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Simple exercises to strengthen your arms

LARA CERRI   |   Times

LARA CERRI | Times

Because we use our arms so much, we tend to take our 15 arm muscles for granted. That is until we try to lift something that once was easy and now seems a little too heavy. Or maybe we sit on the floor, only to find we don't have enough arm strength to push back up.

Loss of strength in the arms is of major concern for seniors. Daily activities, such as getting out of chairs or bathing in a bathtub, become difficult. Weak arms can also negatively affect your upper body if they do not provide enough strength to properly support the muscles needed to exercise.

Shoulders also need to be strong as they help to make arm movements easier. While the arm muscles, biceps, triceps and forearm work together to move the arms, the shoulder muscles, deltoids and rotator cuffs help with the range of motion. To tone and strengthen the arms, it is important to use a variety of arm exercises in different combinations. Keep in mind that the key to success is gradually increasing the weight as you become stronger.

You have several strengthening options: free weights, exercise machines or resistance bands. You also have a choice of positions: standing, seated, incline bench or lying down. Now all you need is the motivation to get started.

Because arm muscles are small, you can get results without spending too much time training them; one to three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions for each arm, beginning with one set, is sufficient. You don't have to do them daily, just two or three times a week.

Women need not worry about developing bulging biceps. Jessica Matthews, a continuing education coordinator for the American Council on Exercise, says women don't have the hormones to build huge muscles unless they are working out to an extreme or taking steroids.

If you are 50 or older and have not been exercising, check with your physician before beginning any exercise program. Write to Sally Anderson, a trainer, in care of LifeTimes, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

Six tips for strong arms

No jerks or swings: Besides being at risk for injury, jerking and swinging the weights offer less stimulation of the muscles you are working. The proper technique for a bicep curl and tricep extension is not to move the lower body, chest and back; move only at the elbow joint.

Body be still: Rocking back and forth while lifting the weight generally means you are lifting too heavy a weight and it most definitely is not good for the lower back.

No elbow or knee locks: When doing an overhead tricep extension exercise, don't lock your elbows into a fully extended arm. Keeping knees slightly relaxed will protect your lower back.

Slow mo: Move the weights slowly with control, both when lifting and releasing to original position. This adds much more power to the workout by maintaining tension on the muscle and also offers more protection for the elbows.

Back protection: If you have lower back issues, you may prefer to do your exercises in a seated position that offers more support for your back.

Don't forget wrists: Having strong wrists are essential for many weight lifting exercises. Strong wrists also will help you avoid developing carpal tunnel syndrome from excessive repetitive movements.

Three major arm muscle groups

The biceps and triceps cross over two joints, the shoulder and the elbow. The average triceps are twice as large as the biceps. The biceps are located in front of the upper arm while the triceps, the flabby muscles that women love to hate, are located in the back of the arm, directly behind your biceps. They work together as a pair. When the biceps contract, the tricep relaxes and the arm bends; when the triceps contract, the biceps relax and your arm straightens. Both muscle groups must be strengthened to prevent a strength imbalance — if one muscle group is much stronger or weaker than the other, you are vulnerable for developing elbow injuries.

The forearms are three muscles located between the elbow and the wrist. They control most of your gripping strength. These muscles enable your wrist and palm to move up and down and move in a circle. If they are strong, they will stabilize the wrist when you are lifting.

Try this | Mitch Kanaan, 72, Geri Kanaan, 70

Triceps extension: Select a weight that you can hold over your head with two hands. Sitting on a chair with back straight or standing tall with feet placed a comfortable distance apart, slowly lower the weight behind your head, elbows facing forward throughout the movement. Return weight to original position with arms extended above your head. Repeat 8 to 12 times and work toward 2 or 3 sets, beginning with light weights. Tip: Contract abdominals to help brace your back and do not allow chin to drop toward chest; keep looking forward.

Biceps curl, leg lift and balance exercise: For this compound exercise, stand tall with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold weights with arms slightly bent in front of your thighs, palms facing upward. Keeping elbows touching your sides, begin to curl arms almost to the shoulders; do not touch shoulders. At the same time, lift one leg to the side, knee facing forward. As arms are returning to original position, lower leg to floor. Work toward 2 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions with each leg. Tip: Contract abdominals, which helps you maintain balance; do not allow wrists to roll inward.

Wrist curl: Sitting on the edge of a chair with knees hip-width apart, hold a weight with palm facing upward. Leaning slightly forward, place lower arm on top of your thigh, letting hand hang over knee. Placing hand on arm to hold arm steady, curl the wrist upward, then lower the weight back down; begin with 1 set, increasing to 2 sets of 8 to 12 reps.

Simple exercises to strengthen your arms 10/28/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 28, 2009 5:30am]

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