Have you looked at a photo of yourself with your arms hanging at your sides, only to realize that your upper arms are wider than your body? You’re not alone. Arms are one of the most-cited problem areas, leaving countless people suffering through long sleeves in the summertime to disguise their insecurity and wondering how to lose arm fat.
Just because you’re not walking around with cut arms just yet doesn’t mean you can’t get there, though. Whether you’re looking to get rid of saggy arms after weight loss, slim your arms after weight gain, or tone excess arm flab that just hasn’t been a priority for you in the gym, these tips will all help you learn how to lose your arm fat.
Can you spot-target arm fat?
The short answer is no. “You cannot spot train your fat away. Everyone holds onto fat differently,” says Brianna Bernard, Precision Nutrition Certified Nutrition Coach, NASM Certified Personal Trainer, and Isopure Athlete. “For example, when losing weight, some people carry fat in their thighs and butt until they virtually have no more fat to lose in their waist, arms, neck, and face—and then they finally start to lean-out in their lower body.”
But while you can’t spot-target fat, you can do arm-focused exercises that will tone those arms in no time. Just be aware that if you have a lot of weight to lose, you might not see a visible change right away.
“Any exercise that helps you lose weight and build muscle will help reduce overall body fat,” says Sue Heikkinen, MS, RD, CDCES, BC-ADM, ACE-PT, an in-house registered dietitian for MyNetDiary. “If you struggle with arm fat, take heart. At least it doesn’t come with the health risks of belly fat.”
Is cardio or strength training better for fat loss?
If you’re looking to commit to a healthier lifestyle, a mix of both weight training and cardio exercises is ideal. “A combination of both [cardio and strength training] is best,” Bernard says. “With that being said, your body will burn fat for approximately 3 hours after a 60-minute cardio workout. But after 60 minutes of strength training, your body will burn fat for up to 36 hours post-workout, even if you’re watching Netflix on the couch or sleeping. In addition, the more muscle you have, the more fat your body will burn, so if I had to choose one, I’d choose strength training over cardio for fat loss.“
Should you exercise in the morning or at night?
Building a consistent workout routine is more important than exercising at a certain time. But if you’re worried about losing motivation or not having enough energy to exercise after work, that’s something to keep in mind.
“Most people tend to have higher motivation and willpower earlier in the day. As the afternoon and evening creep in, the average person has the tendency to eat something off their diet or fill their time with something seemingly more important than a workout, so getting it done first thing in the morning before you start your day and start taking care of everyone else’s needs can produce higher levels of consistency,” says Bernard.
You’ll want to keep your sleep schedule in mind, too. “Sometimes, people’s sleep is affected by exercising too close to bedtime. A workout should leave you feeling energized, which when done late in the day may affect your sleep,” says Ilana Milstein, ACE Certified Personal Trainer and CEO of No XCuses Training.
Plus, researchers at Northumbria University found that, among a group of physically active male study subjects, those who hit the gym before eating breakfast burned nearly 20% more fat than those who fueled up before exercising. So, if you’re eager to shed that fat fast, a fasting workout can help you achieve those goals right on schedule. When you’re back home post-workout, nourish your muscles with the best breakfast foods for weight loss and you’ll keep your metabolism going strong all day.
Ready to eat healthier, feel the burn, and tone those arms? These evidence-backed diet tips and exercises for how to lose arm fat will have you handing out tickets to the gun show.
The easy answer to how to lose arm fat is to get rid of excess fat on your body. The biggest issue most people face in terms of the appearance of their arms isn’t a lack of muscle definition, it’s excess fat. So if you want to learn how to lose arm fat without gaining muscle, the answer lies within losing overall body fat. This means that what you’re eating is as crucial for fixing the arm fat problem as the amount you’re exercising.
While no one food will help you lose weight, it is true that overhauling your diet to include multiple fat-burning foods can. For example, salmon is rich in protein as well as anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, which fuel fat burning and aid weight loss. Plus, the one-two punch of protein and healthy fat will helps to stave off hunger and reduce cravings, which can help you lose weight in the long run. Fortunately, when you lose fat, it disappears all over your body, so a healthy diet can help you ditch those batwings for good.
Toning your arm muscles will certainly get you the definition you seek, but increasing your protein intake will get you there even faster. Research published in The Journal of Nutrition reveals that adding more protein to your diet increased muscle synthesis by as much as 25%, meaning that you can build stronger muscles faster, right in the privacy of your own home.
“Protein is best eaten after your workout to maximize muscle toning results. A protein shake is always good, and try to incorporate some veggies in it for maximum nutrition,” Milstein says. “Just make sure you are truly hungry after your workout and you are not just eating because someone told you that it’s good to have protein post workouts.”
“You can target arm muscles with little or no equipment in a small space. Bicep curls, tricep extensions, and lateral raises are easy exercises which one can do anywhere,” Milstein says. “Whether you use dumbbells or a resistance band, bicep curls are a great way to tone your arms.”
Bernard suggests doing what she calls “resistance band bicep curls” for maximum impact. “Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with a resistance band handle in each hand and the bend under both feet. With your palms facing away from your body, curl each bicep up toward your shoulder, squeezing your biceps at the top before slowly lowering your arms back to starting position,” she says.
Don’t have a resistance band? Simply raising and lowering a weight in a 180-degree range of motion, starting with your arm extended along your side, and bringing it up toward your shoulder, can yield serious definition in a hurry. “Holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides, with palms facing your hips, raise arms straight out to shoulder height and squeeze your deltoids at the top before slowly lowering your palms back toward your hips,” Bernard says.
And if you don’t have a set of light dumbbells at home, you can also use household products, like gallon jugs of water or soup cans, to get the same result.
“Don’t forget your triceps when working your arms,” Heikkinen says. “They can respond well to body-weight exercises, such as tricep dips with a sturdy chair or a coffee table.”
Want to see those arms getting leaner in a hurry? Try adding some tricep dips to your routine. While there are resistance machines that can help you tackle this exercise, it’s also easily accomplished using parallel bars or even a sturdy chair at home.
“With palms down on the seat of a bench or chair and your knees bent at a 90-degree angle with feet flat on the floor, lower your glutes down toward the floor until your elbows are bent at a 90-degree angle, then push up through your hands until your arms are straight to lock your elbows out at the top,” Bernard says.
And if you’re using heavier dumbbells, try tricep presses, too. While seated, extend a dumbbell over your head, holding it with both arms. Next, bend your elbows and bring the dumbbell behind you until it’s parallel with your shoulders, straighten your arms and lift the weight, and repeat.
“You can’t target arm fat specifically, but exercise to help build muscle tone will improve your arms’ overall appearance,” Heikkinen says. “Knowing you are building strong arms may also increase your confidence.”
The seated lat pulldown is one of the best exercises for toning those arms in a hurry. Using a pulldown machine, grip the bar and pull to chest level, and then raise again. This exercise makes it easy to build your biceps quickly and helps strengthen and tone your shoulders, which can make your arms look leaner, as well.
Don’t have access to a gym? Make pushups your friend! Pushups not only tone your biceps and triceps, but they’re also a great way to build muscle on your chest, making you feel stronger and look leaner in the process. If the thought of doing traditional plank pushups has you feeling nervous, try doing the same motion at a 45-degree angle against a wall; you’ll get a similar workout but without the intensity of a traditional pushup.
Just don’t expect any quick fixes from doing one exercise. Losing fat is an involved process that requires attention to both your diet and your exercise habits. “To target fat, you need to focus on total body strength training and conditioning, and most important eating a healthy diet,” Milstein says.
If you’re ready to make your upper arm fat turn into toned and tight muscle, make sure you’re making time for cardio, too. “Cardio is better for fat loss, but mostly eating a balanced and nutritious diet works best,” Milstein says.
While building strength will get those arms more defined, cardio is still king when it comes to shedding the fat that’s causing your arms to wiggle. Researchers at Duke University studying 119 overweight, sedentary subjects found that those who stuck to a cardio program lost twice the weight of those who did strength training, despite the fact that the cardio group spent 47 fewer minutes exercising every week than their weight-training peers.
“Cardio is a better promoter of fat loss. However, strength training is essential to prevent muscle mass loss and metabolic rate reduction with weight loss,” says Heikkinen. “Building lean body mass with strength training will help your body burn fat over time. Don’t choose one over the other—an ideal fat-reducing plan includes both strength training and cardio.”
Not feeling up to heavy lifting? Try doing more reps at a lower weight instead, and you’ll be kissing that arm fat goodbye in no time. Researchers at Canada’s McMaster University studied a group of 20-something men over a 12-week period, with half the study subjects lifting heavy weights and doing low reps, and another group lifting lighter weights for higher reps. The Journal of Applied Physiology study found that both groups increased their strength and muscle size by approximately the same amount, so if you’re relatively new to lifting or don’t feel up to hitting the heavy weights just yet, don’t worry; lighter lifts will still help you ditch the fat while gaining muscle tone.