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How To Get Skinny Arms Without Building Muscle
BY AMANDA BERRY
May 24th 2019
How can I get skinny arms without building huge muscles? The answer to this question may surprise you, but don’t fret. This article contains everything you need to get skinny arms without getting bodybuilder biceps.
After reading you’ll have a firm understanding of how the body burns fat, how to burn fat on your arms, which exercises to use for lean arms, and the right foods to eat.
Burning arm fat
If you’re wondering how to lose arm fat, let us break this to you gently…
There is no way to target arms specifically with weight loss.
It would be lovely, wouldn’t it?
To exercise an area of your body and burn fat from that area at the same time.
This idea, called spot reduction, is quite prevalent.
But the sad truth is, it is a myth.
And here’s why…
Unlike toning muscle, where you can target specific areas, burning fat affects the whole body at once.
This is because of how your body uses fat:
Excess fat is stored around the body in bundles called triglycerides.
When your muscles need energy, they burn the fatty acids stored in these triglyceride deposits.
It may be tempting to think that a muscle uses fatty acids from its nearest triglyceride deposit…
But they don’t.
When you need energy, fatty acids are taken from triglyceride deposits all over the body. These enter the bloodstream, which is where the muscles get them from.
If you don’t believe us, several scientific studies have proved spot reduction wrong:
- One study found that tennis players did not have less fat in their arms compared to other parts of their body (1). If spot reduction was true, tennis players would have much less fat in their arms, as they are used all the time.
- Another study asked participants to train one leg, and one leg only. No difference in fat levels were found between their untrained leg, and their trained super-leg (2).
- Participants in a third study did over 5,000 press-ups in a 27 day period, and again: no difference was found in fat ratio between the abdominal region and elsewhere (3). If spot reduction worked, their abdominals would have had much lower fat.
How to get skinny arms
Don’t be discouraged, though.
You can still burn fat from your arms,
But you’ll just have to deal with burning it on other areas of your body at the same time.
Combining fat burning exercise with exercises to tone your muscle will give you skinny arms that look great.
We’ll explore each aspect of the process in the next sections.
Exercises for toned arms
Now we know that you can’t target specific areas for weight loss, we have more exercise options to work with.
Cardiovascular exercise – or just cardio – is a favourite for fat burning.
It increases your daily energy burn, and is incredibly varied. It’s a good active habit to get into, and you can increase or decrease the intensity as you see fit.
You can back up cardio with high intensity training and exercises to tone your arm muscles for optimal results.
Cardio and weight loss
Cardio is a much more efficient calorie burner than reps. Any exercise that increases your heart rate can be considered cardio, so you’ve got a lot of options.
And so on.
Depending where you are in terms of fitness you could look at a Couch to 5k, or something a bit more intense.
Apps like Nike Running Club are great at curating exercise routines for you based on your skill level and goals.
Your aim should be doing enough cardio each week to burn fat on your body. As you do this, you’ll notice all areas getting more trim, including your arms.
How to tone your arms without building muscle
We mentioned toning, too.
This is important for making sure your newly thinned arms look strong and toned.
And don’t worry: we’re not going to recommend exercises that give you big, beefy biceps.
It takes more work than you think to build huge arm muscles, and achieving bodybuilder physique requires special and intense exercise regimes.
Because of the oestrogen in your bloodstream (any men reading: this obviously doesn’t apply to you), it will be hard for you to ‘accidentally’ build large muscles.
Instead, you’re aiming for gently toned muscles to make your arms pop.
A study confirmed the beneficial relationship between cardio and resistance exercise: “resistance exercise can benefit dieters by helping to preserve lean mass and metabolic rate in the face of a persistently negative caloric balance” (4).
With that in mind, here are some resistance exercises for your arms:
1. Bicep curls
This will target your biceps.
Choose a weight that you can comfortably lift 15-20 times. You can use a milk bottle full of water, if you don’t have weights.
Hold the weight and let your arms hang by your sides. Your elbows should be straight, and your palms should be facing in.
Raise one arm slowly, turning it as you lift. At the top of your lift, your palm should be facing your bicep.
Lower your arm, then raise the opposite arm in the same way.
Aim for 15-20 raises per arm. This makes a full set.
Aim for three sets, with a minute break between each.
2. Tricep kickbacks
This will target your triceps.
Choose weights with the same criteria as before: heavy enough to be challenging, but where you can lift 15-20 times.
Hold a weight in each hand, down by your sides and with your palms facing inward.
Bend your knees slightly, keep your back straight, and bend forward at the waist. Aim for just shy of parallel with the ground.
Your upper arms should be parallel with the ground, and your forearms holding the weights should be at a right angle to the floor.
Extend your so that your forearm becomes parallel with the floor, then return to the right angle.
Repeat this 15-20 times per side, then swap sides.
3. Lateral raises
This will target your shoulder muscles.
Hold a weight in each hand with your hands by your sides, then simply raise both arms until they are parallel with the floor. You will be in a T shape.
Repeat 10-12 times. Sounds easy, but it is surprisingly hard!
You can find more arm exercises in another article we’ve written: Gym routines that tone your arms.
Follow those, and when the fat does drop off, there will be lean muscles waiting beneath.
Dietary advice for skinny arms
It is important to lose weight in a healthy and controlled manner.
By combining exercise with a safe caloric deficit, you will see fat disappear from all areas of your body.
But you still need to eat enough calories to fuel your metabolism.
A BMI calculator can help you figure out a safe deficit to aim for, as can a conversation with your doctor.
As a ballpark figure, you should aim for an absolute minimum of 1,200 calories per day (1,800 for any men who happen to be reading this).
Your diet should include all five food groups, and a good amount of fresh fruit and veg. If you’re working on your muscles, you’ll need to pay extra attention to protein in your diet.
You’re best primed to absorb nutrients in the half hour or so after exercise, so a protein snack will help your body rebuild muscles.
You don’t have to shell out on expensive protein snacks. Instead you can eat things like:
- Trail mix
- Tuna and hard-boiled egg
- Peanut butter (spread it on celery sticks for an interesting snack)
Try to avoid eating too many fats, as well. There’s not much point doing extra exercise to burn fat if you’re still eating a high-fat diet.
Don’t just take our word for it. One study we read emphasised “the crucial importance of low-fat eating if exercise is to have an optimal impact on fat stores” (4).
There is no way to burn fat just on your arms.
What you can do, though, is create an exercise plan that burns fat all over your body, and supplement it with exercises designed to tone your arm muscles.
That way, when you start to lose weight in a healthy, controlled manner, there will be toned arm muscles waiting underneath.
It’s the same time-tested combination that will help you to achieve skinny arms: a safe caloric deficit, a healthy diet, and the right exercise routine.
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- Ducros V. Chromium Metabolism – A Literatiure Review. (1992). Link.
- Picolinic Acid. Link.
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- EFSA Panel on Dietetic products nutrition and allergies. Scientific Opinion on the Substantiation of Health Claims Related to Chromium. (2010). Link.