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Body Parts: Four exercises for biceps, triceps

In this “Body Parts” series, Dimity McDowell gets you in playing shape, from head to toe.

Body part: Biceps and Triceps

What they do: “No matter what movement you’re making with your arm, you’re using your biceps and triceps,” says Briana Boehmer, director of wellness and fitness services at Salus, Inc., in Delafield, Wis. The biceps dominates when you do any motion that causes your elbow to bend, while your triceps is in charge when you straighten your arm. “Even though we tend to use our biceps more than our triceps, you want them to be balanced strength-wise,” says Boehmer, who adds that bulging, body-builder-esque biceps are simply an aesthetic thing. Arms can be wicked strong and not rip the seams of your uniform.

Used most commonly when you: Swing a golf club or softball bat, pass a volleyball, pump your arms to run up a hill, swim the butterfly, chase down an opponent on the lacrosse or soccer field, box somebody out in basketball, or otherwise use the limbs on your upper body.

Here are four exercises to strengthen your biceps and triceps. For all exercises, do two or three sets of 12-20 reps. “Always start with a lighter weight first,” Boehmer says. “Never start heavy.”

1. Forward Biceps Curl

How to: Secure a medium resistance band to the bottom of a stable object, such as a pole, a bench or a couch, that’s about three feet in front of you. In your right hand with the palm up, hold a light weight — anywhere from 5 to 15 pounds — and the end of the band. (Wrap the end around the dumbbell, if that’s easiest.) Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, your body facing the band, and your shoulder blades back and down, slowly bend your elbow to pull your hand up toward your shoulder. Pause, and lower. “The band asks the muscle to react to a more dynamic force than just a weight,” Boehmer says, “(and) makes a traditional biceps curl a challenge.”

2. Diagonal Biceps Curl

How to: Place the band and dumbbell back in your right hand, and turn your body so that your right side is in line with the band. Keeping your upper arm close to your side, bend your elbow so that your palm comes toward your shoulder. Lower, and repeat before switching sides.

3. Triceps Raise

How to: Take the band and a light dumbbell in your right hand, and turn so you’re standing with your back to where the band is anchored. With your feet shoulder-width apart and your abs engaged, raise your right arm so your right elbow, near your forehead, is pointing forward and is bent about 90 degrees. Keeping your upper arm rock solid — no moving it — slowly extend your right arm, then lower. Switch sides after 12-20 reps. “This is hard to control and keep your muscle in line,” Boehmer says. “It’s a great way to learn proper engagement of the triceps.”

4. Triceps Kick Back

How to: Hold a light dumbbell in each hand, palms facing each other, elbows slightly bent, and arms at your sides. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Keeping a straight spine and your upper arms glued to your sides, bend forward at the hips. Extend both arms straight back at the same time, pause, then return to start. “Use light weights and don’t let momentum carry your motion,” Boehmer says.

Let’s hear it for the biceps and triceps: “Having strong arms in basketball is so important. They give me the power to make free throws and shots from far away, while maintaining the correct shooting form. Pumping my arms while running up and down the court helps me gain momentum and allows me to be one of the first players to the other side, whether to block an opponent on defense or to make the easy lay-up for my team. My arms help me block an opponent's shot by pushing back the ball--and hopefully stealing it. They also help me in guarding; being a post, I am constantly fighting for the spot where I know I can get off a good shot.” -- Victoria Witkowski, sophomore post at Lake Country Lutheran (Hartland, Wis.).