Armed & Ready

Pump Up Your Biceps and Triceps for Optimal Health

From the WebMD Archives

What motivates you to finish that second set of arm reps? For many of us, it's achieving perfectly cut biceps or feeling confident in a sleeveless top. But building arm strength isn't important just for looking great, hauling groceries or even doing chores. Toned limbs --- along with a conditioned, strong body --- are a vital part of our general health.

They can also help us stay slim. Having more muscle improves metabolism of glucose and fat, and helps to stabilize your weight.

Two major muscles are involved in arm strength -- the biceps and triceps. Leg muscles get the bulk of action during the day, but our biceps and triceps hold a close second place. If you understand these muscles and how they function, you'll be one step closer to making them stronger.

Biceps are muscles in the front of the arm and are actually two muscles in one --- a long and a short. The biceps' primary function is to flex the elbow, allowing us to lift or pull something. As the bicep shortens and contracts, the elbow bends. Biceps are involved in pulling and carrying. Whenever your elbow is bent or you're holding a child, pulling a drawer open, lifting a cat --- you're using your biceps.

Triceps comprise the back of your arm -- everything behind your biceps. They include three muscles: two short ones behind the bone, and a longer one that crosses the shoulder joint. The triceps straighten or extend your elbow join and are involved in movements like pushing open a door, throwing a ball or pushing a lawn mower.

If you want to build strength --- as well as symmetrical, great-looking arms --- be sure your workouts target both the triceps and biceps. You'll be armed for any task at hand!

To begin your bicep and tricep workouts, select a hand weight you can lift 12 to 15 times with good form. Here are two exercises to get you started:

Bicep Curl: Hold two dumbbells to each side, with palms facing in and arms straight. To start a bicep curl, bring one elbow to the side, raise the dumbbell, and rotate the forearm until it is vertical and palm faces shoulder. Lower to original position and repeat with opposite arm. Continue to alternate between sides.

Tricep Kickbacks: These exercises will balance out your workout. Kneel over a bench or couch with one arm supporting your body. The other arm, holding the dumbbell, is parallel to the floor with elbow bent. Extend the arm downward until it is straight. Return to original position and repeat. Switch to the opposite arm.

Beginners can start by doing one set, three times a week, every other day. Later on, to continue building strength, you may want to increase weight on your dumbbells. Check sporting goods stores for little donut-shaped magnets to stick on either end of your dumbbells. It's an easy way to add weight. Just remember, when you add weight, do fewer sets.