We all have that friend. The one with the Michelle Obama arms that photograph well from every angle. And if you’ve ever met NYC-based trainer Dara Theodore, she is that friend. Lucky for us, the Daily Burn 365 trainer and walking gun show (lovingly referred to as “Armageddon”) is spilling a few of her best-kept strength secrets. Scroll down to also snag the 15-minute arm workout she swears by — no equipment necessary.
The Better Way to Work Your Arms
If your upper body routine currently consists of curls on curls on curls, Theodore suggests rethinking your plan. “Bicep curls are fine as a single-joint exercise, but let’s face it — we’re all busy. I like to spend my time doing multi-joint, compound exercises so I get more accomplished in less time.” That’s why Theodore opts for full-body workouts whenever she can. “When performing push-ups or renegade rows properly, your whole body should be working from arms down to legs. Yes, the focus is on upper body. But if you properly engage your legs, glutes and core, they will get a workout as well!”
And the results speak for themselves: More definition, greater strength and, if you keep at it, a higher percentage of lean muscle mass (hello, increased calorie burn!). “Maintaining a strong upper body not only makes the necessary activities easier, but it also ensures we are doing them properly (i.e. using the right muscles) so we don’t injure ourselves,” Theodore says. And let’s not forget: “At any age, we need strong muscles to support our bones,” she adds. “Its never too early to start strength training.”
Yet, the 44-year-old mom wasn’t always flaunting her killer arms. “As a younger woman, I had a hard time embracing my muscular physique. In my 20s, the waif-like look was in style, and I have to admit I was a bit insecure and didn’t consider my look ‘feminine’ enough,” Theodore recalls. “Thank goodness I got older and grew up a little, and got over that nonsense! Today, I’m really proud of my muscles and work hard to make sure they work really well,” she says. “I have so much admiration for strong women, women who can lift heavy weights and support the weight of their own bodies — both are equally strong in my opinion!” Amen.
Dara’s 15-Minute Arm Workout
Don’t be fooled — this bodyweight workout packs a serious punch, especially since the exercises are performed as a circuit, with little to no rest between moves. To make sure your form is on point, Theodore recommends taking a video of yourself doing the move. “It’s a great opportunity for self-critique and progress.”
Ready? We thought so. Complete moves 1 through 5 (pictured below) in quick succession. Rest 60 seconds at the end of the circuit and repeat for three rounds.
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1. Narrow Grip Push-Up (10 reps)
Also known as the tricep push-up (see complete push-up tutorial here), this move targets the triceps, shoulders, chest and core. Not bad for one badass bodyweight move! “Think of the body as a moving plank with the glutes, quads and core super engaged,” Theodore says. Also be sure to draw the shoulder blades down the back and keep elbows close to body. Need to modify? Add some incline, placing the hands on a box or bench.
2. Renegade Row (10 reps)
Channel your inner GI Joe or Jane for this complex movement. Holding a high plank, keep the shoulders in line with one another and allow elbow to graze the rib cage as it moves toward the ceiling. Pro tip: “Try to keep hips from rocking by separating the feet and keeping glutes and quads engaged,” Theodore advises. Once you’ve got that down, you can add dumbbells for extra resistance.
3. Prone Y and T (10 reps)
If you have a tendency to neglect your backside, this move has you covered. The secret: “Keep glutes engaged and hip bones and feet on the ground,” Theodore says. “Think of lifting from the arms more than from the chest but do engage the upper back, and keep a nice long neutral neck.” Though you can progress to very light weights, don’t be surprised if you’re feeling this move using bodyweight-only after just a few reps.
4. Side Lying Tricep Press (10 reps)
We give you permission to skip the scary dip machine. This side-lying push-up will tone the triceps, biceps and obliques in just one equipment-free move. Be sure to press firmly into the floor, firing the triceps and core on your way up. Timing your breathing with help, too. Exhale as you press your body off the floor, and inhale as you return to the start position.
5. Half Get-Up (10 reps)
If this move doesn’t make you feel strong, we don’t know what will. Holding a book, a dumbbell or nothing at all (recommended for beginners), the half Turkish get-up works everything from your shoulders, arms, hips, back and core. To get the most out of the move, “Make sure to drive through the heel of the bent leg as opposed to coming to toes, and keep an eye on the extended hand or weight to maintain proper shoulder position,” Theodore says.
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