Get ready to put those arms on display—it's short-sleeve season, or perhaps more aptly, no-sleeve season. Feeling a little flabby? Arm-toning exercises are a cinch, fitness experts say, and many can be done at home with no special equipment. "You want to look good in that sleeveless summer dress, but there are practical reasons, too," says Jim White, a registered dietitian and personal trainer certified by the American College of Sports Medicine. "It makes daily tasks much easier. Stronger arms help lift groceries, carry children, complete household chores, and maintain a beautiful garden. There's something empowering about being able to lift heavy loads without assistance." Building arm strength can also counteract age-related muscle loss.
How to do it? Try these six arm-toning exercises:
1. Chair dips. Want to work the backs of your arms? This is your move. Sit on the edge of a chair with your legs hip width apart, and place your hands on the seat next to your thighs, White says. Keep feet flat on the floor. Bend your elbows 90 degrees and lower yourself toward the floor. Straighten your arms, raise yourself back to the start position, and repeat eight to 12 times.
2. Forearm planks. Begin in push-up position, with your weight on your hands and toes. Lower yourself onto your forearms. Hold the position for 20 seconds, then rest for 30, then repeat at least three times.
3. Reverse plank pose. Lie flat on your back with your arms at your side, then bend your elbows so they're underneath your shoulders. Your upper torso should be supported by your arms. Lift your chest, neck, and head off the floor, and then begin to point your toes and lift your legs and hips off the floor. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat two times.
4. Dumbbell curls. Try these to tone your biceps. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell (even 5 pounds will do it) in each hand in front of your hips, palms up. Bend your left arm 90 degrees so it's parallel to the floor, then curl your right hand toward your shoulder, lowering it back to the start position. Aim for eight curls with your right arm, and then eight with your left. "You can also vary the position by turning your palms inward, which is called the hammer curl," White says. Or extend your arms outward, keeping elbows tight to the outside of the body, changing which part of the bicep you're working.
5. Dumbbell kickbacks. "They're an amazing exercise, because 5 to 8 pounds is all you need," says fitness trainer Teddy Bass, who's based in Los Angeles. Dumbbell kickbacks work the backs of your arms. Place your left knee on a bench, supporting your weight with your left arm. Grasp a dumbbell in your right hand. Bend your right elbow as you lift your arm backward, making a nearly 90-degree angle with your upper arm and forearm. Once you've extended your arm backward until it's straight, bring it back to the starting position. Repeat eight to 12 times before switching to the opposite leg and arm.
6. One-arm side pushups. Lie on your right side with your left palm flat on the floor in front of your shoulder, with your elbow bent. Wrap your right arm around your rib cage while bending your knees slightly. Use your left arm to push your torso up until your arm is straight, and then lower your upper body until your shoulder is an inch from the floor. After doing about eight reps, switch sides. "Push-ups are great for overall strength, and will firm up the triceps, the area that waves back at you long after you've stopped waving," White says.
It's best to focus on your arms three times a week, on nonconsecutive days. Muscles need time to repair between workouts. Exactly how long it'll take to notice a difference varies from person to person. "You might see an improvement in strength before you see the slimming effect," White says. The best way to ensure speedy results? Couple arm exercises with cardiovascular workouts several times a week, like running, and then weave in a healthy diet that emphasizes fruits, veggies, lean protein, and whole grains.