You can do arm circles just about anywhere, and they don't require any special skill or equipment. You'll burn a few calories doing this form of dynamic stretching, but they're less effective at helping you burn excess calories than more intense exercises. The number of calories you burn varies depending on important factors such as your weight, the intensity at which you perform themand how long you do them.
Arm Circle Basics
You'll burn more calories and stretch in your shoulder muscles if you do arm circles correctly. You can stand, sit or even kneel. Next, extend your arms straight out to the sides without bending your elbows. Slowly rotate your arms forward in a circular motion 10 to 15 times. Keep your circles relatively small -- about a foot in diameter. Then switch directions, rotating backward 10 to 15 times. Aim for two to three sets in each direction. If you continue alternating between forward and backward rotations, you'll begin to feel the exercise in your shoulders and upper arms. Note, however, that this is not an intense workout and is unlikely to yield major muscle development.
The number of calories you'll burn doing arm circles depends on how much you weigh, how long you do the circles and how much muscle you already have. Heavier people burn more calories, and as you build muscle, you'll also increase your metabolism. You'll burn more calories the longer you work, and intense arm circles -- such as those that incorporate hand weights -- can also bump up the number of calories you'll burn. On average, you can expect to burn 15 to 20 calories for every 40 arm circles.
Increasing Calories Burned
You can burn more calories if your arm circles are a warm-up to an intense full-body workout. Try doing arm circles prior to going for a run, or as a stretch prior to beginning circuit training. Begin with arm circles, then perform several strength-based exercises such as pullups, situps and arm circles, followed by a circuit of cardio. Then do another circuit of different strength-based activities.
Although arm circles do burn some calories, you'll burn more calories -- and therefore shed more fat -- with an intense cardiovascular workout such as running or swimming. You can't spot reduce just your arms with arm circles, and because the routine isn't particularly challenging, you're unlikely to build much muscle with just arm circles. Instead, you'll have to try exercises that burn fat throughout your body, and arm circles can serve as a warm-up, cool-down or stretch.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.