Upper body training is important. Not only does it improve our strength, but it also can help our posture and alignment. We often slump in our posture -- our chest muscles become tight as we hunch our shoulders, while our weak back muscles are relaxed and rounded. Having a strong upper body can also help us to safely perform everyday activities, like carrying 20 grocery bags from the car to the house and hoisting our kiddos into the air.
For strong, toned arms, you don’t have to get super fancy with the exercises. The keys to strengthening your upper body are to choose weights and exercises that challenge you. And, as with anything, consistency is key. If you stick with it, you’ll notice a visible difference in muscle tone and strength.
Here are some of my very favorite exercises for strong, toned arms. For each, you’ll perform three sets of 10-12 repetitions. At the end of each set, it should be a challenge to perform the last couple of reps with proper form. If you can easily complete 12 repetitions, it’s time to increase the weight!
Biceps curls: Hold a 5-10-pound dumbbell in each hand, down at your side, with forearms and fingers facing forward. Keep your elbows close to your torso, a tight core, and a slight bend in your knees. Lift up through your chest as you flex at the elbow, bringing the weight all the way up (aiming toward your shoulder). As you release, try to resist the weight and go for a nice full extension at the bottom of the movement.
Shoulder presses: Stand with legs hip-width apart, core engaged. Hold a dumbbell in each hand (5-12 pounds), with “goal post” arms, forearms, and fingers facing forward. Exhale to press up overhead and inhale to bring the weights back down to elbows bent at 90 degrees.
Push-ups: Start with your hands on the floor or modify by placing them on a wall. Walk your feet back so your spine is long and exhale to press up into a plank position, with hands under your shoulders. Feel free to drop to your knees if needed but keep your hips down and in line with your spine. Bend your elbows and stop with your elbows in line with your torso. Exhale, squeezing your chest, to rise back up to plank position and repeat.
Bent-over rows: Hold a dumbbell in each hand (8-12 pounds to start), arms at your sides, with forearms and fingers facing inward toward your legs. Your feet will be under your hips with a slight bend at the knees. Hinge forward from your hips, keeping your back flat (shoulders pulled back) and core braced. Lifting up from your elbows, bring your elbows high and wide, engaging into the muscles in the back of your shoulders. Stop the elbows at shoulder height before carefully lowering back down.
Reverse flys: Hold a dumbbell in each hand (lighter for these: 3-5 pounds to start), arms by your sides, with forearms and fingers facing inward toward your legs. Your feet will be under your hips with a slight bend at the knees. Hinge forward from your hips, keeping your back flat (shoulders pulled back) and core braced. Open your arms straight out to the sides, keeping a slight bend at the elbow and squeezing your shoulder blades together, then lower the weights back down with control.