A common misconception among women is that lifting weights will cause their arms to bulk up—but that’s just not the case. Plus, there’s more to having strong, sculpted arms than pure aesthetics. Building and maintaining muscle all over your body, including your arms, helps you maintain total-body health.
When you strengthen your arm muscles, your shoulders, neck, and back reap the benefits too, according to Holly Perkins, CSCS, a women’s strength expert and author of Lift to Get Lean, “Strong arm muscles are critical in preventing injuries associated with lifting heavy things like luggage, groceries, children, or even kitchen trash,” she explains.
The following at-home workout created by Perkins is designed to strengthen and tone your arms without packing on excessive bulk. The key is to pause at the top of each movement, says Perkins. For example, in a bicep curl, when you contract your biceps to lift the dumbbell close to your shoulder, pause for two seconds before you gradually bring the weight back down to your side. This will allow you to strengthen and tone without causing intense muscle growth. “It will also enhance the mind-body connection that improves muscular contractions,” she adds.
Time: 10 minutes
Equipment: A pair of three-, five-, eight-, or 10-pound weights. Use a dumbbell weight that is challenging but won’t hinder your form. (We love these affordable dumbbells from Amazon.)
Instructions: Aim to do 12 reps of each exercise. Remember to pause two seconds at the top of each repetition, consciously squeezing your bicep muscles. Don’t rest between movements. Complete one set of each of the exercises in the order they’re listed. Then, rest for 30 to 60 seconds after the first set of all three movements. Repeat for a second and third set, resting only between completed circuits. Add more sets if there’s more time left on the clock.
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1 Hammer curl
Why it works: This version of the curl forces you to engage your biceps and forearm muscles during the upward phase of the exercise and to move with more control and stability.
How to: Stand with your feet directly under your hips with a long, tall spine. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, rotating the palms inward so they face each other. Anchor your shoulders down towards your hips (away from your ears) and brace your core muscles.
As you exhale, pull the dumbbells up to your shoulders, pausing at the top-most position for two seconds. Slowly, release back to the starting position. That’s one rep.
2 Concentration curl
Why it works: Because the rest of your body is stabilized in a seated position, concentration curls isolate the biceps muscle, making it work harder to pull the dumbbell upward.
How to: Sit on the edge of a bench or chair with one dumbbell on the floor. Lean forward to grasp the dumbbell with your left hand, and place your left elbow gently against the inside of your left thigh, near your knee. Place your right hand on your right thigh for support.
Keeping your chest lifted, pull the dumbbell upward towards your face, pausing for two seconds when the dumbbell is closest to your left shoulder. Squeeze your biceps muscle. Slowly release back down so that the arm is long, without locking your left elbow. This is one rep.
3 Alternating supinating curl
Why it works: Rotating your wrists in this arm exercise challenges your biceps’ range of motion. This exercise will also engage your core as you lift the dumbbell up to your shoulder.
How to: Stand with your feet under your hips and hold a dumbbell in each hand at your sides with your palms facing forward. Brace your core and maintain a long, tall spine.
Pull one dumbbell up to your shoulder while keeping your palm facing outward and upward. As you release back down, simultaneously pull the other dumbbell up. Continue alternating both dumbbells for 12 reps on each side.
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