This day and age, it seems like every magazine on the newsstand is advertising the best three arm workouts that promise to tone, lengthen and melt the fat away using five pounds dumbbells. If you are one of the many who have fallen victim to such false promises, you may want to keep reading.
By Lauren Poirier
Initially, we reached out to Amahl Harik, owner of Method Fitness, to get the skinny on some of the best arm workouts for brides-to-be. However, we quickly realized that only providing workout moves would be unoriginal, and frankly, a disservice to all of you cardio-loving lassies.
Instead, we decided to learn about some of the most common myths and misconceptions about exercise, specifically in regards to women, and share our findings.
The most important thing to remember:
“Getting your arms toned and slender isn’t something you bang out in a couple weeks, and everyone’s genetic predispositions are different, but you can make dramatic changes if you know what you’re doing,” says Harik. The bottom line? Have patience and don’t get discouraged. Work hard and keep your expectations realistic.
Be aware of phonies and fads.
“Let’s be clear that there’s no such thing as ‘lengthening’ your muscles or your limbs,” says Harik. “This is basic physiology. Anyone who tells you their form of exercise can lengthen your muscles is either so deeply misinformed or dishonest that they have no business being in the fitness industry. Your muscles attach and insert at specific points, and that cannot be changed. As we lose body fat and improve a muscle’s shape, we can create the illusion of a longer muscle, but of course its actual length remains the same.”
“Second, there’s no such thing as a “toning” exercise,” he continues. “You’re either building muscle or you’re not. This, too, is basic physiology. As you build muscle and lose body fat you’ll develop the look you want. So, if it’s a binary choice, why not go about it in the most efficient way possible? And that is to lift at the highest intensity level you safely can: train harder, but less frequently, and you’ll see changes much faster than by pumping out twenty-rep sets all day with little chicken-bone dumbbells.”
With all of his experience in the fitness industry, Harik knows what you’re thinking: “Stop worrying about getting too big: if it were that easy, your boyfriend or husband would look like Schwarzenegger by now. You can either have toned, slender arms, or you can waste your time.”
The “best exercise” myth.
“We always get the ‘what’s the best exercise for ___’ question and, of course, there is no one ‘best’ exercise,” Harik points out. “We do a variety of exercises for each muscle group to create balance, dimensionality and strength through the greatest range of positions. For great-looking arms, you need to be training both the biceps and triceps, and also the shoulders.”
However, considering most wedding dresses cover the legs and showcase the arms, back and chest, Harik recommends upper chest, shoulder and arm workouts. He notes that, ideally, every muscle group would be given attention, but if you are on a tight schedule, these are the areas you’ll want to focus most of your effort.
“With shoulders, balance is key. One of the most visually affecting parts of the shoulder is the part you rarely see on yourself: the rear delts. You’re not trying to build cannonballs here, you’re going for gently rounded and balanced curves. All the arm work in the world will not get rid of arm-specific subcutaneous fat. Diet will be the first line of offense here, as always. And second, strength work to fill out the shape of the arm and give it balance, attractive curves, tone and shape. Since the triceps comprise 2/3 of the arm and the biceps 1/3, give them commensurate attention — triceps contribute more to the elegance of the arm than the biceps do.”
On a tight schedule?
“The most immediate effects of your lifestyle on your body will be seen from your diet: if you don’t take in wasteful calories, then you don’t have to work to lose them through punishing cardio (which doesn’t usually result in a net loss over the long-term anyways),” Harik says. “Strength work is second (though really first in terms of lasting body composition change). Strength work increases your baseline metabolism, meaning you burn more calories 24/7. It’s the only thing that can give you the shape and tone you seek, and it improves strength, functionality, bone density —the list goes on. Lastly, do moderate cardio for cardiovascular health and endurance, but don’t expect it to be your primary driver of fat loss.”
A note about diet:
“With diet, inputs equal outputs — what you take in will have the most immediate impact on what results you see. This doesn’t mean you should dramatically restrict your calories — a professional analysis of your diet would tell you whether you were taking in too many or two few. But the overall number of calories, as long as it’s within a reasonable range, is far less important than the quality of them,” Harik explains. “It should go without saying, but faddish diets do not, and can not, produce real, durable fat loss.”
Also, “Take in as many vegetables as you possibly can — the benefits are obvious and too numerous to list here, but they’re absolutely essential to everything else working right. Keep your protein intake high to support muscle growth and maintenance, for energy, and to keep you feeling fuller longer which will virtually eliminate cravings. Keep the healthy fats moderately high for the same satiety effects and general health and energy. Stick to complex whole grain carbs and eliminate refined sugar completely (and go easy on naturally occurring sugars): sugar really is the dietary villain we’ve been seeking for decades. There is no nutritional value to sugar (quick energy, I suppose, which you shouldn’t need if you’re eating right, and which comes at a very high cost) and nothing but downside. Everyone knows this. Just eat a high sugar snack and see how you feel in an hour. People crave sugar because they’re not giving their body what it needs — protein and fat — which leaves the body nutritionally desperate and seeking quick calories, which is usually sugar. Lastly, alcohol in very limited quantities: there are some health benefits, but your body can’t use alcohol directly for energy, it can only convert it to fat and then energy. In summary, for the quickest real and durable body composition change: a lot of vegetables, high protein, moderate fats, moderate natural carbs, no sugar, alcohol in very limited quantities.
The truth is always less exciting, but it’s what actually works.”
Let’s get down to it: what exercises should we be doing?
Though Harik says that there are thousands of arm and back exercises online, these four are a good place to start.
- For the biceps, one standard go-to can be the standing dumbbell curl. Simply hold the dumbbells at your side, palms facing in, keep your upper arms glued to your sides, and curl the weight up rotating your palms until at the top of the motion your pinkies are higher than your thumbs. Curl both arms at the same time, don’t alternate.
- . An excellent second biceps exercise is the concentration curl. Sit sideways on a bench. Brace your left forearm between your thighs and tuck the right elbow where your left hand is braced against your right thigh. Keeping your right upper arm perfectly stationary and vertical, curl the weight up with that arm, again rotating the palm up in the same manner.
- Your bread and butter triceps exercise is the cable press-down. Facing the cable apparatus, grasp the straight or cambered bar or rope and step back one full step. Keep your upper arms glued to your sides and press the bar down until your arms are at full extension.
- A great second triceps exercise is the lying triceps press. Lie on a bench with a dumbbell in each hand and arms extended straight up pointing at the ceiling. Keep your palms facing each other throughout. Keep the upper arm perfectly vertical throughout as you lower the dumbbells until they almost touch your shoulders, then press back up towards the ceiling.