I've always been kind of self-conscious about my bulky arms. When I was a kid, the only swim team event I ever won was the butterfly crawl, because it took zero coordination and 100% Hulk-shoulders. In college, one of my roommates introduced me to a friend by making me flex for the new guy; he'd frequently hide behind couches if I got mad at him, wailing about how I was going to punch him with my "Trogdor arm."
I refused to wear tank tops from the age of 8 to 15 or so -- even now, I'll sometimes look at pictures of myself in sleeveless dresses and sigh a little at how my upper arm looks as large as my face. Though I know it's just a product of societal brainwashing, there's a tiny part of me that thinks my strong-looking arms make me somehow undesirable.
(This is extra ironic because little gets me hotter faster than big arms on other people of any gender. I don't understand my hindbrain sometimes.)
For a while, I half-hoped that if I just didn't do anything with them, they'd shrivel into lithe, slender limbs, but no dice. I haven't done more than 20 push-ups or so in the last year and a half, and I still am packing a bicep roughly the size of an orange.
Plus, it's genetic; over Thanksgiving, I looked at old photos of my grandmother and realized that the whole "Zoot Suit Riot" body runs in the family. I'm pretty sure that I could do nothing but lie in bed and look at picture of Michelle Obama's bangs all day and my arms would soldier on, sucking all the nutrients out of the rest of my atrophying body until I lay there like a two-dimensional lady-Popeye.
So after seeing a hot-ass female bodybuilder in that Mac cosmetics ad a few weeks ago, I've been inspired to stop fighting the inevitable. Instead of bemoaning my thick forearms and deltoids, I'm going to start working out my arms so I can actually have a chance at winning the annual wrestle-fight that my similarly endowed brother and I get into every Christmas.
I asked a friend of mine who's a certified personal trainer for some basic moves one could do with a five-pound dumbbell to make their arms intimidating. Because she's a wonderful, competent person, she obliged happily with many scientific names for musculature and the logic behind each lift.
Because I am a terrible, easily amused person, I renamed all of her carefully curated moves into things I would actually remember and stick with beyond my perennial GETTIN' STRONG/GETTIN' BORED fitness cycle. Videos of all of these are available on YouTube, but I took photos of a few of them in case you're feeling lazy.
As you have probably gleaned, I am not a licensed personal trainer, so please do not take my word as law on these things -- this is just what I've started incorporating into my nightly veg-in-front-of-Hulu routine.
"Aww, Yiss" -- Standing straight, hold dumbbell face-up with arm extended toward floor. Bend elbow to bring dumbbell toward shoulder and lower back down. OPTIONAL: Hiss "yissss," as you bring dumbbell to shoulder, as if you are congratulating yourself on a minor but still significant accomplishment. (Bicep curl)
Hammer of Thor -- Same as above with fist facing inward. Decorate dumbbell like Mjolnir if it helps with the illusion. (Hammer curl)
Begone, Demon -- Bend slightly at the waist, arms bent at the elbows, and thrust dumbbell back until arm is extended at a 45-degree angle. (Kickbacks)
Da Dip -- Balance on a low, hard surface, like a bench, and use triceps to lower your body up and down. You should know that this is the worst thing ever and you should only do it if you accidentally stepped on your dog and want to give penance. I hate it. Not even singing the Freak Nasty song helps. But it's good for you, I guess. (Tricep Dip)
Sphynx -- Like push-ups, but keep your elbows tight to your body. Helps if you do them on your knees, which my gym teacher in middle school douchily called "girl push-ups" but which I will call "necessary modifications." (Tricep pushes)
SKULLCRUSHERS -- Actually what they're called, apparently! Lie on a flat surface, arms extended above you holding one dumbbell. Slowly bend elbows to lower dumbbell behind your head, shouting, "CRUSH IT!" as you return to starting position. Try to avoid actually crushing your skull.
If you're me, this is probably a good time to hit the "next" button on the episodes of "Happy Endings" you're burning through. But I am slow and take many breaks.
Also, are you remembering to breathe? I frequently forget to inhale and then start toppling over at the end of sets, so it helps to make a giant noise (at first) every time you do the "exertion" part of the move. My roommates are used to me, so I like to roar a little just to let them know what I'm up to. There's also the weird grunting thing that the dudes at my college gym used to love, but I have watched too much "Jersey Shore" to manage to do that without dissolving into laughter.
"Come At Me, Bro" -- Sit, slightly bent over with elbows bent at a ninety-degree angle. Move arms backward until shoulder blades pinch together, as if you are challenging the floor to a fistfight. (Rear deltoid raise)
Raise The Roof -- Start with dumbbells straight overhead and slowly lower arms until elbows are bent at a ninety-degree angle and even with ears. Raise back to start. (Anterior deltoid press)
Superman -- Hold dumbbell in each hand, palms facing in, and bring arms up and out like you're soaring above Metropolis. If you find yourself scrunching your head into your body like an angry turtle, try bending your elbows until it gets easier. (Deltoid raise)
The Zombie -- Hang hands straight down, dumbbells facing thighs. With arms straight, bring dumbbells up to be even with shoulders. You know, like a zombie. You get the picture. (Anterior deltoid raise)
My friend the trainer suggests starting with three sets of 12-15 reps and then telling everyone how fit you are. If you're finding those too hard or you're listing all the way over to one side to lift the weight, consider a lighter dumbbell (or perhaps an earlier Harry Potter book) until you're more ready.
Oh, and I almost forgot the final move: the turn-and-kiss. Who wants tickets to the gun show?
Got any more arm-buffing tips? Leave 'em in the comments!
Kate is flexing her mind-muscle at @katchatters.