The Best Arm-Toning Pilates Exercises

Joseph Pilates developed his mind-body system of exercises in the 1920s but only in the 1990s did the program become a mainstream class offering in studios, fitness centers and on DVD. The American Council on Exercise notes that most Pilates exercises focus on the core--the muscles of the hips, abdomen and back. Pilates practice does include an arm series that may be performed with or without light weights.

Students workout in a pilates class. (Image: AndreyPopov/iStock/Getty Images)

Shaving the Head

The "shaving the head" exercise focuses on the muscles at the back of the upper arms, known as the triceps. Brooke Siler, Pilates instructor and author of "The Pilates Body" notes that this exercise -- or any combination Pilates arm exercises -- will enhance your mat workout. To perform "shaving the head," stand with your legs firmly pressed together and your toes turned out. Place your hands -- with or without weights -- behind your head, forming a triangle with your elbows. Retract your shoulders towards the floor as you inhale and press your hands upward, extending your elbows and pressing up and away from your body. Exhale and return your hands back behind your head. Repeat the exercise five to eight times.

Arm Circles

Arm circles activate the shoulders and build endurance in the triceps, biceps and forearms. From a standing position, with your legs pressed together and toes turned out, allow your arms to hang long in front of you. Draw small, controlled circles originating at your shoulders as you gradually raise your arms up above your shoulders and toward the ceiling. Reverse the circles and lower your arms back to start. Complete three to five sets of arm circles. Add weights above 3 pounds to make this exercise very challenging.

Biceps Curl

The biceps curl addresses the muscles at the front of the upper arm. Pilates biceps curls differ signficantly from traditional strength training curls that call for your arms to rest against your ribs or a weight bench. From a standing position with the legs pressed together and the toes turned out, extend your arms straight out in front of you. Grasp the weights with your palms facing the ceiling or make fists with your hands. As you inhale, bend your elbows to curl your wrists and forearms in toward your shoulders. The upper arms stay parallel to the floor and your shoulders stay down. Exhale and extend your elbows, lengthening through your arms. Focus on relaxing your shoulders throughout the exercise and complete three to five repetitions.

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