The Ultimate Workout for Sexy, Sculpted Arms
Last Updated: Apr 22, 2016
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Whether you’re rockin' a swimsuit, a little black dress or a tank top, you want to show off strong, lean arms. But toning your arms is more than just for looks: It's good for your overall health and fitness. Research indicates arm exercises can actually help reduce muscle pain in your neck and traps. With these moves, you’ll sculpt and define your arms, reduce excess fat, and get stronger and healthier. You’ll need two sets of weights, one lighter set (women five to 10 pounds, men 10 to 25 pounds) and one heavier (women 10 to 25 pounds, men 25 to 40 pounds). Do the exercises as presented in order here to prep your arms for each upcoming move, and be sure to rest your arms on alternate days.
Yoga-Dandasana /Plank pose
Starting off your arm regimen with an intense static plank is a great way to get a full-body warm-up with a focus on your arms as well as your glutes and core. You’ll notice that you elicit support from your core through just about every arm exercise, and planks are no exception. Breathing deeply is also essential to your ability to do this particular plank hold well. Inhale through your nose at the start of each move and exhale through your mouth on exertion. HOW TO DO IT: Breathe in deeply and start in the same position as the top of a push-up, balancing on your feet and hands and keeping your body in a straight line from your heels to head. Exhale as you lower halfway down toward the floor, elbows bent in close to your ribs. Get as low as you can without compromising form. Make sure your body is a solid plank, pelvis is not sagging, shoulder blades are not splayed up or out and abs, arms, legs and glutes are strong and engaged. For an added challenge, lift your right foot four inches off the floor and hold for five seconds. Set your right foot down for a second, and then lift it out to the side at a 90-degree angle, still four inches off the ground. Hold it out at your side for five seconds. Return the leg back to starting lifted position, set the foot down and do the same series on left side. Start with two reps on each side and work up to four.
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STABILITY-BALL BICEPS CURLS
Every good arm routine incorporates your biceps, which makes it important to engage them early on in your workout so they’re warmed up. Celebrity trainer Astrid McGuire loves stability-ball biceps curls as a starting point in a biceps routine. “It forces you to get full extension of the biceps,” she says, “and it multitasks the core, quad and glute muscles.” HOW TO DO IT: Hold the stability ball against a wall with your back without leaning too heavily against it and take your feet hip- or shoulder-distance apart. Roll your shoulders back and down throughout this exercise. In this standing position, hold your heavier weights, one in each hand, and keep your arms down at your sides, palms facing in toward your legs. As you squat down, bringing the ball down the wall with you, lift your arms into a biceps curl, rotating the hands so the palms face your shoulders. For added challenge, while doing the curl, lift your elbows away from the ribs, keeping your shoulders down and back and your neck long. Do three to five sets of 10 reps.
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CONCENTRATION BICEPS CURLS
HOW TO DO IT: Sit on a flat bench or chair with your legs spread into a V shape. Grab one of your heavier weights with your right hand and rest your upper right elbow against your inner right thigh. Your right arm starts hanging straight down toward the floor. Your inner thigh supports your upper arm and helps isolate your biceps. Tighten your abs and straighten your back. Slowly curl the weight up toward your chest, then slowly lower the weight back to the starting position. Repeat for 10 reps before switching arms. Do three to five sets on each side.
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TRIANGLE (OR DIAMOND) PUSH-UPS
Research has shown that triangle push-ups are some of the most effective exercises at isolating and working the triceps. HOW TO DO IT: Start in a plank position, but bring your forefingers and thumbs together on the floor so they create a triangle (or diamond) shape. From this position (either fully extended on the feet or in a kneeling plank), lower down into a low push-up. Your elbows should come out wide to the side, and your chest should lower directly down toward the triangle on the floor. Tighten your abs and glutes as you lower and lift back up and focus your breathing into the triceps area. Start with three sets of five and work up to three or four sets of 10.
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HOW TO DO IT: Begin by sitting on the end of a bench and gripping the edge with your hands beside your hips. Your knuckles should be rolled forward and arms firmly alongside your ribs. Slowly drop your butt off the edge of the bench. Make sure your ankles are directly under your knees or further away from your buttocks and not underneath your hamstrings. Slowly lower down, keeping your back as vertical as possible. Do not dip too low, which can overextend or strain the front of your shoulders. Go as low as you can while still being able to lift yourself back up without pause. Engage your abs as you lower and lift. Inhale on the way down, exhale on the way up. Do these dips slowly in both directions -- two counts down and two counts up -- for about a minute. For an added challenge, when you’re in the lowered position, do tiny pulses (about an inch up and down) for the last 15 seconds of your minute.
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ALL-FOURS TRICEPS EXTENSIONS
The triceps kickbacks (or extensions) exercise is another one of the most effective ways to target the hard-to-isolate triceps muscles. You can do them in numerous positions, but for this version, you’ll start with all fours on the floor in order to better connect to your core and strengthen your back. For this exercise you’ll want to use your lighter set of weights. HOW TO DO IT: With the weights on the floor next to your hands, grab a weight with your right hand and line your right biceps up to your ribs, keeping it glued there throughout this exercise. Extend your right forearm back until your right arm is completely straight and parallel to the floor. Bring you forearm slowly back toward the shoulder, pivoting from the elbow joint. Repeat this for 10 reps. Switch sides. Do three to five sets of 10 on each side.
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Chest opener is a superb shoulder and upper-arm exercise that requires core stability and engages your inner-thigh muscles. This exercise stretches and opens the front of your shoulders and chest as it strengthens the shoulder-blade muscles, lats and triceps. Sebastien Lagree -- known for his hardcore Pilates-inspired strength-training program called the Lagree Method -- teaches the chest opener and says, “We do this to strengthen the postural alignment, open the chest and shoulders and as an overall arm toner.” HOW TO DO IT: With a weight in each hand, start in an upright kneeling position. Leaning slightly back with arms down at your sides, squeeze your glutes and inner thighs as you feel a slight stretch in your hip flexors. Face your palms behind you and press your straight arms back behind you. Stop when your hands are directly above your ankles. To open the front of the shoulders and chest area, imagine you are pinching a pencil between your shoulder blades. Engage your core and lengthen through the crown of your head -- and don’t forget to breathe! Do three to five sets of 10 presses.
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The reverse fly is an excellent full-arm workout that focuses on your biceps, shoulders and lats. You can do this standing, kneeling down or straddling an incline bench with your face down. HOW TO DO IT: Starting from the kneeling position, hold a weight in each hand and roll your shoulders back and lift your buttocks away from your heels (about four to six inches). Squeeze your abdominal muscles in as you bring your arms into a soft-bent circle in front of your chest, just below shoulder height. Your palms should face inward toward each other. Slowly open your arms wide apart, with the movement coming only from your shoulder joints. Stop when your elbows are slightly behind your back. Resist as you bring the arms and hands back together, creating intensity in the movement. Do three to five sets of eight.
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Double-arm salute is a great transitional exercise that works several muscles at once (the triceps, biceps, forearms, lats and shoulders) while the primary muscles (the shoulders) get warmed up and ready for more action. HOW TO DO IT: Double-arm salute is set up similar to a sitting shoulder press. Hold a hand weight in each hand and sit on a chair or flat bench. Plant your feet firmly on the floor about hip-width apart. Bend your elbows and raise your upper arms to shoulder height, bringing your arms into the shape of a football goal post. Pull your abdominals in and tuck your tailbone under so there is very little sway in the small of your back. Lean your chest forward, maintaining your goal-post shape, your arms now at an angle and your palms facing forward. Take your hands in toward your forehead, careful not to hit your head with the weights, and keep your elbows wide. Slowly raise your palms and arms out straight from your forehead. Your arms will be at an angle compared to the floor, but they’ll be straight out in front of you. Maintain strong wrists and do not lock your elbows. Slowly bring your elbows out wide again, as you bend your arms and bring the weights toward your forehead. Do three to five sets of eight.
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Serve-a-platter is a traditional Pilates arm exercise that also engages the core, lats, shoulders, triceps and biceps. If you’ve done other upper-body, full-arm exercises prior to this, you’ll notice your shoulders engaging more to support you. HOW TO DO IT: Hold a weight in each hand and sit on a chair or flat bench. Plant your feet firmly on the floor about hip-width apart. Sit up tall, engage your core and lengthen through the top of the head. Do not allow your lower back to sway. Hold your arms up as though you are carrying a tray or platter in your hands, palms and underside of your forearms facing up. Your forearms should be parallel to the floor and your shoulders should be rolled back and down. Slowly lift your arms as if serving the tray or platter up and forward. Lift until your hands are just above shoulder height. Keep your wrists strong. Resist lowering the arms quickly and resist with your core. As you lower, bring your elbows to the point just before they go behind your back and lift back up. Do three to five sets of eight. Want to amp it up? When your arms have served the platter up, circle them up and outward back to your starting point. Exhale on each circle.
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Strong shoulders support you through biceps curls, triceps exercises and suspension exercises such as the plank or push-up. They are the cornerstone of strength that all the other muscles in the arms pull from. Because shoulder presses emphasize your shoulder muscles, they complement work you’ve done on other parts of your arms. HOW TO DO IT: Hold a weight in each hand and sit on a chair or bench. Plant your feet firmly on the floor about hip-width apart. Bend your elbows and raise your upper arms to shoulder height so your arms form the shape of a football goal post. Pull your abdominals in and remove most of the sway from the small of your back. Make sure your head is in line with your neck, taking care not to dip the chin down or back. Don’t forget to breathe. Inhale as you slowly press your arms up over your head toward the ceiling until the hand weights touch slightly. Keep your elbows strong, but don’t lock them at the top. Exhale as you bring your arms and elbows down, ending with your elbow joints at shoulder height. Keep your legs and hips stable and firmly planted on the floor. Do three to five sets of eight.
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DUMBBELL ARM CIRCLES
Arm circles are an intense way to engage your shoulders and create upper-arm definition. HOW TO DO IT: Sitting up tall in a chair or standing with feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent, hold a weight in each hand and bring your arms to chest height, slightly wider than your shoulders. Don’t let your chin dip down or back. Engage your core to keep your pelvis stable. With both arms extended out and straight, slowly make small circles inward (about four inches in diameter). Do this for 15 seconds before reversing your circles. Do three to five sets of these.
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ROTATOR CUFF IN AND OUTS
The rotator cuff is comprised of the muscles and tendons surrounding the top of the humerus (the upper arm bone) that holds it in the shoulder joint. One of the most common shoulder injuries for people over 40 is a rotator cuff tear. Strengthening this area not only helps prevent this injury, but also sculpts and defines your shoulder area. HOW TO DO IT: Hold your weights at each side as you kneel on the ground. With your knees together, your thighs should be perpendicular to the ground. Lift the weights so your forearms are parallel to the ground, palms facing inward. Your elbows should be at a 90-degree-angle with your upper arms by your ribs. Rotate your arms slowly in toward each other, then rotate them slowly out to the either side of your torso without allowing your forearms to lift. Do not hunch your neck or shoulders to complete the rotations. If you find you are doing so, you may need to use less weight. Do three to five sets of 10. If kneeling puts too much pressure on your knees, do this on a bench or chair, making sure to keep your back strong and straight and to lengthen through the top of your head.
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RECLINING CHEST FLY
The reclining chest fly is a great way to engage your chest and anterior axilla (or armpit) muscles. This little exercise also strengthens the rotator cuff, lats and biceps. You can do these from a reclining bench or lying on the floor. HOW TO DO IT: Lie on the floor with your knees bent and your feet firmly planted hip-distance apart and hold a weight in each hand. Bring your arms out to your sides so your body forms a T shape. Make sure your palms are facing up and your elbows have a soft bend in them, so your hands are angled off the ground about four inches. Without bending your elbows any further, bring your hands together directly over your chest, rotating from your shoulder joints. Imagine you are hugging a giant tree. Slowly lower back to the starting position, keeping the same bend in your elbows. Do three to five sets of 10.
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Have you tried this workout yet? What did you think of it? What are some of your other favorite arm exercises? How do you plan on showing off your newly sculpted arms? Tell us in the comments below!
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