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Mind & Body

How to tone your arms, by Michelle Obama’s personal trainer

From the best at-home exercise techniques to how often you should be doing them, CORNELL McCLELLAN – personal trainer to Michelle Obama – explains how to get toned, beautifully sculpted arms.


Great arms are about making great lifestyle choices: working out and moving on a regular basis, making healthy, sensible eating decisions and choosing to prioritize a life of wellness. Michelle works extremely hard when I train her, and her fitness and health is down to her self-motivation.

If you do only one exercise, make sure it’s a push-up. Not only do they work your whole arms, they incorporate multiple other muscles, too. Push-ups can be done almost anywhere or any time – no cost or gym necessary. They will help to strengthen and define your arms, plus they particularly work the triceps (the backs of your arms), an area that often requires special attention. If you are not able to do a full push-up in a straight-arm front-plank position, it is just as effective from a knee-assisted stance.

I train Michelle for 30 to 60 minutes, four or five times a week. This is usually a mixture of both strength and cardio. The strength training helps to develop, shape and define the muscle, and cardio is key in helping to shed the body’s fat, so the muscle is more visible.

It takes commitment to get the best results. Along with increasing your movement (cardio), drink more water and clean up your diet by eliminating processed and sugar-filled foods.

Dumbbells are the best way to work your arms. You can use them to train both your biceps (fronts of the arms), triceps (the backs), forearms and shoulders, and by building shoulders, it helps the arms appear more defined. Choose a weight that will be challenging, but not to the point that it’s too difficult. You want to achieve 10–15 repetitions for 3–4 sets per exercise. If you feel like you could do this all day, the weight is too light. When you get to the 15th repetition, the 16th shouldn’t be possible.

Read more about Cornell McClellan’s workout programs


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