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Post Style: Armed for action; Tone those arm muscles and open up a whole new strappy tops wardrobe, says Gabriel Roberts.

This season's little shell tops and spaghetti-strapped dresses may be glamorous but they are also very unforgiving on the one part of the body most women hate - flabby upper arms.

Although not many women yearn for the bulging biceps of Madonna or Jennifer Aniston, toning up those muscles could open up a whole new wardrobe of strappy tops.

The all-important muscles are the triceps, biceps and brachialis. The tricep muscle is in the back of your upper arm. To feel it place your hand on the back of your arm, then bend and straighten your arm. This muscle tightens or hardens when you straighten your arm.

The biceps and brachialis muscles are in the front of your upper arms. To feel these muscles place your hand on the front of your arm and bend and straighten your arm. Hold it flexed "Popeye-style" and turn your wrist in different directions to feel how parts of the muscle are activated at different joint angles. These muscles contract when you bring your hand to your shoulder.

According to Martica Heaner, author of The Squeeze, it is not difficult to change the look of a muscle by increasing its definition but it is virtually impossible to create those vein-popping bulges.

She says: "Since women tend to have less muscle mass, especially in the upper body, and less testosterone, it's extremely difficult to look like a body-builder."

Research into the upper body has shown that anybody wanting to tone up the upper arm muscles should use the "overload principle". This means you must put gradual, progressive stress on your body.

To get stronger, a muscle must be stimulated intensely for 30-90 seconds. This is the length of time it takes to complete about 8-15 repetitions, or one set of an exercise. The muscle should be challenged to the point of fatigue by the last repetition.

You should feel as if it would be very difficult to do another repetition. If the stimulus is too light, if you are not exerting too much effort, then you may feel perfectly fine after doing 15 repetitions. You may be tempted to do 10, 20 or 30 more.

This is where most people go wrong, relying on working at a very low intensity. Unfortunately that will not result in any gains in strength and sculpting.

In actual fact the biceps are usually fairly strong muscles to begin with because they are used regularly in everyday life. Just picking up shopping bags or a baby provides you with a mini work-out.

So how do the film stars go about getting that perfect definition? LA trainer Michael George gave the actress Meg Ryan biceps for her role in Courage Under Fire by combining weight-training with Eastern exercises, such as yoga and martial arts.

Her weights work-out included single-arm preacher curls to give the biceps definition. To try these, sit on a bench at the gym and hold a dumb-bell in your left hand, palm up. Lift the weight towards your shoulder, and then slowly straighten your arm to the start position. Repeat 10-15 times. Then work the right arm. It is recommended that you use a weight of 5-15lb.

For a Tricep Press use a step from the step class and use it to lie back on with your knees bent, feet flat. Hold your weights above your head, then bend your elbows so that your hands drop behind your shoulders. Point your elbows slightly back rather than straight up to the ceiling.

Exhale and extend your arms until your elbows are completely straight and rotate your hands so that your palms face the ceiling. Inhale and bend your elbows again.

Perform this move slowly to maintain muscle control and if you find it difficult to straighten your arms completely, then use a lighter weight.

A third exercise which works both the bicep and tricep muscles is the Upper Arm Sculptor. Stand with a weight in each hand. To start, straighten your right arm and drop it by your right thigh with your palm facing in to your thigh. At the same time, bend your left elbow and push it up behind you with the left palm facing in.

As you exhale, bend your right elbow. Bring your right hand to your right shoulder, rotating your palm so it faces your shoulder. At the same time, straighten your left elbow at the back. Inhale and return to the starting position. Repeat, then switch sides.

Since there are several actions in opposing directions during this exercise, move more slowly than usual for better control. And since the triceps are often weaker then the biceps, you may find this exercise easier if you use a lighter weight on your back arm.

There are plenty of other bicep and tricep exercises which could be incorporated into your work-out. If you are exercising at the gym then why not ask one of the instructors to show you some different moves in order to prevent boredom setting in.

Another suggestion for a bicep exercise is to sit on an incline bench, with the back raised and perform either alternate curls or work both arms simultaneously.

You could also put the bench to a flat position and work your triceps with some dips. Take a position with your hands on the edge of a bench. Slowly bend your arms to lower your body towards the floor.

Straighten your arms and raise your body back to the start position. Try not to let your elbows move out to the side during the movement.
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Title Annotation:National
Author:Roberts, Gabriel
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 5, 1999
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