Thursday, February 27, 2014

The secret to strong arms: Three Things Thursday

"Do you do anything for your arms besides Bodypump?"

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The question came from one of my regulars on a day when she was the only one in class - cheap personal training as we call it. And it was a compliment, as she added that they looked so toned.

My answer? No. While I have great intentions of lifting heavy on Monday as I have a goal to improve my muscular strength (as opposed to endurance, which is Bodypump), I have yet to really do more than be interested. My strength training routine, as it has been for a year, is three days a week of Bodypump or something similar. It's high reps, low weights and lots of results.

I did have a secret for her. The key to good looking arms is not over training the biceps and triceps with 10 types of bicep curls and 15 sets of overhead tricep extensions. Oh, no.

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It's the shoulders.

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When you look at someone's arm from the side (or lateral) view, the muscle definition that you would see (if there is any) would be from the middle deltoid and the insertion point near the biceps brachii. From the front, a strong shoulder will also give nice shape and add to that "toned" look.

Here are three ways to incorporate shoulders into your strength training routine:

1. Compound movements. A multiplanar exercise is particularly advantageous for the shoulder because the deltoid wraps around the front, side and back of the arm. A balanced program, then, would include frontal and lateral movements.

I like to do a rotator raise with an overhead press and pectoral squeeze. With arms by your size and a 90-degree bend in the elbows, lift the arms so that the weights are just below shoulders. Rotate the arms to create a goal post shape and go into an overhead press. Return arms to goal post. Squeeze elbows together; back go goal. Rotate down. Do three sets of 12 to 15 with a weight that is challenging but allows quality of movement. Definition of the range = definition of the muscles.

2. Row, row, row. When one thinks of rows, the target muscle group is the back. Upright rows, though, use the shoulder girdle and recruit the upper trapezius. The upper trapezius, while on the back, complements a strong shoulder and a sleek upper body.

The trick with an upright row is to not let the elbows drop and to bring the weights to chest height. Many bodybuilders will bring the bar up to the chin but Bodypump range is the chest. As the upright row can put pressure on the joint, a smaller range could put less pressure on the joint. Note: Someone with rotator cuff injuries might find this uncomfortable.

An exercise to try is a limited range upright row as it keeps tension in the muscle during the midrange. Bring the weight to chest, release to the abdomen. Lift to chest and complete the range at thighs. Repeat 12 to 15 times with a light to moderate weight.

3. Don't ignore biceps and triceps. While the point is to work the shoulders, a sound strength training program incorporates all muscle groups - whether it is in a full body circuit done two days a week or a split schedule.

Disclaimer: Although I am an ACE certified personal trainer and certified Bodypump instructor, you should consult a physician before starting any exercise program. If you choose to do any of the exercises featured on this website, you do so at your own risk.


  1. You do have rockin arms. I need to workout my upper body more. Carrying kids around only does so much.

  2. My swimming helps my arms look more toned. Definitely not like when I was lifting a ton but it works out pretty good!!