Building a Strength Routine: Arms

CB021012I love to run. I will happily dedicate hours of any given day to running but you ask me to carve out time for strength training and I am likely to all of a sudden “run out of time.” I enjoy the feeling of getting stronger, of stretching out newly used muscles, and the overall satisfaction of working new muscles. However, in years of exercising I have never stuck with any consistent strength routine. I get bored. I forget the exercises. I slack off on repititions. I don’t do enough sets.

I am not opposed to strength training and it’s not like the actual exercises are so hard I can’t do them, it’s that building and then sticking to a routine is extremely challenging. In my new quest to confront the things I’ve been avoiding, I am going to be customizing some strength routines for myself based on exercises I’ve done over the years, read about, and watched others do at the gym. I have chosen to put together routines to tone and strengthen my arms, back, legs, and of course abs. Ab and core exercises are actually the only thing I do consistently and enjoy almost as much as running.

While I am still marathon recovering I figure this is the perfect time to introduce new routines to my schedule. I am only putting in about 30 minutes of cardio each day which leaves plenty of time for weights. I hope by the time my IT band is back to normal I will love weight training so much that it will fit naturally into a higher intensity running schedule.

I am very open to adjusting these strength routines and welcome examples of your favorite exercises and routines. My current plan is to do 4-5 days of at least 30 minutes of cardio each week (currently on the stationary bike) and 3 days of strength/weight training, working a different core muscle group each day. To put together the routines I opened my “exercise” manila folder and am almost embarrassed by how many years of ripped out pages of SELF and now Runner’s World magazines I have been saving, but they have finally come in handy. Here I’ll share as many of the arm exercises as I can illustrate and will do some follow-up posts to show you the other routines I’m putting together. The following exercises and photos have all been taken from various years of the SELF Challenge and I do 3 sets with 10 reps each set:

Curl to Punch

Works biceps, shoulders

Stand with feet hip-width apart, a dumbbell in each hand at sides (I’m using 8lb. weights), palms forward. Curl weights to shoulders, slowly extend arms forward at chest level, turning palms down. Take four counts to lower arms to start position.

low_blowLow Blow

Works arms, shoulders, back, butt, legs

Stand with feet hip-width apart, a dumbbell in each hand, arms down. Keeping left foot planted, bend left knee and step back, bending forward at hips. Hold position, back leg straight, as you punch down with alternating arms. Switch legs and repeat (so technically I did 20 reps).

Heel Drag (modified)


Works arms, shoulders, legs

Stand with knees bent, heels together, toes out, a dumbbell in each hand. Bring arms out to sides, elbows bent, hands even with ears, palms forward (as shown). With right leg planted, drag left heel out into a semisquat as you rotate arms down with elbows in place until knuckles face ground. Drag left leg back in, returning to start. Repeat on opposite side for one rep. *I modified this exercise because I found the actual heel drag to be awkward. Instead, I skip the heel drag part and simply do squats in the toes out position to work the inner thighs.

Biceps Lunge

Works biceps, legs, butt

Stand holding weights at sides with palms in, feet hip-width apart. Lunge backward with right leg and hold position; curl weights to shoulders, keeping elbows at sides. Lower arms and return to start. Switch legs for one rep.

Bicycle Triceps Extension

Works triceps, abs

Lie on back holding weights, left leg bent with knee over hip, right leg straight and lifted off the floor. Extend right arm up, palm facing left, bend arm so elbow points up and weight is at ear. Switch arms and legs simultaneously. It’s basically doing the bicycle ab routine but your back is on the floor, abs pulled in and you have a different movement for the arms.

Reverse Push-up

Works triceps, abs

Lie on back with legs at 90 degrees. Holding weights, extend arms straight up, palms facing feet. Bend elbows, palms turned in and lower weights to chest. Extend arms and pulse knees in as you extend.


Works triceps, shoulders, back, butt

Lie facedown, holding weights at sides with palms facing floor (for this one I use 5lb. weights). Exhale and lift head, arms, and legs off the floor. Squeeze shoulder blades together. I like to do this exercise by raising head, arms, and legs and pulsing my arms (squeezing shoulder blades) 5 times lowering and repeating to get the 10 reps.

If I can stick to these exercises, or at least some variation of them, I imagine I’ll see results and when I point which way the beach is, it will be a nice, toned arm directing the way!

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