tips to tone arms

How to Tone Your Upper Arms (even if that’s your weak spot)

Here are 4 great ways to tone your upper arms that can be done individually or in tandem. The goal? Less of the jiggly arms, more of the sexy, shapely arms.

1. Do a Pushup Challenge

Whether you’re convinced you can’t do a pushup or want to get better and improve your muscle definition, pushups benefit everyone.

They are such an amazing exercise, a great equalizer, providing both challenge and value to every type of body. Pushups strengthen your arms, chest, core, and back, even as they tone your arms and shoulders. And there are modifications to make them easier or tougher to match your starting point.

Free pushup challenges abound on the Internet, but here’s one I like, a free pushup challenge from Chris Freytag that offers:

  • a 28-day pushup schedule for both beginners and advanced
  • a mixture of pushup styles — this adds variety, works extra muscles, and delays the inevitable fatigue from muscle repetition

Your gender and body type will influence your raw pushup ability, that’s ok. It’s about finding the pushup technique and number of reps which challenge you. Each body has its own best, and that is what we’re striving for.

Tip: Expect to need recovery days.
Your body will tell you when it needs a break. You will not be able to do pushups every single day of a challenge. Your muscles will need a day or two of periodic recovery.

2. Wear 1-pound Weighted Gloves

This is a little cheat I picked up from fitness pro Kelly Coffey-Meyer, who wears 1-pound weighted gloves in many of her videos, even the weight-lifting ones.

When you wear 1-pound gloves for an entire workout, you get a bit of continuous extra arm workout for the entire span, even between sets. For most workouts (with the exception of kettlebells), 1-pound gloves won’t get in the way of any other equipment. Pure bonus.

3. Go one size heavier with your hand weights

If you own hand weights currently, chances are they are sized in your comfort zone, not too heavy, hopefully not too light. Here’s the secret. The way to build strength and arm definition is to push your upper limit, just a little.

If you own… (pound weights) Add a pair of …
3’s 5’s
5’s 8’s
8’s 10’s
10’s 15’s

First, start swapping the heavier weights into your workouts occasionally – early in the workout, before you get fatigued. Eventually, just start with the heavy weights and you’ll find you stop using the lighter ones almost entirely.

I’ve moved from 3’s to 10’s by doing this, and now 10’s are getting too light for me. I have gotten more toned, not more bulky. But, the only times I’ve gotten stronger are when I pushed myself to move up a weight size. By default, you’ll stay in your comfort plateau indefinitely if you don’t push the boundary. And that’s ok too, if you like where you are.

Gains in strength and arm tone happen really fast. Within a few times working out with an incrementally heavier weight, you will go from hitting muscle exhaustion (“burning out the muscle”) to feeling comfortable but challenged by the weight.

4. Do strength training twice a week, with at least 1 day of dedicated upper body

Have you heard of #legsday or #armsday?

To really maintain nice arm definition that you weren’t naturally born with, you need to commit to doing strength training at least twice a week. One of the days should be focused on upper body (hence “armsday”), not because you shouldn’t work out your other muscles too, but just to make sure you really spend a full (20-40 minute) session working all of the angles and muscle groups in your upper body.

Once you have 1 guaranteed arms day per week, you can mix it up for your 2nd strength training day of the week. You may focus on legs, or do a conditioning workout that works the full body or alternates between cardio and weighted or resistance movement. The more muscle groups you use, the more calories you’ll burn.

You do not need weights to get an upper body workout, as evidenced by the pushup challenge. There are plenty of effective upper body workouts that use just your own body weight or other equipment such as resistance bands.


Reminder: You Cannot Spot Reduce Fat

Now a small reality check, because knowledge is power.

If you have (1)fat on your upper arms which most of us do, and (2)nothing changes in your underlying body composition – that is, if you don’t lose fat but merely add muscle- the fat on your arms will not magically disappear. Fat does not turn into muscle. It is a different entity.

By building muscle in your arms, you can absolutely improve the tone and look of your upper arms, so you love them, you see definition, and you feel good showing them off. Changing your ratio of muscle to fat offers a huge potential improvement.

You already know that you cannot spot reduce fat. That is, you cannot exercise a body part thin. That is a morale-damaging, informercial-selling MYTH.

Here are your real choices:
1. You can lose fat to see more muscle (assuming there’s some to see).
2. You can strengthen muscle to see more muscle. The 2nd one is so much easier and is not depriving in any way!

There you have it. 4 surefire ways to improve the tone of your upper arms. No snake oil.

Here’s to strong arms!

Valerie Lanard

I am a fitness buff, engineering leader, and wearables lover. This blog originally started as part of my now-defunct fitness video startup, Gigabody. It has evolved to encompass my writing on tech and work culture as well. Find me on a bike, on a hike, in a skort, or near a usb port.

One thought to “How to Tone Your Upper Arms (even if that’s your weak spot)”

  1. In today’s society there is a lot of emphasis put on weight and fitness. Sometimes fitness seems like an impossible goal to reach. While it requires commitment and work, it is far from impossible! With these simple hints, you’ll be on your way to a fit and healthy you.

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