Who knew that bare arms in the White House could produce such rancor among pursed-lip politicos who frown at the idea of a First Lady sans sleeves. Buff biceps, oh, my!

Turns out Michelle Obama is not the first to flaunt it. According to First Lady historian Carl Sferazza Anthony, Dolly Madison, Frances Cleveland, Grace Coolidge, Mamie Eisenhower and Florence Harding all sported sleeveless fashions that prompted accusations of impropriety. The bare shoulders of fashion icons Jackie Kennedy and Nancy Reagan sparked little comment.

With a little work we can all have trim and sculpted arms worthy of a White House portrait. No gym? No biggie, says Jenny Evans, the corporate performance coach who created "Powerhouse Hit the Deck" exercise flashcards for executives on the go.

First, measure the circumference of your biceps muscle. Write it down -- you'll check again in six weeks. In the meantime, get working, three times a week, with a day in between to rest. Slow sets of 20 biceps curls, triceps extensions, bench dips or push-ups are quite effective in building tone.

Too ho-hum? Grab some dumbbells (5 to 20 pounds), resistance bands, a basketball and a mirror. Try 20 minutes of hard dribbling with a friend. Left hand first for 20 pulses, then right hand. Resisting a thrusting ball is a surprising fat-burner -- you get cardio work plus arm-strengthening. In class, we dribble laps up and down the gym until our arms plead for mercy.

Another quirky but effective idea: Hold a basketball, medicine ball or fitness ball in front of you with straight arms. Push palms into the ball and hold (your arms, not your breath) for 10 seconds. Release and repeat for 20. The isometric squeezing really works those biceps and pectoral muscles.

Or try wall push-ups. You can do them with arms apart at armpit height or with palms together on the wall in front of your sternum. Bend and straighten arms to slow counts of four and feel that burn.

Carpal tunnel problems? Skip the wall and opt instead for shadow boxing in front of a mirror with weighted gloves or a heavy can of tomato sauce in each fist. Aim for the chin with 10 quick jabs on the right and then left. After four reps, aim for the chest and then aim for your eyebrows. You'll get tired (that's the point).

Give it a few weeks and check your progress with that measuring tape. My guess is the inches (and flab) will come flying off soon.

Three more quick tips:

• Pep up the protein in your diet with egg whites, beans, broiled chicken and fish. Protein helps muscles heal and build.

• Remember to stretch those arms after your workout. Holding each stretch for 30 to 60 seconds will help prevent soreness the next day.

• Drink plenty of water to mitigate soreness. If you are still stiff, try soaking in magnesium-rich Epsom salts. Add a little bubble bath and enjoy your scandalous bare arms.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725