This post was written by Mary Aschieris and brought to you by our partnership with Mighty Health, the first exercise and nutrition app specifically for people over 50.
It happens to the best of us at a certain age. For me, it was while taking a family picture–our happy, fun-loving family posed arm in arm to document an 8th grade promotion. You know, memorable milestones when you’re all together and your adolescent kiddos can’t help but disrupt the moment! My son, said 8th grader, had vied for the spot next to Mom (oh how sweet, he wants to be next to ME!), only to ‘fling’ the underside of my arm and proceed to giggle as it jiggled away. Ugh. There it was: flabby underarms, bat wings, tricep tremble. I was quick to try and flex to combat the wiggle, but I mostly became more determined than ever to find simple arm exercises to add to my workout routine. It was a moment of truth, and I became focused on finding simple ways to shape and tone my upper arms.
This incident took place back in my 40s. A decade ago, it was all about a quick 30 minute cardio session 3-5x a week to stay in shape: stationary bike, elliptical, or brisk walk. Now that I am cruising my 50s, I have found that adding strength training using body resistance or light weights does wonders against muscle loss. By adding the following exercises to my workout, I am stronger and I feel better, and that’s what counts! Is there an easy way to accomplish this that doesn’t involve hitting the gym? Yes! These three types of exercises (all with video examples from my live workout with Mighty Health) can be worked into an at-home or existing cardio workout and, when done routinely, can do wonders for your overall arm strength and balance…so read on and get ready to wave away!
Tricep Extension and Tricep Dips
This is a great place to start your shapely arm routine. Initially, start with no weights, then build up to lightweight dumbbells, or even soup cans! As with all resistance training, think about putting the squeeze in the muscle group you are focusing on. Squeeze your fist as hard as you can, and now imagine putting all of that squeeze into your tricep muscles.
Tricep Extension: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart and knees slightly bent. Hinge slightly forward with your hips while keeping your abs in tight–imagine navel to spine! Extend your arms straight behind you, shoulder-width at a 45º angle. Focus on holding this position while creating micro-movements with your arms: lift up 1″, then lower down 1″; slightly bend–stretch at the elbow; extension and circle clockwise and counterclockwise.
Tricep Dips: Face away from your support with your upper body slightly in front of your support. Bend and extend your elbow joint, dropping your seat towards the ground. Ideally you can drop a few inches and work up to flexing your elbow joint to a 90º angle.
Bicep Curl and Overhead Press
Moving into biceps work, you can increase the resistance when working this larger muscle group. Imagine your arms moving through thick mud or cement to create extra resistance, and get maximum benefit!
Bicep curl: Extend your arms straight in front of your body, palms up. Bend your elbows 90º, making sure your upper arm remains parallel with the ground and then extend your arms in front of your body and repeat. Next, switch to a hammerhead position (palms facing each other) and perform another set. Lastly, hold the 90º arm position and just lift an inch at a time.
Overhead Press: Keep your feet hip-distance apart with your shoulders stacked above your hips. Maintain that neutral spine and form two ‘L’ positions with your arms bent at the elbow in a 90º angle. Press up and extend the arms overhead. Pull back through the mud, down, down and draw your elbows to your sides.
Planks and Push-Ups
One of the most comprehensive exercises you can do for overall body strength is the push-up. While a full push-up is not a beginner exercise, bearing weight using your upper body strengthens your arms, chest, and core while improving balance. Start with mastering the plank position on an elevated surface. When starting out, a countertop works great! It’s extremely important to always maintain a neutral spine to protect your lower back. Once you feel strong and can comfortably hold this position for 30 seconds, add on by bending and then extending at the elbow–one inch at a time. Increase your angle and range of motion over time, and remember keeping good form is key!
Forward Plank: hold using counter, tabletop, chair arm. Arms shoulder width apart and head neutral.
Push-up: Elevated at countertop building up to prone (on the floor) from knees or toes.
Keep it Simple, Keep it Fun!
For all of these exercises, look for ways to keep it fresh and fun. Work them into your daily routine! A set of elevated push-ups while waiting for a recipe to simmer or a facemask to dry. Tricep dips and planks using a stair or bench are a perfect way to mix up a walk or run around the neighborhood or at the park. Consider wristband weights to take your arm work on the go!
For variety it’s all about tempo, so crank up your favorite tunes and change it up throughout your exercise. For starters, move rhythmically and evenly to the music–down hold, up hold. Next, move down slow and then up quicker, and finally down quickly and up slowly the next set. Make up your own variation and watch out, you may be tomorrow’s new TikTok sensation!
You can choose one exercise from each of the three categories, or mix it up by performing each exercise from an entire category. Find your ideal number of repetitions (the number of reps at which you reach muscle fatigue) and perform a total of three repetitions of each exercise. Be sure to take time to recover in between, and stretch after. It’s fun to keep track of your progress along the way as you become stronger and as your wave becomes, well, not so wavy!
Mary Aschieris is a fitness and wellness consultant at Mighty Health. She has over 35 years of experience in the sports and fitness industry as a competitive collegiate athlete, a sports complex business owner, and a fitness instructor.