Getting Arms In Shape

A N.Y.C. trainer shares tips on getting your upper body in fighting form

I've only got six months to get my flabby arms in shape. Is there hope?

Yes, if you make a commitment to exercising—not just your arms but your entire body—and eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, says Dominique Hall, a personal trainer at Peak Performance Strength and Conditioning Center, a New York gym. By doing exercises targeted for arms, you'll gain muscle and tone; by consuming less fat and doing cardiovascular exercises, you'll lose weight and flab. 

Okay, I'm psyched. But where do I begin?

Use this formula, then increase as your endurance improves: Do some form of cardio (brisk walking, swimming, biking, kickboxing) three times a week for 30 to 60 minutes per session; do arm exercises three times a week, with a day off in-between. For each exercise, do three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions. Start with 3- or 5-pound dumbbells; within a few weeks, you can most likely graduate to heavier weights. (How to tell? If you can get past the 15th rep without your muscles giving out, increase weights by two pounds.) As for diet, "You won't lose body fat or improve your form by exercise alone," explains Hall. So lay off the Big Macs and eat sensible portions of low-fat, low-cal foods.

Should I stretch before I work my arms?

Doing arm stretches is old-school and could cause an injury. "It's like trying to bend a rubber band that's been in the freezer," says Hall. "Eventually it'll break. Same thing with a cold muscle." The new school of taut: Begin your workout with a five- to –10-minute aerobic warm-up, like walking, running on a treadmill or pedaling a stationary bike, to quickly jump-start your heart rate and make you sweat.

I want toned arms but worry that I'll turn into the Hulk. Is that possible?

No. "Women have much less testosterone than men do, so they can't get huge, unless they take steroids," Hall points out. But eating a steady diet of fatty foods can give you Hulk-like proportions. "If you eat clean—meaning you consume lots of fresh fruits and vegetables every day—you're going to be slimmer and more toned."

I can't afford a personal trainer—how will I know if I'm doing the exercises right?

Hire a trainer for one session—she'll show you how to position your body correctly. "It's important for your core—the muscles in your abdominals and back—to be in the right position, which lets you work more than one muscle at a time," says Hall. If you already belong to a gym, ask a trainer on duty to check out your form. Don't belong to a gym? Ask a friend who does if she can get you a day pass, and seek help there.

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