Arm Exercises to Tighten and Tone

Here you'll find exercises to get those biceps and triceps in shape -- just in time for spring

From the WebMD Archives

Whether you want to tone and define weak arms so that you can wear something sleeveless with confidence or you want to increase muscle mass, working the muscles in the front and back of the upper arms will help you get there.

But toned arms give you much more than visual satisfaction.

"These are the muscles you use on a daily basis for the activities of daily living," says WebMD exercise physiologist Rich Weil, MEd, CDE.

Richard Cotton, spokesman for the American Council on Exercise, agrees. "It is the arms that help you lift the groceries out of the trunk, pick up a chair, and rake the leaves," says Cotton. Those, he says, are the more important reasons for including arm exercises in a fitness program.

It's Not All About Looking Good

"We're really stuck on wanting to look good and that's alright, but it's really one goal of the program and only one of the benefits," he says. "Exercise is a body tune-up, and if we're keeping our body exercised, we're keeping it tuned just like a car."

When working the arms, be sure to balance the body, Cotton says.

"We tend to make the mistake of exercising only our show muscles," he says. "And that's actually an imbalanced program. We pay too much attention to the muscles in front of our body and not enough attention to the back of the body."

On the most basic level, this doesn't build the whole muscle.

"The reality is," says Weil, "if you want big arms, you've got to work both sides of the arms. When someone flexes their biceps, it's the whole arm that's working. The triceps are a part of that."

Taken to the extreme, imbalances can lead to physical injuries, he says. If you consistently work the front of the thighs (quadriceps) but never the back (hamstrings), for example, the hamstrings will weaken, tighten, and cause you to pull or strain a muscle. Over time, it may lead to back pain from the tight hamstrings pulling you out of alignment.

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Staying Motivated

But sticking with any new exercise program is the real challenge. Cotton contends that becoming a conscious exerciser will keep you motivated longer than the functional strength and physical appearance aspirations.

"I believe that in order for someone to become highly motivated to exercise, the motivation must come from a level that is much deeper than the desire for thinner thighs, ripped abs, stress management, or even disease prevention. The motivation must come from the depths, from a place that takes us closer to knowing who we really are and why we are here."

He recommends staying present in the moment when you are lifting a free weight or running on the treadmill. Instead of watching the news, reading a magazine, or chatting with people around you while you workout, he says, connect to your body. Be in touch with your breathing. Be aware of how your body feels.

"[Stay] present in the moment when lifting a free weight or running on the treadmill...connect to your body."

The following program consists of two exercises each for the biceps and the triceps. This allows you to work different areas of each of these muscle groups.

Pick a weight that allows you to complete between 8 and 12 repetitions. Perform two to three sets of each exercise before moving on to the next exercise. Give the muscles time to recover between workouts -- at least 48 hours.

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BICEPS

Arms 1 Arms 1b

Standing Biceps Curl with Dumbbells

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent, or sit in upright position.

  1. Grasp dumbbells with an underhand grip (palms facing forward), arms hanging down at your sides.
  2. Flex at the elbows and curl dumbbells up to approximately shoulder level. Keep elbows close to sides throughout movement -- don't allow them to move forward. This exercise may be done one arm at a time.
  3. Return to starting position.

Arms 2 Arms 2b

Hammer Curls with Dumbbells

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent, or sit in upright position.
  2. Grasp dumbbells with palms facing each other, arms hanging down at your sides.
  3. Flex at the elbows and curl dumbbells up to approximately shoulder level. Keep elbows close to sides throughout movement -- don't allow them to move forward. This exercise may be done one arm at a time.
  4. Return to starting position.

Note: Remember to keep back and head straight in a neutral position throughout movement. Shoulders should be stabilized by squeezing shoulder blades together slightly -- only the elbow joint should move.

TRICEPS

Arms 3 Arms 3b

Lying Triceps Extension with Dumbbells

  1. Sit in upright position on a flat bench. Rest dumbbells on corresponding thighs.
  2. Lie on back and bring the dumbbells to your chest. Press up so they are directly over shoulders with palms facing in.
  3. Lower dumbbells toward forehead by bending elbows to 90°. Elbows should remain pointing forward. Arms shouldn't move from the shoulder to the elbow.
  4. Return to start position.

Arms 4 Arms 4b

Triceps Kickback with Dumbbells

  1. Place right knee and left hand on flat bench. Keep back flat.
  2. Grasp dumbbell. Raise right arm up so that upper arm is parallel to floor with lower arm hanging straight down toward floor -- palm facing in.
  3. Keep upper arm parallel to floor and raise dumbbell straight back until arm is almost straight. Don't lock out elbow.
  4. Lower dumbbell slowly back to starting position, keeping your upper arm parallel to the floor. All the movement should be in your elbow, not your shoulder.
  5. After performing all the repetitions with the right arm, reverse position and perform move with left arm.

Note: For both exercises, remember to keep back and head straight in a neutral position -- hyperextension may cause injury. Keep shoulder stabilized throughout movement.

WebMD Feature

Sources

SOURCES: Richard Cotton, spokesman, American Council on Exercise. Rich Weil, MEd, CDE, exercise physiologist with WebMD.

© 2004 WebMD, Inc. All rights Reserved.

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