BODY WATCH : Making Those Upper Arms Unflappable


The absolute last things you need in your life are your upper arms flapping in the breeze.

Unfortunately, muscles that hang low and flap wide on the back of the arms are a common and disliked accompaniment of age--particularly in women.

“As you get older, the skin loses some of the elasticity,” explains Laverne Tuckson, director of physical therapy in the sports medicine center at HUMED, an outpatient facility of Howard University. “In women that’s an area where you have a lot of adipose tissue [fat] that adds to the roundness of a woman’s shape.”

Heredity aside, the basic truth about body fat is no secret: If you want less of it, you either need to eat less and/or exercise more. Beyond that, when it comes to saggy upper arms, “If you tone the muscle, then that helps tremendously,” Tuckson says.


The muscle in question is the triceps, a group of three muscles in back of the humerus bone of the upper arm. “Basically, the triceps functions at two joints--the shoulder and the elbow,” Tuckson says. “It allows you to reach behind your back, like a relay racer passing the baton, and it allows you to extend your arm.”

A basic principle should be noted: “Before you can have distal mobility, you need proximal stability,” she says. In layman’s terms, you need first to strengthen the shoulder blade muscles to form a sturdy base for the arm. “If I don’t have strong scapula muscles, then the muscles in my elbow and wrist just can’t function to their maximum ability.”

For a simple shoulder blade muscle exercise, Tuckson recommends moving your shoulder blades in a north-south-east-west direction.

Move north by hunching your shoulder blades up toward your ears; south by pushing your shoulder blades down to your feet; east by pinching your shoulder blades together; west by rounding your shoulder blades.

Tuckson also suggests three triceps exercises, from simple to strenuous:

* Put your hand flat on your head and lift your head straight up.

* Extend your arm straight back. Hold the upper arm steady and flex the arm at the elbow. Put a one- or two-pound bag of rice in a sock for resistance.

* Do pushups in your chair. Put your hands on the arms of the chair and lift.