If you feel that you have excess fat in a certain part of your body, like your arms, you may think that working out that specific region can help you burn that fat. Unfortunately, there are no magical exercises to lose arm fat only.
That doesn't mean there's nothing you can do to tone your arms. The good news is you can actually do a lot to slim down your arms by reducing all-over body fat and doing some strategic strength training using gym machines or free weights.
Spot Reduction Is a Myth
Before diving into the nitty-gritty of how you can trim down arm fat with the best gym equipment for arm fat loss, here's a little more bad news: The whole idea of spot reducing, or being able to remove fat from just one part of your body by exercising that body part, is a myth. A combination of many factors — including hormones, gender and genetics — affect where your body stores fat and where the fat comes off first.
But again, there's some good news to be had: Although you can't target fat loss from a specific body part, if you're diligent about reducing excess fat all over your body, it will come off your arms too.
And the benefits of losing even a little bit of body fat are more than cosmetic. As noted by the Obesity Action Coalition, losing even 5 to 10 percent of your body weight provides some serious health benefits, from lower blood pressure to a better cholesterol profile and reduced inflammation.
Ultimately, the one and only tool for losing excess body fat is establishing a calorie deficit, or burning more calories than you take in.
There are two ways of doing that. You can either increase your activity level so you burn more calories, or tweak your diet so you take in fewer calories while still getting the nutrients you need to stay healthy and fit. According to findings from the National Weight Control Registry, the vast majority of Americans who lose weight and keep it off have used a combination of both methods.
How to Burn Arm Fat
If you feel that you have excess fat in a certain part of your body, like your arms, you may think that working out that specific region can help you burn that fat. However, an arm fat workout may be less helpful than you think.
When fat is gained, it's distributed throughout the body. In order to lose upper arm fat, you'll likely need to lose weight in general, because as we mentioned above, it's not possible to target specific areas of your body for fat loss. (Although upper arm fat exercises and workouts can help!)
In order to burn arm fat or any body fat, you need to consume fewer calories than you would typically. Essentially, this means following a healthy diet but operating at a calorie deficit. There are limits to this, of course. Harvard Health Publishing says that women should consume at least 1,200 calories per day, while men need at least 1,500 calories each day.
If you're already consuming a low-calorie diet, this means that you'll need to increase your activity levels in order to lose weight. The Mayo Clinic recommends that healthy adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day. However, working out for longer periods or performing vigorous physical activity will obviously help you lose body fat more rapidly.
The Best Cardio Exercises for Losing Arm Fat
If you're keen on losing weight in order to burn arm fat, you have many options. Many types of cardiovascular exercise, like running, swimming and cycling are great for weight loss.
A February 2018 review published in the Journal of Sports Medicine specifically recommended high-intensity interval training (HIIT) as a time-efficient way for people to lose weight. HIIT workouts that focused on running were found to be best for people looking to reduce overall body fat.
Additionally, consider these estimated calorie burns from Harvard Health Publishing for someone who weighs 155 pounds and spends half an hour exercising:
- Low-impact step aerobics: 252 calories
- Moderate stationary cycling or rowing: 252 calories
- Circuit training: 298 calories
- Jogging at 5 mph: 288 calories
- Vigorous stationary rowing: 369 calories
- Martial arts: 360 calories
- Vigorous lap swimming: 360 calories
- Vigorous stationary cycling: 391 calories
If you increase your workout intensity or take organized classes at your gym — which usually last for more than half an hour — you can easily increase those estimates.
Do you weigh more than 155 pounds? Then here's some great news: You basically get a calorie-burn bonus.
If all other factors stay the same, you'll burn calories faster — which translates to losing weight faster — than your lighter-weight peers who work out at the same pace and intensity.
How does that translate to arm-slimming weight loss? The accepted estimate is that you'll lose about one pound of fat for every 3,500 calories you burn or cut from your diet. So if you eat 1,800 calories in a day and also burn 1,800 calories per day (including your basal metabolism and all your physical activity), you're holding steady. But if you consume 1,800 calories and burn 2,100 calories, you've created a 300-calorie deficit that day.
Depending on how you eat, that could take as little as 30 minutes of jogging or an hour-long circuit training class. Keep that deficit up every day, and you'll burn about half a pound of fat each week. Bring it up to a 500-calorie daily deficit and, all other factors being equal, you're on track to burn around a pound of fat per week.
The Best Strength-Training Exercises for Losing Arm Fat
Weight training burns calories too. According to the same Harvard estimates, a 155-pound exerciser burns about 216 calories in a half-hour of vigorous weight training.
But there's more to enjoy about weight training with arm-fat-burning exercises than that — it also boosts your metabolism, builds lean muscle mass and stronger bones and gives you the strength and stamina to make everyday tasks easier.
How often should you lift weights? Start with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommendation to strength train every major muscle group twice a week. Your arms definitely count as a muscle group, and they also help out with many exercises for your chest and back — so you can rest assured that they'll get a good workout.
Want more? You can up your arm workouts on gym machines to three times a week as long as you give each muscle group at least one full rest day before you work it again. So you might do your strength training on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday — but not on the "off" days because your muscles need those breaks to recover. You can also add extra exercises for upper arm fat that specifically target your arms.
The Best Gym Machines for Your Arms
Region of Body
Lat Pulldown Machine
Arms, upper back
Chest Fly Machine
Shoulder Press Machine
Arms, shoulders, back, core, quads, hamstrings, calves
Assisted Pull-Up Machine
Arms, shoulders, upper back, core
Best Exercises to Lose Arm Fat
While these exercises won't spot reduce arm fat, they will burn calories and help build sleek, strong arms that will be revealed as you reduce your body fat all over.
In general, 1 to 2 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions of each arm-slimming exercise is a good starting point — although if you like the results you're seeing, you can always add more of these arm fat exercises into your arm workouts to do at the gym.
1. Triceps Extension
While this may be promoted as one of the best gym machines for flabby arms, you can also mimic this type of workout with a dumbbell.
- Start by facing a cable machine and situating the cable attachment at a height above your head. Attach the bar or rope and grasp it securely.
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Engage your core, push your shoulders back and down and try to maintain this position throughout the exercise.
- Press the handles of the bar or rope down in front of your chest, so your elbows are aligned with the middle of your trunk.
- Straighten your elbows by pressing the cable down toward the floor.
- Extend your arms fully, while maintaining the same position with the rest of your body and keeping your elbows in place by your sides.
- After your elbows are fully extended, bend your elbows again to raise the cable back to the top with control.
- Repeat this movement for a set number of reps.
No gym cable machine? Hold a single dumbbell overhead in both hands. Keep your elbows tight to your head as you bend your arms, letting the dumbbell sink down behind your head, and then straighten them again.
2. Biceps Curl
There are may variations on this popular gym machine for flabby arms. You can use an actual gym machine to work your biceps or you can use dumbbells.
- Begin standing or seated with a dumbbell in each hand in front of your thigh. Your palms will face out.
- Lift the weights up toward the your chest.
- Lower the weight back with control.
- ExRx.net: "Spot Reduction Myth"
- National Weight Control Registry: "NWCR Facts"
- Obesity Action Coalition: "Benefits of 5-10 Percent Weight Loss"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights"
- Blink Fitness: "Upper Body Workout Machines"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calorie counting made easy"
- Mayo Clinic: "How much should the average adult exercise every day?"
- Journal of Sports Medicine: "Effect of High-Intensity Interval Training on Total, Abdominal and Visceral Fat Mass: A Meta-Analysis"
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"