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Bring strength, tone to your arms

Toned arm muscles may be aesthetically pleasing to the eye, but there are many other reasons to give those muscles extra attention. If your arms are weak, your chances of strengthening any upper-body muscles will be diminished. Arm muscles help you to lift, push and pull, and if those muscles are weak, you will have limited impact when strengthening shoulders, chest and even the back muscles.

Strong arm muscles help to stabilize and offer protection for the shoulder and elbow joint, and when they cannot offer enough support for the elbow, the painful "tennis elbow" (inflammation of elbow joint) is a common occurrence. You do not have to be a tennis player — it can affect anyone who participates in activities requiring repetitive arm movements.

In the quest for strong arms, the forearms are often neglected. When those muscles are healthy, they allow your wrists to move up, down and all around, and when they are weak, you are vulnerable to developing carpal tunnel syndrome, inflammation of wrist nerves.

Basic anatomy

Our arms are home to three major muscle groups:

Biceps: A two-headed muscle located in upper arm, extending from under the shoulder to below the elbow. The biceps' main responsibility is to bend your arm (flexing).

Triceps: A three-headed muscle located directly behind the biceps, in the back of the upper arm. It works in opposition to the biceps, straightening the arm; when one side of the arm is strengthening, the other side is automatically stretching.

Forearm: Consists of the three main muscle groups that travel from the wrist to the elbow. They maintain wrist stability, preventing you from spilling your morning coffee, help to give a firm handshake and provide you with the necessary strong grip needed for tennis strokes or golf swings.

How to strengthen arm muscles

Select the handheld weight you feel comfortable with and gradually build up; the last few reps should feel as if they are becoming difficult to perform.

Because muscle imbalances can set you up for painful injuries, you need to give equal time to biceps and triceps.

It is generally recommended to perform the exercises on three nonconsecutive days a week; this gives time for muscles and tendons to recover.

If your goal is to develop endurance and lean muscle, work toward one to three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions. If you have elbow issues, go lighter on the weight and limit repetitions.

If your lower back is a concern, consider performing the exercises in a seated position.

Common arm workout mistakes

Rock and roll: If you are pushing with your upper body or rocking back and forth to lift the weight, you most likely are lifting too heavy a weight and your back will not like it one bit.

Elbows in motion: When working biceps and triceps you don't want any movement from upper arms. With biceps curls, the elbows remain at your side throughout the entire movement.

Race to the finish: The exercises are safer and much more effective when performed slowly and with control. Think muscle power, not momentum.

Locking and snapping: When you're instructed to straighten arms it does not mean snapping your elbows into a fully extended position. Continued locking of elbows places too much pressure on elbow joints, ligaments and tendons, causing swelling and pain of the elbow that could lead to bursitis.

If you are 50 or older and have not been exercising, check with your physician before beginning any exercise program. Trainer Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but cannot respond to individual queries. She can be reached at slafit@tampabay.rr.com.

Jerry Biehn, 54, demonstrates an effective arm workout in the gym at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort in St. Petersburg. Sally Anderson

Concentration curl

This is a variation of a traditional biceps curl. You will be adding a new intensity level by working with arms placed at an angle. Leaning forward from hips and holding a weight in your right hand, place right elbow on inside of right thigh, allowing arm to hang down by inside lower right leg, opposite hand resting on left thigh. Using the elbow as a stabilizer, bend elbow to bring weight up toward right shoulder, straighten arm and return to original position.

Standing overhead

triceps extension

Stand with feet in a staggered position, holding one weight in palms of both hands overhead. Keep knees slightly bent and contract abdominals to help protect your back. Keeping head and neck in alignment with your spine and elbows pointed forward, bend elbows, slowly lowering weight behind head, without moving upper arms or dropping your chin.

Downward dog

This is a body-weight exercise that strengthens muscles of arms, shoulders, front of thighs (quadriceps) and core, while stretching back of thighs (hamstrings), calves and chest. Begin in a hand-knee position, placing hands under shoulders and knees under hips. Lift knees off floor while straightening both legs until you are in an inverted V position. Hold several seconds, then relax into original hand-knee position Tip: If you are unable to straighten legs all the way, keep knees slightly bent.

Wrist curl

Sit down, with forearms resting on thighs, and thighs and arms parallel to floor. Holding a weight in each hand, allow hands to hang over edge of knees, palms facing upward. Slowly curl wrists toward forearms, then lower weight back down, keeping wrists in line with forearms. Rather than using heavy weights, select lighter weights. Beginners may want to try squeezing a tennis ball several times a day, as hard as they can without any discomfort; hold 5 seconds and repeat eight to 10 times. When this becomes too easy, introduce the wrist curl.

Bring strength, tone to your arms 08/23/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 23, 2011 5:30am]

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