Arm Exercises– Its Harder Than I Thought

My baseline measurement  for  my upper arm was 10 1/2 inches.  And more than a month later  I clock in at — wait for it–   10 1/2 inches.  Not because the exercise program failed to work, but I failed to keep  it up.  While working out alone at home is certainly convenient, its also  way too easy to skip and forget.  There are no triggers  like a class to  attend  to remind me to exercise.  And when I do exercise I’m pretty certain that  I’m not really doing the movements properly.  I still keep clunking myself on the head with  the weights, especially when I lift  them backwards over my head.  After most  workouts my back is burning and I feel achey  for several days.  I’ve had disk problems before and I’m always wary of exercise moves that are followed by back pain.

It became clear that I needed  some help to get me on track and keep me there. Over the years  I’ve signed up for exercise classes, but I couldn’t keep up.  They were too fast and  there  were too many repetitions.  I  can pace myself better with  home videos but  they  could  be too easy to skip.  This time, to be successful I decided to hire a personal trainer for a few sessions.  The bulletin board at the gym in my building was covered with business cards from trainers.  But who should I call?   What  qualifications should I look for?

For honest and accurate advice I turned to  my good friend  fitness guru Mirabai Holland.  For  more than a decade  Mirabai served as the Director of Fitness  and Wellness Program at the 92nd st Y.  Then  she took her skills  public and if you watch QVC  you have probably seen Mirabai and her amazing exercise videos.  Her credentials are impressive and include GOLD certification by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), The American College of Sports Medicine ( the top organization), Medical Exercise Specialist certification form the American Academy of Health Fitness Professionals.  Next week I’ll share   the roadmap she  gave me to find the best trainers  for my needs.  And here’s a hint- it involves Skype.

Flabby Arms– My First Workout

Finally an exercise video that excites  a couch potato like  me. LA based trainer Jackie Warner has a workout DVD ( One-On One Training with Jackie) that includes a 2o minute upper body workout. After watching it curled up in a chair, I actually got up, grabbed  my 3 pound handweights and joined in.   It starts with a short  but targeted warm-up rather than a looong  warm-ups seen in other exercise programs.   The Warner warm-up  focused on the upper body, stretching  and activating the arms and shoulders.

Warner clearly explains which exercise does what.  The movements are straight forward and even I could follow along.    Rather than the traditional 3 sets of 10 reps,  Warner does each exercise for about a minute — about a total of 45-60 reps.  Its the same number as in standard sets but done continulously for increased intensity.   The pace is fast enough  to be interesting, but  measured enough   to allow me to smoothly finish  each  movement.   There were enough reps in each series to allow me to pick  them up  and get in a true muscle burning  work-out. 

The 20 minute workout included several cardio intervals and one series of pushups.  I skipped both.  My muscles were already burning from the weight training and I wanted to save myself  to concentrate on the arms.   Maybe as the weeks go by, I’ll add  cardio and push-ups, but right now I’m not up to them.

Warner has a clearly defined goal for fitness– a v shaped body with  strong broad shoulders that narrows down to hard abs and a small  waist.  All parts of her exercise program  are designed to work together to  produce this contour.    I like the idea of a comprehensive goal to a workout rather than a seemingly random  series of exercises.The upper body  workout ended as well as it had begun.   The cool down was a short  stretching session that soothed my quivering muscles. 

But will it work?

Last month I took a sobering series of before pix of my not so perfect arms and plan to take another set of pix after a month of doing this 20 minute workout every day. This week I measured  the circumference of my upper arm and will take another measurement at the end of the month long exercise program.  Some experts have said that exercise will shrink and firm the arms while other claim that they will increase in bulk.  We’ll see  who is right.

Flabby Arms- the search for real answers

Give me a new moisturizer and with five minutes I can decode the ingredients and studies to determine if this  product has the mojo to deliver  promised results.  But when it comes to fitness, I’m still drilling down to  find the same  kind of cause and effect info that will help me choose the right exercises to firm up my arms.

For example, most  articles and books dismiss the fear of bulging muscles, implying that  women  just don’t have  the male hormones to bulk up.  But flipping through books and videos, I can see women  in workout clothes that certainly look chunky and muscle- bound.  Turns out that push-ups which are recommended  by so many trainers, builds up the deltoid muscles ( top of the arms) and the trapezius muscles at the top of the shoulder.  The results?  Bulges rather than a sleek smooth line.  I don’t want to look flabby, but I also don’t want to work so  hard and then look like Popeye.

While I search for  the science behind a beautifu shape, I’m road testing more exercise videos.  This week, I tried The Firm, Upper Body tape that I found for $1  at  the Columbus Avenue Flea Market.  Actually  its a little troubling that  thrift shops  and fleas have such an large selection of discarded exercise tapes and disks.

The Firm  promised  visible results in 10 sessions and I definately like something that has an endpoint.  The instructions were clear and given before the exercises so that they were easy to follow.  As with Winsor Pilates, the warm-up seemed endless.  Over 1o minutes long, by the time it ended, I was tired and my muscles were quivering.  The actual  arms exercises seemed to be textbook moves for upper arm fitness.  The alternating triceps and biceps lifts required  two sets of sixteen reps– pretty standard and good as  far as it went.  But the actual arm work-out lasts less than five  minutes, certainly not enough time  to get buff.  Next, I’m trying out a  totally different approach to fit,  firm arms.  The result  looks smooth and polished rather than lumpy, exactly  what  I want.  We’ll see.

Its Fashion Flash Monday!

This week the host of Fashion Flash is Jackie of Aging Backwards.  This big site covers  a wide range of alternative health  issues including  nutrition, beauty, and medical problems.  You will love her spirit and energy  and  learn, as I have, to value her advice.  

Jackie is passionate about exercise and is constantly urging me to join  her gym.  I’m not quite there yet, but I’ve started exploring exercise videos to firm up my arms.  I found a  Marie Winsor Plilates video at a chruch tag sale.  I had seen Winsor Pilates infomercials on TV and at 50 cents for the VHS tape, it  looked  like a deal too good to pass up.  I also liked the fact  the Marie Winsor was over 40 and hoped she  would offer a workout with age in mind. 

Not quite.  From the start this approach did not seem right  for me.  The warm-up was brutal and seemed to go on forever. It began with a straight back and legs at a 90 degree angle and needed a large ball.  Right away I felt stress in my back and the back of my legs.– not uncommon for a baby boomer.  After a few  children and decades carrying them and the  dead weigh oft bags of grocercies,  most of us  have had some  type of back problem and this type  of exercise  only  makes it worse.

I wan’t quite  sure where the warm-up ended and the exercises began, but I noticed that the instructions became more complicated and now included breathing patterns.  And while  the tape was called Upper Body Sculpting, they seemed to be directed at  my abs, not arms.   The exercises kept increasing in difficulty and required strong core muscles.  I almost felt that if I could actually do these combos, I really didn’t need this tape.

Finally the warm-up was done and so was I.  I actually  had to rest on my couch for a bit before I could follow her exercises for tricpes and bicpes.    However the tape recommended only one  set of 10 reps with 1-2 lb weights.  I know I’m a newbie in exercise programs  but this didn’t seem like enoogh effort to  get the results I am hoping to see.  Next!

Flabby Upper Arms– Starting Point

So here are my  baseline photos.  I’ve done a lot of before photos, but these are definately the worst.  In the top photo I’m wearring  my favorite red dress and with my arms flat on my sides, I look  pretty good.  No bulges or sags.  However  I tend to move my arms to pick up a glass, wave a cab or tie on a scarf and then you can see  where  attention needs to be paid.   In the second picture you can see the wrinkly bits under the arms and the  skin hangs lose where the triceps are invisable.  In the third photo  I am actually trying  to flex my biceps on top and you can see there are no biceps.  The best I can say is that there is much room for improvement.

There are literally hundreds of trainers, books, and videos  that  PROMISE to help you lose weight and  shape-up.  Reputable experts  admit that spot exercises that aim to mold specific areas do not  reduce weight but  build muscle  for a better line.  When I  carried an extra ten pounds I didn’t even try to include weight bearing exercies, since I felt the extra fat would make  spot exercises pretty useless.  Currently I’m a trim size eight so its a perfect time  to test out body shaping. 

In the past my exercise plans started with a shopping trip to buy the right clothes, sneakers and equipment.  Some of the  experts recommend  using a big ball while others  swear  by rubber bands with handles.  Rather than go out for more toys,  this time I’ve decided to  start simply with  the set of three pound weights I already own and   concentrate on my triceps and biceps.  And rather than buying another book or video, I went online and downloaded some free exercises.  Trying to read the exercises, follow the instructions and watching my form in the mirror I managed to clonk myself  on  my forehead or  neck   with almost every  move.  Each move called for 2-3 sets of 10 reps and I kept getting clobbered.  Clearly I needed more  help.  Next I’m going to try  a video so I can follow along.

Flabby Arms– What Lies Beneath?

A set of toned shapely arms is one of my biggest beauty goals for 2012. Michelle Obama looks beautiful   wearing bright little cardigans over  sleeveless dresses, but when I do  that, I  just look like I’m cold. Its time to feel good about my” guns”  And there is certainly no shortage of tools and experts on the subject.  Handweights, exercise  bands, push-ups, pilates, yoga and  the list  of solutions  just seems to go on and on.  So before going out and buying that Groupon coupon for a class on Kettlebell  Kickboxing ( I’m not  making that  up) I decided to  go fundamental  and find  out  why  my arms are crinkly and wrinkly.  Just  like  getting to the causes of  facial aging to choose the most effective solution, I needed to explore the anatomy  of the arm.

Aging of the arms is actually a   much simpler process than the aging of the face.  Basically the upper arm the strength and beauty of the upper arms is dependant on two muscles — the biceps on top and the triceps on the bottom.  Smooth shapely contours depend on three  factors– the amount of muscle, the amount of  fat and the basic elasticity of the skin.   As we get older  we naturally lose muscle mass and this decline  means  the skin  becomes looser– like a pillow that loses its stuffing.  However excess  fat creates a squishy filling that  creates a limp shape on the arm.  Elasticity of the skin   can be affected by  weight gain and loss, leading to stretched out crinkly skin.  And don’t forget that  sunexposure destroys the connective fibers in the skin, and if you’re spent a lot of time on a beach without  a sunblock, your arms are going to be extra flabby.

The solution seems remarkably simple.  You need to build up muscle mass in both the triceps and biceps to create a  better filling for the skin  on  your arm.  Spot exercise cannot  reduce fat, but it can change  the underlying contours  to create  a smoother and firmer appearance.   Most  women worry that building up arms muscles will lead to a  Popeye effect, but  we just don’t  have the  hormones for that. 

Next step will be to take a before shot of the problem and then find a plan that sounds reasonable and would work for me.  I’d  love to hear about what you’ve tried out for arm beauty. It would be amazing to know what has actually worked  for you.   If it didn’t work, it will save  me  wasting  time on something that  just does not deliver.