There isn't anything wrong with having a little extra back and underarm fat. Unlike abdominal fat, which is linked to heart disease and diabetes, back and arm fat isn't going to kill you. But let's face it, a strapless dress or swimsuit or — guys have it, too — a form-fitting T-shirt looks better without bulges of back and armpit fat.
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Unfortunately, you can't choose one or two spots from which to lose fat. You have to lose total body fat, some of which will naturally come from your back and underarms. Although specific back and arm toning exercises will help, they aren't as useful as doing high-intensity cardio exercise and total-body strength training.
Start With Cardio
Your body stores excess calories as fat. In order to lose fat, you have to:
- Take in fewer calories.
- Burn calories through exercise.
It's as simple as that. Well, kind of.
Calorie-burning is a complicated process that depends on a number of factors, including your age, sex, weight, genetics and probably a lot of other factors that not even exercise scientists fully understand. However, most will agree that taking in fewer calories than you expend through daily living and exercise will, over time, lead to fat loss — including back and underarm fat.
Eating a nutritious calorie-controlled diet is the best way to lose weight. Cardio is the second piece of the fat-loss puzzle — and when it comes to cardio, intensity is key. If you're just starting a cardio program, here's what you need to do:
- Choose an activity or a few activities you like to do. Swimming, running, biking, rowing, aerobics, gym machines, Jazzercise — whatever it is, make sure that you enjoy it; otherwise you will not do it, and you will not lose weight.
- Do it regularly. Create a habit for at least three weeks and you'll find it's not so hard anymore.
Once you've created the habit of showing up for your cardio workouts, or if you're already in the habit of exercising regularly, it's time to turn up the volume.
While low to moderate pace steady-state cardio may help you burn calories to lose fat, it will take you a lot longer. Life is short, so here are a couple better options: high-intensity exercise and high-intensity interval training. The key word: intensity. The more vigorously you work out, the more back and armpit fat you'll burn.
Simply swimming, jogging, cycling or Jazzercising at a more vigorous pace can seriously increase your calorie burn. Go into each cardio workout with the intention to not just get through it, but to work your butt off.
Read more: The 7 Principles of Fat Loss
Next step: HIIT IT
Science has proven that a specific type of cardio exercise, high-intensity interval training, is more effective than steady-state cardio for fat loss. Not only can you burn more calories during a HIIT workout, but you can increase your calorie burn in the hours afterward, thanks to something called post-exercise oxygen consumption. That's just a fancy way of saying that after an intense interval workout, your body is using more energy to restore itself to its pre-exercise state.
Doing it is simple. Just alternate bouts of intense exercise, like sprinting, with equal bouts of recovery. During your sprints, you really want to go all out. You can do anything for a minute or two. You'll lose that back and armpit fat fast, and you'll get in top cardiovascular shape as well.
Because HIIT puts more stress on the body, you don't want to do it every cardio session. To start, twice a week, equally spaced among your other workouts, is a safe bet. When you're more experienced, doing three or four HIIT sessions a week is OK as long as your body is recovering properly between sessions.
Build Lean Muscle Mass
Strength training is cardio's partner when it comes to fat loss. Although you burn fewer calories while you're strength training, having more lean muscle mass raises your body's metabolism. Fat doesn't do much on the body — it just kind of hangs around. Muscle, on the other hand, takes energy to build and maintain.
Here's what you need to know: Not all resistance training is equal when it comes to fat loss. You can go to the gym and do a circuit around the machines and space out and think about what you're going to have for dinner, but you won't be making much difference in your body composition.
Instead, you want to choose compound exercises that involve several different muscle groups at a time, and you want to do them with little to no rest in between sets.
Here are some examples of compound exercises to include in your workouts:
- Squats: body weight squats; jump squats; barbell, dumbbell or kettlebell squats
- Squat thrusts
- Lunges: body weight lunges; medicine ball lunges; barbell, dumbbell or kettlebell lunges
- Step ups: with or without weight
- Deadlifts: barbell, dumbbell or kettlebell
- Push-ups: regular, decline or knee push-ups
- Pull-ups: assisted or unassisted
- Dips: on bench or dip machine
- Rows: Cable, bent-over dumbbell/barbell rows
- Chest press: barbell or dumbbell
You need to do exercises that target all of your muscle groups to build well-rounded strength, but almost all of these work either your back or upper arms, and some of them work both. That's the beauty of compound exercises.
Format your workouts to get the most work done in the shortest amount of time. Pick five or six compound exercises, and one or two core exercises, such as Russian twists and supermans. Set up your stations so it's easy to jump from one exercise to the next. Do each exercise for 60 seconds, then switch to the next exercise without resting in between. At the end of each round, rest for one or two minutes. Do a total of three to five rounds.
During each set, work to fatigue. Stop and rest if you need to, but keep it going until the end of each minute. Strength training in this format burns calories and boosts metabolism to blast back and armpit fat fast.
Read more: The Best Back Exercises With Dumbbells