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How Can I Tone My Arms and Upper Back?

You Asked: How Can I Tone My Arms and Upper Back?

You're asking and I'm answering . . .

Hey Fit,

I'm in a wedding at the end of August. I feel pretty good about the way I look, but my arms always look bulky in wedding photos! I have access to equipment at the gym but was wondering if there are any general exercises that I could do without using weight machines.

— Bridesmaid to Be

Awesome question. Since summer is closer than we think, now's the time to start toning our arms and upper backs for tank tops and sleeveless dresses. There are definitely some great exercises you can do that don't require any machines. To find out what they are


Push-ups are an oldie but goodie. They're great because they focus on toning the backs of your arms and your upper back. You can do "classic" push-ups with your legs straight, or you can do them with your knees on the ground. You can also do push-ups with your legs on a step or gym ball. The decline helps to add resistance making this push-up a bit more challenging. You can also try side push-ups for an extra challenge too.

Yoga poses also help to tone your arms and upper back and you don't need any equipment for them. They work because you're lifting your own body weight. Beginner's Sage works your shoulders and abs, Crow works your arms, and Wheel strengthens your back. If you like balancing poses, holding headstand for a while, even if your feet are leaning against a wall, really works your upper back and shoulders.

If you have a set of hand weights, doing Reverse Rows in Plank position is another great move. You'll really feel the burn in your upper back and triceps. You can also use your weights to follow along with this Starter Arms Video. It targets your upper arms, shoulders and upper back.

Fit's Tips: My friend Dear also has some great advice about how to pose for pictures. She says that if you're self-conscious about your arms, put one hand on your hip, or rest your arms slightly away from your body so they don't smush out and look wider than they really are.


anned anned 9 years
the morning of your wedding, get down and give me 20! no seriously. your muscles will swell a bit, showing the muscle off better. most of all, you will feel empowered! I did it in a group of bridesmaids with a bride--too fun!
ElectroPopTart ElectroPopTart 9 years
Yah, Yoga really tones your arms super fast.
SassyRedhead SassyRedhead 9 years
I am still too weak to do pushups! so I do push ups against a wall, which is a good way to work my way up.
Hoaxerz Hoaxerz 9 years
Push-ups and other resistance exercises are great for building strength and good definition, but it is inaccurate to say that these will make one's arms look "less bulky". Resistance exercise increase muscle size (regardless of whether you're doing low weight at high reps or vice versa), so will in essence make arms bulkier. If the muscles are hidden under too much fat, no amount of push-ups will fix that. "Bridesmaid to Be" needs to watch her diet in addition to exercise, if she wants to look "less bulky".
blondie829 blondie829 9 years
great tips! looking forward to trying them out.
backnskinnyjeans backnskinnyjeans 9 years
Ooo, I like that tip for posing or pics. I'll use that one next time.
GlowingMoon GlowingMoon 9 years
Are your arms bulky because of extra weight or lack of muscle tone? Or both? If weight may be an issue, losing a few pounds (in addition to weight training) will help. If you lose the extra weight, your toned muscles will be more visible, and you will look more sculpted.
oliveye oliveye 9 years
Since you do have access to gym equipment, I have to say that lat pulls have been very effective for me in toning the back and arms.
ella1978 ella1978 9 years
I share the same problem with the one poster that says as she works our her arms they just get bigger and more muscular. I have tried doing more reps with lower weights to develop lean muscle, but it doesn't work, and I still have a little bit of sag on the back of my arms near my torso.. Ugh, I don't like my arms at all!
Jess8902 Jess8902 9 years
Great tips!! Tricep dips are awesome, ccsugar! I always do a few sets off my bathtub edge. Killer!
ccsugar ccsugar 9 years
Try French Presses for your triceps too, those are good ones. Oh and tricep dips, so hard!!
tlsgirl tlsgirl 9 years
I definitely need this! I've been working on everything else with my new exercise routine, and now the puffy upper arms are even more noticeable.
JenniferTorraco JenniferTorraco 9 years
If your trying to look good in a photo, stand slighty sideways and hold your arms slightly behind you, if you push them back a bit you can hide like half your arm behind your silouette! I swear they look like sticks! xoxox
aimeeb aimeeb 9 years
I might try these tips at the gym today!
Linda-McP Linda-McP 9 years
Thanks, Fit! I'm determined to have good arms for a May wedding, so this posting is most helpful.
gumdrops334 gumdrops334 9 years
I just tried the plank rows and OH MAN those are hard! I could only do 10 on each hand before collapsing
Lovely_1 Lovely_1 9 years
Great tips everyone! I try and do my push ups and crunches EVERYDAY (you knwo how busy life can get though) and at least I know it's gunna pay off :D
KrisSugar KrisSugar 9 years
the more work i do on my arms, the bigger they seem to get. pushups especially. but when my trainer had me working on my shoulders, it really made a difference. it sort of made everything look more sculpted. I never skip the shoulder and back exercises now!
Bettyesque Bettyesque 9 years
Good Tip..push ups rock!
kxm24 kxm24 9 years
I needed this! The one thing that I've never had and really really want are toned arms. I hate when my arms look bigger than they are because there pressed against my body.
marygrace marygrace 9 years
if you can't do traditional push ups, instead of putting your knees on the ground, do the push ups on an incline like a weight bench or even a countertop. you can build up to a lower incline as you progress, and eventually be able to do them with your hands on the ground.
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