The inspo of Michelle Obama’s swole arms has stuck around long past the Obama presidency, and for good reason. A strong upper body is linked to longevity, and assists with essential functions as we age like maintaining balance. Not to mention that toned shoulders, biceps, and triceps look dang impressive on anyone.
Liz Hilliard, a 68-year-old trainer and the owner and creator of Hilliard Studio Method in Charlotte, North Carolina, focuses on arm strength for both herself and her clients. And she says that, personally, her arms are stronger today than they were in her 30s, since she added arm resistance training to her workout routine three times per week.
“We begin losing muscle mass beginning around the age of 30,” Hilliard says. “While traditional workouts such as cardio and stretching are important, nothing beats resistance training for keeping our bones strong and our body healthy.”
Upper body strength—and grip strength in particular—is a “biomarker” for overall health, and is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, chronic ailments, and many forms of cancer. To be clear, grip strength itself doesn’t protect you against these conditions, but if you have a strong grip strength, it indicates that your overall health is in good shape.
“Unsurprisingly, individuals with better strength tend to also have better balance, bone density, and overall physical functioning,” body performance and injury expert Rami Hashish, PhD, DPT, previously told Well+Good.
So whether you’re new to resistance training, or are simply looking to turn up the volume on your existing workout, adding upper body-focused moves is a great idea for your health in the long term and the short term. Here are Hilliard’s three favorite arm strength moves for seniors and people of any age.
1. Incline pushups
Place your hands slightly wider than chest-width on the edges of a stable surface like a countertop, bed, or sofa that won’t move.
Walk your legs back so you’re in a straight incline from head to heels. Glue your legs together, come to the balls of the feet, engage the core, and keep your neck long and gaze forward.
Bend the elbows, lowering your body until your chest is in line with your elbows. Return back up to straight arms by engaging the core, chest, and biceps.
2. Tricep dips
Sit on a stable chair or sofa, then place your hands on the edge of the seat and scoot your tailbone off, walking your feet away until your knees and hips make 90-degree angles.
Engage your core and keep shoulders relaxed as you bend your elbows to lower your body just below the seat.
Press back up to straight arms by engaging and squeezing through the triceps muscles on the backs of the arms.
3. Iron cross arm circles
Stand upright with toes turned slightly out and heels lifted two inches off the floor and touching each other. Bend the knees slightly to create a diamond shape with the legs, engaging the quads and core for balance.
With a three-pound weight in each hand, raise your arms out to the sides to shoulder height to form a T shape (or “Iron Cross”).
With knuckles to the sky and palms to the floor begin to circle the weights up and around in circles about the size of a softball.
Complete each move 10 times, and then move on to the next. Hilliard suggests you try completing three sets at a time and increase reps to 20 as you build strength.