The MisFits: A Clothes-Conscious Trainer Can Help You Dress for Fitness Success

ARMS CONTROL: First lady Michelle Obama needn't have second thoughts about wearing sleeveless dresses.
ARMS CONTROL: First lady Michelle Obama needn't have second thoughts about wearing sleeveless dresses. (By Gary Malerba -- Associated Press)
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By Vicky Hallett
Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The most accurate scale of all isn't sitting on your bathroom floor. It's in your closet.

That's because clothes are more than just a reflection of your personal style -- they're your closest confidants. If you've been overdoing it with late-night munchies, they'll let you know by squeezing you tight. If you've been regularly showing up for kickboxing, they'll reward you with extra wiggle room. And while hitting a target weight is satisfying, nothing beats slipping into something you never could have imagined wearing before.

So, Sarah West, lead trainer at Results Gym in Dupont Circle, often directs clients (particularly ones scared of that thing in their bathroom) to their favorite pair of jeans to mark their progress. "If they're getting looser, you're changing your body composition," she says. "And we always say jeans, because jeans don't give." Another garment that doesn't lie? The tank top. Naked arms either ripple or jiggle, and Michelle Obama -- whose limbs most certainly do the former -- has every woman in Washington wishing she could pull off sleeveless as seamlessly.

Recognizing this season's desire to accessorize with muscle tone, Equinox created the "Skinny Jeans" workout. The high-end health club chain has rolled out the program to its locations across the country, including Tysons Corner, and wherever it lands on the schedule, women (and even a few guys) have immediately responded to the concept.

The idea, according to Lisa Wheeler, Equinox's national creative manager for group fitness, is that everyone owns that one pair of jeans he or she is hoping to slim down to wear, and these exercises will help them zip up with pride. "We've joked that we should bring them in and hang them on the wall as inspiration," she says.

Although it may sound gimmicky, the science behind the class is anything but (butt?). The total body sequences borrow from Pilates, ballet and aerobics standards, and are paired with constant reminders from the instructor to think about each movement. It makes students' brains hurt a bit during the hour-long session, and it makes their behinds even sorer the next day.

Why would consciously concentrating on doing a plie or a leg lift force your muscles to work harder and burn more calories? Gia-Ninh Chuang, group fitness director of the Tysons club, describes it this way: "You could do a biceps curl, or you can focus on standing with your feet rooted to the floor, engaging your core and controlling the weight on both its way up and down as you do a biceps curl." When more muscles are contracted, moves are more effective, and you're also lifting your heart rate, which bestows cardio benefits.

This sort of combo of calorie-burning cardio and metabolism-lifting strength training is your prerequisite for First Lady limbs. "You can have the greatest muscle tone in the world, but no one can see it if it's covered in fat," West explains.

But while you're cutting the flab, you can also start to arm yourself with more-targeted sculpting. Biceps curls are an obvious addition to the routine, but West recommends also devoting time to developing your triceps, which wrap around the arm, creating a more impressive bulge from any angle. Try these:

-- Triceps kickback: Leaning slightly forward and holding a dumbbell, extend your arm straight behind you. Bend at the elbow and repeat.

-- Skull crusher (or French press): Lying on your back, hold your dumbbells straight up in the air, then lower your hands to near your ears while keeping your upper arms still.

-- Dip: Sit on a chair, then scoot your butt off while gripping the edge. Lower your tush a few inches and push yourself back up.

Your secret weapon for looking tops in a tank is creating what West calls "a rounded, coconut shoulder." (You know what she means.) For that, try these:

-- Overhead press: Holding dumbbells with bent elbows on either side of your chest (so your arms and head form a "W" shape), raise the weights to the ceiling.

-- Side raise and front raise: Like it sounds, you grip a dumbbell and -- with a straight arm -- lift it laterally or in front of you.

-- Reverse or rear fly: Hinge at the hip so your torso is pointed toward the floor, and hold the pair of dumbbells straight down. Then, raise the weights to the side (as if you're flapping your wings) with your elbows bent slightly.

To check your progress, try on a shirt with spaghetti straps and stand in front of a mirror. You know, I bet it'll look great with your skinny jeans.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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