A tight, toned upper body certainly has its curb appeal (particularly in a tank top), but the benefits don't end there. Targeting your arms, back, and shoulders helps maintain bone density -- a key consideration for women over 30 -- and can also prevent injury. "Without a strong, stable core and upper body, we rely too heavily on our backs," says mind/body fitness expert Jennifer Kries, creator of the new DVD series "Hot Body, Cool Mind," "which can potentially strain them."
While men may have a physical disposition for upper-body power, that doesn't mean women can't achieve great results, too. The secret? Rather than strengthen the arms in isolation, work the body as a whole, using the core and upper body together. Kries designed this three-part workout, drawn from yoga and Pilates, to accomplish just that.
What You Need
2 to 3 lb. weights
Pilates Chest Expansion
Benefits: Strengthens the triceps and deltoids, as well as core muscles. Increases lung capacity, expands the chest, and strengthens back muscles.
How-To: Stand with heels touching and toes pointed out about 45 degrees (don't force your feet apart beyond their natural range). Squeeze thighs together and engage the buttocks and abdominal muscles, creating one long line with the body.
With your arms extended forward at shoulder height, take a deep breath, filling out the chest, and press the arms straight back as high as you can, maintaining your position. Holding your breath, turn your head left, center, right, and center. Exhale and lower arms. Repeat 4 to 6 times.
Benefits: Works the muscles of the back, deltoids, legs, and triceps. Increases shoulder stability. Engages and strengthens the core.
How-To: Stand with feet parallel, hip-width apart. Bend over at 90 degrees (or less if this is too difficult). Keep knees slightly bent and engaged.
With weights by your ears, inhale deeply and extend the left arm out straight in front of you (palm down), and the right arm behind you (palm up).
Draw arms back in. Repeat on the other side. Do 4 to 8 times.
Benefits: Strengthens the entire front and back of the upper body, as well as the lower back and glutes in a vinyasa-type flow.
How-To: Start in a modified push-up position, knees on the floor (not shown).
Inhale and lift your right leg up and back, opening up the hip and working the lower back. Exhale, lowering the upper body 3 to 5 inches above the mat.+ Inhale and return to push-up position, and then exhale, curling your body under and drawing your right knee into your forehead. Repeat with the other leg. Alternate, doing 3 to 5 reps on each side.
Text by Terri Trespicio