Do you always reach for a cardigan to cover up even when it’s humid? One body issue that most women dread as they get older is saggy upper arms.
The tricep – the muscle underneath your upper arm – tends to lose tone and definition easily in some women. What’s going on?
Exercise scientist, Martha Lourey-Bird, said there are several factors involved. One is that triceps don’t get worked as much as other muscles in day-to-day life, so they are not naturally as toned, and another is losing a lot of weight very quickly without exercising.
A key factor, however, is your genes, how you store body fat and build muscle. “If the older women in your family have saggy arms, there’s a good chance you will also develop them,” she explained. “Also your natural body type is relevant. Mesomorphs tend to be more muscular, while endomorphs are softer and store more fat, so may be more at risk of this arm problem.”
The gender difference
Differences between the sexes also have a role to play. “Just look at how a normal man’s shoulder differs from a woman’s,” said Lourey-Bird. “It’s twice the size, and a good example of just how much muscle mass a man has naturally compared to a woman.”
Elite performance coach, Lee Parore, agreed. “The main difference between men and women where saggy triceps are concerned is hormones,” he said. “Men tend to have a higher level of the hormone testosterone, which lends itself more towards a higher muscle-to-fat body ratio.”
Firming up fast
So how can you improve saggy arms? According to Parore, specific exercises can help to tone this area. “The best thing is resistance exercise, along with sound nutrition, which stimulates the growth of lean muscle tissue in both men and women,” he said. “As for workouts, other good exercise types which help to tone arms include swimming, gymnastics, boxing, tennis, skipping and yoga.”
The food factor
When it comes to nutrition, your diet can also be a factor, although Julie Gilbert, an Accredited Practicing Dietitian, said you can’t go on a diet to target weight loss from your arms. “Another important point is that if you want to lose weight, aim for no more than a kilo of loss a week as this puts you at a higher risk of being left with saggy skin,” she said.
“Losing more than this means you will be breaking down lean tissue and muscle, not just fat, and this is especially important if you are older, as the skin becomes naturally less elastic with age, and more likely to be left ‘stretched’.”
To promote good muscle tone, Gilbert recommends eating plenty of lean protein such as lean meat, fish and lentils, and low-fat high carbohydrates such as bread, rice, grains and high fibre cereals. “It’s important not to cut out any food groups,” she said. “You need to eat all foods, including lean protein, good carbohydrates, as well as fruits and vegetables.”
A step further?
There are other things to consider in the fight against tuck shop arms, including cosmetic creams, and non-surgical procedures.
One procedure, called thermage, uses heat to trigger collagen production in the skin, but a downside is the cost – it’s very expensive. Another is a salon-only treatment called Skeyndor Meso-Firm, which combines an electromagnetic current with cooling cryotherapy, to ‘push’ a variety of skin tightening ingredients into the skin tissue.
As a last resort there’s surgery. Brachioplasty, as it is called, permanently removes loose skin anywhere from the armpit to the elbow. According to plastic surgeon, Dr. Mark Kohout, however, the most common patient undergoing this procedure is someone who’s lost a significant amount of weight. “This patient could be any age, but all are typified by loose skin in the upper arm, usually the posterior or triceps area,” he said.
Although the procedure can successfully remove loose skin, there are a few issues to be aware of. Numbness on the inside of the arm and stretched scars are two, but there’s also the scarring itself, which depends on the extent of the incision but can reach as far as the elbow.
Video tips for toned arms
Exercise and diet can go a long way to improving the firmness of this visible area. Watch our video guide to three of the best exercises for improving the tone of your triceps and upper arms.
Tricep push up
Start the push up with your hands directly under your shoulders. Come up onto your feet. Draw your belly button up towards your spine to protect your back and breathe.
Lower down until your elbows are at 90 degrees. Keep the elbows tucked into the sides of your body.
Push through your hands to push back up.
Breathe in as you lower and breathe out as you push back up, as if blowing the ground away from you.
If this is too advanced you can start down on knees
Start the tricep dips by sitting on a bench. Place your hands at the edge on the bench, just touching your bottom, fingers pointing towards your body.
Walk your feet away so your bottom is just off the bench. Your arms and legs are straight. Keep eyes looking straight ahead.
Bend your arms to lower your body, elbows pointing straight back. Draw your belly button up towards your spine to protect your back and breathe. Push back up and extend your arms straight.
If this is too advanced, work up to the full move by starting with legs bent, so they are taking some of your bodyweight.
To increase the intensity, put both feet up onto a parallel bench.
To further increase the intensity, place a weight plate on the thighs.
Stand feet hip width apart with skipping rope handles in each hand. Draw the belly button to engage the abdominal muscles and to protect the spine.
Rotate the skipping rope with your hands and jump both feet off the floor to allow the rope to travel under the feet. Keep the chest up, head tall.
Continue in a rhythmic manner for the specified time or number of skips.