By Llee Sivitz
Want to exercise your right to bare arms? Popular spaghetti strap and tank top fashions are turning the seasonal "unveiling of upper limbs" into a reason to exercise.
"It used to be that my students could care less about the arm routines . . . (but) in the past year or so, they've become more focused than ever on their arms." says trainer Angela Starke of the Tri-City YMCA in Florence.
For two years, 37-year-old Carey Rivard, a mother of two from Pierce Township, has been toning her arms.
"I lift weights three times a week, alternating arms one day and legs the next," she says. "I don't like flabby arms."
To help us get ready for bare-arm season, we asked Starke and Allen Tabe, fitness instructor for the M.E. Lyons Branch YMCA in Anderson Township, for suggestions on developing great looking arms.
"It's not hard to train the arms," says Starke, " If you are disciplined and do (the exercises). Of course, genetics play a role in the look of our arms, and cardiovascular exercise is important, too. If there is fat over the muscles, you have to do some cardio. Strength training isn't going to get rid of all of the fat."
The muscles that need to be worked are the same for men and women: upper arm biceps and triceps, the forearms, deltoids or chest muscles, the shoulders and the back.
"Especially in a tank top you are going to see the chest muscles and the back," Starke says.
Arm workouts for men and women differ. Men typically lift a heavier weight and do a lower number of repetitions, using weight machines or barbells for resistance. Women lift lighter weight and do a higher number of repetitions, using smaller hand weights, exercise bands or just their body weight.
You want a weight that will cause your muscles to fatigue after six to eight to repetitions. For a sleeker look, use a weight that allows you to do between 10 and 15 repetitions before your muscles tire, experts say.
Some women believe that working their arms will result in bulky muscles. However, women naturally have less arm strength than men, due to having less of the male hormone testosterone. So while men may develop bulging biceps with exercise, women rarely can achieve more than definition and toning without the help of hormone supplements.
One arm exercise recommended by both fitness trainers is the push-up. Start by pushing off at an angle against a wall, then progress to doing the same move against your kitchen counter, then against a chair seat and, finally, down on all fours against the floor. The hardest push-up position is to put your feet on a chair and put your hands on the floor.
"With each angle change, there is more weight put on your arms," Tabe says.
Everyday activities also can add to arm strength. Any time you lift something with noticeable weight from below the chest to above the chest - like putting away groceries or lifting a small child overhead - you are using all the muscles of the arms, Starke says.
Tabe has created a five-minute workout designed to shape and build stamina in the arms. It's a routine of 20 moves, done 10 times each, with no more than 5-pound dumbbells. And it's much harder than it looks.
Martin Holloway, 43, of Clifton, was doing leg presses on the machines at Central Parkway YMCA, downtown, when Tabe asked him to try his routine.
Holloway proceeded through the moves, his face breaking into a sweat.
"It works you pretty hard for 5 pounds," he says. "I use the Nautilus machines, lifting 85 to 110 pounds. My friends would probably think, 'you're a weakling,' (if they saw this)."
Can you make a difference in your arms by summer by starting a workout routine in April and May?
"I think it takes a little bit longer," Tabe says. "But in eight weeks you can probably tone and see a difference - if you're faithful with the exercises."
For more help with arms, check out Look Great Sleeveless: The Ultimate Workout Guide to Awesome Arms, Sultry Shoulders and a Beautiful Bust (Prentice Hall Press; $20) Brad Schoenfeld.
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