If you're looking to go from fat arms to fit arms, a few tried-and-true strategies can help you meet your goal at any age. You may not have much control over loose skin on your arms, but you can do a lot to reduce excess body fat and create sleek, shapely arm muscles.
Fat Arms to Fit Arms
If you want to turn fat arms into fit arms, you have to do two things: Slim away the excess body fat that's creating that unwanted jiggle, and then build some arm muscle to create a sleek, fit arm shape.
Does being in your late 40s make a difference in the weight-loss process? Your metabolism does naturally change as you age, says the July 2015 issue of the National Institutes of Health News in Health; most people tend to lose muscle mass and add a bit of body fat as they get older. But you can counteract those age-related changes with the same tools you'd use to lose body fat and build muscle at any age.
When it comes to fat loss, you have two tools to choose from. The first is a calorie-controlled diet that's rich in all the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy. The second is an increase in physical activity. According to findings from the National Weight Control Registry — an ongoing study of more than 10,000 people — the vast majority of people who've lost weight and kept it off do so through a combination of both methods.
Combining Diet and Exercise
If you combine a modest decrease in calorie intake with a modest increase in physical activity, you can achieve a calorie deficit — also known as burning more calories than you take in. This forces your body to use stored fat as fuel, and if you keep it up you'll find yourself slimming down all over, including your arms.
That doesn't mean you should starve yourself. Although crash diets with a minimal calorie intake may provide impressive short-term results, the methods they use aren't sustainable over the long term. When you go back to your old habits, the weight you lost comes back on with a vengeance.
Instead, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends aiming to lose weight at a healthy, sustainable rate of 1 to 2 pounds per week, which works out to a calorie deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories per day.
To estimate your ideal calorie intake, start with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) chart of estimated calorie needs based on your age, sex and physical activity level. Then increase your physical activity or trim calories out of your diet to achieve the desired deficit.
Many health experts, including Harvard Health Publishing, warn that unless you're making your weight-loss efforts under a doctor's supervision, your daily calorie intake shouldn't go below 1,200 calories per day for women or 1,500 calories per day for men. If you're extremely active during the day, you might need more.
What kind of exercises should you do to lose weight? Try to choose workouts that you enjoy, because that makes it easier to keep them up over the long term — in fact, you might even start to see a good workout as its own reward.
According to estimates from Harvard Health Publishing, some of the most effective calorie burners include cycling, high-impact aerobics, using a stationary rower or elliptical trainer, running, swimming and active sports like boxing, martial arts and racquetball. Walking is also a fantastic exercise for weight loss — it's relatively gentle on your body and you can do it almost anywhere, with no special equipment needed beyond a supportive pair of shoes.
Building Fit Arms
Fat arms aren't necessarily weak arms — in fact, you're probably already stronger than you think. But adding strength training to your exercise routine helps you boost your metabolism and also build the sleek muscle that makes your arms really look fit.
The HHS recommends doing one to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions, twice a week, for all your major muscle groups including your arms. Make sure you give each muscle group at least a full day of rest between strength-training workouts. For example, if you train your arms on Thursday, wait until Saturday to strength-train them again.
To build sleek, strong arms, you need to work both your triceps (the muscle on the back of your upper arm) and your biceps (the muscle on the front of your upper arm). But that doesn't mean you have to work them in isolation. For example, in a small EMG study sponsored and published by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the best triceps exercise was actually the triangle push-up.
Move 1: Triangle Push-Ups
- Assume a push-up position: Balanced on your hands and toes, body straight from head to heels, hands positioned underneath your shoulders.
- Bring your hands closer together, so that your thumbs and fingers form a triangle or diamond.
- Keep your body straight as you bend your arms, lowering your chest toward your hands.
- Straighten your arms to press your body back up to the starting position.
This is an excellent exercise, because it works multiple muscle groups and doesn't require any special equipment. But it's also very challenging. You can make it easier by bending your knees and resting them on the ground and then keeping your body straight from head to knees throughout the push-up.
Other excellent exercises that work your triceps include chest presses, regular push-ups, bench dips, triceps kickbacks and overhead triceps extensions.
ACE also sponsored and published a study on the best biceps exercises. Based on their results, if you really want to firm up the front of your upper arm, you should be doing concentration curls. You'll need a single dumbbell, which should be heavy enough to make completing your last repetition with good form a challenge.
Move 2: Concentration Curls
- Sit on a weight bench or sturdy chair with the dumbbell in your right hand.
- Lean forward from the hips, keeping your back flat. Plant your feet at least shoulder-width apart and place your right elbow against the inside of your right thigh, keeping your arm straight — but not locked — for the moment.
- Bend your arm, curling the dumbbell up toward your right shoulder; then lower it back to the starting position to complete the repetition.
- Once you've completed a full set with your right arm, switch the weight to your left handand work your left arm.
Resist the temptation to use your thigh to lever your elbow — and thus the weight — up and in. This does make the exercise easier, but that's exactly the problem: Your success in building muscle corresponds directly with how hard your muscles work, not how heavy a weight you're lifting.
Other excellent strength-training exercises for your biceps include assisted pull-ups, narrow-grip rows, and standing or seated biceps curls.
- The National Weight Control Registry: "NWCR Facts"
- News in Health: "Minding Your Metabolism"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Losing Weight"
- DHHS: "Estimated Calorie Needs Per Day by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calorie Counting Made Easy"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights"
- DHHS: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"
- American Council on Exercise: "Terrific Triceps"
- American Council on Exercise: "ACE Study Reveals Best Biceps Exercises"