Toned arms

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
May 17, 2000

Sleeveless outfits are a cool choice for women battling warm weather.

But whether it’s a flattering fashion right for all women to bare arms is another story.

“There are various degrees of sleeve lengths that look nice on different types of women,” says Tricia Tunstall, co-owner of Wicker Park’s trendy boutique p.45. “If you’ve got lean, toned arms, you obviously can pretty much wear anything. It gets trickier when the arms are a little flabbier. But women have all sorts of options that can still be flattering without being too revealing.”

For instance, opting for lengths that hit just above the elbow are a fashionable alternative for women who don’t want to bare all. And while you wouldn’t think that a halter or tank top would work if your triceps aren’t comparable to, say, Madonna’s, think again.

“Halters are awesome on a lot of body types if you don’t have very broad shoulders,” Tunstall says. “They complement your upper body even if you’re not super skinny. Same thing with tanks. But what you really need is a simple cut with straps that are drawn in a little more towards the neck so that you don’t create a square shape around the neckline.”

But if you’ve got your heart set on slipping into that strappy dress for the Fourth of July, it’s not too late to tone up those arms. Just don’t think that it’s going to happen overnight.

“Training is not a seasonal thing,” says Lois Miller, a trainer at Crunch downtown. “It takes about two months to see some good results. And you need to do a combination of cardio, weight training and healthy eating habits to get those cut arms. If one of those three elements is missing, it’s not going to happen.”

For some women, such as Angel Harold, 29, it’s not an issue.

“My arms have never been a problem area,” says Harold, who lives in Northbrook. “But I also run with my husband 40 minutes a day, three times each week. It gives me a really good overall workout.”

Mary Schwartz, 39, says that summer wardrobe woes never spring up on her either, because she works on her arms year-round.

“I travel a lot and am always in warm climates, so I just feel better knowing that my arms are toned and presentable in sleeveless shirts,” says the Chicagoan, who includes a half hour of cardiovascular work in her daily exercise regime. “I also use the machines [at the gym] that concentrate on my arms, and that seems to do the trick.”

For the rest of us, there’s creative camouflaging. A little material around the upper arm won’t cause heat exhaustion, especially if the fabric allows the skin to breathe. One hundred percent cotton or silk can’t be beat for this.

Try pairing a silk, 3/4-sleeve cardigan with a matching shell to create a fitted, sexy look. And blouses with scrunched sleeves also draw attention away from the upper arms.

As for what’s a fashion no-no for 99 percent of the population, Tunstall warns women about cap sleeves.

“They’re coming back, but I think they’re a bad look for women who don’t have very toned, thin arms,” she says. “They’re so little that they just accentuate the bad elements of your upper arm. Also, I’d suggest that women with bigger arms stay away from sleeves that have elastic bands. The bands tend to sink into the skin, leaving pinched marks.”

Most people’s arms are proportionate to their body size and can get toned by exercise. But for that small percentage who have normal-size forearms offset by Popeye-type upper arms, surgery is an option.

“The type of arm that is best reduced by surgery is that of a patient who has a lot of extra skin, but not much fat,” says Dr. Victor Lewis, a professor of clinical surgery at Northwestern University Medical School. “This might be someone who lost a lot of weight. But the downside is that it’ll leave a long scar on the inside of the arm.”

Now aren’t those scrunchy sleeved shirts sounding better all the time?

It’s not too late to shape up those arms for summer. Crunch trainer Lois Miller offers these tips for getting biceps and triceps toned and fit:

* If you go to a gym, hire a trainer for at least one session. “In order to change the way you look, you have to vary your workout or your body won’t reflect that change,” says Miller. “A good trainer can work out a program that will help meet your goals.”

* Ladies–don’t freak out about weight training. Lifting won’t make you look like Mr. Universe, unless you insist on bench pressing your body weight every day. “You have to pick up some heavy weights if you want to show arm definition,” says Miller. “You can’t curl a three-pound dumbbell every now and again and expect to get a hard body.”

* Do cardio workouts three times a week. That can include running, aerobics, or swimming–anything that will get your heart rate up.

* Can’t stand the thought of a long workout? Then shorten it. “You’re better off doing a short 20-minute cardio workout if you get bored easily,” Miller says. “But you have to make it intense to see results.”


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