Keep your arms looking and feeling strong with these four exercises.
Bat wings, arm jiggle, hello Helens. There are plenty of not-so-nice terms to refer to the loose skin on our underarms. But behind those appearance-based gripes hides a much bigger issue: declining arm strength and function.
“While many older adults focus on how muscle deterioration makes their arms look, it’s also important to understand that this muscle loss impacts quality of life in a big way,” says Leython Williams, D.P.T., a physical therapist and facility manager at Athletico Physical Therapy in Lincolnshire, Illinois. “If we don’t address the issue, we risk feeling the effects throughout the day, whether we need to carry a laundry basket, run the vacuum, or simply grasp a dish or cup from an overhead shelf.”
To improve how your arms look—and, more importantly, work—Williams recommends the four exercises below. You’ll need a set of light dumbbells, a resistance band, and a bench or chair. You can do these exercises at home or at your local gym.
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: Seated Row
Tie a resistance band around your feet when you’re seated with legs extended and your back straight. If you can’t easily get down on the floor, sit in a chair and anchor the band higher.
Grab the two ends of the band, palms facing each other, and extend your arms forward. Pull the band straight back until your hands reach the sides of your ribs, squeezing your shoulder blades together as you do so. Pause, then slowly extend your arms to return to starting position. That’s one rep. Perform three sets of 10 to 12 reps.
If that’s too easy: Perform the rows from a standing position with knees slightly bent. Keep your core tight throughout the entire movement to keep your torso stationary.
You can also try: If you prefer, you can do this exercise using a machine instead of a resistance band. Check out this step-by-step guide and video to the seated row machine.
Exercise #2: Biceps Curl
Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell 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. Perform three sets of 12 to 15 reps.
If that’s too easy: Slow down each rep’s lowering phase, counting to four as you lower the dumbbells to your sides.
You can also try: If you prefer, you can do this exercise using a machine or resistance band. See how with these biceps curls variations.
Exercise #3: Triceps Kickback
Grab a dumbbell in your right hand, and stand to the right side of a flat bench. Place your left hand and knee on the bench as you lower your torso until it’s almost parallel to the floor. Extend your right arm down with palm facing in toward the bench. Bracing your core and keeping your back flat, row the weight up to your waist. Now you’re in position.
Keeping your upper arm stationary and elbow tucked close to your side, straighten your right arm to raise the weight directly behind you. Pause, then slowly bend your elbow to return to starting position. That’s one rep. Perform three sets of 12 to 15 reps on each side.
If that’s too easy: Perform the exercise without a bench. Instead, take a split stance with one foot in front of the other, and brace your hand on your front thigh for support.
Exercise #4: Scaption Shoulder Raise
Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with arms down at your sides, palms facing forward, and elbows slightly bent.
Bracing your core and keeping your torso stationary, raise the weights diagonally in front of your body until your arms are parallel to the floor. Pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to starting position. That’s one rep. Perform three sets of 12 to 15 reps.
If that’s too hard: Perform the shoulder raises without weights.
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