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Over 40, Fit, and Ready to Bare Arms

From toned arms to trim ankles, celebs and other high-profile older women show off top physical forms. Why not the rest of us?
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How Much Is Too Much?

The recent Madonna photo showing her veins bulging from toned arms sparked alarm from some trainers, who said she may be overdoing the training. But others say they can't judge from the picture.

''She has a very low body fat percentage," Matthews says, judging from photos. ''Athletes have 14% to 20% body fat,'' she says. Doctors don't want women to go below 10% to 13% body fat, although experts tend to disagree slightly on these numbers, she says.

Matthews estimates that Madonna's body fat is possibly in the 10% to 13% range.

Bairey Merz guesses that Madonna has a very low amount of fat directly beneath the skin, called the subcutaneous fat, making the veins more visible. Most people have a layer of fat between the skin and the muscle, she says.

Gregg Miele, a Beverly Hills, Calif., personal trainer who has worked with celebrities such as singer Mary J. Blige and Ellen Pompeo of Grey's Anatomy, doesn't think Madonna has taken her workouts to dangerous extremes. He points to a photo of Olympic swimmer Dara Torres, whose 40-plus body looks ''ripped'' like Madonna's. Yet, he says, the swimmer's body doesn't draw the same criticism.

Miele does caution exercisers to be aware of clues to overtraining, such as aching joints, insomnia, decreasing immunity, and getting sick more often than usual.

Getting the Look

So what's the best workout plan to get Obama or Madonna bodies after 40? According to news reports, Madonna's trainer has her work out two hours a day, six days a week. Michelle Obama is said to have hit the gym as early as 4:30 a.m.

"It's impossible to say what it takes to get 'that' look,'' Miele says. Genetics plays a role, as does overall body fat.

''Everyone is different," he says. "Some people come in to see me, and they run an hour a day. Yet they don't look like they work out at all."

Keeping overall body fat at a healthy, low level is crucial to achieving the toned look, he says. "The big thing with arms [looking toned] is, you have to make sure someone has a low enough body fat mass so you can see the muscles.''

Cardiovascular conditioning is also key, says Jessica Matthews, a spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise and a personal trainer in San Diego, Calif.

"Aim for moderate-intensity cardio work," Matthews says. "Figure six or so on a scale of one to 10." Get in 30 minutes at least five days a week, she says. The cardio training can be jogging, walking, aerobics class, swimming, or other activities.

To tone the muscles, ''strength train the major muscles," she says. Do eight to 10 exercises that target them at least two days a week, and ideally three days, for 30 minutes each session, she says. Do eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise, for instance bicep curls and tricep kickbacks.

For strength training, women can use free weights, resistance tubing, weight machines, or their own body weight, such as doing push-ups, Matthews says.

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