Looking at the gray day out your office window, your thoughts drift back to a view of ocean waves and clear blue skies. You long for a vacation filled with warm days, water skiing and not knowing a soul there. Among strangers you can laugh a little louder, dance a little more and … not be self-conscious about your arm jiggle in a breezy summer dress.
At home, you would not dare show the world your upper arms. You haven’t worn a tank top among friends or to the gym in years. Recently you saw an ad for Spanx for arms and briefly (only briefly) considered it.
Promise me you won’t buy arm tights. Instead, let’s re-frame the issue and set a healthy striving goal to change the shape of your upper arms – specifically the triceps – and let go of worry about arm jiggle.
Before we talk about the physical changes you can make, I want to talk about a mindset change. I want you to see you the way I see you. I see you stronger than you were six months ago. I see you working hard to tackle 10 push-ups in a row. I see you carrying all the grocery bags in at once.
You are strong. There is no reason to hide any part of you. You are enough, just as you are. The choice to wear a sleeveless blouse should be about comfort and fashion, not because you feel that your arms don’t deserve to be seen.
Sure, your arms have probably have changed shape over the years. Even if you haven’t gained weight you have lost muscle. That is unless you’ve been strength training on a consistent basis.
We all start losing muscle mass in our late 20s. As we get older, strength training becomes even more important as the rate of muscle loss increases more rapidly. If you’re not doing resistance training, the shape of your entire body will shift. For shapely arms, you need to strength train consistently to build muscle and re-inflate your triceps.
Exercises for more shapely and stronger arms
Triceps are push muscles, so you can engage them when you do other push exercises. Two of my favorite multitasking upper body exercises are close grip chest presses and diamond push-ups. You’ve probably done a chest press or push up before. We can change the emphasis of these push exercises by changing hand position, bringing hands closer to the mid-line of the body.
Adding a tricep isolation move or two may also be necessary to improve the look of your upper arms. To save time and boost effectiveness, pair isolation movements with compound movements. For example, follow the close grip bench press immediately with an overhead tricep extension or French press (aka skull crusher).
What about wrist or elbow pain? Bench dips are one of my favorite tricep exercises because they work the shoulders too. However, for some it can cause wrist pain. If that is you, skip the dips in favor of dumbbell exercises or, if you have access to a cable machine, cable exercises like a cable push down.
If you’re elbows hurt during tricep work, check your form. Your elbows may be flaring out, a common cause of elbow pain during the overhead extension or French press. You also may be trying to do too much weight to start. Use a lighter weight and slow down the movement to make it more challenging and support perfect form. (For examples of some of these exercises be sure to check my Instagram photos and stories this week.)
How does this play into your weekly workout plan? Don’t devote one workout to just arms! It’s not a good use of your time. If you’re doing a full body workout three days a week, make sure to include two exercises with tricep emphasis. If you’re choosing to do splits, work your triceps on the same day as you do chest and shoulders.
The second part of your strategy for reshaping your triceps is improving estrogen balance. If you are losing fat from other areas of your body but not your triceps, this could indicate excess estrogen in the body. Even if you’re estrogen levels have dropped overall, if other hormones are low too (especially progesterone) you could be high relative to the others. The only way to know for sure is to have your hormones checked.
In her book, The Hormone Cure, Dr. Sara Gottfried offers several common causes of high estrogen. I won’t be able to cover all of them here (so I encourage you to read the book) but I want to share a few estrogen balancing steps you can implement immediately that are natural, relatively easy and safe for most women.
Natural strategies for high estrogen
Xenoestrogens, according to the National Institute of Health are “part of a group of synthetic and naturally occurring agents termed endocrine disrupters”. The chemicals can mimic estrogen in the body in the body, throwing the body into estrogen imbalance. There are three simple strategies you can start today to help reduce your exposure to environmental xenoestrogens.
Limit exposure to BPA and PVC products by reducing the use of canned foods and plastic containers. These chemicals are both xenoestrogens and have been found to “leak” from the containers into the food and beverages we consume. Choose BPA-free and PVC-free consumer goods and store leftovers in glass containers when possible. If you must store last night’s chili in a plastic container, transfer it to a glass or ceramic bowl before reheating. Heat has been shown to increase the likelihood of migration of chemicals from container to food.
Parabens are another common group of environmental xenoestrogens. Chances are you will find them in your favorite body lotion or bedtime facial moisturizer. According to the FDA, the most common parabens in cosmetics are methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben. If you see them on the label, put it back. My personal choice for paraben-free beauty products is the Yes To brand . They have everything from eye cream to body wash at affordable prices.
Do you remove your shoes when you walk in the door? It’s one of the easiest things you can do to keep chemicals from the outside coming into your home. Buy some cute fuzzy socks and make it a ritual to change as soon as you walk in the door.
Dietary strategies to improve estrogen balance
Choose organic meat and dairy to help reduce your exposure to xenoestrogens. Conventionally raised meats and some dairy products are exposed to hormones to raise production levels. When you consume grilled chicken from a hen given hormones you get a dose too. Give your body a break by finding hormone free meat and dairy products or reducing meat all together.
Not to keep whining about wine, but you need to rethink alcohol consumption for healthier hormones. The liver is your ultimate detox partner. It processes and eliminates estrogen from the body, helping to keep everything in balance. But if it is too busy processing other things…like alcohol…it won’t be able to break down estrogen. Your best detox plan is to drink more water and less merlot.
Increasing your intake of cruciferous vegetables is an easy natural and delicious way to help promote estrogen balance. Cruciferous vegetables are “anti-estrogen” because they damper the production of certain estrogens. Include daily servings of vegetables like kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage.
To change your body, you must first change your mind. I want you to lean in a little and love your arms for how strong the are. Let of of the arm jiggle discomfort and find tank top to wear to the gym. Hold your head high and lift your weight even higher in a proud overhead tricep extension.