Underarm Flab Frustration: The Gym Mistake That’s Keeping You From Sexy Arms

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If I?ve heard it once, I?ve heard it a thousand times?women want sexy, sleek, toned arms and are willing to do just about anything to get them. But what if I told you doing that 10th set of tricep extensions was NOT, in fact, going to reduce the amount of flab under your arms… but instead would just develop the muscle and potentially grow the area? It?s actually true!


One of the biggest mistakes I see most women making with their arm workouts is trying to reduce their underarm flab by doing excessive tricep extensions. Ahhh?when I see this, I want nothing more than to scream from the mountaintops: No amount of weight lifted or number of reps completed will get rid of flabby arms! In fact, the heavier the weight, the more muscle you will build?making the tricep region appear even larger than it did before! Seriously, by?doing this, you are just expanding the muscle?you are NOT burning the fat in that region?so that same pesky layer will be there no matter what tricep-focused lifts you do.

Unfortunately, you can’t spot reduce fat. Trust me, I wish I was lying about this one. But don’t lose hope?there are plenty of ways to get those sexy sculpted arms of your dreams… AND it’s surprisingly simple. The key to decreasing that underarm flab….(you ready for this?)…. is all about what you eat and about building the muscles around the underarm flab to create the illusion of slimmer triceps.

We often get so fixated with the old-school body building mentality that we need to do bicep curls and tricep extensions to sculpt those limbs, all the while, we are neglecting the most important muscle groups that actually help create the appearance of a slim and sculpted arm: The shoulders and the back. By focusing more on compound movements that fire your back and shoulder muscles first, you will automatically (and secondarily) work the appropriate bicep and tricep muscles without risking overdeveloping your arms.

Think about it like this: The nicer the shoulder boulder, the slimmer the arm appears. I?ll bet you?ve never seen a woman with nice shoulders who didn?t have amazing arms as well?they go hand-in-hand! Same goes for your back. The more sculpted your back, the nicer your arms AND the slimmer your waistline will appear. Who knew it was all about the optical illusion?? (wink, wink)

Time to graduate from?old-school to new-school, and start sculpting that?upper body look you’re dreaming of…toned underarms and all.

Here are a few of my fave compound shoulder and back exercises:

Upright Row
Lateral Pulldown (or Pull Ups)
Push Ups (or Bench Press)
T-Bar Row
Shoulder Press

Aim for 3 sets of 12 of each exercise on your upper body days, and don’t work out these muscle groups two days in a row. That day or two of rest in between will help those muscles become even stronger AND more shapely.



Related reading:

Carb Cycling 101
5-Minute Workout for Sculpting Sexy Arms
Sexy Summer Shoulders
Commercial Break Workout: Total Body Blaster
Powell Pack Workout of the Day

55 Responses

  1. Heidi, I love your shoes! What brand/kind are they? Are they specific for weight lifting or running or just a normal sneaker?

    Thank you!

  2. I’ve done these moves and others for over 20 years and still have ugly underarm jiggle. I am giving up. Looks like nothing will work but surgery. I was overweight much of my life, so when I lost the weight, I was left with loose skin I cannot get rid of, try as I may. I would like to hear from folks that had similar problems and fixed it naturally. Though I am at my goal weight (according to the doctors office chart), I feel like I should take off a few pounds; maybe this will help. Seeing a dietician next week.

    1. You can always look into intermittent fasting as a way to reduce excess skin and flab. Fasting beyond 24 hours can put you into autophagy, when your body starts breaking down excess skin, tissue and fat. Or if extended fast won’t work for you try the popular 18-6 or 20-4 schedule. I do not personally use IF to reduce weight, as I’ve always been a healthy weight, but it does wonders for curbing cravings and lets me more easily eat healthier, since after a fast anything taste good.

  3. Hello! I have broad shoulders and large arms (I?m an inverted triangle body type) I was wondering if these exercises were going to make my shoulders bigger.
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Eruca: No, they definitely shouldn’t! Go for lighter weight and more reps if you aren’t seeing the results you’d like to see. πŸ™‚

  4. This is my favorite go-to arm/shoulder workout of all time. I even like to do it on my “rest” days because it makes me feel so good. After reading this blog I started focusing on my shoulders and back and wouldn’t you know I started getting compliments on my nice looking tones arms! Not bad for a 51 year old. πŸ˜‰

  5. What can be done if one has gastric bypass?

    Is there anything we can do to help the skin before surgery makes the weight come off too fast? I understand the process of a regular diet followed by these exercises., slow is better. I get the feeling there is nothing I can do if the weight comes off and the skin can’t slowly tighten up. But if I can do anything, to minimize the fallout.

    Do you have any advice on skin creams for tightening skin?


    1. Hi Bev: Here’s a post that can offer some ideas: https://heidipowell.net/3485. And there are some skin creams that can help also. Since each person’s skin can react in a different way to weight loss, it’s hard to tell exactly how your skin will react to losing pounds. I’d definitely discuss this with your healthcare team also, and then follow their recommendations. πŸ™‚

  6. I’m so excited to get back to the gym and give these a try! I’ve been recovering from a back injury for the last 3 months, so exercise has been slow going. I’m ready to get back at it, and these are at the top of my list! Thank you!

  7. I am a mother to three. My oldest just turned 3. My second is 18 months, and my baby girl is 3 months. I am very active – I try to exercise with my kids however I can. The stroller I have is not for jogging, but I do it anyhow. On special occasions my husband is off and I get to enjoy a jog with my daughter the city select I have holds all 3 but it isn’t for jogging and I have fallen, tripped, and face planted over so many rocks that I am afraid to go jogging with my daughter. I love to run. This stroller will allow me to share my story of getting my body back after 3 back to back kids and I would be sure to give it to someone once we outgrow it too. This would be a dream come true and I could enjoy these special moments with my daughter and kids without the fear of someone getting hurt. Here in AZ, the mountains get rocky and the roads where I live off Carefree hwy are dirt. This would change my life! Thank you Heidi for being so kind and giving.

  8. I often wonder if my arms will ever tighten up thanks for the advice I hope I can be successful at some point with getting everything tightened and toned!

  9. This is my problem area. So I appreciated this post.
    ( Also, it’s my entry to help win your orbit for my friend Heidi ?…as a mom I’d 5 myself, I know how much I appreciated my Orbit…sadly my babies are growing up too quickly, so I live to see a mommy pay-it-forward)

  10. Yes! Okay so yes I am commenting because of the stroller giveaway but I read this blog entry a couple of weeks ago and I was screaming with you! Because I did this lol! But I started focusing on my shoulders (and by biceps) a little more, and did more cardio and…I HAD NEVER HAD NICER/SEXIER ARMS IN MY LIFE. And of course putting the right foods into your body ;).

  11. This blog really helped me with the issue of arm flab! You’re totally right. We are way too hard on ourselves, and approach the issue with the wrong idea (ie. no spot fat reduction!)

  12. Thank you for posting this! I have been focusing so much on legs lately that I’ve totally neglected my arms! After doing these exercises for a couple weeks my arms already look so much better! What a difference strong shoulders can make in your physique!

  13. Please advise! I have been going to the gym for a year now. I am 48 years old and every time I work my upper body I suffer for a week with trap and rhomboid trigger points. How can I fix this. It’s horrible and I dread doing upper body because of this. Thank you in advance.

    1. Hi Renea: Have you talked with your healthcare team about this? If not, I’d see what they think is the problem and go from there. I hope it gets better! πŸ™‚

  14. What advice do you have as far as working out with auto immune diseases? My whole life has turned upside down and I have celiac disease and hypothyroidism. I have no energy and feel bad all the time. I was told not to do cardio and to lift weights. I’m at a loss because I can’t lose weight. I feel stuck. Any advice please. Thank you and God bless

    1. Hi Krystal: It’s always best to follow your healthcare team’s recommendations as far as working out, but a huge part of weight loss is nutrition, and you can check out the nutrition part of Chris and Heidi’s carb cycling program here: https://heidipowell.net/2713. It’s awesome, and it works! πŸ™‚

  15. My husband read this and just said sorry to me for all those heavy arm days!! ? I hate my arms and work them out so much, and they just get bigger and fatter! Where have you been all my life!

  16. I cant afford a gym membership, what exercise can i do at home that will help get rid of these bat wings….

    1. Order the Body Gym system with resistance band from QVC. You will ??It for what you’re looking to do . Cost me $39 last year. Read the reviews. It comes with a great instructional video, but you can always You Tube a segment of Marie Osmond on the show giving great instructional video as well.

  17. I’d also like to know- should I now sub these moves for days I would’ve done triceps, essentially no longer have tri days?

    1. Hi Cece: These exercises work your arms, shoulders, and back, so they can replace any tri moves you may have been doing, plus you get the bonus of working other muscles in addition to your tris. πŸ™‚

  18. So happy to see this!! I already do these so I’m glad to know I’m on the right track, or will be. After months of being out due to medical issues I will happily walk back into the gym TODAY!

    1. Hi,
      I also love the shoes. Went to the site, but can’t find them. Could you please tell the name of the shoe? I realize Reebok FuryLites, but they are not there, other FuryLites are, but not these.
      Thank You,

  19. Hi Heidi!
    What’s the best way hint to eat or drink before a work out? Recently I started an int nose workout called Orangetheory and I’ve been burning around 600 calories but when I leave I’m starving! What should I eat or drink to get ready?
    Ps thanks for the arm advice!!

    1. Click on the exercise names in the article and it will take you to a video demo of each exercise

    1. Hi Angie: How each person’s skin reacts to weight loss can be very different, but working and building those muscles underneath the skin can definitely help! πŸ™‚

  20. Oh thank God for you Heidi! I dislike strongly tricep extensions! ? cant wait to focus more on back and shoulders. Struggle a lot with my back, so ill try these moves more than the lamo biceps and tricep curls! Yay!

  21. I don’t have a gym membership. Is it possible to do these upper body exercises at home? If so, how?
    Thanks for your time.

    1. Yes! If you have this equipment (which is minimal), you can totally do these at home!

  22. So are you saying that we should never do bicep curls and tricep extensions? Because I love doing tricep extensions.

    1. I’m wondering the same. Although I hate triceps extensions so I’d be happy to never do them again haha.

  23. You are so awesome! My daughter is 13 and I got her wkg out we go together! She also swims so I am getting her ready to swim for high school next year at Corona Del sol and I love that you are from AZ! I was wondering when you are free sometime if we could meet up and you can show me some stuff at the gym I am still learning and I want to teach my daughter the right way of training! We live in Tempe and I work for the Kyrene school dist in the preschool at Kyrene De Las Manitas school! I love it! Thank you for being so awesome and I hope to hear from you soon! And I am on Facebook to I am one of your friends Tracie Conway Radawec! Thank you, Tracie πŸ™‚

    1. Hi Marie: You can substitute a different type of row – using dumbbells – that mimics the same movement without the T-Bar. πŸ™‚

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