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Banish bat wings: Exercises for flabby arms

It's summer. Time for sleeveless shirts and dresses. Some of us, however, think twice about baring our arms and waving or reaching because our upper arm has the tendency to "wave" back. Is there anything that can be done to get rid of or minimize the "bat wing" look? Yes and no. The cold hard truth is that you cannot spot reduce a troublesome body part. What you can do is tone and strengthen the underlying muscles and reduce the layer of body fat over the muscles so that the new muscle definition can show through and reduce the bat effect.  

First, let's focus on strengthening your underlying upper arm muscles, specifically the triceps muscle on the back of the upper arm. If you are just beginning a strength routine, choose a light weight, one that you can lift fairly comfortably ten times. Start with one set of ten repetitions (reps). As your strength improves, increase to three or four sets of ten reps with a 30 to 60 second rest between sets. During your final set the last ten reps should be a challenge, but still doable. After several weeks, increase the weight and start over with ten reps. To prevent injury, do strength training exercises two to three times a week with a day of rest between sessions.

Here are examples of triceps strengthening exercises: 

  • The triceps kickback is probably the most common triceps exercise and the easiest to do anywhere. Stand or sit with one arm bent at 90°, elbow pulled back and palm facing your side. Inhale, and then exhale while extending your lower arm, keeping your upper arm still. Hold for a count of one, and then slowly return to the starting position. Repeat with the other arm. Do three to four sets of ten reps.
    Tricep kickbacks
  •  The triceps extension exercise can be done using a pulley or stretchy band or tube. Stand with your knees slightly bent. Grab the band, and keep your upper arms close to your side. Bend your arms 90° while holding the pulley or stretch band. Pull or press straight down until your elbows are straight. Do three to four sets of ten reps. 

    Tricep extension
  • The triceps dip and pushups are done with body weight alone, so start with a few repetitions and work your way up to three to four sets of ten reps.
    • For the triceps dip, stand in front of a sturdy table or chair. Place your palms on the surface of the table or chair, shoulder width apart, with your fingers pointing forward. Gently lower your body by bending your knees. Don't allow your legs to take all the weight and stop lowering if your shoulders feel strained. Press your body back up so your elbows are straight. 

      Tricep dip
    • Start with a wall pushup and work your way down to a counter top and then a floor pushup. For the wall pushup, stand at arm's length from the wall with your feet slightly apart. Place your palms close together on the wall and lean forward, then push back with your arms to straighten them. If this is too easy, perform this move on a sturdy countertop and then eventually the floor. 

      wall pushup

Your next step is to work on reducing your overall body fat through aerobic or cardiovascular exercise, such as biking, walking, swimming, running or dancing. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes a day, at least five days a week. Remember, the more heart pumping activity you do, the more calories you burn and the faster the layer of fat is reduced. Moderate intensity exercise is best. This means that you can carry on a conversation without having to stop often for a breath during exercise. Most people will be sweating as well. And if you are pressed for time, several bouts of 10 to 15 minutes of movement is just as good as one 30-minute session.  

Finally, eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Avoid calorie-dense foods like sweets, pizza, french fries and soda. Remember it only takes minutes to ingest hundreds of calories, and it takes many hours to burn it off.


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