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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.