If your upper arms have a little more wiggle and jiggle than you'd like, you're not alone — and there's a lot you can do about it. The one thing you can't do, however, is magically spot-reduce fat from just one point on your body, such as your arms. Instead, you'll need to combine a fat-busting calorie-deficit from a healthy diet with cardiovascular exercise to burn fat and resistance training to help firm up the muscles that you uncover.
Feel the Caloric Burn
Although you can't pick and choose the areas where your body burns fat, it will come off your arms if you keep up healthy habits for enough time. But in order to burn fat from anywhere on your body, you need to establish what's known as a calorie deficit. This refers to burning more calories than you take in, so your body has no option but to turn to that stored body fat as a source of energy.
For example, if you're eating a 2,500-calorie diet but only burning 2,000 calories a day between your basal metabolic rate and daily activities, including exercise, you actually have a calorie surplus—and you'll gain weight.
If you flip those numbers—burning 2,500 calories per day while taking in 2,000 calories a day—you'll establish the sort of calorie deficit that helps your body shed excess fat.
Although you do need to establish a calorie deficit to eventually achieve some arm weight loss, you shouldn't starve yourself. Your body needs lots of healthy fuel to keep your metabolism going, particularly when you plan to add in strength training and cardio, so focus on a healthy diet of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish, lean meats or other sources of healthy protein.
Get Started with Cardio
Along with making healthy tweaks or substitutions in your diet, cardiovascular exercise, also known as cardio or aerobic exercise, is the usual go-to for establishing a calorie deficit. Some exercises to get you started include walking, jogging or running — all of which require no equipment beyond a good pair of shoes—plus cycling, swimming or calisthenics. Even sledding can be a great exercise session, because of all the work it takes to hike back up to the top of the hill.
As a general rule, if it gets the large muscles of your body moving rhythmically and for a prolonged period, it's a good exercise for weight loss.
Turn Fat Arms Into Fab Arms
Even if you feel like your upper arms are showing more fat than they should, there's also some muscle under there. As you stay diligent about your calorie deficit and the fat melts away all over your body — including your arms — you'll be able to see more of the muscle shape and definition that's been there all along. You can help that definition along with some basic resistance training.
Don't wait until you've hit your weight loss goal to start building arm muscles. Starting some strategic arm-strengthening exercises now will not only give you a boost toward those defined arms you're looking for, but it will also build lean muscle that burns extra calories even at rest, boosting your overall metabolic rate.
Combining those arm exercises with full-body strength-training exercises such as squats, lunges, bench presses and lat pulldowns will give you even more of a metabolic boost and set you up for a strong, healthy body that's capable of anything you ask of it.
Are you a woman who's concerned that lifting weights will make you bulk up so much that you'll "look like a man"? Don't worry — women generally don't have the hormonal makeup to pack on as much muscle as a man.
Exercises for Your Arm Muscles
Remember, there is no single exercise to magically reduce your upper arm size, but the following selection of exercises can help tone and shape your arm muscles, which translates to a firmer look and feel as you lose excess fat. Although many people think of targeting the triceps muscle on the back of the arm to get rid of excess jiggle, make sure you work your biceps too.
Also, make sure you work both arms equally. You should be able to do between eight and 12 repetitions with good form; once you can manage more than that, it's time to upgrade to a heavier weight or a more challenging exercise.
All you need for this triceps exercise is a hand weight and a bench or other flat surface you can use for support as you lean over.
To work your left arm, prop your right knee on the bench and hinge forward from the hips, supporting yourself with your right hand on the bench so your torso is horizontal to the floor.
Hold the weight in your left hand, elbow tucked against your body. Imagine that your elbow is pinned in place as you swing your hand up and behind you, straightening your arm until it's in line with your body. Keep your elbow in place as you bend your arm, lowering your hand back to the starting position to complete the repetition.
This exercise also works your triceps but doesn't require a hand weight. You will, however, need a bench, a sturdy chair or some other object that you can use as a base.
Sit on your bench or chair and place both hands beside you, fingers draped over the front of the seat. Scoot your hips forward off the edge of the seat and take part of your weight on your arms, using your legs and feet to support the rest. Walk your feet forward a comfortable distance forward, so you have room to lower your body in front of the bench.
Once you're situated, bend your elbows to lower your body until your shoulders are almost even with your elbows and then straighten your arms to press yourself back up to the starting position. Keep your hips close to the bench throughout the motion and limit your range of motion as needed to avoid any shoulder discomfort.
To work your biceps — the muscle in the front of your upper arm — you'll need a pair of hand weights or a barbell. Hold the weights or bar in an underhand grip, palms facing forward, and let the weights rest against the top of your thighs.
Focus on keeping your core muscles firm and your torso erect — in other words, not swaying backward to make the exercise easier — as you bend your arms at the elbow, curling the weights or bar up toward your shoulders. Lower the weights to complete the repetition.
- ExRX.net: Spot Reduction Myth
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020: Appendix 7
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Healthy Eating for a Healthy Weight
- ExRX.net: Triceps Kickback
- Sports Rec: What Are the ACSM Guidelines for Strength Training?
- ExRX.net: Bench Dip
- ExRX.net: Dumbbell Curl
- Harvard Health Publishing: Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights