Feb 21, 2011 -- Sculpted shoulders and arms are must-have accessories for short sleeve and tank top season. Jessica Smith, the certified personal trainer who stars in the best-selling exercise DVDs "10 Pounds Down" and "10 Minute Solution " points to other reasons women should be working out their upper bodies. "Everyday tasks like picking up a baby are easier when your upper body is strong," Smith said. "You also help balance out the lower half of your physique and improve your posture."
Smith's philosophy in choosing effective upper body exercises is simple: "I avoid doing moves that isolate. You get better results and burn more calories by engaging several muscle groups at once and keeping the heart rate high." Here are her picks for best upper body moves for women.
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Why It Works: It effectively targets all of the muscles of the upper and middle back as well as the shoulder and arm muscles. And, because this version also incorporates a side lunge, Smith says you work your entire middle and lower body too.
How You Do It: Hold one end of a tube (or a band) in your right hand and stand with your feet on the center of the tube so your legs are wider than hip-width apart and there are a few feet of tube between them. Stretch your right arm down and across so it's in front of your left thigh, palm facing in; relax your left hand down at your side or place it on your hip. Now, keeping your left leg straight, step your right leg about a stride length to the right and bend your right knee as you pull the tube up and across until your hand reaches shoulder height. Stand back up to the start. Complete all repetitions to the right and then do an equal number to the left.
Why It Works: Smith says this is one of the best shoulder and upper back shapers around. Your core muscles work extra hard to keep the rest of the body still as you move your arms so it's also a great middle whittler.
How You Do It: Loop a tube around the instep of your right foot and grab an end in each hand. Step your left foot back a stride's length and bend your right knee a few inches. Hold your arms down in front of your right leg, palms facing in, so that the tube has slight tension in it. Keeping your elbows slightly bent raise both arms up, to the sides and overhead, pulling the band tight. Slowly lower to the start.
Why It Works: According to Smith this is one of the best overall body toners around but it's especially good at targeting the chest, shoulders, arms and core. Placing your feet in a wide position helps keep your body stable so it's easier to press yourself upward; even if you've never been able to do a full push up before you may be able to do this version.
How You Do It: Lie on your stomach with your legs out straight and spread a few inches wider than hip-width apart. Bend your elbows and place your palms on the floor a bit to the side and in front of your shoulders. Straighten your arms and lift your body so you're balanced on your palms and the underside of your toes. Keeping your back straight, bend your elbows and lower your entire body at once. Rather than trying to touch your chest to the floor, lower only until your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Push back up.
Why It Works: This one makes that "speed bag" back-of-the-arm sag disappear because it targets the triceps, shoulders and chest muscles. It's another upper body move that carries the bonus of being a fantastic core tightener.
How You Do It: Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet hip-width apart, flat on the floor. Place your palms on the floor on either side of your hips, fingertips pointing towards your toes or whichever direction you find most comfortable for your wrists. Lift your butt off the floor until it is level with your hips and your torso is parallel to the floor. Holding this "table top" position, bend your elbows to lower your butt towards the floor and then straighten them back up again.
Why It Works: It's the perfect move for toning up the front of the arms. By holding your body in a wide-legged position and your arms at your sides you really feel the work through the center and front of the arm.
How You Do It: To begin hold one end of a tube in each hand and stand with your feet on the center of the tube so your legs are wider than hip-width apart and there are a few feet of tube between them. With your palms facing up, hold your elbows out a few inches away from your body and bend your elbows until your forearms are parallel to the floor. Keeping your shoulders and upper arms in place, bend your elbows until your hands touch your shoulders. Lower to the start.