Arm Circle Exercise for Posture and Shoulders

Arm Circle Exercise

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).

The image below is nearly 100 YEARS OLD! Concerns then were the same as now – the advent of the “modern office” was leading to poor posture, slumped shoulders, a general “hunched over” appearance. They knew how to counter this from happening, and now so do you!

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 program. 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 Exercise 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 altogether. ‘Bouncing’ into a stretch, for example, was very big during the ’60s and ’70s, 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 Redux:

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 center 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.

Arm Circle Exercise for Posture and Shoulders

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.

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. (Note how Muller switches between little circles and then big circles)

J P Muller Arm Circle Exercises Shoulders

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!!

Palms up or Down?

If you do any kind of extra reading around the arm circle exercise (and I always suggest reading around) you are going to see a lot of modern-day pros suggest palms down rather than up. Try both – I did – but personally I put my trust in these old guys AND that extra little feeling of LIFT when I lift my arms out to the side and then turn those palms UP.