Beautifully sculpted upper arms say, “I am woman. Do not mess with me.” They also look quite lovely in a strapless dress. But while many women long to slim down their arms, some are hesitant to target this area. “A lot of women are afraid of doing upper-body exercises,” says personal trainer Alex Bourgeois. “As soon as you mention weights, women say, ‘I don’t want to bulk up.’” But unless you’re aiming to be a competitive body builder, it’s unlikely that you’ll end up looking like Ms. Hulk. “It’s really hard for women to bulk up,” says Bourgeois, “but it’s incredible what weights and resistance training can do for a woman.”
Pump up your heart and muscles
“I suggest weights for everybody I train, but you have to do weights and cardio. You can’t do one or the other,” says Bourgeois. It’s the combination of the two workouts that will help you achieve more sculpted arms.
Try these targeted arm exercises twice a week with two of days rest in between. If you’ve really worked hard, you’ve torn your muscles and the cells need two days to grow back, says Bourgeois.
This standard exercise is a must-do if you’re serious about toning your arms. “Every weight routine includes push-ups,” says Bourgeois. Start by lying down on a mat with your hands placed directly underneath your shoulders. Come up onto your hands and knees in a tabletop position (rather than straining to do fewer full push-ups, it’s best to start off with your knees on the ground). Keep your body straight as you slowly lower yourself down to the floor. Exhale as you push up. (Learn more about push-ups—including the five common mistakes that people make—in our guide to the perfect push-up.)
2. Bench press
This exercise works the triceps and pectoral muscles. On a weight-lifting bench, lie on your back with both feet planted firmly on the floor. Reach up to grasp the barbell with both hands. Pull the barbell down toward your chest then push it away from you. And don’t make it too easy. “I want people to always do at least 12 repetitions using as much weight as they can,” Bourgeois recommends. Ask a gym staff member to spot you for this exercise to make sure you’re using the barbell safely.
3. Seated row
After you’ve pushed the bar away from you in the bench press, you want to achieve the opposite movement by pulling the bar toward your chest, says Bourgeois. That’s where your gym’s rowing machine comes in. Seated on the machine, grasp the handles, straighten your back and pull the bar towards your chest. This movement targets the biceps and your latissimus dorsi muscles (more commonly referred to as lats, the biggest muscle in your back). “Your arms can’t do anything without engaging your shoulders and your back,” says Bourgeois. “It’s important to work the muscles that support the movement of real life.”
4. Biceps curl
Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, grasp a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing forward, and bend your elbows, pulling the weights up toward your shoulders. Bourgeois recommends using five- or eight-pound dumbbells to achieve the best results. Worried about trying the heavier weights? Consider the heavy loads you carry every day. “Women often don’t realize how strong they are,” says Bourgeois. “A woman will carry 40 pounds of groceries as part of her routine.”
5. Triceps kick-back
Grasp one dumbbell in your right hand, with your elbow next to your waist and at a 90-degree angle. From standing, slightly bend your knees and bend at the hips into a flat-back position. Keeping your elbow locked to your body and engaging your core for stability, straighten out your arm behind you then bend it back toward your chest at a 90-degree angle. Do 12 reps, then repeat with the left arm. “If you have trouble standing in a flat-back position, grasp the back of a chair for support,” suggests Bourgeois.
Before trying new exercises at your gym, consult a trainer to make sure you understand how to work with the equipment safely and effectively. And as always, speak to your physician before beginning any new workout regime.
November 2009 web exclusive