I think most people when they look in the mirror and decide it’s time to lose weight, are focusing on one part of their body that really bothers them.
For some, it’s that stubborn belly fat. For others, it’s seeing a “pear shape” with a heavy rear and thighs. And for others still, they’d love to shed weight and see some definition and tone in their upper body, arms, and shoulders.
It’s common to think that working out the body part that you’d like to lose weight from will help you lose the extra fat in that area, but unfortunately, your body just doesn’t work like that.
Losing weight and toning up are actually separate actions, though they can absolutely be done at the same time.
Briefly, here’s what you need to do to lose weight:
Your body needs to be in a consistent caloric deficit over a period of time to access and burn your stored fat (and therefore lose weight). This is most easily achieved through changing your eating habits. Reducing your current intake by about 300-500 calories per day is safe and effective. Less than that and you’re not likely to see results on the scale, and more than that will cause your body to go into “starvation mode,” which will actually make it store fat rather than burning it!
Oftentimes, people think they need to overhaul everything they eat and stick to a very strict diet, but the fact is that you can lose weight steadily, even with less than perfect nutrition, when you maintain that caloric deficit. Of course, for your good health, it’s a good idea to cut out excess sugar and processed foods, but you don’t need to do everything at once. Be patient with yourself and make small changes in your eating habits. Over time, you’ll move toward healthier eating.
Some types of exercise, such as anything that raises your heart rate (cardio), will also burn a lot of calories in a short amount of time and help you achieve your caloric deficit. Cardio workouts can be strenuous, however, and should be done with caution if you are new to exercising.
It is much more difficult to maintain a caloric deficit with exercise alone. The 300 – 500 calories per day discussed above translates into 30 – 50 minutes of high-intensity exercise daily – too much for new exercisers! Your better bet is to aim for burning about 100 – 200 calories several times per week through exercise and eating 300 – 400 fewer calories per day. Over the course of the week, you will likely lose about one-half to two pounds, which is a very safe rate of weight loss.
And here’s what you need to do to tone up:
Building muscle tone and definition in your upper body requires regular, consistent resistance training. No need to picture bulky bodybuilders lifting weights for hours in the gym, you can start with your own bodyweight resisting gravity!
Especially for new exercisers, there’s no need to use dumbbells or other equipment right away, as your risk for injury is high during the first few months of exercise, when your body is adjusting to new movements.
Simple exercises like arm circles, delt raises, front raises and even biceps curls can be done without weights and will produce toning results over the course of several weeks or months. Again, patience and consistency are key here.
What if you’d like to lose weight and tone up at the same time?
You definitely can! Reducing your caloric intake while doing regular cardio and resistance exercise is the most efficient way to shed fat and tone your muscles. Here’s a terrific quick workout suitable for all fitness levels (with simple modifications for new exercisers) that include both cardio and upper body resistance work.
All exercises are performed from a standing position, with no transitions to the ground, so this workout is particularly well-suited for beginners. Some of the exercises involve jumping but can be performed without jumping to stay low impact if necessary.
- Level: Beginner
- Equipment: Optional pair of dumbbells (new exercisers may choose to do this workout unweighted)
- Exercise Time: 10 – 15 minutes
- Calories Burned: Approximately 100 (this number depends on several factors, including your current weight, the weight of the dumbbells you use and the intensity with which you are moving)
- Set Up: New exercisers should use bodyweight or very light hand weights, aim to complete each exercise ten times and repeat the circuit once or twice; more experienced exercisers may use heavier weights and choose to do this workout HIIT style, meaning that you are working intensely for a short period of time (30 – 50 seconds) with little rest (10 – 15 seconds) between exercises.
5 Workouts To Tone Your Upper Body
1. Side Step With Press Ups
Holding a weight in each hand at shoulder level with palms facing your body, take a big lateral step with your left foot while simultaneously lifting the weight in your left hand over your head. While raising the weight, rotate your arm so that your palm is facing outward at the top of the press. Shift your weight onto the left foot and briefly tap your right foot next to your left. As you step back to the starting position with your right foot, return your left arm to its starting position also. Repeat all reps on one side before switching to the other.
Muscles toned: Your entire shoulder complex is involved in this exercise, including the deltoids, trapezius, pectorals, biceps, triceps and latissimus dorsi. In your lower body, you’re working the glutes, quads and hamstrings, as well as the adductors and abductors (inner and outer thighs).
2. Side Shuffle With Delt Raises
Hold the dumbbells (or your hands) close to the front of your body, with palms facing inward. Moving quickly and shifting your weight between your feet rapidly, take a big step out to the side with your left foot, then quickly shuffle your right foot next to your left.
Repeat several times in one direction while simultaneously raising the weights (with palms still facing inward) to shoulder level. Elbows should come up at least as high as your shoulders, then return to starting position. Repeat going the other direction.
Muscles toned: Again, this exercise is excellent for the entire shoulder complex, with particular emphasis on the tops of the shoulders (deltoids). The lower body motion is also beneficial for the adductors and abductors.
3. Jumping Jacks With Side Raises
Starting with feet together and hands holding weights at your side with palms facing your body, jump both feet out while simultaneously raising one arm out to the side to shoulder level. Jump both feet back to starting position while lowering the weight back to your side. Repeat on the other side.
Muscles toned: Jumping jacks are especially good for raising your heart rate and burning calories, while the side raises are toning your upper shoulders and the latissimus dorsi in your back.
4. Ice Skaters With Biceps Curls
Begin with both feet together and hands in front of your body with elbows close to your waist and palms facing outward. Take a large lateral leap to the left while simultaneously lifting your hands toward your chest. Land and balance on your left foot briefly, then leap laterally to your right while lowering your hands back to the starting position.
Muscles toned: Ice skaters are another high heart rate exercise, with the added bonus of balance work, which challenges your deep core stabilization muscles as well as your abdominals and gluteals. The biceps curls are focused work for your upper arms.
5. Fast Feet With Triceps Kickback
Start with your hands at your shoulders, palms facing each other and elbows close to your body. With feet a little wider than hip-width apart, bend your knees into a semi-squatting position and shift your weight between them quickly, as though you are running in place. While performing this running motion, lean your torso slightly forward and extend your arms fully downward, with hands at or behind your hips. Squeeze from the backs of your upper arms for this extension, then return to starting position.
Muscles toned: Fast feet will challenge your heart rate as well as your legs and butt, while the triceps kickbacks target the backs of your upper arms.
Exercisers with some experience might enjoy following along in real time for these exercises and more in this full-length workout video: