Last week I posted this photo and received a lot of WOW SCULPTED ARMS! compliments.
It was the FIRST TIME I’d been shopping since having baby Faith almost a year ago and so I really enjoyed getting some updated pieces including many sleeveless items (massive H&M sale!).
I was feeling good about the feedback, and so I hopped onto Periscope (@sisinshape) to go through the approach I personally followed this past year reshaping my arms after pregnancy. I also use this approach with my Sisters In Shape clients.
Here’s a recording of the Periscope event. It was so much fun to answer your questions live on my first every gym workout using Periscope!
Here are the key parts from the Periscope about sculpting your arms.
CASE 1: LOSE FAT + BUILD A LEAN MUSCLE BASE
You may need to lose fat while you start to build your lean muscle base as well as improve your strength. While you can do isolation exercises to create lean muscle in your arms, you cannot isolate fat loss. This means you need an overall nutrition and cardio plan that promotes fat loss so that you can actually see the pretty lean muscle your building underneath.
1. I like to start newbie clients that need to shed some fat on a circuit style arm exercise workout. It forces the newbie to choose a lighter weight so they can complete the entire circuit. This keeps them safe while they increase their strength as well as become more comfortable with using weights. The circuit style workout keeps the pace up so it also increases the calorie burn. A circuit is putting at least 5-6 exercises together consecutively without taking a rest until you’ve completed all 5-6 exercises.
2. Next I introduced the concept of supersets where you perform 2-3 exercises consecutively before you take a rest. Because you’re “only” doing 2-3 exercises in a row instead of the 5-6+ you did in a circuit, you can choose a slightly heavier weight to lift. This starts to increase your strength. The pace is still up because you are doing a couple back-to-back moves which again increases the calorie burn of the workout.
3. The next stage is usually 12-16 weeks where we do an arm exercise for 8-15 reps then take a short rest (60 seconds) then repeat that same exercise for 3-4 sets (taking a rest in between each set). Again, by reducing the number of repetitions you’re doing before taking a rest you can choose an even heavier weight to lift. Your strength really builds and you lay a nice lean muscle base.
These progressive phases take around 6-8 months and the results at the end of these phases has my clients sending me selfies like this ☺
CASE 2: ADVANCED TECHNIQUES
Once you have your strength at a solid level, and you’ve shed most of the fat to reveal your shapely lean muscle, it’s time to CHANGE IT UP! This is where I find people get stuck with their progression because they’re unsure on what else to do other than the same 3 sets of 8-12 reps. Talk about BORING! As well, you tend to plateau because you’re not able to keep “lifting heavier” because your arms, especially shoulders, can’t lift any heavier while maintaining good form.
So what do you do to progress?
This is an area I feel isn’t well known for female fitness and lifting. Perhaps it’s because mainstream weight lifting with women is relatively new and the first step was to get women into the weight room and encouraged to lift weights heavier than 2lbs.
So what I see most often is the mantra of “LIFT HEAVY!” repeated throughout the fitness kingdom as if it’s the be-all-and-end-all for progressing. However, what happens when you simply can’t lift heavier (especially on your shoulders) while maintaining good form (especially in your core) OR you’ve set a good base of muscle and don’t want to look like a powerlifter or elite crossfitter whose muscle is more dense than I personally like my shape to look?*
Too often women get stuck on doing the same type of approach to lifting over & over, and as a result of not really changing anything in their workouts, NOTHING CHANGES! Frustrating right?
This is where volume and the concept of time under tension comes into play and can be what you may need to continue to shape gorgeous shapely arms. I like to use this volume technique only AFTER the progression phases I described above because you need a base of lean muscle AND a good level of strength to be able to get through all of the reps without using a 2lb dumbbell!
The Volume Technique: Perform an exercise for 30-40 reps (or more) for 3-4 sets. I like to do something like 15 reps/ rest for 2-3 breaths / 15 reps / rest for 2-3 breaths / 10 reps. I use the same weight, or a bit lighter or a bit heavier, whatever is the max weight I can do to complete ALL of the reps.
Or do 35 reps in a row! Or do 20 reps/15 reps/10 reps. Or you can even do a superset using this technique to do 80 reps without taking a rest. Wowzas! The possibilities are endless but the preface to success with this technique is to have the STRENGTH built up to be able to actually do all these reps with weights that are actually challenging.
Why does this work? The typical 8-12 reps takes a person 25-30 seconds. A higher volume approach like I just describe will take you at least 3x as long! This means that your muscle is under tension that much longer. Lean muscle develops when it is worked with longer time under tension (as long as the weight you’re choosing is very challenging in that last 10 reps).
A cool tip I didn’t mention in the video is to use resistance bands to add the volume after you do your traditional 8-12 reps as an intermediate step as you build up your strength. For example, do 8-12 overhead presses then immediately do band overhead presses for 30 seconds, then take a 60 second rest. Burn!
What would you like my next gym Periscope to be about? Leave that in the comments below!
Thanks for reading Sisters! xo
*This comment does not mean lifting heavy makes you look big, manly or whatever ignorant statements are too often said about women lifting weights. All female bodies are beautiful and the many different beautiful shapes is what I love about fitness. It's ok to prefer a certain shape but it's not cool to be nasty or comment publicly on photos of people whose shapes aren't your personal preference saying you prefer a different shape. Know what you like, figure out how to achieve it if you want to, and respect everyone else along the way.