Awesome Arms

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What does every woman want for the holidays?  Easy!  Shapely, toned arms to reveal feminine definition in sleeveless cocktail dresses or under skinny knits. While appearances may be the motivating force, sculpted arms are not only for showing off, but also to help you lift and carry with ease, reach overhead onto the top shelf without strain, and pull your wheelie effortlessly at the airport.

For maximum results, try my new twists on timeless classics.  Combine the standard lateral shoulder raise with a front raise in one smooth move; challenge the biceps curl by working both arms asymmetrically; and upgrade the typical triceps kickback with multiple pulses. By adding a little extra work into the formula and changing the usual order of things, you’ll get faster results with more definition.

Shoulder Fan

Awesome Arms

The beauty of the Shoulder Fan exercise is that it’s both graceful and efficient, targeting two aspects of the deltoid muscle in one fluid movement.  As it strengthens the front and sides of your shoulders, it creates a sculpted effect that looks great in strappy tops and makes a perfect “hanger” for clothing.

Stand with your feet parallel, hip width apart, knees soft.  Hold a 3-5 pound free weight in each hand, arms by your sides, palms facing back.  Squeeze your shoulder blades down and together, then raise both arms to the front to shoulder height.  Keeping your arms at shoulder level, slowly move your arms out to the sides until they are directly in line with your shoulders.  Pause, then lower them down to your sides and return to the starting position.  Repeat 12-15 times.

Trainer Tips:

  • Keep your arms straight but not stiff.
  • To keep tension out of your neck and upper back, avoid lifting your arms above shoulder height.
  • Engage your abdominals to stabilize your torso and maintain neutral spine alignment, i.e. keep the small curve in the lower back.
  • For the toning effect, keep the weights light and slow the movement.


Shoulder stretch:  To stretch the front of the shoulder, put one arm behind you and take it by the wrist with your other hand.  Gently pull the back arm across the back of your waist until you feel the stretch in the front of the shoulder.  Hold for 10 seconds on each side.

Wacky Biceps Curl

In the classic biceps curl you stand with arms by your sides, holding weights with palms facing forward, and bend both arms together, raising the weights toward your shoulders. The updated version described below recruits the muscle in an asymmetric pattern, combining two different methods of strength training and targeting two different aspects of the muscle.

Stand with your feet parallel, hip-width apart, knees soft.  Hold a 5-8 pound free weight in each hand, your right arm straight by your side with the palm facing in and your left arm bent at the elbow to 90 degrees, with the palm facing up.  Keep the left arm stationary, holding the weight isometrically. With the right arm perform a “hammer curl”: palm facing in, lift the weight toward your shoulder, then lower it slowly for 12-15 repetitions.  Switch sides and repeat.

Trainer Tips:

  • Keep your elbows close to your sides, but avoid “pinching” them into your waist.
  • Be sure to keep your wrists aligned with your forearms, i.e. don’t bend the wrist in any direction.
  • Stabilize your shoulder blades down and together before you start to move.
  • Use core strength to keep your torso still as you work your arms.  If your trunk begins to sway back and forth to help lift the weights, you are “cheating” by using momentum.  Stop the exercise or lighten up the weights.

Biceps stretch:  You should always stretch the muscle you’ve worked.  This is also a great stretch to do at your desk because it stretches both the forearm as well as the biceps.  Extend one arm in front of you with the palm up.  With the other hand, pull back on your fingers.  You’ll feel a stretch all the way up the underside of your arm to the biceps. Hold for 10 seconds on each side.

Triple Triceps Toner

Take a basic weight-bearing stance with feet parallel, hip width apart, knees slightly bent.  Hold a 3-5 pound free weight in each hand, arms straight down by your sides, palms in.  Bend forward from the hip, keeping your spine straight.  Bend your elbows to 90 degrees and raise your upper arms so they are parallel to the floor.

Do ten triceps kickbacks:  Exhale and extend your forearms behind you so that your arms are straight but not stiff.  Pause and squeeze the back of the upper arms.  Inhale as you return to start and repeat 10 times.

Then, keep your arms straight and pulse up to the ceiling 10 times.  Finally, again with your arms straight, pulse inward 10 times, moving the weights toward each other.

To progress, stand up, re-align and repeat all three moves again.

Trainer Tips:

  • Be sure to align the spine before you bend forward:  look straight ahead and pull your shoulder blades down and together.
  • In the bent-over position, maintain neutral spine alignment, i.e. keep the small curve in the lower back.
  • Keep your head and neck aligned with the spine, i.e. imagine an orange tucked under your chin
  • Use light weights, 3 -5 pounds.  This is a toning exercise which uses high repetitions to create definition in the muscle.  The pulses intensify the action.

Triceps stretch:  Raise one elbow to the ceiling and reach down your spine with the forearm (“give yourself a pat on the back”).  Use the other arm to pull back gently on the elbow.  Hold for 10 seconds on each side.

For other variations on exercises for your arms and upper body, as well as your legs, lower body and core, please check out Strength Training Exercises for Women by Joan Pagano.

Interested in Having Joan Speak to Your Audience?

Everyone benefits from being healthy and fit. Contact Joan to discuss a presentation that will inspire your audience to take control of their health and wellbeing. Contact Joan



  • Joan Pagano has specialized in strength training for women since 1988 – training, teaching, and writing books on the subject, including Strength Training Exercises for Women (DK, 2014). When the health benefits of strength training started making headlines in the 1990s, and in particular how weight training could protect the bones and prevent osteoporosis, it was a natural segue for her. At that time, Joan was developing and delivering fitness training guidelines for osteoporosis to national audiences of exercise professionals. Currently Joan is recognized by the industry as a leading authority on exercise program design for osteoporosis. She is certified as an Exercise Physiologist by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and is on the Ambassadors Leadership Council for the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Visit Joan at:

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