If you have saggy arms and want to get rid of them, this article can help.
I’m 63 and don’t have flabby arms thanks to my workout routine & my diet, and I’ll share both of those with you here.
This arm workout article is for my fellow members in our Over 60 Club (& anyone else, really) whose arms lack muscle tone, strength, & jiggle around more than they want them to.
In it I’ll go over the specific exercises I do for each of the muscle groups in our upper arms — our biceps & triceps muscles — in order to keep them toned & in shape.
I also provide training volume suggestions (i.e., sets & reps) for each of these exercises for flabby arms, as well as ideas on how to get the best results from this arm workout.
Some of these will be tips on how to boost your metabolism in order to lower your body fat percentage, which in turn will help the muscle you’ll be building in your arms show itself more.
A couple of program notes
* This workout routine is well-suited for women & men alike: no gender bias here on heydayDo. And it’ll work for you no matter your age too — I’ve been doing these exercises since I was in my 20s.
* This can be done at home or anywhere you want to take your dumbbells.
- (Obviously if you have a gym membership, that’ll work too.)
* Ideally you’ll either have adjustable dumbbells or pairs of dumbbells of varying weight. This is because you’ll be stronger on some of the exercises compared to others, and it’s important each exercise is neither too easy nor too hard for you to perform.
Science resources included
As is my custom here on heydayDo, I will provide links to all of the relevant sports science and medical resources, clinical studies, & nutritional data used in this article.
We’ll be getting into my arm workout in a bit.
But first, I want to briefly address the likely cause(s) and the best cure(s) for flabby arms, or flabby whatever we get to deal with (oh joy), now that we have five or six decades in our rear view mirrors.
Why do I have have flabby arms?
For most of us north of 50 there are three usual suspects responsible for flab:
- the natural aging process of humans;
- years without any muscle toning activity;
- years of a diet too high in processed food, sugar, & saturated fat, and too low in lean protein.
How to get rid of flabby arms no matter what age you are
Adequate weekly strength training coupled with a clean diet that has the right amount of clean protein in it will build muscle and burn fat at the same time.
In this scenario, sagging skin will slowly fill in over time as your arm muscles grow and you lower your overall body fat percentage.
So you see, the fix for flabby arms is a simple concept & is easy to understand.
However, for you to be successful it will demand commitment & effort from you.
“Time waits for no one”
Thanks to the aging process we start losing muscle somewhere around the age of 30 — if we’re not fighting it tooth & nail with the right kind of exercise & diet — and the rate of decline accelerates as the decades pass by. (1)
When the loss of muscle is coupled with an increase in body fat, body parts like our arms, belly/abs, legs, butt — wherever — can lose any toned appearance they might’ve had in their younger days.
Unless we do something about it of course.
Resistance isn’t futile, it turns out
Maybe it was on Star Trek (well, in that one season finale anyway), but when it comes to fighting muscle loss due simply to getting older, resistance is necessary.
And by resistance, I mean resistance training — AKA strength training — and the most popular form of strength training is good old weightlifting.
Consistent strength training can not only slow muscle loss, but you can build muscle too, even if you’re an older adult. (2)
They’re over 50 & fighting the good fight vs. age-related muscle loss…
From Harvard Medical’s Preserve Your Muscle Mass article:
“It takes work, dedication, and a plan, but it is never too late to rebuild muscle and maintain it.” (3)
“We are what we eat”, and so are our arms
Even though time marches on & aging is working against us, we also have another measure of control over whether we maintain muscle tone or not.
And that is with our diet, specifically in regards to how much quality protein we eat on a daily basis.
I’ll get into this a little more later on after the exercises, but for now here are a couple of key points:
* Consuming adequate protein is a critical component in maintaining or building our muscle, especially at our age; (5)
* We don’t process protein nearly as well as we did when we were younger, so we need more of it now; (6)
* As we lose muscle in our arms our skin doesn’t disappear along with it, and instead just sags; (7)
* Poor food choices (processed junk, fatty, starchy, sugary, alcohol-y) can’t be used by our muscles so our body stores it, eventually turning it to fat;
* Stored fat deposits itself anywhere it wants to — genetics has a hand in that — including on our upper arms. (8)
Next let’s get into the exercise & workout plan, and I want to start by going over how I’m laying out the information in this article.
Exercise & workout outline
— I’ll start with all of the triceps exercises, then go over the biceps exercises.
— There’ll be demonstration videos for each exercise.
— I’ll provide you with key points to dial in for each exercise on things like correct form, or tips for better results.
— After we’ve gone through the seven exercises, I’ll share sample workout programs for both beginner & intermediate levels, and discuss the best training strategy for the long haul.
About the videos
I tracked down videos for all of the exercises off of various YouTube channels, since I unfortunately don’t have enough free hours in a day to shoot & edit videos plus manage a YouTube channel.
The videos I included in this article aren’t long, instructional/tutorial-type videos, more a quick demonstration than anything else.
You don’t need to do them along with the person demonstrating the technique.
The main thing is that you get to see the proper setup & the movements involved with each exercise.
I’ll be adding my own 2¢ after each one.
Quick word: warm up first
I heartily recommend you spend a few minutes — say 5 to 10 — preparing your body & the specific muscles you’re going to use for the workout ahead.
This means getting yourself warmed up, getting your blood flowing throughout your whole body, getting your joints loosened & lubricated, etc.
Please see my article Dynamic vs. Static Stretching for active warmup stretching ideas. The dynamic stretching video in that article has several great exercises you can choose from to warm up with.
If you’re without a bench…
After I go through all of the exercises, I’ll then provide alternatives for those exercises that are meant to be performed on an adjustable weight bench like these:
Last update on 2023-12-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
And I’ll give you a few ideas for “bench substitutes” that you may already have in your home.
The results may not be as robust as a result, but then again who knows; you ultimately have the “say so” on that since it’s your effort level that ultimately determines your level of success.
I use an adjustable bench nowadays because it provides a way for my strength training program (with dumbbells) here at home to replicate much — if not all — of what I was able to accomplish while working out in a commercial weightlifting gym.
Okie dokie, onto our arms…starting with the triceps.
Exercise for flabby arms, part 1: Triceps
If you’re unfamiliar with the muscle anatomy in our upper arms, the main muscle groups there are the triceps and the biceps.
The triceps are located on the back part of your arm, the biceps on the front.
In our quest to vanquish flabby arms, the triceps are (in my humble opinion anyway) the more important of the two upper arm muscle groups.
For one, the triceps make up roughly 2/3 of your upper arm size. (10)
For another, when you hold your arm out to the side, it’s the part of your arm that’s on the bottom.
And if there’s little to no muscle back there, it just sort of flaps around whenever your arms move away from your body.
The triceps is actually made up of three parts, and we’ll be working each one.
The word triceps comes from the Latin words “tri” – like a tricycle with three wheels, and “ceps” meaning head. (11)
Here’s a pic of the triceps:
Besides the long & lateral heads, the medial head covers the upper part of that tendon you see between the two others, and is the smallest of the three.
The triceps exercises
We’ll be doing four exercises for the triceps, and here are their names:
- Close grip dumbbell press
- Incline dumbbell kickbacks
- Incline dumbbell overhead extensions
- Dumbbell push ups
One last (very) important point
Do not rush through any of your repetitions with these or any other weightlifting exercises you ever do, as that accomplishes very little.
It’s far better to instead have perfect form with fewer reps performed slow & controlled; your results will be greater & come sooner.
Oh, one more thing: proper breathing is essential, so always remember this old weightlifting phrase “exhale on exertion”.
That means on a pushing movement (like tricep exercises or a chest exercise like the bench press) you inhale as the weight is lowered, and exhale as you push/press it to the top of the movement.
And with a pulling movement (like the bicep curls in my article’s workout, or pull ups) you’re inhaling as you lower the weight, and exhaling as you pull/curl it toward you.
Close grip dumbbell press
(AKA the Crush Press, this is a concise 40-second video with very clear, spot-on instructions.)
Presses on a bench are associated with chest development exercises and for good reason, but they also work the triceps too.
And a research study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning confirmed that the combined use of both a flat bench & a narrow (close) grip activated the entire triceps muscle more than any other type of pressing movement. (11)
* Note the instructions for getting set up for the exercise — this is safe & smart handling of free weight that can be applied to many bench-related weightlifting exercises using dumbbells.
* If you are using small dumbbells, just keeping them within an inch or two of each other is fine if you find it hard to keep them touching each other throughout the exercise.
* In the starting position the dumbbells rest on your chest with you pressing them against each other (hence the nickname Crush Press).
* But during the exercise don’t rest them on your chest between reps (i.e., repetitions), but instead bring them down so they only lightly brush your chest at the bottom of the movement. You want constant tension as much as possible.
No sweat; we can get creative with things in our home.
Just understand that your range of motion could/will be restricted, since on a bench your elbows are below your body at the start of each rep.
This means that you won’t get as much benefit out of the exercise using a surface that’s wide enough to stop your elbows.
Here are a few suggestions as alternatives, and make sure it’s sturdy enough to support your weight:
- the floor
- an ottoman
- a coffee table
- a clothes chest
- a large Coleman/camping cooler
- stiff sofa cushions
Use a towel or blanket to soften any hard surface.
Incline dumbbell kickbacks
(Very helpful 25-second video, all good points here.)
Sports science has shown that this incline kickback exercise is the most effective tricep exercise for the long head, which is the biggest of the three.
* Keep an eye on her body alignment from head to toe; it’s excellent.
* It’s important to keep your neck relaxed & neutral, and your head should do so also…so never tilt your chin up or down.
* Note that the elbow functions only as a hinge, and does not move back or forward.
* This prevents the ability to swing the weight using your shoulder muscles instead of your triceps muscles, which at the gym we call “cheating”.
* Return slowly back down to the starting position, don’t rush, since slow is good when it comes to high quality reps.
Tip for better results: hold the locked out (fully extended) dumbbells’ finishing position behind you there for a second or two and squeeze your triceps, before returning back to the starting position.
No incline- able bench?
This is hard to find a substitute due to the inclined bench’s ability to support our weight.
I suggest doing the standard kickback exercise where you do 1 dumbbell/arm at a time, while resting your knee & your free hand on a stable surface.
Knock out all the reps on one side then switch the dumbbell to your other arm.
Keep your upper arm parallel & in line with your body like you see in the video, the only difference is that your body is parallel with the floor and the surface you’re using.
Or do them standing up, and here’s a video demonstrating that technique:
Incline dumbbell overhead extensions
(The demonstration of the exercise ends at 1:15, no need to hang around ’til the end after that.)
* Keep your head & back flush with the bench pad throughout the exercise.
* Do not move your elbows forward or backward, as this causes your shoulders to take over some of the work and we don’t want that in an arm workout.
* So your elbows are essentially just hinges that remain in place, which isolates the effort onto your triceps muscles.
Tip for better results: If your shoulder mobility allows you, get your elbow position back by your head instead of in front of it as he’s doing.
On an incline bench, your triceps will get a better stretch as you lower the weight back behind your head — and this means better muscle activation.
No incline- able bench?
Do them on a flat surface, and the floor will work OK.
Close grip dumbbell push ups
(Video length: 35 seconds)
* The dumbbells help out by taking away a lot of the typical wrist discomfort that bothers many people trying to do push ups.
* The narrow hand placement activates our triceps much more than the standard push up’s hand position does, as confirmed by this sports science study & others.
* If a pushup is too difficult for you to perform with good form** being up on your toes, drop your knees to the floor from the regular push up’s normal starting position and do them from there.
- As you slowly gain strength over time, slide your knees back a couple of inches every week or so, and eventually you’ll be up on your toes.
** good form – Shoot for a fairly straight line from head to toe as he’s doing, with your butt neither sticking way up in the air or sagging below the imaginary line running from your shoulders to your ankles.
* I’m not a big fan of where his hands are positioned under his body, and I think it’s more comfortable to have them a couple of inches further apart from one another & angled in like so:
Exercises for flabby arms, part 2: Biceps
Here’s an anatomical sketch showing the front side of our arms, and you can see that the biceps muscle is made up of two parts (biceps – from the Latin “bi” meaning double, and “ceps” again meaning head).
We will also be doing an exercise that works on the Brachialis muscle, which you can see is just behind the biceps long head muscle & just in front of the triceps muscle.
(50 second straight-to-the-point demonstration video)
A sports science research study using EMG** sponsored by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) found that concentration curls activated the biceps muscles more than six other types of bicep curl exercises. (13)
**EMG = electromyography, which is a medical diagnostic technology that measures stimulation of muscles using electrodes attached to a person, during exercise in this particular study. (14)
* Pin your upper arm right above the elbow just behind your knee as opposed to further up your thigh, so that the dumbbell is out away from your body a little.
* Use your other hand lightly pushing into your other thigh as a sort of counterweight. (I put my open palm on my knee and push against it as needed during the rep.)
* Do a whole set to failure with one arm, then switch to the other arm immediately with no rest in between.
Tip for better results: You can go to failure on this exercise, and once you can’t complete another rep don’t just lower it & stop.
Instead — before the dumbbell heads down — use your other hand to help the dumbbell up to the top of the movement then let go, so your working arm can fight gravity as you slowly lower it.
Do 2 reps like that at the end of each set of concentration curls for each arm (they’re called “negatives” in weightlifting parlance).
Any stable place you can sit in the position you see in the video will be fine.
Incline dumbbell curls
(Demonstration ends around the 1:15 mark.)
* Keep your head & back up against the bench pad throughout the entire range of motion in the exercise.
* Note the starting position:
- dumbbells hanging freely straight down;
- arms perpendicular to the floor;
- & the elbows behind your body, aligned with your head.
* Elbows do not come forward & up, since that causes the shoulders to do some of the work (i.e., “cheating”).
* Instead, keep the elbows behind the body throughout the movement as he demonstrates.
* Hinging at the elbow, bring the dumbbell up to where your forearm is about parallel to the floor — or a little higher — before returning to the starting position.
No incline- able bench?
We want to get creative with this one, because the inclined angle is what makes this so much better than the same ol’ curls done standing up.
Get a sturdy chair with no arms, and stuff a stiff cushion or two (or similar object) between you & the back of the chair.
This will force your body to be at an angle, so you’ll be able to “sort of” mimic what the incline bench provides.
Here’s a vid of a gal doing just that, though her angle isn’t quite as good:
Dumbbell hammer curls
(41-second silent demonstration video)
* This exercise not only works the biceps, but activates that muscle between the biceps & triceps, the brachialis.
* Note the starting position of the dumbbells: your palms are facing each other as the dumbbells point forward (hence the term “hammer curl”).
* You maintain this grip position throughout the entire range of motion.
* The elbows do not come forward during the upward motion of the dumbbell — again, that’s cheating by involving your shoulders as helpers.
* The elbows remain in place and just hinge as you raise the dumbbells to a fully contracted position.
* Don’t be in a rush to lower the dumbbell; notice how his downward motion (eccentric portion) is a little slower than when he’s raising it (concentric portion).
Tip for better results: On the way down of each repetition, fight gravity even more and make the dumbbells take 3-5 seconds to get back down to the starting position at thigh level.
Sports research has demonstrated that slowing this downward (eccentric) portion of the curl activates the brachialis more than regular speed curls. (15)
The End To Flabby Arms workout plan
Warm up your arms
Take 5-10 minutes to accomplish two things:
- get your body warm with heart rate up above its normal resting rate;
- get the muscles that’ll be worked on lightly activated.
In this workout’s case, the muscles that we’ll be warming up are those on our arms.
So grab some very light dumbbells and do 25-50 reps alternating between a bicep exercise’s curling motion & a tricep exercise’s extending motion.
Or do those 25 reps of standing biceps curls then hit the floor to do some on-your-knees, easy push ups to wake your tricep muscles up.
Warm up your whole body a little too
Before you warm up the arms though, do 3-4 minutes of brisk cardio to bump up your heart rate.
Jog or walk briskly with active arms, either in place or outside, or jump on a cardio machine if you got one.
I use a Xiser hydraulic mini-stepper — 3 minutes of grinding on that & I’m winded & warm.
But there are countless ways to heat up & get the heart going…dance to a hard techno song at 135 beats per minute, that’ll do ya too.
Beginner arm workout
Important: Strict 60 second rests between sets, and use the stopwatch on your phone to help you stay on track.
If you’re a beginner, do one set of 8-12 reps for each exercise 3 times a week with at least one day of rest in between workouts.
Increase your weight slowly over time, as you get stronger & an exercise becomes easier.
You’ll know you need to increase it if you get to where you’re easily doing 15 reps per set.
Important note: Those kind of “15+ rep” sets won’t do much muscle building, and they’re a signal that you need to boost the weight so that your reps fall back down into a 6-12 range.
After three months, you can switch to the intermediate program if you like, or just stay on your current schedule and keeping bumping up the weight as you get stronger.
Intermediate arm workout
If you have a little weightlifting experience, do two sets of each exercise twice a week with at least two days’ rest in between workouts, again targeting a range of 8-12 reps per set.
Again – increase your weight slowly over time; anytime a 15 rep set is easily performed that’s a good indicator it’s time to bump it up a little bit.
This is a stout workout that you can continue on for a long time.
However, I do have (what I think) is a better idea for you & any “lose the flabby arms” goal you might have…
Combine either of these with a full body program
I strongly suggest you consider incorporating either one of these arm workouts into a weekly workout plan that also provides a full-body workout 2-3 times a week, and I’ll give you one in a bit.
So for example, you could do the beginner’s arm workout I just went over a couple of times a week (say Tuesdays & Fridays) on the days following the full-body workout, which in this case would be on Mondays & Thursdays.
The other three days are OFF days…yippee!
My reasoning for also doing full-body workouts
Arm exercises are isolation exercises that focus on one (small) muscle group, and that approach by itself won’t kickstart a lot of metabolism boosting & calorie burning.
We need full-body workouts using compound movements (which are ‘multiple-muscle’ exercises) to signal your body to start burning more calories if you’re storing fat in your upper arms.
This is because the myth of “fat targeting” or “spot reduction” of a specific body part — belly fat, arms, thighs, whatever — has been debunked by sports science many times over.
Full-body dumbbell workout for over 50 year olds
I happen to have a full-body compound exercise workout handy too. It’s in my popular article you can read here on heydayDo titled (appropriately enough) 9 Muscle-Building Dumbbell Exercises for Seniors – Full Body.
Check it out if you’re interested.
It has 9 exercises and two of them are for arms, so just skip those two since you already have a much better arm workout going with the exercises I’ve shared with you here.
Sample schedule combining full-body & this arm workout
Monday: Full-body (my Full-Body DB Exercises, but skip the two bicep & tricep exercises in it)
Tuesday: Beginner arm workout (the 1 set per exercise version)
Thursday:Full-body (my Full-Body DB Exercises but again, skip the two arm exercises in it)
Friday: Beginner arm workout (1 set per exercise)
Next up, a quick reminder about eating good…
Flabby arms diet tips
“You can’t out-train a bad diet”
That’s an old gym expression that’s also phrased as “You can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet”, and they both mean the same thing:
If your diet isn’t as on board with your body transformation plans as your strength training plan is, you will fall short and not accomplish what you set out to.
Diet & exercise are so intertwined, and countless sports science studies have proven their dependence on one another when it comes to achieving important weight loss &/or muscle building goals.
A number of research studies have all confirmed the same thing, and that is that exercise alone — or just doing more exercise than you’re doing now — does not lead to any kind of meaningful weight loss. (18)
And its also been repeatedly shown that diet+exercise is better for weight & fat loss than both diet alone and exercise alone, though that’s not much of a shocker I suppose. (19)
I mention all this diet stuff because flab on our body almost certainly has fat in it, and this article’s about getting rid of flabby arms…
So if the spirit moves you, replace a crappy food with a high-quality protein food — since your muscles need it to work out.
They’ll respond to it & your working out by growing, and then your body will thank you because muscle growth stimulates an increase in calorie burning. (20)
A few more of protein’s benefits before we close
- reduce cravings for junk
- help build & maintain muscle
- help your body repair itself
- boost metabolism & increase fat burning
- help maintain weight loss
- reduce appetite & hunger signals
- benefit your bones
- lower your blood pressure
I drink protein powder daily because I can no longer eat as much meat – fish – chicken – eggs – dairy as I did when I was younger.
And my daily protein requirement is in the neighborhood of 150-200 grams per day due to my physical activity level.
That’s a lot of protein, and I’ve found that if I don’t hit my daily number for several days in a row I start feeling a little rundown — sore & tired — and that sucks.
And if you’re vegan…
…getting adequate amounts of the right kind of protein on a daily basis might be challenging.
It’s not the animal products themselves that are the “protein requirement” when we’re trying to build muscle, it’s the type of amino acids they provide that are necessary for our muscles.
So us muscle builders need a solid daily dose of the 9 essential amino acids (EAAs) to stimulate muscle growth & assist with workout recovery. (21)
And it turns out that animal-based protein sources simply have a lot more EAAs than do plant-based protein sources when it comes to food (though EAA & BCAA supplements are available in vegan form).
Last update on 2023-12-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Got bat wings?
Are you familiar with the term bat wings, as used to describe the sagging skin drooping below someone’s arm when it’s extended out away from their body?
I had never heard of this expression until recently when I was doing background research for this Exercises for Flabby Arms article, & it popped up all over the place: medical sites, plastic surgeons, women’s lifestyle blogs, etc.
A lot of people ask about it, so below I answer two of the most common bat wing questions.
What causes bat wings?
Saggy skin on your upper arms known as bat wings is most often caused by 3 things: a lack of muscle, excess body fat due to poor diet, & the natural aging process. It tends to affect women more than men.
How to get rid of bat wings without surgery?
A surefire way to improve flabby arms is to build muscle & boost your metabolism. Combine a full body weightlifting program including extra arm exercises, 2x/week of HIIT, & a low-carb, high protein diet.
Related “Fitness after 50” articles here on heydayDo
I hope that my article on getting rid of flabby arms & building muscle there instead is useful to you, and I wish you well on your fitness journey.