What Are the Causes of Flabby Arms?

Working out can tone the muscles in the upper arms.
Image Credit: Guido Mieth/DigitalVision/GettyImages

Flabby arms are often the result of weight gain — but just to add insult to injury, sometimes a drastic weight loss can create flabby arms too. The good news is that no matter the cause, there are several things you can do to tone flabby arms.


Video of the Day


Flabby arms are usually caused by carrying extra body fat, although they can also materialize after a sudden weight loss that leaves you with loose-feeling "flabby" skin on your upper arms.

It's Probably Excess Body Fat

If you've developed flabby arms that are mostly loose skin left by an extreme weight loss, this information isn't for you. But if you think your flabby arms are the result of weight gain, that bonus jiggle develops because your body stores extra calories in the form of fat just under your skin.


You need a certain amount of body fat to be healthy, but if you have too much you can reduce it by creating a calorie deficit. That means burning more calories than you take in, which in turn forces your body to use up all those calories it has been storing in your arms and elsewhere. There are three ways of doing this: Slightly reduce your calorie intake; increase your physical activity; or do both. According to research from the National Weight Control Registry, most people who lose weight and keep it off do it through a combination of both methods.


What you can't do is dictate where your body decides to remove the extra fat, even if your arms are the only part of your body that you'd like to lose from. Where the fat comes off is determined by a number of factors beyond your control, including your hormone levels and overall body type. But if you continue a steady rate of weight loss, you'll slim excess fat off your arms too.


Any exercise that burns calories will help you lose weight, but often the best weight loss workouts are the ones you like well enough to keep up over the long run. So go ahead and try the famous calorie-torching exercises like running, cycling, boxing and doing step aerobics. But don't be afraid to try other workouts like swimming, walking and dancing too. If you choose a workout that you like well enough to do consistently over the long term, it'll give you better long-term results than a short-lived stint at more spectacular workouts.

Read more: Yoga for Flabby Arms

Results Should Be Gradual

Although it can be tempting to try to lose weight as quickly as possible, extreme weight loss methods are usually unsustainable. Once you go back to your old habits, the weight comes right back on. Losing the weight and keeping it off requires making lifestyle changes that you can keep up over the long term.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend losing 1 to 2 pounds per week as a healthy, sustainable rate of weight loss. That means creating a deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories per day. Calorie counting apps are very useful for tracking your food (and drink) intake and how it balances out against the calories you burn with physical activity.

However, keep in mind that fitness trackers and other non-clinical devices used to estimate calorie burns are notoriously inaccurate. A study of 60 adult volunteers published in a May 2017 issue of the Journal of Personalized Medicine found that even the most accurate of the seven fitness trackers tested was off by a whopping 27 percent, while the least accurate was off by 93 percent. So even if your calorie burn looks good on paper (or tech), you might need to do some fine-tuning through trial and error to find the balance that really works for you.

Read more: 8 Exercises to Get Rid of Arm Jiggle


Weight gain can also be a side effect of certain medications, hormonal conditions and, in very rare cases, genetic conditions. If you're certain you're doing everything right and the weight just won't come off, talk to your doctor. She might be able to help you identify and resolve the cause.

What About Toning Flabby Arms?

"Toning" is often used as a general buzzword to denote creating a sleek, firm physique — but as explained at ExRx.net, what it really means is simultaneously decreasing body fat while also building muscle. The fat or loose skin in so-called "bat wings" — the lax tissue that often forms under the upper arms — doesn't magically transmogrify into muscle, so despite the fix-all way in which the term toning is usually used, it's just one part of the equation for creating upper arms you feel good about.

So if toning isn't a magic fix-all, what does it actually do for you? Remember, the whole idea of spot reduction is a myth, so doing arm exercises doesn't magically burn fat from your arms. But as already mentioned, toning exercises create muscle mass. That, in turn, helps to fill out loose skin and create a better-defined shape to your upper arms, even if you still have a little more subcutaneous fat there than you'd like.

But the benefits of working your arms go far beyond the aesthetic: As the Mayo Clinic points out, strength training also builds stronger bones, burns calories, boosts strength and endurance for everyday activities, and can even improve your cognitive abilities.

Many strength-training exercises that target your chest and back muscles will work your arms too. But if you'd like to do extra exercises to build more muscle in your arms, here are a few excellent examples:

For your biceps (the most noticeable muscle in the front of your upper arm) do biceps curls, hammer curls, concentration curls or cable curls.

For the triceps (the meaty muscle in the back of your upper arm) do triceps kickbacks, dips or bench dips, and triceps extensions. If you're up for a real challenge try diamond push-ups, which an American Council on Exercise study identified as the best exercise for working your triceps.

Working your deltoids — the cap-like shoulder muscle that sits atop your upper arm — can also help define your general upper-body shape. Excellent shoulder exercises include rear deltoid flies, front and lateral raises, and the many variations on the shoulder press.

Dealing With Loose Skin

Skin is a wonderfully elastic and adaptive organ, so in cases of mild to moderate weight gain or loss, you may never notice loose or saggy skin as a result. However, in cases of rapid or extreme weight loss you might notice some loose skin developing on your upper arms, or anywhere else that you've lost the subcutaneous fat that had previously stretched out your skin.

In that case, strength training remains one of your best nonsurgical options for creating extra muscle mass that'll help fill that skin out. If you're not happy with the results, a personal trainer may be able to help you build more muscle with different exercises or a different workout program.

However, if you're still dealing with extreme amounts of loose skin on your upper arms, there comes a point where no amount of weightlifting or fat loss will change things — because you're dealing with skin, not muscle or body fat. In that case, talk to your doctor about whether skin reduction surgery might be appropriate for you.