Sun's out, guns out. Wearing certain dresses, tank tops or off-the-shoulder shirts means baring biceps and showing shoulders. Unfortunately, women's upper bodies, specifically the arms, tend to hold onto fat. While you can't choose where you lose fat from, there are exercises you can do to help shed all-over body fat — including your upper body.
Can You Target Upper-Body Fat?
According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), spot reduction — the concept that you can lose body fat from a specific part of your body — is a misconception. In order to lose fat in any particular area (say, your upper body), you need to reduce your overall body fat.
You do that through a three-pronged approach: a reduced-calorie diet, interval cardio workouts and strength training. First, make sure you're eating healthy, nutrient-dense food, including lean protein, fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains, and avoiding highly processed foods.
Next, add high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to your cardio workouts. Alternating between bouts of all-out exercise with recovery periods helps you burn the most amount of calories in the shortest amount of time, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
Lastly, targeted weight training builds muscle, which can help boost your metabolism (according to a 2013 study published in Adipocyte) and give you that "toned" look as you shed body fat.
To focus your workouts on your upper body, it helps to understand the anatomy of that area. According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine:
- The triceps is the muscle on the back of the arm, and its main responsibility is the straighten the elbow.
- The biceps is the muscle on the front of the arm and flexes the elbow.
- The deltoid (part of your shoulder) moves the upper arm forward, back and away from the body.
- And your pectorals (chest) move your arms toward each other.
Read more: 10-Minute Dumbbell Workout for Your Arms
Try This AMRAP Arm Workout
Now that you're familiar with the muscles in your upper body, work them! ACE suggests doing an arm burnout workout that uses key muscles of your upper body to the point of fatigue (ie you can't do another rep with good form).
The concept behind this AMRAP (as many reps or rounds as possible) workout is that you do as many rounds of a given set of exercises as you can for a specific amount of time. Just make sure you warm up first with dynamic stretches and cool down with static ones.
Do: 10 reps of each exercise with 30 seconds of rest between. Once you're done, go back through the circuit again. Your goal is to complete as many rounds as you can within 10 minutes.
Move 1: Lateral Raise
- Hold a light dumbbell in each hand, palms facing in at hip height.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and drop your shoulders down and back.
- Raise your arms out to the sides and a tiny bit in front of your body.
- Stop at shoulder height, keeping your palms facing down.
- Lower your arms back down so they rest against the front of your body.
Move 2: Push-Up
- Start in a high plank, placing your feet and hands shoulder-width apart.
- Engage your core, activate the quad muscles and slowly lower your chest down, bending your elbows away from your body at a 45-degree angle.
- Be sure your body stays in a straight line parallel to the floor.
- Push your entire body back up to the starting position by straightening your arms.
Move 3: Triceps Dip
- Sit on a bench with your hands close to your sides, fingers facing forward.
- Move your feet forward and scoot your hips off the edge with your wrists directly below your shoulders.
- Slowly lower your body down, elbows bending straight back, not out to the sides.
- Raise your body back up to the starting position by straightening your arms and pushing into your feet.
Move 4: Hammer Curl
- Begin by holding a dumbbell in each hand, arms at sides, palms facing each other.
- Keep your elbows close to the sides of your body as you bend both elbows to raise the dumbbells to shoulder height.
- Slowly lower your arms down, returning them the starting position with straight elbows.
Move 5: Triceps Kickback
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand, standing with your feet about hip-width apart.
- Hinge forward at the hips so your chest faces the floor.
- Maintain a flat back as you allow your arms to dangle, dumbbells slightly below your knees.
- Bend both elbows to raise both arms up until they're in line with your shoulders, slightly above the spine.
- Straighten both elbows slowly, extending your arms back behind you to reach slightly above the height of your flat spine.
- Slowly lower the weights back to your side.
Move 6: Military Press
- Holding a dumbbell in each hand, hold your weights at shoulder height, palms facing each other.
- Straighten both arms to lift the weights straight over your head, biceps now alongside your ears.
- Slowly lower back down with control.
- American Council on Exercise: "Ten Minute Upper Body Total Arm Burnout"
- National Academy of Sports Medicine: "9 Arm Exercises for Definition and Strength"
- American Council on Exercise: Myths and Misconceptions: Spot Reduction and Feeling the Burn
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research:Caloric expenditure of aerobic, resistance, or combined high-intensity interval training using a hydraulic resistance system in healthy men.
- Adipocyte: Increasing muscle mass to improve metabolism