How to Train Your Triceps to Be Toned and Tight

Flappy arms, or what some rude folks refer as bat wings, are actually a very common problem area for many people. But just because it is common doesn’t mean that we have to live with it. If this is an area that bothers you, here are some tips to help tighten and tone those triceps. 

Brock Armstrong
8-minute read
Episode #397
Photo of a woman doing a triceps workout

If you can, go and stand in front of your bathroom mirror right now.

Raise your arms up like a cartoon cactus, and then wave to yourself in the mirror. Make a note of how much jiggling the skin on the back or bottom of your arms is doing.

Now, flex the muscles in your arms and try that same cartoon cactus waving movement again. This time, take note of the skin that doesn't jiggle because that lack of jiggle is due to muscle tone. The stuff that still jiggles is fat and loose skin.

There is no pass or fail on the test, nor is there any judgement being made. This is simply a test to see if you have a tone issue, body fat issue, both, or neither. 

Now, let me pause for a moment because I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I am not trying to sell you on the idea that you should be ashamed of that jiggle or that it is some kind of shortcoming on your part. It is not and you should not be. We all have skin and fat and muscle and it all jiggles in different and glorious ways. But some of you have written to me and told me that you don’t like the way this particular jiggle looks or feels and that you would like to do something about it. And, as always, from my point of view, if I can encourage a few more people to move their bodies in new and interesting ways by giving them a workout that can also address a specific area of concern, who am I to say no?

Having a healthy, well-balanced diet and a consistent exercise plan is definitely the best way to reduce overall body fat and therefore limit the fat and loose skin that causes the majority of that arm jiggle. But let's talk about the other part of the equation: toning the muscle. 

What Is Muscle Toning?

Firming or toning a muscle is very simply a combination of both increasing muscle tissue as well as lowering body fat so you can see the definition and shape of the muscles.

You can get the resistance training benefits as well as the cardio benefits in one awesome workout.

A common assumption is that when you work out, your muscles go from soft to hard, or when you stop working out, they go from hard to soft. While that is partially true, in reality the majority of softness is body fat and the hardness is muscle. So what we want to do is increase the size of the muscle and decrease the amount of fat. To do that, we need to engage in some strength training as well as decrease the layer of fat that is hiding your rippling muscles.

The cool thing is that the more muscle tissue you add to your body by doing strength training, the greater your basal metabolic rate (resting metabolism) will be. That means you will be burning more total calories (and fat) even when you are at rest. Win-win!

If you workout using large body movements and also keep your rest periods short, you will be able to elevate your heart rate and keep it there. That means you will be getting the same calorie- and fat-burning benefits of a traditional cardio session while you are strengthening. Win-win, again! You can get the resistance training benefits as well as the cardio benefits in one awesome workout.

How short should those short rest periods be exactly? Well, around 30 seconds should allow you to keep your heart rate boosted while still allowing your muscles to get a bit of a rest before their next set. You can use a stopwatch on your phone or the clock on the wall at first, but after doing this a few times, you will be able to feel when your heart rate is dropping too much.

To maximize your gains, you can also concentrate on lifting "to failure" (which means that you can barely squeeze out your last one or two reps). And don't worry too much if the number of reps that you can do drops each set. With your rest periods being short, the metabolic byproducts generated by all this lifting won’t have a chance to be completely removed before the next set so the effort will definitely get harder and harder. This is a good thing and your body will adapt to it over time. But if you drop below eight to ten reps, you should probably decrease the weight so you can finish the set properly.

Another way to keep your heart rate up while lifting is to do something called Circuit Training.


About the Author

Brock Armstrong

Brock Armstrong is a certified AFLCA Group Fitness Leader with a designation in Portable Equipment, NCCP and CAC Triathlon Coach, and a TnT certified run coach. He is also on the board of advisors for the Primal Health Coach Institute and a guest faculty member of the Human Potential Institute. Do you have a fitness question? Leave a message on the Get-Fit Guy listener line. Your question could be featured on the show.