How to Quickly Make Your Arms Smaller

When you're unhappy with something, it's tempting to want to fix it ASAP. While that might work with your hair color, it doesn't work with your body. Changes, such making your arms smaller, take time. Although that's probably not what you wanted to hear, there is some good news: It's typically quicker to get skinny arms than it is to slim down other areas of the body. You just need to follow a healthy diet and exercise program.

Building lean muscle mass will help you burn more fat than just doing cardio. (Image: nd3000/iStock/GettyImages)

Tip

Getting serious with a calorie-controlled diet, cardio exercise and strength training will help you make your arms smaller.

How to Get Smaller Arms

Many people's arms — primarily the upper arms — are larger than they would like due to excess fat. If your arms have excess fat, chances are the rest of your body is carrying some extra fat as well. It may have taken years for this extra fat to build up, so you can expect it to take some time to burn it off.

Although there are many factors at play in fat gain, typically an excess of calories consumed and not enough burned is a major contributor. When you eat more calories than your body requires for immediate energy — to power physiological function, daily activities of living and exercise — it stores those calories in the fat cells located throughout the body.

To lose fat, you have to start consuming fewer calories than your body needs. When you do that, your body has to dip into stored fat for energy; the greater the deficit and the longer you sustain it, the more fat you'll burn from your arms.

You Can't Spot Reduce

It's important to note that when you burn fat, it will come from all over your body. Although the arms tend to be a place of more rapid fat loss, everyone is different. Bodies store fat preferentially based on genetics. For most people, the problem areas are the belly, hips and thighs, but for some people, the arms might be a preferred storage area.

That's why patience is key. If you consistently create a calorie deficit, you will lose fat, but it may or may not come from your arms right away.

Create a Calorie Deficit

The first way you create a calorie deficit is by reducing your calorie consumption. Cutting out processed foods, soda, sweets and refined grains, such as white rice and white bread, will automatically help you reduce calories. Those foods tend to be high in calories but low in nutrition.

Instead, increase your intake of fresh vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. These foods help fill you up and are lower in calories and higher in nutrients.

Tip

While eating fewer calories is key for fat loss, it's important that you don't cut calories too much. Eating too few calories increases your risk of nutritional deficiencies, fatigue and other negative effects. If you are exercising regularly, you will need enough calories to support this higher level of activity.


In addition to a healthy diet, regular exercise will help you burn calories to create even more of a deficit. To get the best results, do a mixture of cardiovascular exercise, such as swimming and biking, and strength training such as push-ups, pull-ups and squats.

Building Muscle Myths

If you want to make your arms smaller, why in the world would you want to build muscle? Here are a couple reasons:

Fat takes up a lot of space. If you look at a pound of muscle and a pound of fat side by side, the fat is going to appear larger. This is true when it's in your arms too. If you burn the fat and replace it with lean muscle mass, your arms will look thinner.

Muscle increases your metabolism. Your body expends energy to build and maintain muscle. In fact, it expends four times as much energy as it does maintaining fat, according to Len Kravitz, Ph.D., of the University of New Mexico. This raises your resting metabolism. So if you build more lean muscle — not only in your arms, but all over your body — it will be easier to burn fat.

Arm Toning Workouts

The best slim arms workout includes a mix of calorie-torching cardio and total-body strength training. If you haven't been doing cardio, aim to complete 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio per week. That's five 30-minute sessions each week. You can bike, jog, swim or take an aerobics class. Just get your heart rate up and break a sweat.

If you already have a cardio routine, it's time to kick it up a notch to start whittling away that arm fat. Ramp up your moderate-intensity cardio to 300 minutes per week. Or, make your cardio sessions shorter but more intense.

Try doing interval training in which you alternate periods of all-out effort with periods of recovery. This type of training incinerates more fat in less time than traditional steady-state cardio, but it is also much more challenging.

Hit the Weight Room

When you want to tone your arms in two weeks or four or six weeks, it would seem like the best plan of action is to do just arm exercises. But remember, the more muscle mass you have, the faster you'll torch body fat. So your weights workout should include exercises for all your major muscle groups — arms, shoulders, back, chest, abs and legs.

Two or three days a week, do a full-body workout that includes lots of multi-muscle compound exercises, such as squats, pushups, pullups and rows. These will give you the biggest bang for your buck metabolically, burning the most calories while you do them and increasing the afterburn effect, which means you'll keep burning calories at a heightened rate in the period following your workout.

Tip

Sets of eight to 12 reps are best for hypertrophy or mass building. This doesn't mean you will become bulky; it just means you will add muscle, which is the goal. It's difficult for women to "bulk up" even lifting in the hypertrophy range. That typically takes very high-volume workouts, a special diet and often, supplementation.

Slim Arms Workout

Working one muscle group more than others can cause muscular imbalances over time. So it's not a good idea for the long term. However, if you really want to get toned arms for a special occasion, focusing more on your arms than the rest of your body is OK in the short term.

In your full-body workout include a few extra pushups, pullups, chin-ups, dips and rows, which are all highly effective for training the main muscles of the arms — the biceps and triceps. Expect to feel the burn, big time.

You can also do some isolation, or "glamour," exercises (so-called because bodybuilders use them to really make their muscles pop). Biceps curls and triceps kickbacks are examples.

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