Unless you're a bodybuilder, you're probably not looking to grow sleeve-popping biceps. Still, nothing accessorizes summer sleeveless dresses and tank tops like well-defined arm muscles. Before reaching for the barbells, keep in mind that most upper-body exercises work your arm muscles as secondary to targeted back, shoulder or chest muscles, making your biceps and triceps stronger and bigger, even when they're not your focus of attention. But for the really wow effect, combine upper-body exercises with biceps- and triceps-specific exercises for the look of bigger, athletic-looking arms.
Pumped upper-body muscles, including biceps and triceps, make your arms look bigger. Before you exercise, warm up your muscles and lubricate your joints. Flex or rotate all of your joints, beginning with your hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck, hips, knees, ankles and ending with your toes. Work your joints until they move smoothly, encouraging the flow of synovial fluid. Once your joints are loosened up, warm up your muscles with five to 10 minutes of brisk walking or light aerobics to get the blood flowing.
Defined shoulder muscles make your arms look bigger. Work your shoulders, back, chest, abs and arms with inchworms. In an upright position with straight but soft knees, tighten your abdominal muscles and bend forward from your hips on an exhale. Touch your hands to the floor in front of you. Slowly walk your hands forward until you're in plank position. Do a pushup. Walk your feet slowly up toward your hands until you're in the original bent-over position. Repeat the inchworm for 30 to 45 feet. Be sure to breathe while exercising to keep your muscles oxygenated.
The biceps brachii, a pair of muscles on the front of your upper arm, get most of the credit for big arms. Responsible for pulling your forearm toward your body, the biceps brachii account for approximately one-third of the muscle mass in your upper arm. Increase biceps size with exercises such as standing dumbbell hammer curls. With your feet shoulder-width apart and your elbows close to your body at all times, hold a dumbbell in each hand. On an exhale, lift the dumbbells upward toward your shoulders. Don't rotate your palms toward your shoulders as in traditional dumbbell curls. Inhale as you slowly lower the dumbbells. For variation, do preacher curls, incline dumbbell curls or dumbbell concentration curls.
Triceps brachii, the upper-arm muscles used to push, are located on the backs of your upper arms. This muscle group is one of the first to go slack in women, making arms look flabby instead of big and muscular. Exercise this three-muscle group by performing one-arm triceps extensions either standing or sitting on a bench. Hold a dumbbell with your palm facing forward. Extend your arm straight up, with your little finger facing the ceiling. Bend your arm at the elbow only, and with your upper arm close to your head, inhale as you slowly lower the dumbbell behind your back. For variation, hold one dumbbell in both hands.
Perform six to 12 repetitions of each exercise. Increase the weight of your dumbbells if 12 repetitions don't fatigue your muscles. Complete one to three sets of repetitions for each exercise, resting for two minutes between sets. Exercise at least twice a week, with a day of rest between sessions, for arms that look big and well toned.
Cool Down and Stretches
Walk, jog or do light aerobics as you slowly wind down from your exercise routine. End your workout with dynamic and static stretches. Rotate your arms slowly in circles for six to 12 repetitions. Next, hold your arms out to the side, like a bird, with your palms facing forward. Slowly rotate your palms to the rear as you bring your arms behind you as far as you can comfortably reach. Hold the stretch through an inhale and exhale.
- ACE Fitness: Shoulders and Arms Workout
- ACE Fitness: Standing Dumbbell Hammer Curls
- Total Fitness Body Building: Arm Exercises
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology: How to Stretch
- BodyBuilding.com: Dumbbell One-Arm Triceps Extensions
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Types of Stretches
- Brian Mac: Static Stretching Exercises
For Judy Kilpatrick, gardening is the best mental health therapy of all. Combining her interests in both of these fields, Kilpatrick is a professional flower grower and a practicing, licensed mental health therapist. A graduate of East Carolina University, Kilpatrick writes for national and regional publications.