Fat is an equal opportunity squatter. It camps out just about anywhere:
- on the belly and lower back
- on the hips, butt, and thighs
- on the arms and face
- even on your upper back and underarms
The underarms? Really?
But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it. Here are your top three strategies for burning off underarm fat.
1. Eat (Slightly) Less
There’s no way around this one: to burn fat off your body — anywhere on your body — you have to burn more calories than you consume.
One way to do that is to follow a structured diet.
Research shows that, when it comes to dropping pounds, it almost doesn’t matter which diet you follow — as long as it requires you to reduce your calorie intake.
To that end, eating fewer calories than you expend needn’t be complicated:
- For some people, cutting soft drinks might do the trick.
- Others might eliminate desserts and sweets.
- Still, others might have luck with intermittent fasting or reducing carbs or eating more produce or a combination of different strategies.
Whatever approach you choose, make it enjoyable, moderate, and sustainable.
White-knuckling through an overly-restrictive “crash” diet is a recipe for failure. Long-term, sustainable weight loss is a gradual process.
Aim to cut around 300 to 500 calories per day from your daily intake, and monitor your clothing fit, appearance in photos, and, if you wish, your scale weight.
But keep in mind the latter won’t be a great indication of changes in body composition if you’re following a strength training program, which can cause you to lean out without seeing much of a difference on the scale.
The reason: muscle weighs more than fat by volume.
The fat-burning effects of repetitive, low- to moderate-intensity steady-state (think: jogging or easy cycling) exercise level out pretty fast.
This is why you should regularly switch up your routine and keep the intensity high.
Over weeks, months, and years, intense exercise gradually turns you into a better and better fat-burner, capable of accessing and torching more fat cells more efficiently than you ever could as a sedentary person.
At a cellular level, everything from your metabolism to your muscle fibers remakes itself as better, faster, and more efficient at burning fat off your frame.
Focus your exercise efforts primarily on fast-moving strength training workouts using compound movements like squats, deadlifts, presses, and rows performed with little rest between sets.
You’ll build muscle mass and cardiovascular fitness — and torch fat — all at the same time.
3. Build Upper Body Muscle
True, you won’t spot-reduce that underarm fat away, but you might well achieve something much more important.
“Hyper-focusing on one area of the body is a symptom of feeling powerless,” says Kobrinksy. “So for a person concerned about underarm fat, I would give them a skill that would not only change that person’s body but make them proud of something they can do with it.”
For people concerned about the appearance of their upper body, Kobrinsky recommends pull-ups, though other movements — such as the push-up, plank, and inverted row — can work equally well for a novice exerciser.
Will these moves turn you into a super-lean, athletic type if you don’t have the genetics to get there? Doubtful.
But they will build, shape, and tone the muscles in and around your underarms — all the while giving you more confidence and a greater sense of physical empowerment.
Why Do I Have Underarm Fat?
Where you store excess fat is mostly determined by your genetics. So if your parents tend to store fat under their arms, chances are that’s where you’ll store it, too.
Some well-intentioned trainers might recommend exercises for the muscles in that area in the mistaken belief that such movements can “spot reduce” underarm fat.
But your body doesn’t burn fat that way.
“I haven’t seen evidence of spot reduction in my practice,” says Jolie Kobrinsky, NASM, owner of Elektren in Seaside, CA. “It just doesn’t seem to happen.”
What Exercises Are Good for the Upper Body?
The following moves are great for new exercisers looking for an intense upper-body challenge:
1. Inverted row
- Secure a bar in a Smith machine or power rack at waist height, and lie on the floor underneath it.
- Grab the bar with an overhand grip that’s slightly beyond shoulder width, and hang with your arms fully extended, your body straight from head to heels. Your shoulders should be directly below your hands, and your heels should be hip-width apart. This is the starting position.
- Keeping your core engaged, pull your chest to the bar as you squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- Pause, and then slowly return to the starting position.
- Get on all fours with your feet together, body straight from head to heels, and hands in line with (but slightly wider than) your shoulders.
- Keeping your elbows tucked and core braced, lower your body until your chest is within a few inches of the floor.
- Pause, and then push back up to the starting position as quickly as possible.
- Grab a pull-up bar with an overhand grip that’s slightly beyond shoulder-width. Hang at arm’s length with your arms straight (a position known as a dead hang).
- Without swinging or kipping (using momentum to propel you upward), squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull your chest to the bar so that at least your chin clears it.
- Pause, and then lower yourself back to a dead hang. If you find the classic pull-up too hard, start with the band-assisted pull-up.
4. Lying triceps extensions
- Lie face up on a bench with your feet flat on the floor, holding a pair of dumbbells above your chest with your arms straight and your palms facing each other.
- Without moving your upper arms, bend your elbows and lower the dumbbells to the sides of your head until your forearms dip below parallel to the floor.
- Pause, and then return to the starting position.
5. Alternating shoulder press with rotation
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, and hold a pair of dumbbells in front of your shoulders with your elbows tucked and palms facing each other.
- Rotate to the right, pressing the weight in your left hand directly above your left shoulder.
- Return to the starting position, then rotate left, pressing the weight in your right hand directly above your right shoulder.
- Return to the starting position. Continue alternating sides.