Arm Circle Exercise

By | March 19, 2016

Which exercise links Billy Blanks, Tony Horton, Shaun T, Debbie Siebers and (practically) EVERY OTHER fitness professional over the last 100 years? It’s the arm circle exercise for the shoulders (there are other exercises too – but I will get to those in due course).

Arm Circle Exercise for the Shoulders

Arm Circle Exercise for Posture and Shoulder Development

I’m not just writing about the arm circle exercise because it happens to be the fourth exercise in Walter Camp’s Daily Dozen workout programme. It is of interest simply because of how MANY workout routines the humble arm circle / arm rotation exercise has appeared in over the years. When you consider it is an excellent exercise for the entire shoulder area in terms of endurance, tone AND definition, you can see why!

You Don’t Need to Improve on Perfection!

Some exercises have needed to be tweaked over the years as we learn about long term damage to joints and excess pressure in certain areas. Some exercises are even discouraged all together. ‘Bouncing’ into a stretch for example was very big during the 60’s and 70’s, yet a modern fitness instructor would shriek in horror if they saw you bouncing up and down to try and deepen a stretch.

Looking at the exercises that have literally survived World Wars, changes in society and lifestyle however, give us a picture of exercises that must just be REALLY GOOD!

Really Good Exercise for the Shoulders

This exercise tightens and tones the upper arms and is a great general warm-up exercise. When you are standing there with your arms out, just FEEL how many parts of your body are being stretched by this exercise. Instant toning!

From Walter Camp’s Daily Dozen:

From the attention position raise both of your arms out to the side until they are at the height of your shoulders. This is the ‘Cross’ position. Turn your palms up so they are facing the sky (even doing this you may feel a slight stretch). Push your arms back as far as possible, without altering your posture (you’ll know what I mean when you try it).

[S]pecial precaution should be taken not to let the centre of the circle that the hands are making, come in front of the shoulders; an attempt should almost be made to make the shoulder-blades meet. This is particularly necessary on the reverse.

Essentially, you are going to make circles with your fingertips; first backwards, and then forwards. To make the backward circles move the fingertips up and back to make circles about the size of a dinner plate. Your arms should remain stiff and pivot from the shoulders.

The original Daily Dozen called for 10 circles in total, five forwards and five backwards. As a starting point this is fine (and when done slowly, very effective), but as you advance or even perform this exercise in isolation, then aim for twelve circles.

My personal preference is to do this exercise with the feet apart, but doing it with your feet together will help improve your posture and balance – but try it both ways, and see which works for YOU.

Now reverse, going through the same process, the circles being described in the opposite direction.
[H]ere the tendency, unless men keep the shoulders back, is to contract the chest.

In other words, now make five (or twelve) circles forwards, making sure to keep your shoulders back. If your chest ‘sags’ inwards then you are reducing the work the shoulders need to do, and therefore the effectiveness of the exercise.

Arm Circles for Shoulder Development

From: Walter Camp’s Daily Dozen – The Original Daily Workout for Busy People

Video of the Arm Circle Exercise

No matter how simple the exercise, sometimes it helps to have a visual aid that MOVES. Here is a video to help you out:

In this video the models palms are facing down – the easier variation. Again, try both ways – make notes, feel what is moving and working. LEARN!

Variations of the Arm Circle Exercise

Even in a simple exercise such as this there are a number of variations that can be performed. As well as being done sitting down (a stool rather than a chair is best), check out these variations of the arm circle exercise from the fabulous ‘My System’ by J.P Muller. Like the ‘serious’ business of body-building you can incorporate progression into your bodyweight workouts; one so you don’t get bored, two so you are constantly working and developing your body.

J P Muller My System Arm Circle Exercises

I have also seen variations that include holding both arms straight out in front of you and making circles, and then both arms overhead and making circles. They REALLY make the muscles burn!!


Author: Richie Neville

My name is Richie Neville and I am not now, nor have I ever been, a professional athlete. I do not approach my fitness training as one who has ever had the external support of coaches, nutritionists, therapists and trainers. I am just a normal guy who wants to stay as fit as I can for as long as I can. None of the exercises I promote are 'insane' or 'x' rated. Join me at Internal Force Fitness to find out more.

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