Aerobic Exercise for the Arms

Get a killer set of toned arms by swimming laps.
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When you think about aerobic exercising, you likely imagine jogging or cycling. While many aerobic exercises tend to focus on the lower body, there are routines that work the arms as well. Several different sports repeatedly engage your upper body muscles to the point where your heart rate skyrockets, helping you reap a variety of benefits that include decreasing your risk of chronic diseases, shedding a few pounds and toning flabby arm muscles.


    Whether on an indoor rowing machine or out on the water, rowing is a solid upper body workout. Your body goes through four motions while rowing: the catch, drive, finish and recovery. Throughout each phase, the muscles in your fingers and thumb engage to hold onto the handle. When your arms straighten to extend the handle, your triceps engage. During the drive phase, your bicep and tricep muscles engage to stabilize your upper back. When you bend your elbow and pull the handle toward you, your biceps contract.

Walking with Weights

    While walking typically only engages your lower body and core muscles, grabbing a pair of dumbbells can transform this into an upper body workout. A study published in the journal “Sports Medicine” showed that adding 1- to 3-pound weights stimulates your upper body muscles. Additionally, it elevates your heart rate more than walking weight-free. As you walk, gently swing your arms. As you bend your elbow, the muscle on the front of your arm -- your bicep -- engages. As you straighten your elbow, the muscle on the back of your arm -- your tricep -- engages.


    Choosing an elliptical machine with moveable handles does more than just increase your rate of perceived exertion and VO2 max, the volume of oxygen you use while exercising at your maximum capacity. It also engages your arm muscles. When you pull the handle toward your body, you target your biceps and when you push the handles away, you target your triceps. This motion also engages your chest and upper back muscles. Other muscles engaged while you are on the elliptical include your quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes.


    Unlike many other forms of cardio, swimming engages all your major muscle groups from head to toe. Thanks to the water’s resistance against your body, each stroke improves your whole body’s muscle endurance. While your muscles are being strengthened and toned, your heart and lungs are also getting stronger. Regardless of which stroke you choose, you are getting a solid arm workout in the water. Additionally, compared to other aerobics, swimming promotes greater lung capacity because you cannot consistently inhale oxygen.

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