One of my students asked if I could write about what to do for the flab at the back of the arm. Of course, there are two components to fighting flab anywhere on your body. The first is getting rid of the fat over the top of the muscle and the second part is toning the target muscle.

You can’t flex fat. So if you want a nicely shaped or defined area you must not only develop the muscle in that spot but also eliminate the overlying fat so the muscle definition is visible.

For healthy adults, a measure of total body fat for women should be between 20 and 25 percent. This is not overly lean or athletic looking, but healthy and natural. Young women should not strive for body fat less than 10 percent because they will lose their periods, disrupt their hormone levels and flirt with osteoporosis onset.

For healthy men, the body percent fat guidelines are between 15 to 19 percent. Some male bodybuilders get their percent body fat down to 4 percent and are very lean — “Ripped, cut, shredded” — but these levels are very difficult to maintain and not conducive to building more muscle mass.

Body percent fat is a much better way of measuring appropriate body weight than simply using a scale alone or using the Body Mass Index measure. BMI is simply a ratio of your weight to your height. It doesn’t tell us anything about what you are made of — muscle or fat. The body percent fat measure tells us if you are more muscular, fatty or just right.

In the hands of a personal trainer who is a fitness appraiser as well, the fat calipers can be very precise and give you a good measure of that percentage.

Now for the back of the arm. To tone and develop the muscles in the back of the arm you simply need to bend your arm at the elbow and then straighten your arm back. You can do that sitting up with one arm over your head supported by the other hand. You can do that bent over with your chest close to your thighs and your elbows hiked up by your rib cage. Or you can use a machine or a cable to push down or push out with your elbows stabilized by your side or on the machine.

The important thing here is that you don’t move your upper arm. The movement must be from your elbow and not your shoulder. You should only use a weight that you can handle. The size of the weight depends also on whether you want to build or shape the muscle and how many repetitions you want to do. For general exercise, usually two sets of 10 repetitions is a good place to start. For more advanced people, three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions is about right. And for bodybuilders, four sets of about 12 repetitions is what is needed to build mass.

The movement must always be slow and methodical, as well as have an emphasis on the stretch component or the movement. Too often people focus on the concentric part of the exercise (the push away, in this case) and then just let gravity take over for the stretch part (in this case the eccentric contraction). As  always, if you don’t know what you are doing or have any questions about how to work your triceps (or anything else), call me, or seek out a trained professional to show you how.

A picture or a demo is worth a thousand words and you must do things correctly in order to achieve the results that you want and do it safely.

• Jane Riley, M.S., B.A., C.P.T., Certified Nutritional Adviser, can be reached at, 212-1451 or


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