In this week's workout, we're focusing on building strength in the upper body — specifically, the arms.
Strength training, studies have shown, helps reverse the loss of muscle function associated with advanced age and also improves muscle mass. The American Heart Association recommends strength training at least twice per week in addition to balance exercises (like our five-minute balance workout), flexibility training (like our five-minute yoga routine) and endurance exercise (check out our five-minute workout to crush burnout).
There are resistance bands, TRX contraptions, cable machines and even inexpensive portable home gyms that can give you an arm workout. But what if you're just starting off, or you're looking to purchase just one piece of workout equipment? As a personal trainer for almost 15 years, I can tell you the most fundamental piece of equipment is a set of dumbbells.
For women, I advise starting with 5-pound weights and increasing from there if you feel the 5-pound weights are too light. Men generally have more natural upper-body strength than women, so I recommend starting with 10-pound weights for guys and increasing from there.
Dumbbells can be used for the most basic yet highly effective exercises. What's more, you can easily store (or hide!) weights under the couch, in a closet or tucked away in a corner.
This workout requires two dumbbells and targets the muscles of the upper arms, shoulders and upper back. Be mindful to maintain proper form as you learn each move so you can get the most out of the routine. Let's get to it!
Building the biceps improves upper body strength and the ability to carry and hold on to heavier objects, like boxes, groceries, laundry baskets and full trash bags.
Stand with the feet as wide as the hips and softly bend the knees. Hold the dumbbells down by your thighs, and then slowly curl the right dumbbell up toward your right shoulder (see above).
Lower it down, and repeat on the left side.
Repeat this 10 times for each side, or you can do both arms at once.
In order to have a well-rounded arm, appearance-wise, working the opposing muscles to the biceps is key. That's where the triceps in the back of the arms come into play.
Standing with your feet as wide as your hips, hinge forward at your waist and pull your naval in toward your spine. Hug the elbows in and bend the elbows at your sides.
Then straighten your right arm back as if trying to hit the back of the room with the dumbbell in the right hand.
Bring the weight back to center.
Repeat this 10 times and then switch sides.
Alternatively, you can perform both sides at the same time. Be sure to keep the elbows hugging in toward the sides and the shoulders relaxed.
The muscles in the shoulder and the biceps are working in this exercise to lift the weights in front of your body. Strengthening the shoulders gives a sleek and toned look to the upper body and the arms.
Standing with the feet as wide as the hips, hold the dumbbells in your hands with the palms facing toward one another at your thighs. Softly bend your knees and raise the arms up as high as the shoulders, then lower down.
Repeat this 10 times.
Toning the shoulders, improving their mobility and improving upper body strength are all benefits of performing overhead presses.
Stand with the feet as wide as the hips and bring elbows out to the side and lift up the dumbbells to form a goal post position, with each arm bent at a 90-degree angle. Hold the weights so that the palms are facing each other. Press the right arm up overhead, then lower it down.
Repeat this 10 times, then repeat with the left arm.
Alternatively, you can do both arms at once.
Strengthening the upper back and stabilizing the shoulder bones, or scapulae, help improve posture, which is exactly what this exercise accomplishes.
Keep this exercise moving without pausing between repetitions.
Start in the same position as the tricep extension exercise. With both arms dangling down, pull the right arm up so that the right elbow grazes the side of the right waist and the upper right back engages.
Release the right arm down, and then repeat with the left arm.
Repeat this 10 times.
Incorporate this five-minute arm workout in your weekly routine every other day to allow the arms time to rest and repair.
For more of a challenge, you can increase the weight of the dumbbells or increase the repetitions. Remember, proper form for each exercise is key, so if you make this workout more challenging, just be sure to stay in alignment.
Stephanie Mansour, host of "Step It Up With Steph" on PBS, is a health and wellness journalist and a consultant and weight loss coach for women.