In fact, you don't even need to have a gym membership to tone your arms. We talked to four women who self-sculpted the arms that define fitspiration, and we got them to tell us exactly how they did it.
"For years, I did low-weight, high-rep weightlifting," says Amber Brueseke. "While that gave me a solid foundation of strength, it definitely didn't allow me to grow a ton of muscle." It wasn't until she switched up her routine and began lower-rep, higher-weight compound weightlifting that she began to see her body change. Now, her workouts consist of four days of heavy weightlifting, including exercises like bench presses, weighted dips, weighted chin-ups, and overhead press. Additionally, she teaches two BODYCOMBAT classes a week, which has been great for gaining muscle definition.
"I also noticed significant muscle development once I started paying more attention to my nutrition," she says. "I count macros and focus on making sure my body is getting the right ratio of protein, fat, and carbs, and that has made a world of difference in growing my arms." She stresses that women don't need to be afraid of gaining weight when fueling their workouts because food is fuel for your muscles.
A self-proclaimed former cardio junky, Casey Almeido says that her old routine of frequent cardio exercises with minimal weight training left her feeling weak. About four years ago, she refocused her workouts on strength training. "Currently, I workout five to six days a week, training my arms about three days a week," she says. On days she works out her arms, Casey tends to superset her workouts, meaning she'll perform one set of an exercise directly after a set of a different exercise—without rest in between. Most of these exercises use some combination of free weights and cables and emphasize compound movements that work multiple muscles and joints simultaneously. "Some of my favorite upper-body compound movements are shoulder presses, bench presses and pullups," she says. "Along with these compound movements, I will make sure to include arm-isolation exercises that target a single muscle or joint during my workouts." For example, after doing a mixture of back workouts (pullups, rows), she adds in isolating exercises (bicep curls, tricep dips).
"I have noticed significant progress in the definition of my arms when I continually vary up certain isolating arm exercises, such as performing bicep curls using the cable one day and an easy curl bar another day," says Casey. For her, this helps prevent workout boredom and keeps her muscles guessing. She also emphasizes that proper form and quality over quantity of workouts have been essential in helping her meet her goals.
Her biggest tip: Don't be afraid to lift heavy.
"I used to work everything but my arms," says Chelsea Wagner. "I was afraid of getting too bulky or bigger on top...and looking disproportional." Instead, she stuck to running with the occasional abs workout. After beginning a workout plan that emphasised bodyweight exercises, she began seeing a bit more definition in her arms, but "nothing crazy," she says.
She then began to slowly incorporate small weights into her routine. Once she noticed her shoulders, back, and arms filling out, she began to use more machines and heavy weights to continue to grow and shape her upper body. She's now in the gym five to six days a week and switched from plyometric exercises to slow and heavy sets. Her go-to arm workout includes a combination of row variations, shoulder presses and single arm raises, bicep curls with free weights and cables, weighted pull-downs, bent-over lateral raises, deadlifts, pushups, and tricep dips.
Chelsea says she's always kept a "lean and green" diet but went on a flex ketogenic diet to burn fat and increase her performance in the gym. "This allowed my body to build more lean muscle and add some weight and more shape to my already-thin figure, which was exactly the goal," she says.
After years of not making the healthiest choices, Darcy Stennes decided to pour her emotional energy into becoming healthier and fitter, which led her to start Kayla Itsines' BBG program. "I became pretty instantly hooked and started seeing results relatively early on," she says. "Aside from increased stamina, my arms were one of the first areas that I began to see results."
After a couple rounds of BBG, Darcy started attending heated barre classes twice a week at Belle + Barre. The classes focus on strength training, and they helped her see how effective lifting lower weights for more reps can be. "I started to get really excited about weight training and am officially no longer scared of the gym," she says. "I will now generally include two arm days at the gym per week. ... I think it's super-important to realize you can't just focus on building your biceps; you have to really consider all the muscles that work alongside your biceps—shoulders, chest, triceps, back, and of course, biceps."
Darcy could barely do three pushups when she started. "Now, I can do 30 to 40 in my sleep," she says. Other favourite exercises include burpees, cable rows, tricep kick backs, tricep dips, and "good ol' bicep curls with a barbell or dumbbells." Like many of us, she gets bored easily at the gym, so Darcy frequents Pinterest, Youtube, and Instagram for new workout ideas. "The key for me is to pick about six to seven exercises for the muscle group I'm targeting and do three sets of typically 10 to 15 reps," she says.
As for food, she's far too busy for the crazy macro, calorie counting, food weighing trends. "I think they are great and have seen amazing results for friends, but I just try to stick to intuitive eating for the most part," says Darcy. "When the ingredients you are putting in your body are whole foods, I find you think more clearly and tend to just respond better to all forms of exercise."
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US.