5 Things You Need to Know About Arm Circles

Looking for a simple exercise that can be done almost anywhere, sitting up or standing down, that will work several muscles in the upper body while burning calories? Arm circles are replete with benefits and practical uses for almost anyone.

Arm circles are a great and simple exercise that you can do almost anywhere.
Credit: Caiaimage/Sam Edwards/Caiaimage/GettyImages

1. They’re Doable Almost Anywhere

In addition to having health benefits, arm circles are convenient. They can be done sitting or standing, at home, school or in the office. Moreover, they can be performed by nearly anyone, including those with disabilities who may be wheelchair bound and unable to use their lower extremities.

Health.gov recommends arm circles as an activity that can be done at your desk in five-minute intervals, twice a day. They suggest first finding enough room to extend the arms out fully to the sides. Arm circles can be big or small, rotating forward or backward.

Read more: 8 of the Best Body-Weight Shoulder Exercises

2. Arm Circles Work Several Muscles

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, arm circles work the shoulders, arms and upper back. Additionally, varying the size of the circles and increasing the speed will help limber up the shoulders and upper back.

In order to effectively work the muscles in the shoulders, arms and upper back, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs delineates simple arm circles guidelines:

  1. Begin with feet shoulder-width apart and arms spread out on each side, at shoulder height.
  2. Move the arms in small circular motions, doing 15 to 20 repetitions of forward circles.
  3. Next, do 15 to 20 repetitions of backward circles.
  4. Bring both arms down to your sides and rest for 10 seconds before beginning the next circle set.

3. They’re Great for Computer Users

The computer is used ubiquitously, both at home and at work. In small doses, computer-use is harmless, but when done for extended periods of time, working on our computers can be detrimental to the body. In fact, according to Better Health Channel, sitting at the computer for prolonged periods of time can increase the risk of shoulder, arm, wrist or hand injury.

Common computer-related injuries are back and neck pain, headaches, and shoulder and arm pain. These problems can be worsened by a poor work space or bad posture. Furthermore, muscles and tendons can begin to swell, stiffen or weaken due to overuse.

In order to lower the risk of computer-related injury, Regis University in Denver, Colorado, recommends a number of "stretches and exercises for computer users." These exercises include shoulder rolls, shoulder and chest stretches, hamstring stretches, forearm extensors, and arm circles.

Arm circles should be executed by spreading the arms out at a 90-degree angle to the body with palms facing down, then doing small circles, first clockwise, then counterclockwise.

4. They Burn Calories

Yes, arm circles can burn calories, too. According to health.gov, doing five minutes of arm circles, combined with other exercises such as desk push-ups and arm punches, twice a day every workday, can help burn up to 100 extra calories per week.

Health.gov suggests doing each exercise for a total of 60 seconds, resting for 60 seconds, then moving onto the next exercise. This routine should amount to five minutes of exercise that includes desk push-ups, arm punches and arm circles.

Read more: How Many Calories Should I Burn a Day to Lose Weight?

5. Arm Circles are “Dynamic” Stretches

A common mistake made when warming up for resistance training is static stretching, which means holding a stretch for up to 20 or 30 seconds. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) advises saving static stretches for after your workout, as it signals your muscles to relax rather than activate.

ACE recommends doing dynamic stretches instead, or moving your joints through their full ranges of motion. Arm circles are an example of a dynamic stretch.

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