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Firming Upper Arms


QUESTION:

Now that summer is here, I'd like to wear my sleeveless shirts without showing that horrible arm wobble!  What is the best way to firm up my upper arms?

ANSWER:

That underarm jiggle that you're referring to is largely caused by weak triceps muscles.  The triceps muscle has three heads, or portions, that originate at the shoulder blade and upper arm bone and run down the back of the arm, attaching to the elbow via a tendon.  Unlike their frontal counterparts, the biceps, the triceps are frequently underutilized in daily activities and therefore weaken without special attention.

The triceps come into play when extending the forearm, such as when performing pushing and overhead motions.  Toning these muscles will decrease that "wave wiggle." However, keep in mind that extra fat at the back of the arm cannot be spot-trained away.  Only decreasing overall body fat will reduce arm fat.  Regardless of whether or not there is fat loss, firming the arm muscles will improve the overall appearance of the arm.

To firm those muscles, you should perform strength-training exercises at least twice per week that target these muscles. There are a variety of things you can do to train the triceps using dumbbells, cable pulleys, and barbells.  Overhead triceps extensions and press-downs using a high cable pulley and triceps kickbacks using dumbbells are two of the more popular exercises.  Triceps dips on a bench or step is also a classic that can be done at home without any specific equipment.

There are many resources, including your local gym or YMCA, which can help ensure you have the correct form while doing these exercises.  Listed below additional common triceps exercises.  It is best to rotate through at least two or three different exercises at each session, with two sets each of 8-12 repetitions per exercise. To vary your pattern you could increase the weight and decrease the reps down to 6 or decrease your weight and increase reps up to 15. Changing the exercises you choose will help fully train the different portions of the muscle.

Exercises to tone upper arms:
  • Bent-over dumbbell kickbacks
  • Standing or seated dumbbell triceps curls
  • Dumbbell triceps extension (lying on bench face down)
  • Easy-curl-bar triceps curl to forehead (lying on bench face up)
  • Low cable overhead extension (lying on bench face up)


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Our expert, Dr. Sharon E. Griffin, holds a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in the areas of exercise science/physiology.  She also holds a second M.S. degree in Nutrition and is a licensed nutritionist and an ACSM certified health and fitness instructor.

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