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Chubby arms be gone!
April 25, 2010 6:41 PM   Subscribe

Do my upper arms look flabby because I need to lose fat or because I need to build muscle or both?

I'm not overweight, but am in the upper range of the bmi for my height, and have always had relatively large flabby upper arms. What can I realistically do about this?

Will building muscle do any good if I don't also lose fat?

What I want is smaller upper arms. I am fairly ambivalent about having definition, but that wouldn't be a bad thing. I've been very slowly losing weight for the past 9 months. I've lost about 10 pounds, but my arms look no different. Should I just continue with the cardio and eventually the fat will melt away from my arms?

Or are my arms always likely to be kind of flabby because the skin is already a little stretched out? (My arms aren't huge or anything, but I often have trouble fitting them into jackets that otherwise fit me just fine) I've never had any luck toning this part of my body and I wonder if it's just a lost cause. I've tried doing tricep exercises before, but I almost feel like this has made my arms bigger (of course this may entirely be in my head the difference was very minor if there was any).

I should put in the caveat that I know weight lifting has many other benefits, but right now I'm really just interested in toning up or shrinking my arms.
posted by whoaali to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
You're not going to reduce fat in your upper arms by themselves -- there's no such thing as "spot reduction" short of liposuction.

What you have is a combination of fat, low muscle tone and genetics. Definitely weight train (you can emphasize work on biceps, triceps, deltoids, lats and pecs) and continue cardio. You will have success. But recognize that there's only so much you'll ever be able to do.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:46 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


As everyone else will state, spot reduction won't help. Women are especially prone to fat deposits in their upper arms, and while losing a lot of weight might help, your genes could dictate that you'll still have flabby arms even if you lose 20 pounds.

I've always, always hated my arms. Then I started lifting weights, and I've noticed that my arms look a lot better. This is partly due to muscle definition and partly due to the fact that strength training increases your fat-burning metabolism. I don't lift specifically to target my upper arms, but this change in lifestyle has been a great development for my biceps and triceps. Weight training is the best way to increase your body's ability to efficiently do away with fat while gaining the muscle you need to increase definition.
posted by zoomorphic at 6:49 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's probably some combination of both. I'd recommend spending the few months it will take to build a basic level of functional full-body strength, and then if you're still not satisfied with how you look, you can eliminate "lack of muscle" as a cause and focus more on losing fat while maintaining the muscle you built.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:54 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Cardio (long, brisk, iPod-fueled walks 3-4 times x week) + Yoga (vinyasa-based 90 minutes 3 x week) is the only combo that ever made a significant difference for me re: this issue.

And that program DID work very well -- I've never looked better. And - I ate whatever I wanted...which usually meant a pain au chocolate every morning. It was great.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 6:56 PM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Spot reduction does not work. But you know what works surprisingly well?

Pushups. Sometimes when I'm on an pushup kick, I do 100/day. I do that for 6 weeks or so, and boom...I can't shake my armfat. Take me off that pushup kick, and i lose the tone.

So yeah...its rather confusing, and anecdotal, but it might work for you too.

Good luck.

ps. The first days are always the hardest...then it becomes more of an annoyance rather than "oh my god, don't touch my chest".
posted by hal_c_on at 6:58 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, I'd highly recommend high intensity interval training over just jogging, as jogging is scientifically the most boring and inefficient way of losing weight.

I'm sorry, but I just don't ever see studies about the benefit of fast-walking or jogging on muscle definition. Yoga might be great for stuff, but if you have tenaciously flabby arms, it probably won't do shit. Get thyself to a gym and start weight-lifting, combined with a low carb diet. Again, I've had horrible arms my entire life and this routine is this only thing that has done a bit of good.
posted by zoomorphic at 7:02 PM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


But recognize that there's only so much you'll ever be able to do.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:46 PM on April 25


This is 100% wrong. You can have great arms at any age if you eat right, lift weights, and do the right kind of cardio.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:02 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is 100% wrong. You can have great arms at any age if you eat right, lift weights, and do the right kind of cardio.

Is this true even if the skin is a little stretched out? I was under the impression that arm skin was notoriously hard to get to shrink so once you had larger arms the skin would always kind of hang.

Also, I realize fat spot reduction isn't possible. I'm just saying that if I lose enough fat eventually, hopefully, some of it would come off of my arms, along with the rest of my body.
posted by whoaali at 7:12 PM on April 25, 2010


Weight training helps 'target' certain areas better than cardio.

So get yourself some 1, 2, 3 lb free weights and look up some videos on youtube! The muscles at the back of your arms are triceps.
posted by p1nkdaisy at 7:19 PM on April 25, 2010


Yoga might be great for stuff, but if you have tenaciously flabby arms, it probably won't do shit.

I've had tenaciously flabby arms my whole life and it definitely did do "shit" for me (in conjunction with a hefty amount of cardio.) So yes, as with every opinion offered here, YMMV, but I repeat, it worked for me.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 7:20 PM on April 25, 2010


As a data point -- when I was in high school, I was on the thin side of medium with average sized arms.

When I started playing sports, and started lifting weights? My arms got huge. Not muscled and veined with tons of definition like a man's. Just boxy and bulky. I never lifted anything heavier than 10 lb hand weights, but I did do it really often.

So then I was stuck with arms that were too big for the sleeves of most shirts. This lasted until a couple years ago when I lost about 15 pounds (unintentionally). I lost weight and muscle, and my arms finally went back to normal.

Just a data point. I think it'll help for you to just lose weight overall. You may lose it from your arms last, but I think it'll still go eventually.

Lots of people say women shouldn't worry about their body parts getting bigger when they lift weight, but that's not true. You're not going to become like a ripped male bodybuilder, but you can definitely get bulky, if you're the type to put on muscle super easily like me.
posted by Ashley801 at 7:23 PM on April 25, 2010


In my experience (as a fairly curvy lady who goes through phases of working out regularly and goes back and forth between the "high normal" and "overweight" BMIs that roughly correlate with how much time I am spending at the gym), strength training will have a much bigger immediate impact on how your body looks and feels than cardio alone. It's not that my arms stop being flabby or get a lot smaller when I start doing bicep curls and tricep exercises, but they do really look and feel more toned. Like, almost immediately.
posted by SoftRain at 7:25 PM on April 25, 2010


If your goal is to fit your arms into jackets, making your biceps and triceps bigger isn't going to help. It will make your arms less flabby though.

I often find jackets that fit the rest of me just fine don't fit my shoulders, and sometimes my upper arms. Some brands seem to be cut for people with sticks for arms. Don't take it personally if clothing is not cut well for your build, there is a lot of individual variation.
posted by yohko at 7:25 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


If it's bad enough to the point of jackets not fitting you, you can consider upper arm liposuction. Depending on your metro area, expect to pay around $2,000. The cost may very well be worth it if you'd like to improve your appearance and, more importantly, self-esteem.
posted by halogen at 7:27 PM on April 25, 2010


Is this true even if the skin is a little stretched out?

Some people who are obese and lose significant amount of fat can have loose skin, which is correctable via surgery. But it doesn't sound like that's the case; it sounds just like you have excess fat.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:35 PM on April 25, 2010


I just want to add that if you do decide to focus on strength training, you'll get the most benefit, body composition and appearance-wise, from lifting with your whole body and focusing on movements that work as many muscles as possible at once rather than trying to isolate your upper arms.

And 3-pound or even 10-pound handweights will not get you very far. There are different approaches to strength training, but they all fundamentally involve using progressively heavier weights over time. Plus the kind of lifts that use the most muscle and are the most effective at changing your body will allow you to lift a lot more weight than that. "Toning workouts" that involve grinding out endless repetitions of arm exercises with tiny dumbbells, as I've watched too many women at gyms do, are not a very effective way to reach your goals.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:03 PM on April 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


there's no such thing as "spot reduction"

Then you do you explain people like J-Lo and Kim Kardashian who have flat tummies and ample other areas? Spot reduction isn't magic, but it isn't a myth either.

Lots of people say women shouldn't worry about their body parts getting bigger when they lift weight, but that's not true. You're not going to become like a ripped male bodybuilder, but you can definitely get bulky, if you're the type to put on muscle super easily like me.

That's a bridge you should cross when you come to it. Or something. When you start getting bulky, reduce the weight and add reps.
posted by gjc at 8:16 PM on April 25, 2010


Then you do you explain people like J-Lo and Kim Kardashian who have flat tummies and ample other areas? Spot reduction isn't magic, but it isn't a myth either.

They are genetically gifted and/or have had cosmetic surgery. Google "spot reduction" if you want to read like a million articles about how it's a myth.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:22 PM on April 25, 2010


Then you do you explain people like J-Lo and Kim Kardashian who have flat tummies and ample other areas? Spot reduction isn't magic, but it isn't a myth either.

Uh, their asses aren't fat. They're both in pretty good shape.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:28 PM on April 25, 2010


This is 100% wrong. You can have great arms at any age if you eat right, lift weights, and do the right kind of cardio.

Like all "100%" thinking, it's never going to be 100 percent. Can you improve? Certainly. Will you be happier? Absolutely.

Does everyone have the ability to bounce back at any age from a sedentary lifestyle and overcome their middling genes in order to go on to become the envy of all?

No.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:06 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]



Does everyone have the ability to bounce back at any age from a sedentary lifestyle and overcome their middling genes in order to go on to become the envy of all?

No.


I only agree with your comment because it's easier for people to fail then to be elite. Genes are a weak excuse.

As far as the question, these could be much better answered if the OP linked to a picture and provided stats or more background information.

But for a generic, assumption answer:
One lb a month is really slow progress. If you trained hard and ate properly for 9 months you would look like a completely different person.

Here is what you need to do:
Start lifting real weights. Learn how to Squat, dead lift, bench press, and standing overhead press. You won't get big and muscular by looking at a barbell, don't worry.

You don't mention anything about your overall diet so take some steps to educate yourself on that. Most people train hard and eat incorrectly. It's a huge mistake.
T-nation is a great place to start learning. A diet like this with even light weight training would shed fat off of you until you reached a lower BF%. At the very least treat bread like junk food, drink only water, and up your protein intake.

The interval training is a great suggestion too. Steady state cardio is fairly worthless except for making you good at doing steady state cardio.
For the intervals just keep it simple. 3 times a week run up a huge hill as fast as you can, walk down it, and run back up it until you can't move.

Good luck and start ASAP with whatever you can do. Too many people think for months before actually doing anything. All the planning in the world won't change you!
posted by zephyr_words at 10:55 PM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


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