You've worked hard for that slim physique, but even so, your upper arms may show signs of dreaded flabbiness -- so much so that you might be tempted to wear only long-sleeved tops. Tone up your arms with T-bar bicep exercises -- they'll quickly train that shapely curve on your upper arm, while engaging other muscle groups as well. In no time, you'll be wearing spaghetti straps again.
The T-bar is a machine that holds a standard barbell attached to a stationary axis point at one end, allowing the bar to pivot. The other end of the bar is for adding weight in the form of round plates. Three basic types of T-bar machines are available in most fitness clubs. All three types have a barbell attached at a pivot point for up-and-down movement, and all three have attached handle grips about a foot above the weights. The difference is where you stand. For one type, you stand on the floor with your feet under the handles. A second type has a raised platform for your feet that lines up under the handgrips. This allows for a greater stretch, because the weight is lowered below your feet, focusing the work onto your biceps and upper back muscles. The third type has a chest rest in addition to the foot platform. This type has your feet at the end of the barbell, your chest resting on a pad and your arms outstretched in front of you holding the handgrips. This emphasizes the middle back more than the other types of T-bar machines, but also works the biceps.
The T-bar row works the biceps and back muscles together. You also get a good core workout by keeping the abdominals tight throughout the movement. Load the bar with a weight that you can lift for the desired number of reps -- the last one or two should be challenging. Stand on the footpads with your knees slightly bent. Bend over and grip the handles shoulder-width apart, with an overhand grip. Keep your back straight; do not round your back. Pull the bar upward toward your chest and hold for two seconds at the top of the movement. Lower the bar and repeat. Some weight lifters raise their trunk slightly for greater leverage when pulling the weight upward toward the core. Make sure not to raise your trunk more than 45 degrees in the upward movement. If you find you cannot lift the weight without moving your trunk higher than a 45-degree angle, reduce the weight you are using to a less challenging amount.
Lying T-Bar Row
To focus more on your middle back as well as the biceps, the lying T-bar row is a better option. Because your torso is positioned on a chest rest, you shift the workload onto the biceps and middle back. The T-bar machine used for this exercise has adjustable footplates and a chest support. Load up the machine with the proper weight. Adjust the footplates so your upper chest is resting on top of the pad. Lie on the machine face down and grip the handles. Exhale and raise the bar up to the chest pad. Keep your elbows close to your body and not rotated out and away from you. Inhale and lower the weight. Repeat for the recommended reps.
Reverse Grip T-Bar Row
The reverse grip T-bar row places the workload onto the biceps and rhomboids, the muscles used to pull your shoulders back. Stand on the T-bar platform with your knees bent, and bend over to grip the bar. Grip the bar using an underhand grip with your wrists facing upward. Your body should be bent 45 degrees at the waist. Keep your back flat and pull the bar upward toward your chest. Keep yoru elbows close to your body. Depress your shoulders as you lift the weight. Lower and repeat for the recommended number of reps.
For general strength and toning, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends performing three sets of eight to 12 repetitions with one- to two-minute breaks between sets. You can vary the T-bar exercises by changing your grip on the bar, depending upon machine type. A hammer grip, with palms facing each other, puts more work onto the back muscles, but it can only be used on the lying T-bar row. T-bar exercises are multijoint exercises that work the biceps along with other muscle groups. Be sure to warm up before exercising and stretch after a workout to help prevent soreness and injury.
Caroline Thompson is a professional photojournalist who has been working for print and online publications since 1999. Her work has appeared in the "Sacramento Bee," "People Magazine," "Newsweek" and other publications. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in photojournalism from California State University at Hayward and a personal trainer certification from the university's Health and Fitness Institute.