Two months ago, I wrote about how you can build strength in as little as 15 minutes a day. That piece covered the legs. Of course, you can’t just work the lower half of the body, so let’s talk about the top half now, and next month we’ll cover core strength. The goal is to do each area on two non-consecutive days, to allow for recovery.
Upper-body strength requires a balance between right and left as well as front and back. In simple terms, you want to include both pushing and pulling movements. That is, after all, what your arms do in real life.
To get stronger, you need to reach muscle fatigue, meaning the last few reps are difficult but manageable. When in doubt, start with lighter weights and perfect your form before going heavier. Rotate through this list, doing each movement 8 to 15 times, starting with one set. As you progress, add a 60-second rest and repeat. When that gets easier, add a third set, or increase the weight and drop the reps.
Start with a pair of hand weights that are between five and eight pounds each. Go to the lower end of the range if you’ve had a recent injury or have not done strength training in a long time.
Bicep curl: Stand tall with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the weights with arms at your sides and palms facing forward. Slowly bend the elbows, pause, then lower.
Tricep dip: Sit on the edge of a chair with the heels of your hands resting on the seat. Scoot your butt off the edge of the chair while maintaining a straight spine. Bend your elbows to lower your body, then extend to raise yourself back up. Don’t bend the elbows more than 90 degrees.
Bent row with dumbbell: Stand with right foot forward, then lunge forward so that right knee is bent and left is extended. Place your right hand on right thigh and lean forward, being careful not to round your spine and shoulders. Hold one of the weights in your left hand and allow the arm to hang toward the ground. Bend the elbow as you pull the weight toward your chest. Pause at the top and draw your left shoulder blade toward your spine. Slowly lower. Repeat the same number of reps on the other side.
Push-ups on the wall: Stand facing the wall with your toes 12 to18 inches away from it. Place your hands wider than your shoulders, with fingertips at the height of the top of your shoulders. Hold your body rigid, in a straight line, as you bend the elbows, lowering toward the wall, then push it away. Too easy? Move down to a table or the floor.
This is a simple program that can be done at home. As you progress, you can switch to more challenging or complex exercises to keep things interesting. Pretty soon, you will notice a change in strength as your body adapts to the movements. Visible change in muscle size and definition will take about six to eight weeks. In other words, if you start now, you’ll be ready when it warms up enough to wear a sleeveless shirt.