Arm Circles

written by
Joel Runyon
last updated
September 26, 2021

If you’re looking for a movement that could be considered an arm warm up exercise or a traditional exercise meant to build tone, strength, and muscle endurance, look no further than the traditional arm circle. It really couldn’t be simpler (all you need are your own arms!), but don’t think that that fact means that it’s not very effective. Anyone who has done this exercise knows that it doesn’t take very long for your arms to start to feel very warm. Do them just a little longer and you’ll definitely start to feel that burn that we all love to chase. 

The beautiful thing about this movement is that it can be done by people of all ability levels. There’s no special equipment needed. You could do it in your own bed if you wanted. That’s how simple this one is. 

Arm Circle Benefits

This isn’t your traditional stretch. It’s more of a warm up movement versus a traditional static stretch. The arm circle is a great way to prime your shoulders for whatever workout you might be doing that specific day. If you’re going to hit some heavier weights, it’s great to use this movement to make sure your shoulders and arm muscles are ready to go. Not only that, but the arm circles will help warm up your trap muscles, lat muscles, and even your pecs. Needless to say, with the simplicity and effectiveness of this movement, it’s a great idea to do this one daily. 

You can also use this movement to work out your shoulders, biceps, and triceps. It’s a great way to build up some tone in these muscles which will aid to overall strength and the health of the muscles and joints. 

We think a definite benefit of this exercise is its total accessibility. Do some when you first wake up in the morning, when you’re working at your computer during the day, and right before you go to bed. All you really need to complete a set is some free space. 

Like we said before, the burn comes quick with this movement - especially if you haven’t done them before. That being said, it’s a great way to keep your joints healthy. Anyone who works at the computer for extended amounts of time knows just how stiff and tight the arms and shoulders can become. Start to do arm circles a few times throughout the day and I guarantee that this general stiffness and tension will start to dissipate. There really is no excuse to not do these. 

Arm Circles Explained

Arm circles are performed just like they sound - you move your arms in a circular motion. But there are a few foundational pieces we can think about doing as well. First off, if you are choosing to do this in a standing position, place your feet between shoulder and hip-width apart. Straighten your arms out to your side - one to the left and one to the right. Your arms should be parallel to the ground in this position. 

Starting with small circles, rotate your arms clockwise. The circles can get bigger and bigger as you continue to draw circles with your arms. After doing this for a set amount of time, switch directions and do the same thing counterclockwise. 

Start with a set amount of time - say 10 seconds in one direction and 10 seconds in the other. Once this becomes easier for you, you can start to add more time or complete it more times throughout the day. 

Arm Circle Modifications and Variations 

If the arm circle feels a little too intense or inaccessible for you, please don’t worry. There are always ways to modify the movement and still receive benefits. One way to modify this movement is to do shoulder circles instead. Shrug your shoulders up towards your ears and then roll them backwards. Do this 5-10 times (or however many times feels appropriate for your situation) and then switch directions. Of course, the shoulder circles will feel a little more subtle than arm circles, but it’s still a great way to increase blood flow to the shoulder joint and prime it for other movements. 

If you’re looking to make the arm circle a bit more difficult, you have a number of options. First would be to do the arm circles for a longer amount of time. The second way would be to do them quicker. Lastly, to make this movement more of a traditional exercise and build strength in the arms, you can hold small weights while performing the circles. 

Feel free to use this movement in a variety of ways. It is an effective movement to do as a warm up or primer for other movements. But you could also include it with other bodyweight movements as part of a greater workout. No matter what you choose, this one will definitely keep your arms and shoulders warmed and toned.

arm circles exercise demo

Starting with the arms shoulder level, smoothly rotate them in a clockwise fashion. Start with small circles and after (however long) switch and repeat.

written by
Joel Runyon

Joel is the founder of IMPOSSIBLE and the founder of MoveWell. Joel founded MoveWell after sustaining an injury while running an ultra marathon on every continent. Joel is writes about mobility, pain management and health and wellness overall.

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