When we interviewed two dozen women earlier this year about why they work out, they named a lot of different reasons. Many said it helps with their mental health and mindfulness; others said they do it to inspire their loved ones to get active. Another thing on that list? Strength. Women said they like to feel strong physically — and I agree 100 percent (I've even written a love letter to my own biceps before). But personal trainer Katie Crewe, CSCS, wants to point out the one muscle group that she feels women don't focus on enough: your arms.
In Katie's experience, women tend to shy away from working their upper body because a) it's hard and b) they're afraid of getting bulky. "It's kind of disheartening trying to do something and you're like, 'Wow, I'm 20 steps away from being able to do this exercise that this person is doing with ease,'" Katie said. That's true — there's nothing easy about push-ups. But there are ways to get there.
In terms of bulking up, Katie explained that if you really wanted to gain a large amount of muscle mass, that process would take a long time (the idea that lifting weights will make women bulky is one of the biggest fitness myths). There are programs specifically designed for bulking up on purpose — it wouldn't just be an accident. It's not like you wake up one day and you're "forever huge," she said. Plus, nutrition plays a major factor here, too. You'll have to eat in a caloric surplus and make sure you're consuming enough protein, carbs, and healthy fats daily.
Katie's been training for nine years (check out a transformation picture here) and her arms make her feel empowered and confident. "If you don't want to have as much muscle as me, that's awesome. That's your prerogative," she noted, reiterating that "you should really do what you love to do, but you have a lot of time to change your mind" — meaning, results aren't going to happen overnight, so you can adjust your plan according to your goals. It also goes without saying that upper-body strength helps with a variety of moves benefiting other muscle groups. Take planks, for instance, and any time you're incorporating weights into your workout.
Here's How to Start Working Your Arms
According to Katie, a good approach to planning out how to train your upper body if you haven't before is to incorporate the following four movements: horizontal push, horizontal pull, vertical push, and vertical pull (using weights for some and bodyweight for others). "You can think of lots of different exercises to suit your needs that would fit these qualifications," Katie said. Here are some examples:
- Horizontal push: push-up and dumbbell bench press
- Horizontal pull: bent-over and single-arm row, as well as single-arm cable rows
- Vertical push: dumbbell shoulder press and standing shoulder press with a barbell
- Vertical pull: banded pull-up and lat pulldowns
Making sure you have each of these four movements when you work your upper body is a good way to plan out a workout so you're not just randomly putting exercises together, Katie said. You can also follow along to these at-home videos for arms, this upper body workout, and this weightlifting plan to build muscle. Oh, and this four-week beginner workout plan for weightlifting is also worth checking out. Remember: love your body, biceps included.