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How to Tone Your Arms

31, March 2018

Mrs. Washington America 2017, Deidra Murphy, poses for a swimsuit photoshoot. Photo: Deidra Murphy Mrs. Washington America 2017, Deidra Murphy, shows off her arms during a swimsuit photoshoot. Photo: Deidra Murphy

Let's be real, one of the toughest areas to tone is a contestant's arms. If you are like me and your arms continue to move after you stop moving, toning your arms can seem like an overwhelming task. You have tried everything from push-ups to weights to "As Seen On TV" exercise dvds. Nothing seems to work. However, utilizing a personal trainer can be an effective method for finding the best workout for you. They will help you find a workout tailored to your body and lifestyle. In addition, they will work with you to ensure you keep proper form both in and out of the gym. Pageant Planet's Directory contains hundreds of personal trainers and allows you to filter your options to find one near you. While you are researching the best personal trainer for your workout goals, you want to start getting your arms in top shape. Your pageant date is coming up and you are losing days to prepare! (Read: 5 Things You Must Consider Before Hiring a Personal Trainer)

Bicep and tricep workouts

Starting off with some basic human anatomy, the triceps and biceps are going to be the two muscles you want to target in your arm workout. Putting it in the most basic of terms, the top muscle you feel when you flex your arm is your bicep. The muscle on the bottom is your tricep. Now, you may think the bicep is the muscle to focus on in toning your arms. After all, when you flex, it is the muscle everyone appears to focus on. However, according to Craig Hughes, founder of Body by Craig and Pageant Planet's Official Personal Trainer for the state of Virginia, your triceps should be the main focus of your arm workout. (Read: How to Get Perfect Pageant Arms – Daily Fit Tip)

"The tricep muscle makes the arm," Hughes said. "It gives pageant contestants that strong, independent, lean Michelle Obama look. Triceps are the main muscle that should be trained for the stage; biceps sort of go along for the ride." Hughes founded Body by Craig in April 2013 mainly to help train Arielle Rosmarino in her journey to win the title of Miss Virginia USA, which she did that year. Hughes serves not only as a trainer but a preparation coach. He offers "customized individualized training, matched nutrition and supplementation, and mindset conditioning and motivation under one roof."

Hughes has trained dozens of pageant winners in all systems including Miss Virginia USA 2018, Ashley Vollrath. Last year alone, Hughes trained 12 of the Miss USA state titleholders, including Miss Minnesota USA 2017 Meridith Gould, second runner-up at Miss USA 2017. Hughes was also ranked number five on Pageant Planet's Top 10 Personal Trainers of 2017. (Read: Top 10 Personal Trainers of 2017)

Craig Hughes (left) pictured with client Body by Craig client Ashley Collrath (right), after her win at Miss Virginia USA 2018. Photo: Craig Hughes Craig Hughes (left) pictured with client Body by Craig client Ashley Collrath (right), after her win at Miss Virginia USA 2018. Photo: Craig Hughes

Of course, the triceps are one of the hardest muscles to tone. Mrs. Washington America 2017, Deidra Murphy, struggled with this as she prepared for Mrs. America 2018. "I would say the hardest area for most women is the bat wings," Murphy said when referring to triceps. "I especially struggle with this area. I blame my genetics and grandma!" Luckily, there are many workouts that target this area. As with any workout, you want to burn fat but also build muscle. (Read: 12 Exercises That Will Burn Arm Fat)

"There are multiple effective ways to train bis (biceps) and tris (triceps) for stage," Hughes said. "For bis, use a light weighted bar up to 15 pounds. Extend your elbows forward and keep them in front of your body as you do arm or bi curls. You can use the same bar to do standing or seated overhead triceps extensions." "Burn out your triceps," Murphy said. "Do at least four to five different types of tricep workouts and go to failure on each. Failure meaning you literally cannot do one more rep."

Mrs. Washington America 2017, Deidra Murphy, competes during the swimsuit competition at Mrs. America 2018. Photo Deidra Murphy Mrs. Washington America 2017, Deidra Murphy, competes during the swimsuit competition at Mrs. America 2018. Photo Deidra Murphy

While tough, this type of training ensures your triceps receive an effective workout. "You could do tricep dips on a bench," Murphy said. "For me, I usually burn out on rep 24 or 25, but someone else might be able to do closer to 30 reps each time. Cycle through four times, each time going till you can't go one more. Other tricep workouts are close-grip bench press (with a dumbbell or barbell), ring rows, skull crushers, tricep extension behind you while leaning on a bench, standing tricep extension with a dumbbell, close-grip pushups or military style pushups and cable rows on a machine.

Pushups

Pushups are one of the most simple, yet effective, workouts for a pageant contestant. A proper pushup works multiple muscle groups including the arms, chest, back and core. (Read: How to Get Toned Abs)

However, in order to reap all the benefits of the move, proper form is key. A proper form will not only prevent injury, but it will help you more effectively work other muscle groups, including your butt! (Read: How to Tone Your Butt)

"A proper pushup begins in a high plank position with your body parallel to the ground, tabletop flat," said Michelle Bertran, founder and owner of FierceFit Miami. "A full range of motion pushup consists of bending your arms all the way so that your chest touches the ground, then fully extending your arms to reach that base high plank position."

The proper stance for a wide push up. Photo: POPSUGAR Photography The proper stance for a wide push up. Photo: POPSUGAR Photography

Bertran founded FierceFit in 2016 after finding Miami lacked variety when it came to the types of workouts offered. She introduced high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, through her indoor boot camp. The technique involves quick, intense bursts of exercise, followed by short, sometimes active, recovery periods. Bertran's reputation for short, safe workouts in a "no judgment zone" helped her quickly become one of the top trainers in the area.

Michelle Bertran, founder and owner of FierceFit Miami. Photo: FierceFit Miami Michelle Bertran, founder and owner of FierceFit Miami. Photo: FierceFit Miami

Bertran has worked with both Miss Carnaval Miami 2017 Daniela Albrecht and Miss Carnaval Miami 2018 Sabrina Ramos. She is also currently training Ramos and her court as they prepare for their next pageants. Longtime pageant contestant and the former Miss Teen Universal Petite 2014, Melissa Fernandez, is also a client.

Miss Carnaval Miami 2018, Sabrina Ramos (center) and her court during Carnaval Miami 2018. Photo: Miss Carnaval Miami Miss Carnaval Miami 2018, Sabrina Ramos (center) and her court during Carnaval Miami 2018. Photo: Miss Carnaval Miami

According to the Livestrong Foundation, two effective types of pushups are the diamond and wide pushup. While similar in targeting body parts like the legs and butt, the movements target different areas of the upper body. One of the biggest differences lies in the position on the hands. (Read: How To Tone Your Legs Without Adding Bulk)

For a diamond push up, place the tips of your pointer fingers and the tips of your thumbs together. This should create a diamond-shape between your hands while extending your legs behind you. For a wide-grip pushup, place your hands flat on the floor, just outside your shoulders, again, with your legs extending behind you in a straight line.

The proper stance for a diamond push up. Photo: POPSUGAR Photography The proper stance for a diamond pushup. Photo: POPSUGAR Photography

Unfortunately, not all of us are as gifted with upper body strength. Luckily, according to Bertran, there is a beginner method for those of us not strong enough (yet) to do a full pushup. "One way to modify a traditional pushup is to place your knees on the ground, maintaining your hips in line with the rest of your body," Bertran said. "Now, your body should be at an incline, rather than being completely parallel to the ground."

The proper stance for an alterative push up. Photo: POPSUGAR Photography The proper stance for an alternative push up. Photo: POPSUGAR Photography

Dumbbells

Now, what about that rack of weights staring at you from the other side of the gym? There are so many sizes and weights that navigating this section of the gym can seem impossible. However, these dumbbells are a useful tool in your arm workout.

"Light dumbbells between five and eight pounds can be effectively used to build up a smaller muscle, especially doing single arm work," Hughes said. "This can be especially effective for bis and tris. Single-arm seated dumbbell concentration curls are awesome to build up bis as well as old-school 7’s/21’s on a bench."

Single arm seated dumbbell concentration curls. Photo: Fitness Focused The proper form for single arm seated dumbbell concentration curls. Photo: Fitness Focused

Murphy also utilized dumbells in her workouts while preparing for Mrs. America.

"Lots of bicep curls with different positions such as neutral grip with a barbell, wide grip with the barbell, and narrow grips," Murphy said. "Then, also switching up the wrist rotation with dumbbells for hammer curls, usually doing five sets of 10-12 reps each, or until failure."

According to Murphy, dumbbells are also an effective way to tone your shoulders as well. "Shoulder movements are key for having capped arms and the overall muscle definition," she said. "Lots of push press and overhead presses with both dumbbells and barbells. Side lateral raises even with just 10 pounds will kick your butt." Murphy recommends performing this exercise at five sets of 20 reps each.

Proper technique for a side lateral raise. Photo: Enki The proper form for a side lateral raise. Photo: Enki

Weights are an effective way for building and toning muscle. However, according to Bertran, the key to achieving the best results is to vary your workout. "If the last time we worked out arms we used other equipment like kettlebells or TRX bands, for example, we may incorporate dumbbells into the next arm workout to keep our workouts varied," Bertran said. "Keeping our workouts varied is a priority because that is when we see results: when the body is constantly being shocked and not getting accustomed to the same movements and workouts."

Exercise bands

Exercise bands, also called resistance bands, are another tool that can be utilized in achieving an effective arm workout. The lightweight elastic band can be stashed nearly anywhere and travels easily. This allows for contestants to work on strength training both in the gym and at home. (Read: Home Gym Essentials for Pageant Girls)

However, if you have never used an exercise band, the process of finding the correct one, like dumbbells, can be a bit overwhelming.

"Exercise bands for arm workouts would be the 41-42-inch micro or mini loop bands that you can loop some soft handles onto after looping the end of the band around a low stall bar rung or unmovable base for equipment," Hughes said. According to Hughes, these types of bands are perfect for targeting the triceps and biceps, as they work the entire muscle. "Alternatively, you can step onto the band with both feet to give you an effective bi curl. For tris, loop the band onto a stall bar rung or pipe or rack pylon above your head then face in the opposite direction and pull the band forward with the handles holding them above your head."

The proper technique for using exercise bands in preforming bicep curls. Photo: Men's Fitness The proper technique for using exercise bands in performing bicep curls. Photo: Men's Fitness

Workouts without weights

While weights are one of the best ways to tone and strengthen your arms, there are also exercises not involving lifting heavy pieces of metal. Both workout your arms muscles in different ways and both are needed to achieve a balanced workout.

"In simple terms, weighted exercises build muscle whereas body weight exercises strengthen and possibly elongate," Hughes said. "Both are usually needed for effective training."

There are a large variety of workouts a contestant can do without weights, including pullups, dips and by utilizing BOSU. Also known as "Both Sides Up" or "Both Sides Utilized," this exercise requires a half dome, usually resembling half an exercise ball. Utilizing a tool like this, BOSU can help improve balance and flexibility. (Read: Get Pageant Ready Abs With This Bosu Ball Workout)

"Inverted pullups from the floor with your feet extended in front of you or elevated on a bench or BOSU where you grab a barbell or some straight rail elevated about hip height from the floor with an underhand grip is an effective bicep move," Hughes said. "For triceps, almost nothing beats side bench dips!"

Proper technique for a side bench press. Photo: Lady Fit The proper form for a side bench dip. Photo: Lady Fit

Bertran also utilizes arm workouts without weights in her training with Fernandez, including jump rope! This childhood sidewalk game is not only a great workout for your lower body but your upper body as well. The constant turning of the rope works your forearms, biceps, triceps and shoulders. Bonus, the workout help with balance and hand-eye coordination. (Read: 7 Daily Habits that Help You Burn More Fat)

Quick workout In an ideal world, you have as much time as you need to achieve the most effective workout possible. However, the world is not ideal. As a titleholder, you have appearances, competitions and your life outside of pageants. With so much to juggle, you may find yourself pressed for time during your workout. (Read: 15 Minute Full Body Fat Blast Workout – Daily Fit Tip)

Murphy, who juggles life as a titleholder, business owner and wife, understands this struggle and has to develop a favorite quick workout method called AMRAP (As Many Rounds As Possible). "Anything can be turned in to my favorite quick-style workout," Murphy said. "I will do an AMRAP for anywhere from 10-15 minutes, depending on how many movements I'm doing in the circuit. I set up a circuit of four to five exercises, do 10-15 reps per exercise and complete as many rounds of that circuit within the time frame as possible."

One of Murphy's go-to 15-minute AMRAP's for her upper body includes: 20 bench dips 15 dumbbell bicep curls 20 crunches 15 close-grip pushups 15 overhead dumbbell presses 30 Russian twists with a dumbbell Again, the objective of an AMRAP workout like Murphy's is to do as many reps as possible in the given amount of time. The result will be an effective workout that feels like you spent an hour on your arms.

"Believe me, if you are going as fast as you can to complete as many rounds of that workout in 15 minutes, you will feel the burn," Murphy said. "No rest in between movements!"

Mrs. Washington America 2017, Deidra Murphy, poses for a swimsuit photoshoot. Photo: Deidra Murphy Mrs. Washington America 2017, Deidra Murphy, poses for a swimsuit photoshoot. Photo: Deidra Murphy

Toning your arms may seem like a challenge, but with the right workout, you can achieve arms that will make the audience and judges envious. If you need help kick-starting your pageant workout routine, do not forget about Pageant Planet's Directory to help guide you to a personal trainer. What tips do you have for achieving toned arms? Comment below!

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