Marta Montenegro: Arm Yourself for Summer

Why do usual bicep curls when you instead can do a combo lunge and curl? Multi-joint exercises—those that work more than one joint-muscle at a time—are in fashion. Certainly, this type of exercise forces you to engage more muscles while creating a better functional-athletic move.

An isolated arm exercise may not be so useful when your goal is to improve in sports or to run your daily errands in a breeze. But if you desire strong and ripped arms, a well-rounded arms exercise program is needed. This means some isolated exercises have to be included.

Arms Versus Legs

Muscle adaptations are specific. This means that if you want to make your arms to look toned or strong, you have to recruit the motor units within the muscles with the appropriate exercise type, intensity, and overall volume. In other words, don’t expect to have summer show-off arms by doing a lunge to bicep curl move. The stress on the bicep muscle won’t be enough to produce the expected results.

Yet for some, devoting time to work the arms separately, while also looking to lose overall fat and strength, can be daunting. However, exercising the upper body at submaximal load—power output or oxygen consumption—can create an equal or greater metabolic demand and physiological strain than exercising the legs.

More On This...

Intensity Matters

For shapely and strong arms, you need to pump up the intensity. Your small arm muscles can be quite big, depending on how you work them out. A study in The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research showed that the metabolic responses between arm and leg exercise are affected by the relative exercise intensity and not exercising muscle mass. In other words, to agnate the metabolism is not how much muscle you involve, rather than how intense you work it.

Arm Yourself: An Overall Body Workout

You may exercise three times a week, so how can you maximize the time at the gym to add a full arms workout? Remember, it’s all about the intensity and overall volume to light up your metabolism and produce the proper hormonal response to support strong and lean arms.

The number of exercises, sets, and reps must be carefully selected to properly tax the muscles. Likewise, how you perform the exercises matters. Arms exercises are perfect to workout in super-sets—alternating multiple sets of high intensity exercises that tackle opposed muscles back-to-back and with minimal recovery at the end.

In a recent study, subjects who performed exercises in super-sets compared to traditional resistance training, showed greater energy expenditure during and after finalized the exercise session.

Here’s a superset workout to help build summer arms. When doing this routine, follow these tips:

- Perform a light warm-up and stretch at the end of the workout

- Perform 2-4 super sets of 8-10 reps if the goal is to increase body mass, and 12-15 reps if the goal is to get tone

- After each super set, perform the abdominal exercise, 8-10 reps. Vary this abdominal exercise by doing crunches and side crunches

- Always make sure to keep your back straight, chest up, abdominal tights

- Perform this routine twice a week on alternating days

- For this routine, you’ll need dumbbells, barbells, and tubing or a cable pulley at the gym.

Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning coach and master trainer, who teaches as an adjunct professor at Florida International University. Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website,, combines fitness, nutrition and health tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.

Follow us on
Like us at