Beautiful Back & Strong Arms

Strong arms give us the strength to lift, pull, throw, push and climb. Plus various celebrities have shown us that muscle is the new sexy! Now that the weather is warmer, you may be ready to focus on your upper body conditioning.

Try the following four exercises, three times per week on alternating days for the next four weeks and you’ll be impressed with the changes to your muscle conditioning.

Chin Ups

The chin-up is one of the best upper body exercises and compound movements. The problem is most people can’t perform a full chin-up without assistance.

Fortunately, most gyms offer a Gravitron or other Assisted Chin-up machines enabling most people to incorporate chin-ups into their workout routine because the machines offer assistance. The model at your gym may be either a stand-up or kneel model and it may either be computerized or involve only a weight stack. The instructions on the front of the machine will clearly demonstrate how to complete the set-up process.

You will also notice that the chin-up exercise allows you to choose between 3-4 different grips – a wide grip, a mid-grip, a narrow grip and a reverse mid-grip. We recommend to our clients that they use all the various grips to challenge their muscles with a slightly different stimulus with each set. Once you have decided upon the grip, technique is pretty simple.

As you pull with your arms, your body will lift upwards.

Stop once your chin has cleared the bar.

Slowly return to the starting position.

Attempt to achieve full range of motion without locking out your elbows.

Try to focus on pulling with the muscles in your back rather than your arms.

Perform a set of 8-12 reps.

To perform this exercise at home, you can purchase a chin-up bar at most department stores or fitness equipment retailers for a very low cost (or head to your local park and use the monkey bars).

Since a regular chin-up bar doesn’t offer the assistance most people need, you can either use a small bench or just use your legs to jump up to the bar and then control the release on the way down. If your strength isn’t up to the point of lifting or lowering your body weight at all, then you can just keep your feet on the bench/ground and lift and lower as much of your body weight as you can handle.

With time and consistency, you will be able to lift and lower more of your weight soon.

Push Ups

Lie on your stomach.

Position your hands on the floor a few inches beside your shoulder.

Make sure that your elbows are directly over top or to the inside of your wrists.

Keep your abdominals contracted and your back in its neutral position.

Slowly push up and slowly lower down to the starting position.

Relax for a few seconds.

Perform 8-15 repetitions. (Placing your hands on an incline like a bench, step or wall, will provide a more gentle entry level option also).

Advanced – Perform the same exercise as above but now from your toes.

Reverse Flies

Lie on your stomach over a bench or step, grab a light set of handweights (or soup cans).

Position both arms straight to the side beside shoulders.

Use your back muscles to slightly extend your spine so you are not collapsed and flexed over the step.

Arms are perpendicular to your body with elbows just slightly bent.

Slowly lift both arms upwards while pulling shoulder blades together.

Keep your neck in a neutral position, abdominals contracted and back stable.

Perform 8-20 reps.

Chest Press

Lie on your back on a step/bench holding free weights (soup cans) with legs suspended in the air and knees bent at 90 degrees.

Start with arms positioned straight up over your shoulders.

Slowly lower the weights to the side until your elbows are bent at the side at shoulder height and hands positioned over elbows.

Slowly press the hand-weights back upwards.

Contract chest muscles as you press up and in.

Perform 8-12 reps with enough resistance that fatigues you.

Yours in health & fitness,
Sherri McMillan

Sherri McMillan

Sherri McMillan

Sherri McMillan, holds a master's degree in exercise physiology and has been inspiring the world to adopt a fitness lifestyle for more than 33 years. She has received numerous industry awards including 2010 CanFitPro International Presenter of the Year, 2006 IDEA Fitness Director of the Year, 1998 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, 1998 CanFitPro Fitness Presenter of the Year and 2005/2006 ACE Fitness Educator of the Year - Runner up. She is a fitness trainer, fitness columnist for various magazines and newspapers, author of five books and manuals including "Go For Fit - the Winning Way to Fat Loss" and "Fit over Forty" and the featured presenter in various fitness DVDs. She has presented hundreds of workshops to thousands of fitness leaders throughout Canada, Australia, Mexico, Jamaica, New Zealand, Germany, England, Spain, South America, Asia and the U.S. She is the owner of Northwest Personal Training in downtown Vancouver, the founder of WHY Racing Events & WHY Community, participates in various community fundraisers and can be found running, biking, or hiking around the community. Find more information at

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