When it comes to upper body strength, many women shy away from lifting weights or performing bodyweight exercises because they’re scared they’ll bulk up. This common misconception has exaggerated the gulf between a man’s upper body strength and a woman’s. However, toning your muscles does not mean you’re on your way to becoming a body builder. Here are some simple arm workouts to help define your muscles. Switch them up to tone different trouble areas.
1. Arm extension
Grab your resistance band and anchor it securely, so it’s about a foot off the floor. Lie on your back with your toes pointing away from the band. Hold each end of the band, elbows bent to 90 degrees, while squeezing your arms tight to your sides. Keep your palms facing your legs. Contract your abs and lift your legs to a tabletop position so that your knees are bent 90 degrees over your hips. From here, extend your arms and lift your head and shoulder blades off the floor, curling up over your ribs. Bend your elbows back to 90 degrees and lower your head to the floor. Do three sets of 15 reps.
2. Cross jab
This exercise is a great way to burn off some steam while building strength and defining the arms and abs. Stand with your feet wider than hip-width, keeping your knees slightly bent. Grab two dumbbells (five to eight pounds should do the trick) and bring the weights to your chest. Your palms should be facing each other with your elbows bent. From here extend your left arm across your body until the weight is in line with your right shoulder. Return to center and repeat with the right arm to complete one rep. Do this rapidly, with energy for three sets of 15 to 20 reps. Increase the intensity by minimizing rest periods between sets.
3. Plank arm row
Start on the floor in plank position, making sure your body is in one line. Keep your hips leveled as you lift your left hand off the floor, balancing on your right hand and the sides of your feet. From here, bring the left hand next to the left shoulder as your elbow pops out behind you. Return to the starting position and switch your weight to the left side to perform the same exercise on the other side. This is one rep. Do two sets of 10 reps, alternating sides.
4. Pilates press
Come into plank or push-up position. Bend your right knee 90 degrees, take it off the mat, and point your toes toward the ceiling. Then, bend your elbows, keeping your arms close to the sides of your body and lower a few inches before pressing back up. It should resemble a one-legged push-up. Do eight to 10 reps, then switch legs to complete one set. Perform a full second set.
Grab your resistance band and sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Wrap the band underneath the arches of your flexed feet. Bend your knees as you lift your feet off the ground. Balance here, sitting on your tailbone with your knees bent. When you’re comfortable here, extend your legs straight and your arms up overhead so your body makes a “V” shape. Hold for one breath and then bend your arms and legs to return to the bent-knee balancing position. Perform 15 reps for a total of three sets.
6. Down dog to up dog
This yoga move targets your shoulders, back, chest, abs, and butt. Start in plank, balancing on your hands and toes. Lift the left foot just off the floor and push your hips up and back so your body makes an inverted “v” shape as you come into downward facing dog. Your left leg will already be lifted, but take it further up toward the ceiling, reaching your toes upward. Come back down to plank in one fluid motion and repeat on the right side. Do 10 reps, alternating sides for two full sets.
7. Lying triceps extension
Find a bench and lie on your back. If you’re at home, lie on the floor. Grab your dumbbells and hold them up above your head with your arms straight and your palms facing each other. Bend your elbows to lower the dumbbells down until they’re by your ears on either side of your head. Slowly bring the weights back to the starting position to complete one rep. Perform 15 to 20 reps for a total of three sets.