How Many Push-Ups Should a Female Do to Get Toned Arms?

Want to make your arms turn heads next time you wear a strapless dress or a tank top? Push-ups will help get you there, but there's no magic number.

Push-ups are the best upper body exercise you can do anywhere! (Image: dima_sidelnikov/iStock/GettyImages)

Push-ups are only one part in a comprehensive strategy to get toned guns. An assortment of resistance moves, along with a healthy diet, are required for you to get arms you're proud to show off.

Get ready to do at least three sets of eight to 12 push-ups at two to three workouts per week, in addition to a number of other upper-body strength moves.

A two-week commitment isn't going to cut it, either — you'll need to adopt a healthier lifestyle for the long term to make and keep your arms looking their best. How long it will take you to see definition isn't predictable either. It depends on your body type and starting size.

Muscle Focus

To tone up your arms, target the biceps, located at the front of your upper arms, and the opposing muscle, the triceps. These two muscles work to extend and bend the elbow joint.

Push-ups don't directly target the biceps, but they do use the triceps — mostly to assist the chest, or pectoralis major, which does the majority of the work as you press up and down. Push-ups also help you develop muscle in the shoulders, which contributes to a finely shaped upper body.

When your goal is focused on your arms, moves such as dumbbell curls and triceps extensions are a good bet. Triangle push-ups, in which your hands are close together under your chest with your fingers forming the shape of a triangle, are the one variation of the push-up on which to focus when your arms are your priority.

In fact, a study published in 2011 and sponsored by the American Council on Exercise deemed the triangle push-up the number one move for your triceps.

To build muscular size and definition, which contributes to the toned look you're after, a woman should aim to do three upper-body workouts per week on non-consecutive days. This workout might include three sets of eight to 12 of the following exercises:

  • Biceps curls
  • Triceps kickbacks
  • Triangle push-ups
  • Dumbbell rows
  • Standard push-ups
  • Dumbbell shoulder presses

The rows, shoulder presses and standard push-ups don't directly target the biceps and triceps muscles, but use them to help the primary working muscles of the back, shoulders and chest. Your arms benefit from playing assistant, though, and become stronger and more functional, which leads to greater definition.

The Rest of the Story

Push-ups and other upper body exercises aren't going to be enough to create tone if you carry a lot of extra fat in your upper arms. The arms are a problem place for a lot of women, and you can't wave a dumbbell and make this fat go away. Spot reduction is just not a possibility.

Even if you diligently work out your upper body and build muscle, it will remain hidden if you've got excess weight covering it. The only way to lose this excess fat is to turn your body into a fat-burning machine.

A diet that emphasizes whole foods, including lean proteins — such as fish and white-meat poultry — leafy vegetables and healthy fats is key. Also include small amounts of fruit, low-fat dairy and whole grains. Moderate portion sizes so your calorie intake comes in below what you burn daily.

More activity that involves the largest muscle groups of your legs, hips and buttocks is also necessary; get out and hike, jog, swim or bike to burn calories. Working your arms won't burn enough calories to make a big difference in fat loss.

Putting It All Together

It's safe to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week, as long as you don't eat fewer than 1,200 calories per day. Too few calories means you'll stall your metabolism and start to lose some of that muscle you're working diligently to build.

You'll likely start to feel stronger in just a few weeks of committed workouts, especially if you're brand-new to strength training. You'll look stronger, too.

If you've got fat to lose, the actual change in the appearance of your arms depends on how much fat you have to lose and where you tend to lose fat first. Be patient — you won't get results overnight, but you will get them!

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