Whether you want to look great in short sleeves this summer, you want to be able to complete a pull-up or push-up with stronger arms, or you just want to shift a few pounds: you're probably looking how to lose weight on your arms for one of these reasons. Our arms are one of the areas, along with our midriffs and thighs, which collect body fat as we age due to a slowdown of our metabolisms and hormone production.
But the fact of the matter is, toned arms do not just happen overnight. They are made up of multiple muscle groups that require specific exercises to remain toned, while a poor diet can lead to fatty build-ups in this and other stubborn areas around the body.
It's more bad news for anyone over 40, because as our metabolism slows down, our bodies tend to store excess fat in these areas unless we do something about it and kick-start a new fitness regime.
Whatever your goals, shifting stubborn body fat in irritatingly public areas is often at the very top of most people's fitness to-do list. While it's extremely difficult, if not impossible, to "spot-reduce" body fat in your arms alone, there are techniques we can use to both decrease our body fat generally and tone and build muscle in our arms to create the effect we're looking for.
In this article, we look at the best ways to lose weight on your arms, which involves keeping an eye on the diet, making a few simple changes in the kitchen and introducing some specific exercises into a regular fitness routine.
But fret not, you don't have to own a garage full of fancy fitness equipment, as most of these moves can be achieved using body weight alone, or something heavy that can be found in most cupboards (although ordering one of the best kettlebells or some of the best adjustable dumbbells for home use might be a good idea in the long run).
And if you're looking to hone in on specific arm muscles, take a look at our guide to the best bicep workouts.
An anatomy of your arms
Our arms begin at the shoulder, or the deltoid muscle. From there, we have two sets of muscles in our arms: the triceps and the biceps. While bulging biceps are often thought to be the hallmarks of strength, triceps, the muscles on the outside of your arms, are just as important.
When you pull or curl something, for example, a pull-up or a bicep curl, you work your biceps. When you push something away from yourself, for example, during a bench press or pull-ups, you work your triceps. After the elbow joint, you also have your forearm muscles, which controls your grip strength. Grip is important, as it's a vital biomarker for general health (opens in new tab), especially in old age.
Getting toned arms means training and developing these muscles, but resistance training alone isn't the answer to how to lose weight on your arms. You have to reduce the amount of total body fat by entering a calorie deficit, and build up the muscle on your arms so the tone shines through as the fat depletes.
1. Keep an eye on calories
The best way to start shifting body fat is to ensure you are in a 'calorie deficit' every day. This essentially means that you are burning more calories than you are consuming, forcing your body to look to other sources (chiefly fat) for energy.
Calculating an individual's calorie requirements can be a fairly complex task, taking into account current height, weight and level of daily activity, but the NHS suggests (opens in new tab), as a guide, men need around 2,500kcal (10,500kJ) a day to maintain a healthy body weight, and women need around 2,000kcal a day (8,400kJ). However, factors such as current weight and age part a part; to work out your personal calorie allowance, see our article 'how many calories should I eat a day?'
In order to lose weight, you simply need to reduce this number by around 500-600 calories a day, which could mean cutting out snacks or reducing the amount of alcohol that's consumed.
Helpfully, there are plenty of tools out there to help you keep track of your calorie intake. MyFitnessPal (opens in new tab) is probably the most popular smartphone app for such a thing, as it allows users to easily input their daily diet, even offering the ability to scan packaging to speed up the input of nutritional information of popular foods.
Even if you only keep a nutrition diary for a few days in order to get a handle on how many calories you typically consume, it will give a good indication of where to start.
2. Master the push-up
When performed properly, the humble push-up is one of the best exercises for weight loss when it comes to the arms. It's a powerful move that works most of the major muscle groups in the upper body, not to mention the all-important biceps and triceps.
“One common complaint is flab around the back of the arms,” explains explains former championship wrestler and founder of London-based personal training company Right Path Fitness (opens in new tab), Keith McNiven.
“This is largely due to fatty build-ups but also because of under-developed or neglected biceps and triceps - the two muscle groups that help to create healthy, toned-looking arms,” he says.
Mastering the push-up (sometimes also called a press-up) and introducing it into a workout routine will help combat this by working the biceps, triceps, shoulders and back muscles.
To do this, lay face down on the floor and rest upper body weight on the palms of your hands. These should be placed just underneath your chest.
Ensure elbows are tucked into your sides and don't flare outwards before pressing the torso up off the ground, keeping the back flat and avoiding sagging in the middle. It really helps to squeeze your abs (stomach muscles) and glutes (bum muscles) throughout the move.
You should form a perfectly straight line from your neck to the tips of your toes (if viewed from the side) at the top of this move, before slowly lowering your weight back down towards the floor. Keep the elbows tucked in and introduce the shoulder muscles by visualising a screwing motion through the palms of your hands. Don't let your chest hit the floor and keep tension on the muscles at the lowest point of the move for a second or two before pressing back up.
If this is too tough to begin with, try performing the move from a kneeling position, rather than the balls of your feet. If it's still too tough, perform the move from your knees and place hands on a raised solid platform. This is referred to as an incline press-up and reduces the load on the arms and shoulders by incorporating the larger chest and back muscles to a greater degree.
For more detail on safe press-up form, see our how to do a push up guide.
3. Cut out some sugar and fat
It's not quite as clear cut as banishing all sugars and fats from your diet, as there is such a thing as healthy fats (the unsaturated fats found in avocados, for example) and healthy sugars (like fruit sugars found in bananas), but cutting a reliance on foods that include lots of saturated fats and refined sugars is key to losing fat on your arms.
Crisps, chocolate, fizzy drinks, alcohol and fast food are all enemies in the fight against flab, so limit these to the very occasional treat. But avocados, eggs, nuts and even dark chocolate contain some sugars and fats that are healthy and nutritious, so look to substitute these in moderation to maintain a healthy daily diet.
Remember, healthy eating doesn't mean embarking on a crash diet or the latest fad. Keeping weight off requires commitment and a willingness to cut unhealthy foods out of the everyday meal plan.
4. Perform this workout a few times a week
Ideally, you should be performing a workout that targets the arms at least three times a week, making sure you have a rest day in-between to allow the muscles to repair and, ultimately, tone. Bear in mind the results of this workout are very dependent on a healthy, low fat diet, so make sure you heed the aforementioned advice to avoid any wasted effort. Perform the amount of reps and sets stated but rest for at least a minute between sets.
- Bicep curls: 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions
Holding something weighty in each hand (preferably a set of dumbbells but can be as simple as some tin cans), pin your elbows to your ribs and let your arms hang so palms face outwards at around hip height.
Keeping the elbows tight to your sides, slowly curl the weights upwards until your palms are about level with your shoulders. Pause at this stage and really squeeze the biceps as if you were deliberately flexing them for show. Now, slowly lower to the starting position in a controlled manner, keeping elbows tucked into your sides. Pause at the bottom and repeat. That's one rep.
Top tip: If you struggle to curl the weight upwards without flaring your elbows, it is too heavy, so grab something lighter and try again.
- Press-ups: 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions
Revert back to the advice above, because this exercise is excellent for targeting the upper body and toning the arms. As previously mentioned, you can adapt this move to suit all fitness levels, so don't be worried about starting on your knees or even pressing from a wall. Build slowly and the result will come.
- Overhead tricep extension: 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions
Grab a weight with both hands (start light) and raise above your head, with palms facing the sky. Try and rotate the wrists slightly so your elbows are pointing directly in front of you, rather than out to the sides.
Once set up, keep your glutes and abs squeezed tight and hinge at the elbow, slowly lowering the weight behind your head until the forearms are at a right angle to the floor. Pause for a second while the triceps are under the most tension and press back to the beginning of the move, keeping the elbows tucked and pointing forward.
If performed correctly, you should feel the tension on the back of your arms (not your shoulders or chest), so practice adjusting your elbow position so maximum tension is placed on the muscles at the rear of your arm.
- Diamond press-up: 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions
Adopt the same position as a typical press up, either kneeling or hands on a raised platform if you need to make it easier. But rather than your palms placed flat on the floor under you chest, bring your thumb and index fingers together so they form a diamond shape directly under your sternum.
Press up from this position, making sure you keep your elbows tucked into your sides. Allowing them to flare out will take the focus away from your triceps, which is not what we want here.
Extend the arms all the way until near lock-out to work every part of the tricep, pause at the top and slowly lower in a controlled fashion. That's one rep.
5. Consider some cardio
Focusing on the muscle groups that make up the arms in a workout like the one listed above is one thing, but the best way to reduce overall body fat is to introduce some cardiovascular exercise into the regime, too.
A fast-paced walk is enough to raise the heart rate and get the body burning fat but by far the most efficient way to torch body fat is with a HIIT workout (short for high intensity interval training).
"Despite the fancy name, HIIT training simply means training at high intensity for short periods of time with rest or low intensity exercise in-between," explains McNiven.
“It's a great way to shred fat because, psychologically, it's much easier to set your mind to, say, five or six sets of 40 seconds of intense exercise, as opposed to spending hours and hours performing steady cardio,” he adds.
On top of this, there have been numerous studies that suggest that fat is burned long after exercise where HIIT is involved, it helps stabilize blood sugar levels and can help build muscle and strength on the side. The American College of Sports Medicine (opens in new tab) has rated HIIT among the top fitness trends of recent years.
Try introducing some HIIT into your favored form of cardio, whether that's running, cycling, battle ropes, burpees, boxing or rowing. After a warm up, set a timer for 30 second intervals and go as hard as you possibly can for the full term, before easing off (bit not stopping completely) to get your breath back and lower the heart rate before ramping things up again.
An automotive and technology writer by trade, Leon keeps in shape by lifting heavy objects inside and riding various machinery outside. Leon is an Editor who has written for Wired Uk, The Sun, Stuff Magazine, and Fit&Well's sister title, T3. Now though, Leon is working for The Gear Loop covering just about everything from hiking to kayaking.