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The Best Arm Exercises

Want buff arms like Michelle Obama's? Experts pick exercises that are best for strengthening and toning the arms.

Bulking Up?

Women sometimes ask if the workouts will lead to too much bulking up. If you feel a little bigger at first, it may not be your imagination.

"When you first start lifting, there's a big influx of carbohydrates and water to that area," as your body attempts to protect itself from something it's not accustomed to, says Incledon. "It's a beginner thing. At first, you'll get a bit more of a bulky feeling, but after a month, the body regulates."

Another reason you may look bulkier is because you're building muscle under a layer of fat. Once the fat comes off, the bulkiness gives way to the lean muscle underneath.

And you don't have to treadmill yourself to death to shed that layer of flab, says Incledon.

"It's a myth that the only way you can affect body composition is by cardiovascular exercise," she says. In a sense, "anything you do that is exercise is cardiovascular, because you have to work your heart and lungs to lift a weight."

If you're crunched for time (and who isn't?), work smart: Do exercises that use lots of body parts at once, minimize rest periods, and work to fatigue.

4 Multi-Tasking Arm Exercises

Try these four multi-joint, multi-muscle exercises from Agresti, Nutting, and Incledon to develop beautifully toned arms and upper body strength.

1. Push-up/Tricep Push-up

  • Prepare: Start on your hands and knees, fingers spread, wrists under shoulders, knees under hips. Extend one leg back to rest on your toes, then the other, forming a straight line from your heels to your shoulders. Keep the butt and ab muscles tight, the ribs knitted together, and the shoulders sliding down the back. Be sure the neck is in line with the spine (don't hang your head or jut your chin out.)
  • Perform: Bending the elbows, slowly lower the body as far down as you can while maintaining proper form. Then, straightening (but not locking) the arms, come back to the starting position. Repeat to fatigue (strive for 12-15 repetitions).
  • For a challenge: Do the push-up with the elbows pointing back and close to your sides to emphasize the triceps. 
  • Working muscles: Pectorals (chest), deltoids (shoulders), triceps.

2. Reverse Plank Pull-up

  • Prepare: Using an assisted machine like the Smith machine at your gym, set the bar about midway up and stand under it. Using a palms-up grip, grab the bar, aligning your shoulders with your wrists. Then walk your feet out away from you until your body is in a reverse plank, hanging in a straight line, with your heels on the floor. 
  • Perform: Bending your elbows slowly bring your body up to the bar and straightening your elbows, lower back down. Repeat to fatigue (strive for 12-15 repetitions). 
  • For a challenge: The lower the angle of your body, the tougher the exercise. Beginners should work at a higher angle off the ground. 
  • Working muscles: Latissimus dorsi (back), deltoids, biceps.

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