If you ever feel insecure about your arms when you look in the mirror or put on a sleeveless shirt, you’re not alone. A lot of women can relate—many people look up ways on how to lose arm fat online, and there are tons of workout videos claiming to zero in on the underarms. But there is *a lot* of misunderstanding and incorrect info out there surrounding how to lose arm fat.
While it’s totally natural to want to tone different parts of your body and look fit, women do need a certain amount of fat to be healthy. At the very least, 12 percent of their total weight should come from essential fat found in the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, intestines, muscles, and tissue of the central nervous system, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
That’s because “it cushions our organs and insulates our body for temperature control and is also our body’s source of energy reserves,” Stefanie Mendez, RD, cofounder of Matriarch, a women’s fitness and nutrition service. “Fat is also needed for the production of hormones and reproductive functions.” And yes, that fat can appear in your thighs, belly, and, upper arms.
And let’s get something straight upfront: Spot reduction just flat-out does not work, Mendez says. Instead of stressing out about arm fat, focus on living a healthy, well-fueled, and physically active lifestyle. By doing that and aiming for overall weight loss, you’ll see far greater gains in the arm department. Just note that it’s best to lose one to two pounds a week, and an average of 2 percent of your overall weight a month, says Tatiana Lampa, CPT, a corrective exercise specialist.
Meet the experts: Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, is a senior dietitian at UCLA Medical Center. Stefanie Mendez, RD, is a cofounder of Matriarch, a women’s fitness and nutrition service. Tatiana Lampa, CPT, is a corrective exercise specialist and the founder and creator of the Training with T app and Move Better program. Lauren Williams, CPT, is a trainer at PROJECT Equinox.
Training and building your arm muscles should be your focus. “A pound of muscle burns 10 times as many calories as a pound of fat,” Mendez explains. Plus, the muscular definition you get can also “create some change in the aesthetic of that area,” says Lauren Williams, CPT, a trainer at PROJECT Equinox.
But remember: Everyone’s fitness journey is different, so be patient with yourself. Losing arm fat could take some time depending on your current activity level, diet, and genetics. Don’t know where to start? Here are eating and workout tips recommended by the pros that can help you lose weight and reduce arm fat.
1. Load up on fiber.
Adding more fiber to your diet can help you feel and stay full longer, which means less snacking throughout the day. This may help lower the total number of calories you consume and lead to weight loss. A great way to get more fiber is by incorporating chia seeds, which are packed with fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, says Hunnes.
2. Hydrate, hydrate, and hydrate.
Make it a point to stay hydrated . Upping your water intake in general, substituting high-calorie beverages with water, and hydrating before a meal can lead to weight loss, according to a 2019 systematic review.
Drinking water can suppress your appetite, burn off stored fat in your body, and ramp up calorie burn, Lampa says. Other benefits including removing excess waste from the body and helping with digestive issues like diarrhea and indigestion, per Lampa and Harvard Health.
3. Make plant-based foods a big part of your meals.
A diet full of fresh fruits, vegetables, and hearty whole grains is lower in calories, which can ultimately help you lose weight overall, says Hunnes. People who eat a vegetarian diet lost more weight than those who ate a normal diet, according to a 2016 review published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. A plant-based diet is also naturally more nutritionally adequate and better for your health overall, another review shows.
4. Cut out sweet drinks.
ICYMI, sugary beverages only add more calories and not much else, says Hunnes. They’ll make sticking to a calorie deficit harder. So swap them for fruit-infused water instead, or try ordering one less pump of flavoring in your afternoon Starbucks.
You already know exercise is an effective way to lose weight and fat, but research also backs this up. Go for a walk, hit the running trails, or sign up for a new fitness class with a friend. Whatever form of physical activity you choose, commit to something you enjoy because the more fun you have doing it, the more likely you are to repeat it day after day and lose weight (and arm fat!).
6. Get plenty of sleep.
Clocking enough hours in bed is important in general, but especially if you want to drop pounds and burn fat, because getting adequate and quality shuteye is linked to greater weight and fat loss among overweight and obese adults, per a 2021 study published in the International Journal of Obesity. “Not having enough sleep can increase our body’s resistance to lose weight and its ability to store fat, which can make weight loss difficult,” Lampa says.
On top of snoozing for seven to nine hours for your weight loss journey, you should also aim for a consistent bedtime every night and deep, uninterrupted slumber, according to research.
7. De-stress regularly.
Stress is positively associated with weight gain, a 2014 study published in the journal Obesity found, and it’s all due to the increase in cortisol. ICYMI, cortisol is “a stress hormone that promotes body fat and makes it harder to lose weight, especially around the midsection,” says Lampa.
Find self-care activities that can help you reset, whether it’s meditating every morning before you start your day, silencing your phone notifications for some quiet time, or spending time in nature.
8. Lift weights.
Besides exercising, Hunnes recommends toning your arms with some weights. Don’t worry if you’re a newbie to strength training. The weights you use don’t have to be super heavy—a simple five-pound set will do, even less if needed. The goal is to build up muscle in this area. Remember that it’ll take time to see results, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t see your arm fat melting off in a week or month.
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9. Tackle compound exercises.
Performing compound exercises, which target different groups of muscles at once, is the best way to tone your arms, Lampa says. Give push-ups, chest presses, pull-ups, lat pulldowns, bent-over rows, and face pulls a shot. “This is when you maximize your time and recruit more muscles versus isolated muscles like just triceps and biceps,” she says. But, note that “it’s still important to include isolated arm exercises if you want to get stronger.”
Here’s an at-home workout you can try with medium-weight dumbbells three times a week from Lampa. Do three to four sets of 12 to 15 reps of the following:
Want to take this routine to the next level? Increase the weight you’re lifting or shift your time under tension. So, if you’re doing a bent-over row, row for one second upward and three seconds down when you extend your elbows, Lampa says.
Ashley Mateo is a writer, editor, and UESCA- and RRCA-certified running coach who has contributed to Runner’s World, Bicycling, Women’s Health, Health, Shape, Self, and more. She’ll go anywhere in the world once—even if it’s just for a good story. Also into: good pizza, good beer, and good photos.
Ashley Martens is a Wellness Writer based in Chicago, Illinois. With a digital marketing background and her knowledge of general nutrition and a lifelong passion for all things health and wellness, Ashley covers topics that can help people live happier and healthier lives.
Addison Aloian (she/her) is an editorial assistant at Women’s Health. When she’s not writing about all things pop culture, health, beauty, and fashion, she loves hitting leg day at the gym, shopping at Trader Joe’s, and watching whichever hockey game is on TV. Her work has also appeared in Allure, StyleCaster, L’Officiel USA, V Magazine, and Modern Luxury Media.