How do you know if a woman has nice arms? Don’t worry, she’ll show you!
Forget your Gucci handbag, what every A-lister wants to be seen with is a pair of finely toned arms. In fact, the 30 centimetres that run from shoulder to elbow have become a trophy in their own right.
The power arms pantheon has long included Michelle Obama, Jennifer Aniston and Madonna. And now Victoria Beckham has joined the club.
After years of promoting the injured bird look, Beckham has spread her wings and discovered the power of being strong; regularly posting training photos on her social media, often incorporating her husband’s torso in the background, for extra envy-inducement.
Victoria Beckham has also made her arms the key feature of the photography accompanying her new perfume campaign.
Of course, she’s still thin, but the line of her arm now undulates a little.
The key change, according to her personal trainer, Bobby Rich, has been ditching the focus on cardio and mixing in some weight-training. Tricep dips, resistance band work and dumbbells have given her the long and strong look that a Hollywood actress would envy.
“How do you get such toned arms?” is – humblebrag alert – a question I’ve fielded myself. For me they are a by-product of what I enjoy doing: lots of yoga – the equivalent of press-ups – and rock-climbing, which involves lots of pull-ups. It’s nothing complicated, and all down to body weight.
I haven’t ever lifted weights. But then, at age 39, I’ll never say never. Because it’s not just about looks. Weight-training helps to ward off osteoporosis, which affects almost one in five women and almost one in 20 men aged 50 and over.
“Resistance training is important for women, especially past 40, the toned arms just being a nice bonus,” says Luke Worthington, one of London’s most in-demand personal trainers, who includes Naomi Campbell, Winnie Harlow and Dakota Johnson among his clients.
The big question is: can anyone achieve the sculpted-arms look at any age?
“Naomi is 53 now, so it’s definitely not too late!” says Worthington. “Obviously both she and Victoria have started from a good place, but everyone can make improvements at any age.”
Creating that lean, toned look requires a combination of specific and progressive strength (resistance) training and smart nutrition.
“This means lifting a slightly heavier weight, lifting it for more repetitions, and either adding an additional set or having a slightly shorter rest period in between sets,” says Worthington.
However, you certainly don’t need to be bench-pressing or deadlifting like Beckham, who shared a snap of herself nailing an overhead squat with an Olympic bar last year.
Worthington recommends starting your resistance training by building your routine around “compound” exercises, which are movements that require you to work more than one joint and muscle at a time.
Examples of compound exercises include push moves, such as a traditional press-up which works the chest muscles and triceps, plus shoulders and core, and pull moves – such as a bodyweight row, which uses the back and bicep muscles. A bodyweight row can be done by looping a towel through a sturdy horizontal rail and pulling yourself in like you’re on a rowing machine, or by using a long resistance band.
“The compound exercises, when performed correctly, will help with core strength and posture, which helps to carry and position the arm to best show it [off],” says Worthington.
Combine compound exercises with isolation exercises (like resistance band curls for biceps and resistance band press-downs for triceps) for sculpting. The slower you move, the more you will get out of your resistance band training.
Of course, what you eat and how much cardio exercise you do comes into it too.
“With a well structured training programme, involving resistance sessions three times a week and good nutrition, we can expect to gain muscle at a rate of one per cent of body weight per month,” says Worthington.
“Most people should be able to see a noticeable change after four weeks of consistent training and nutrition.” He recommends 1g of protein for every pound of body weight; a lot more than people think.
Anya Lahiri, master trainer at Barry’s UK, is also an advocate of mixing weight and resistance training with cardio. At her weekly arms and abs classes her go-to arm moves are tricep dips, tricep push-ups, and traditional moves with dumbbells such as bicep and hammer curls.
“Bodyweight exercises like push-ups and tricep dips are a great way to target arms and can be easily incorporated into your day. It’s always key to up your protein to refuel your muscles and aid repair after a resistance workout too,” she says.
How much weight you should use will vary from individual to individual, however Lahiri recommends using lighter dumbbells to start with, and increasing the volume of reps in order to build lean muscle.
According to Worthington, a good guide is a process called “reps in reserve”: “So you should stop when you feel like you could just about get two more reps in if you forced it.”
It goes without saying that both men and women can benefit from these exercises, but there is of course a difference in what is perceived to be aesthetically desirable.
Having been on the receiving end of a few “butch” comments myself, I can see why women can be nervous about overdoing it on the arm muscles. Many women fear that weight-training will increase bulk. But this is simply not the case, says Worthington.
“Building muscle is actually a very difficult thing to do, and takes years of specific and dedicated training. The lean, toned, athletic look is the result of smart and structured training with weights.”
Working your arms with resistance three times a week should be part of a wider exercise programme, which should include one high-impact activity such as tennis, boxing or dancing once a week, a low-impact exercise such as walking twice a week, and one movement session such as yoga or pilates, as well as a rest day.
The main takeaway though is that you don’t need to be on the A-list to have power arms. And an at-home gym, complete with David Beckham, is not required.
Luke Worthington’s guide to mastering the basics
Push: 8-10 Press ups
“Different hand placements work different parts of the upper body and arms, but not enough to worry about it. You’ll see enough progress just working on a regular push up.”
Pull: 12-15 Band bicep curls
“Place a band under your feet with your arms straight down by your sides and then bend your arms and pull the band up to your shoulders.”
Push: 15-12 Banded push downs to work the triceps
“Hook a band over the top of a door. With your arms bent and elbows by your sides, slowly straighten your arms to your sides and then rebend them.”
Pull: 10-12 Towel rows
“This is a compound exercise that includes biceps but also strengthens the upper back which helps with creating an elegant posture.”
Practice three times a week.