Arm circles wake up your upper body. While they provide a dynamic stretch that you might perform as part of your pre-workout warm-up session, arm circles also can act as a minor exercise in their own right -- especially in a setting that doesn't invite further exercise, such as your workplace. A short workout performing arm circles burns a handful of calories, but don't count on this exercise as a strategy for losing weight.
Performing Arm Circles
It's possible to do arm circles while seated or standing, but tackling this low-intensity exercise from the standing position generates some muscle activity in your lower body, which is helpful if you've been seated. In an upright stance with your back straight, raise your arms and hold them at shoulder height, roughly parallel to the floor, with your palms up. Keeping your arms straight, use your shoulders to rotate your arms 10 times clockwise and 10 times counterclockwise. Turn your palms downward and repeat the exercise.
Low Calorie Burn
The low intensity and limited group of muscles you use while performing arm circles result in the exercise having a low calorie burn. In an article in "Cosmopolitan" magazine, American Council on Exercise trainer Renita Brannan reports that while performing 40 total revolutions of the exercise -- 20 in each direction -- while seated, people burn an average of 15 calories. Because your body burns more calories standing that seated, your caloric burn would be marginally higher upon performing the exercise standing up. Additionally, if your weight is above average, your caloric burn also would be higher.
Increase the Burn
Although the caloric burn of performing arm circles is low, you can increase the burn in a variety of ways. The simplest approach is to devote more time to the exercise. For example, instead of performing 40 reps, aim for 100 or even 200. If your shoulders become fatigued, break this ambitious goal into smaller intervals, such as five intervals of 40 reps. You also can wear wrist weights or hold a light dumbbell in each hand to increase the burn.
Arm circles aren't an effective calorie-burning exercise in their own right, but if you're in an environment in which you can't perform a more overt or vigorous form of exercise, such as at work, arm circles can provide some activity to break up a sedentary day. Include arm circles in an overall workplace workout that involves several parts of your body: calisthenics and various forms of stretching. The calorie burn calculator on the HealthStatus website reveals that a 145-pound person burns about 49 calories in 49 minutes of moderate-intensity general calisthenics.
About the Author
Toronto-based journalist William McCoy has been writing since 1997, specializing in topics such as sports, nutrition and health. He serves as the Studio's sports and recreation section expert. McCoy is a journalism graduate of Ryerson University.