Though having arms and shoulders that look great in a strapless dress or tank top is often at the top of many women's "body" wish list, the "secret" to great arms, shoulders, and upper back has other benefits too—benefits that allow you to do more, be more functionally fit. Unfortunately, in our quest for outward gains, many of us are guilty of doing the exact opposite of what we need to do. Well, here's the "secret" for great arms…strength train, strength train, and then do some more strength training. The only way you will ever shape your arms (or any other body part) is by building muscle. You can drop all of the fat weight you want, but if you don't have muscle to give your body shape, it's going to be next to impossible to get the body you want. And, strength training brings with it real increases in functional fitness, and who doesn't want to be stronger and more capable?
To be completely clear, spend less time on the treadmill and more time lifting weights. Many people are scared of bulking up or starting to look like a body builder, but the truth is that to get to that point takes years of dedicated and effort - you won't just wake up one morning and look like Arnold Schwarzenegger's stronger sister. The key is to lift until you have the base shape you want, then focus on weight loss if you need to to get the rest of the definition you need.
Start thinking differently right now, then you will finally start moving toward the body you want to have and you will be stronger because of it, have more bone density because of it, and best of all have a higher resting metabolism because of it.
Do each group of two exercises twice in an A-B, A-B format. Complete 8 repetitions for each set using a weight that you can control but might not be able to complete all of the repetitions in the last set. Feel free to take extra breaks in between groups.
Chest Fly - Though best done on a bench to allow for maximum range of motion, this can easily be done on the ground lying flat on your back to target the center line of the chest or with your hips up to target the lower portion of the chest.
Reverse Fly - With your knees slightly bent keep your back flat and tip over from the hips getting your chest as parallel to the ground as you can, then lift your arms up and out to the sides as high as you can (preferably chest height or higher). Adjust the weight used to allow for the maximum range of motion first, then increase weight only if you can still get that maximum range. This targets the upper back and rear shoulders.
Bicep Curls - A very simple exercise but often done wrong, be sure to keep your elbow directly under your shoulder joint to keep tension on your bicep (the muscle in the front of the upper arm). If you bring your elbow forward you allow your bicep to rest and you won't get as much out of each repetition. Also move slowly as to avoid swinging the weight.
Bent Over Tricep Extension - In a similar position to a Reverse Fly, bring your upper arm straight back next to your rib cage so that your arm is also parallel to the ground. Bending only at the elbow, start with your hand under your elbow then extend your hand back straightening your arm completely before dropping your hand back down. This motion targets the back of the upper arm opposite the Bicep.
Lateral Raise - Standing straight up and down with a very slight bend in your knee, bring your arms up and out to your sides keeping your arms straight. Try to get your hand to at least shoulder height with your palms facing down but you can also go to a full extension all the way over your head if you rotate your palms forward or in towards one another. This exercise targets the center of the shoulder when you keep your palms facing down and the center and front of the shoulder with your palms facing forward.
Bent Over Rear Raise - In a similar position to the Reverse Fly and the Bent Over Tricep Extension, keep your arms straight and pull them back behind you as high as you can. Keep your palms facing each other the entire time. This focuses on the rear shoulder.
Ventral Raise - Standing in the same position as for the Lateral Raise this time bring your arms up in front of your body again keeping your arms straight and your palms down coming up to shoulder height or higher before dropping back down to your sides. Keep your back flat and don't arch backwards to counter the weight. Only hinge from the hips or ankles, never the lower back. This position targets the front and center of the shoulder, more specifically the deltoid muscle.
Pull Over Plus a Narrow Press - Laying on your back start with your hands directly over your shoulders so that your arm is straight and perfectly perpendicular to the ground. Slowly drop your arms back over your head until they almost touch the ground then bring your hands back up over your shoulders and pause momentarily before dropping straight down to your chest tucking your elbows down next to your rib cage. Your hand should be at the lower part of your chest. Then press your hands back up to the start position. This double motion targets the Latissimus Dorsi (aka Lats, they cover almost all of the middle and upper back) with the first motion and the chest and triceps with the second motion.
Row Plus Rotation and Extension - From a Plank position row one dumbbell back to your chest keeping your elbow close to your body. Then lift the shoulder of the arm you have up so that your shoulders are perpendicular to the ground before extending that same arm up over your body directly above the other hand. Slowly lower back down reversing the pattern you used on the way up then switch sides and repeat the pattern with the other hand. This exercise hits almost every muscle in the body in some way however its main focus is on the shoulders and rhomboids (upper back).
Roundabout Push Up - Start in a traditional Push Up position but instead of dropping straight down as you would with a push up drop down to the left then back up the right side pausing at the top then reverse the motion back around. Maintaining a straight line through your back from shoulder to ankle (if you are on your toes) or knees (if you are doing a half push up) try to get as big of a circle with your chest as you can control. This again focuses on the shoulders but primarily the chest.
Lateral Raise and Cross - Perform a lateral Raise as you did earlier but pause with your arms at shoulder height and slowly bring your hands together then back out before dropping your hands back to your sides. Move slowly and drop weight if you need to to keep your form clean. Especially when your arms and shoulders are tired you will try to arch your back to keep your arms up…don't. Keep your back perfectly straight up and down, hinging from your hips or ankles if needed to counter balance the weight. This targets the shoulders.
Bent Over Shrug - Starting in the same bent over position as for the Bent Over Fly slowly squeeze/shrug your shoulders back behind your chest as much as you can then let your shoulders round forward as much as you can without rounding your back then squeeze/shrug your shoulders back up like you are trying to pinch your shoulder blades together. This motion targets the rhomboids the most but also hits the lats as well (upper back).
Rotating Curl - Start the motion as you did with the bicep curl earlier but at the top of the range of motion rotate your palms to face down as much as you can then slowly let your hands drop. Return your hand to palms up before starting your next repetition. This targets the bicep in two different way due to the rotation of the forearm.
Skull Crusher - Lie on your back as you did for the Pull Over, start with your hands in the same position above your chest/shoulders, then keep your upper arm perpendicular to the ground and bend at your elbow only, slowly dropping your hand to either side of your head until your hand (or the dumbbell) barely touches your shoulders then slowly bring your hands back up being sure you are keeping your upper arm completely stationary. This motion specifically targets the triceps (back of the upper arm).
Remember to pick your weight properly for each exercise. You want to be able to control your motions but also be challenged enough that you can finish the last few repetitions of the last set of each exercise. If you can easily finish all of your repetitions first check your form to be sure that you are not cheating, then be sure you are at your maximum range of motion and if both of those are where they need to be then and only then do you add more weight. Form is always more important than how much weight you lift.