Who doesn’t want lean, long arms and sexy shoulders?
Well, blokes I guess, but lets leave them to their bulging biceps and focus on ourselves.
I’ve never met a woman who doesn’t want her arms to look anything but long, lean and lithe. I’ve had the benefit of working with some of the worlds most beautiful model bodies who set the standard for long lean arms. And they work on keeping them that way. Obviously a reasonable goal when being photographed endlessly and subjected to great scrutiny. These beauties and many more have over the years offered me the challenge of finding ways that we can achieve more of the same – make the long and lean even longer and leaner.
Working with a variety of dancers and performers, athletes, models, and all our everyday body types in between has given me some good insights into how we can condition our arms without bulking them, and how the Pilates method is intriguingly perfect for achieving this.
It’s not just the repertoire but the concepts behind the Pilates method that play a major part in how Pilates differs to other modalities and why it is successful in developing longer leaner muscles.
One of the primary concepts is that of working from the ‘centre’ or ‘core’ of the body, so that movement is anchored in the depths of the torso and given a foundation for the limbs to move freely from. The secondary concept within this core control work is that the joints of the limbs become ‘dissasociated’ – which just means that the bones of the limbs are able to move freely within the joint and not be restricted or loaded up.
This sounds simple, but it can take some time to truly find disassociation in the hip and shoulder joints, both of which are necessary for efficient movement, and necessary for effecting balanced muscular patterning and loading.
So specifically looking at unloading and conditioning the muscles of the arms, Pilates will train the body to find it’s core or anchor power from the torso, disassociate in the shoulder joint, and allow the muscles of the arms to be effectively conditioned in isolation or integrated patterning, depending on how your Pilates instructor sees the need to tailor the work for your body.
I then tend to focus on finding the stability of the arms from the connections to the posterior shoulder, condition the deltoids, increase the focus on eccentric (lengthening) contraction of the triceps and wrapping or spiraling integrated movements of the entire arm. The work needs to involve energy and activation of all muscles – small and large, from shoulder to fingertips. It is sometimes surprising to see how much the small muscles of the hand play back into the arm and shoulder, although given the exquisite complexity of human body tissue and structural connections, we shouldn’t be surprised.
My first suggestion for effectively conditioning your arms is to find a Pilates teacher who can help you find balanced structural hold around the shoulder joint, strength from the centre and disassociation in the shoulder joints, and from there you have a myriad of Pilates arm work repertoire options to use.
There is no one perfect weight or resistance for arms – it will depend on your body type, tissue type, training goals and dedication. But to get you started, here is a great arm exercise that you can do every day without worrying about bulking up. Just remember to exhale as you pull on the band, and with each exhale draw your abdominals deep toward the spine and find your strength from the centre.
Band Side Arm Pulls
- Tie an exercise band or spring resisted strap (shown) to a secure, stable upright structure, making sure it is just an inch or two higher than your shoulder. Stand tall, feet hip width apart, abdominals drawn in and shoulder wide. Hold the band in your fist, at your sternum, palm facing in toward you.
- Exhale to open your elbow out to the side in line with your shoulder and continue to extend your forearm and then fist out into one long line.
- Inhale to return to the start.
- Each time you extend the arm out, aim to “wrap” the arm under.
Try these out and let me know your results below.