells at each side of shoulders, with elbows bent at a right angle, hands stacked above your wrists (think of goal posts), and palms facing forward. Press the dumbbells upward until arms are extended overhead. Slowly lower to the starting position and repeat.
  • Lateral Raise (works the lateral deltoids): Stand with feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, and grasp two dumbbells. Move dumbbells to the front of your thighs, with palms facing each other. Slightly bend the elbows and raise dumbbells up and out to the sides until parallel to the floor. Your pinkie should be higher than your thumb. "Think of pouring milk," Schoenfeld says. "You don't want to spill the milk but just tip the container." Pause, lower slowly, and repeat.
  • Reverse Fly (works the posterior deltoids): Grasp two dumbbells and stand with feet shoulder width apart and knees slightly bent. Bend forward at the waist until your back is parallel to the floor (keep knees bent); keep elbows slightly bent with arms towards the floor, palms and dumbbells facing each other. In this bent-over position, raise dumbbells up and out to the sides, moving from the shoulders only, until arms are parallel to the floor at approximately shoulder level. Lower to starting position and repeat.

Arm and Back Toners

To get the most out of an upper-body toning workout, perform exercises that work multiple muscle groups, says Pete McCall, MS, CSCS, exercise physiologist and spokesman for the American Council on Exercise.

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