5 Simple Moves for Strong, Toned Arms

By Lauren Bedosky |

Maintain strength and function in your upper body with this 20-minute arm workout.

arm workout

The benefits of strong, sculpted arms go far beyond aesthetics.

Building and maintaining muscle all over your body, including your arms, helps you stay independent longer and continue doing all your favorite activities with ease, says Franklin Antoian, C.P.T., founder of iBodyFit.

But unless you make an effort to build or maintain your muscle, it won’t stick around forever. Age-related decline in muscle mass, also known as sarcopenia, starts around age 40 and continues at a steady rate until up to 50 percent of our muscle is gone by age 80, according to a review in Current Opinion in Rheumatology.

Luckily, maintaining muscle is probably easier and less time-consuming than you think. A small study in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity found that just 16 total sessions of upper-body resistance training in six weeks improved functional strength in older adults. That’s just two or three strength workouts per week.

Antoian created the quick arm workout below to help you build the functional upper-body strength you need for daily tasks like carrying groceries and pushing up from a chair. It can also help you train for popular activities like swimming, golfing, or tennis.

How the 20-Minute Arm Workout Works

The key to all of these exercises is performing them slowly and under control. At the end of each set, you should feel like you could do one or two more reps, but no more than that. If you feel like you could knock out three extra reps with good form, that’s your cue to increase the amount of resistance you use for that exercise.

Do all sets of each exercise before moving to the next, resting for 30 to 60 seconds between each. The full workout should take you about 20 minutes.

Ready to get started? Here’s how to perform each movement. As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition, an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

Exercise #1: Arm Circles

arm circlesDo 2 sets of 30 seconds in each direction

Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Extend arms straight out to sides at shoulder level with palms facing down. Swing arms forward in a circular motion for 30 seconds, then backward for 30 seconds. Focus on keeping your shoulders down and back, and maintain a very slight bend in your elbows. Do two sets total, resting for 30 to 60 seconds between sets.

Make it easier: Perform this exercise seated in a chair.

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Exercise #2: Wall Pushup

Wall Pushup

Do 2 sets of 8 to 12 reps

Stand facing a wall. Place your hands on the surface, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Move your feet back until you are at a comfortable angle, keeping your arms straight and perpendicular to your body.

Bend your elbows to slowly lower your chest toward the wall, pause, and then press back up to straighten your arms. Keep your body straight throughout the entire movement, making sure to engage your abs and squeeze your rear. That’s one rep. Perform two sets of eight to 12 reps, resting for 30 to 60 seconds between sets.

Make it harder: Take a step back so you have to push more bodyweight away from the wall. Still too easy? Reduce the incline by doing pushups against a countertop, a bench, or the floor.

Exercise #3: Bent-Over Row

Bent-Over Row Exercise

Do 2 sets of 8 to 12 reps

Grab a pair of dumbbells, and stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Pushing your hips back and allowing your knees to bend slightly, lower your torso until it’s almost parallel with the floor. Let the dumbbells hang at arm’s length from your shoulders, palms facing in.

From here, squeeze your shoulder blades together as you bend your elbows and pull the dumbbells up to the sides of your torso. Pause, then slowly lower the dumbbells to return to starting position. That’s one rep. Perform two sets of eight to 12 reps, resting for 30 to 60 seconds between sets.

Make it easier: If you feel any discomfort in your lower back while doing the movement, row one arm at a time.

Exercise #4: Biceps Curl

biceps curl

Do 2 sets of 8 to 12 reps

Grab a pair of dumbbells, and stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Hold a weight in each hand with arms at your sides and palms facing forward.

Keeping your torso stationary and elbows tucked close to your sides, bend your elbows (not your wrists) to curl the weights up to your shoulders. Pause, then slowly return to starting position. That’s one rep. Do two sets of eight to 12 reps total, resting for 30 to 60 seconds between sets.

Make it easier: Perform this exercise seated in a chair.

Make it harder: Slow down each rep’s lowering phase, counting to four as you lower the dumbbells to your sides.

Exercise #5: Shoulder Raise

shoulder raise

Do 2 sets of 8 to 12 reps

Grab a pair of dumbbells, and stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Hold a weight in each hand with arms at your sides and palms facing your body.

Slowly raise both arms out to the sides to shoulder level or as high as you can without arching your lower back or letting your shoulders creep up toward your ears. Pause, then slowly return to starting position. That’s one rep. Do two sets of eight to 12 reps total, resting for 30 to 60 seconds between sets.

Make it easier: Perform this exercise seated in a chair.

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