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How to Get Michelle Obama's Arms: The Workout Plan

  • Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images

    The Michelle Obama Arm Workout

    Michelle Obama has demonstrated success as a career woman, wife, and mother, but when people look at photos of the first lady, they can't help but notice one thing: her sleek, lean, muscular arms. In fact, Mrs. Obama seems to be as proud of her arms as we are envious of them, showcasing them in lovely sleeveless dresses at Congress and White House functions as well as on the covers of magazines.

    But those tank top-ready limbs aren't coincidental. Obama has claimed to be a regular exerciser for years, and even now squeezes in early-morning workouts in the White House with her husband before dropping the kids off at school and going on to a busy day of meetings and events.

    So, what makes those arms so spectacular? Defined shoulders, strong biceps, and a lack of triceps flab (you know, the so-called "batwing" skin that wiggles when you wave).

    "You need to take a two-pronged approach to achieve beautiful arms," says Kathy Smith, creator of numerous workout DVDs, including Total Body Lift (Lions Gate, $12.99). "You need to activate the muscle with strength-training and do cardio to lower your body fat."

    Try this routine with six Smith-recommended moves. Just doing these exercises three times a week (it only takes 15 minutes!) for two weeks will result in noticeably stronger arms, shoulders, and upper back. All you need are 3- or 5-pound dumbbells (two of the moves only use your body weight as resistance, which is actually even more challenging on your muscles than using dumbbells).

    The weight amounts and reps given here are for beginners. If you're strong already, you can do the same routine using 8- to 10-pound weights and do the entire sequence three times rather than twice.

    Do this entire sequence twice through without pausing between exercises.

  • Sun Salutation

    Contrary to what you might think, yoga can be more than a gentle, head-clearing Zen walk in the park. "You're lifting your own body weight in some poses," which works your arms, says Smith. "The hour class passes and you don't even realize you've spent half the class on your hands, holding poses such as Chaturanga (a lowered plank) and Downward Facing Dog."

    Do the Sun Salutation 6 times to warm up your body and, at the same time, strengthen your arms, shoulders, and back. If you want, add this same sequence at the end of your workout to create more energy in your body.

  • Shoulder Press Progression

    Using dumbbells, do this move 8 to 12 times. Be sure to stand tall, keeping your abs engaged. Good posture will actually help sculpt your back. "Muscles such as the rhomboids and rear deltoids are the 'forgotten' muscle groups because you can't see them in the mirror," says Smith. "If you don't strengthen them too, then your upper body won't be strong."

    The Shoulder Press Progression will work your shoulders, arms, and upper back.

  • Dumbbell Curls

    This move works the front of your arms. You can hold the weights as shown during the first sequence, but then try holding the weights with your palms facing each other to train another part of the muscle. This is a hammer curl (not shown in video). Do this move 8 to 12 times during each sequence.

  • Triceps Sit

    No equipment? No problem. This move strengthens the backs of your arms using just your body weight as resistance. This move does double-duty, too, as you you'll need to keep your abs engaged throughout the exercise. Do this 6 times in the beginning and work your way up to 15.

  • Karen Pearson

    Double Cross

    Sleeveless just isn't sexy unless the backs of your arms are toned, and this surprisingly tough full-body move will definitely accomplish that. If you can't complete the Double Cross on your hands and feet, no worries: plant your knees on the floor until you're stronger. Do this move 15 times with each leg.

  • Staggered Push-Ups

    Push-ups are the most useful move for anyone who wants a stronger, sleeker upper body. "Every woman should learn how to do push-ups since you can do them anywhere and they use your body weight as resistance for your arm muscles," says Smith. Plus, small modifications in form (for example, hands wide apart, knees on the floor, or feet on a stool) work different parts of the arms, shoulders, and back.

    Start with 5 reps and try to work your way up to 25.

    Originally published on, March 2009.