This 30-Day Upper-Body Challenge Will Transform Your Arms & Shoulders

Photographed by Danny Kim.
This article was originally published on August 3, 2015.

“I have, like, no arm strength.” If you’ve ever said this (or even thought it), this is the challenge for you. “Women are often very critical about their arms,” says personal trainer and fitness expert Angelique Millis. “But, then they’re surprised at how quickly they respond once they start using weights.” By integrating resistance training into your fitness routine, you improve your posture, coordination, stability, and of course strength — and you can even affect your body composition, reducing non-lean mass (a.k.a. fat) and increasing lean mass (sleek, toned, powerful muscles).

The exercises chosen for our 30-Day Arm Challenge are ones the American Council on Exercise (ACE) has pinpointed as best for activation of the primary muscles used — in other words, these moves give you the the best bang for your buck. The challenge starts slowly, with just one exercise per day, so you learn proper form and don’t get too sore. As the month progresses, you’ll begin doing more sets and reps and combining the exercises into super-sets and circuits for the greatest benefit. “You’ll get stronger and more functional for real-life activities, such as lifting a suitcase into the overhead bin,” Millis says.

All you need to complete the challenge is a pair of dumbbells; Millis suggests starting with five-pounders, though you can increase the weight or use different weights for different exercises, so you feel appropriately challenged. It’s clutch not to race through these moves; instead take your time to feel your muscles work — both on the exertion (the pushing or pulling action) and on the release. On days when you’re doing more than one set (noted by “x2” or “x3”), take a one-minute break before starting the next one. And on days that have more than one exercise, do them back-to-back with minimal rest, only taking that one-minute break between sets if there are more than one. The schedule also includes all-important rest days, which is the downtime your muscles need to repair from the work you’ve done, so they can become stronger than ever.

Click through to see our fundamentals guide for the calendar and each exercise’s how-to.