Well-defined biceps and triceps are a goal for many gymgoers looking to strengthen their arm muscles. But if you're starting off with a bigger upper body and want to get rid of arm muscle and excess mass in your arms, you'll need to know what types of exercises help with upper-body slimming.
The good news is that, with a clean diet, cardiovascular exercise and muscle-toning exercises, you can lose upper-body fat (in addition to overall body fat) and arm muscle to get leaner arms.
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Rather than isolating single body parts, try full-body workouts to get rid of arm muscle.
How to Structure Your Workouts
If you're wondering how to lose muscle in your arms, it's worth noting that losing size in one part of your body requires making adjustments to your training program. If you follow a body-part split where you're working one to two body parts each day, you might want to change to a full-body workout three times a week.
Isolating individual muscle groups, such as your biceps and triceps, can lead to an increase in muscle size, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). This includes doing exercises such as biceps curls and triceps kickbacks.
Because your biceps and triceps muscles assist with many of the upper-body exercises you perform such as rows, shoulder press, bench press, lat pulldowns and pull-ups, you end up working these smaller muscle groups on both days. With that in mind, it makes sense to rely on compound movements for your upper body to train your arm muscles.
Stretch regularly after workouts to help lengthen your muscles. Perform stretches after workouts while your muscles are warm to decrease the risk for strains and pulls. Don't stretch cold muscles, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Strength Exercises to Add to Your Routine
If you're wondering how to get rid of muscular arms or lose upper-body weight, consider changing the weight and reps of the exercises you're performing. For example, rather than lower reps and moderate to higher weight, focus on higher reps (12 to 15) and lower weight.
This takes some of the emphasis off strength and hypertrophy and puts it on muscular endurance. However, it's important to note that you can still build size with higher reps and lower weight (typically at the 6- to 12-rep range, according to the American Council on Exercise). So, make sure you're paying close attention to your rep scheme.
Here are a few exercises you can include in your workout routine to benefit your arm musculature.
1. Biceps Curl
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart with a dumbbell in each hand. Bend your knees slightly, engage your core and maintain good upright posture.
- Position your arms so that your palms are facing forward. Hold onto the dumbbells, but don't grip them so tightly that you feel strain in your forearms.
- Bending at your elbows, lift both dumbbells up toward your shoulders by flexing your biceps muscles. Lower the dumbbells the same way you raised them until your arms are fully extended in the same position you started in.
Perform each rep without swinging your weights. In other words, rely on your muscles rather than momentum. If you find yourself needing to add momentum to lift, try using a slightly lighter dumbbell instead, as swinging can lead to injury.
2. Triceps Kickback
- With a dumbbell in each hand, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hinge your hips back, maintaining a flat back. Your upper body should be at a 45-degree angle to the floor.
- Bring your arms to your sides, elbows tight to your ribs. This is the starting position.
- Extend your arms straight back with control and squeeze your triceps at the top.
- Bend your elbows and slowly lower your arms back to the starting position.
3. Forward Lunge
- Start standing up tall, then step a few feet forward with your left foot.
- Bend both knees to 90 degrees, with your back knee hovering just above the ground and your front knee either over your ankle.
- You can keep your hands on your hips or hanging by your sides.
- Hold for a beat before pushing off your front foot, returning back to standing and repeating on the other leg.
- Position yourself on your hands and knees, hands under shoulders and knees under hips.
- Step your feet back and straighten your legs so that you're balanced on your palms and toes.
- Your body should make a straight line from head to hips to heels, and your hands should be directly under your shoulders or slightly wider apart.
- Bend your elbows at a 45-degree angle to your body and lower your body to the floor.
- Make sure to keep your body in one straight line from the neck through the spine to the hips and down to the heels.
- Press into your palms and push the floor away from you to come back up to a high plank, still keeping your body in one straight line.
5. Dumbbell Overhead Press
- Start standing with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand by your sides, palms facing in.
- Lift the weights up to your shoulders so your forearms are vertical and your hands are in a neutral grip with your fingers toward your face. Your arms shoulder be just slightly in front of your body
- Brace your core and glutes, and on an exhale, press both dumbbells up and in toward each other.
- Lower the weights back to your shoulders with control.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and pointed to the ceiling. Bring your hands behind your head so that your elbows flare out to the sides. Your hands can overlap and rest on your head, but they should never pull your neck up during the movement.
- Exhale, contract your abs and lift your head, shoulder blades and back off the ground. Your neck can curl slightly, but it shouldn't strain toward your chest.
- Inhale as you lower back down so that your head is hovering just off the ground.
7. Bent-Over Row
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides, palms facing each other.
- Push your hips back and soften your knees to lean your torso forward until it's nearly parallel with the ground and your weight is centered in your heels. Let the weights hang straight down in front of your knees.
- Brace your core and glutes and think about keeping your back completely flat.
- Leading with your back, squeeze your shoulder blades together and then pull through your arms to raise the dumbbells up toward your ribcage. Pause at the top of the movement.
- Keep your core and spine stable as you reverse the motion, extending your arms to lower the dumbbells so that they hang by your knees.
Cardio Exercises to Add to Your Routine
Including cardiovascular exercise is another way you can lose upper-body fat and target general weight loss, according to a January 2015 review in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults should get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise every week or an equal combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise on two or more days every week.
Examples of cardio exercises include brisk walking, jogging, the stair stepper, the elliptical machine, cycling, rowing or swimming. Even gardening and household chores can contribute to your cardio goals. Doing these will help you burn calories, lose body fat and lead to a loss of muscle mass in your arms.
Nutrition Tips to Follow
To get rid of arm muscle the right way, you'll want to take a slow approach that focuses on overall weight loss, especially if you need to lose body fat. While the idea of targeting only upper-body weight loss seems like a good one, the reality is that you can't spot reduce.
So, your first step in getting rid of bulky or muscle-y arms is to reduce your daily calorie intake by a small amount, according to the Mayo Clinic. For example, start with a reduction of 250 to 500 calories, which can be done by cutting out things like soda, alcohol or other processed foods.
Additionally, you'll want to do an overhaul of your diet. Keep a food diary for three days and check for places where you can cut back on processed or sugary foods. Identify the time of day when you tend to consume these items and replace them with fruits and vegetables.
- Harvard Health Publishing: "The importance of stretching"
- Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases: "The Role of Exercise and Physical Activity in Weight Loss and Maintenance"
- CDC: "How much physical activity do adults need?"
- American Council on Exercise: "How to Select the Right Intensity and Repetitions for Your Clients"
- Mayo Clinic: "Counting calories: Get back to weight-loss basics"
- NASM: "MUSCULAR HYPERTROPHY: BACK TO THE BASICS"