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Well-Armed: How to Get Toned Like Michelle Obama

For the last month, the First Lady’s upper arms have been in the media spotlight almost as much as her husband’s economic stimulus plan. Somewhere between seeing the angles of her bare limbs gracing the March cover of Vogue and Maureen Dowd’s conclusion that Michelle Obama’s arms constitute “the only bracing symbol of American strength right now,” we started to get a tad envious.

For advice on sculpting well-toned arms of our own, we turned to fitness expert Jill Harris, whose Informed Body movement studio in Hayes Valley has been responsible for many a rockin’ San Francisco bod. She gave us an armful of advice we can use with any fitness activity and three do-anywhere exercises to get us started. For each exercise below, Harris suggests using a Thera-Band, an inexpensive latex resistance band available at Sports Basement.

Set your body up correctly before beginning any exercise to prevent injury and target the right muscles. For these upper body exercises, start with a lifted chest and concentrate on widening your collarbone. Keep the stomach tucked in, shoulders rolled back and knees slightly bent. Try to maintain this posture throughout the exercises.

Chest expansion. Tie the middle of the band around a doorknob. Stand facing the door gripping one end of the band in each hand. Pull the arms back towards the hips and slightly down to lengthen the arms. You should feel this exercise in the triceps and back muscles, not in the neck or shoulders.

Tricep kickbacks. With the band tied around a doorknob, hold each end in one hand. Bend the knees slightly and lean forward at the waist. Position your elbows at your waist. Pull the band backwards and up.

Rows. With the band still wrapped around a doorknob, stand up straight, with knees lightly bent and hold one end of the band in each hand. Extend your arms straight out in front and pull back towards the torso.

For each exercise, Harris recommends starting with 10 reps every other day. Slowly work your way up to 15 or 20 reps.

Keep in mind that every body is different and genetics, for better or for worse, play a big role in individual musculature. Bodies accumulate and carry fat differently. If you are naturally lean on top and bigger on the bottom, it’s likely you’ll be able to achieve toned arms more quickly than if you naturally carry your weight on your upper half.

On a newsy note, Harris will be making moves of her own in a few weeks, when Informed Body opens the doors of its new location at 389 Grove Street. Scheduled to open on April 20, the expanded space with interiors by Steven Volpe Design means more room for group classes and personal training sessions, as well as semi-private and trio Pilates offerings.