Bingo wings, tuck shop arms, nana flaps ... whatever you call them, one body issue that most women dread as they get older is saggy upper arms.
The tricep – the muscle underneath the upper arm – tends to lose tone and definition easily in some women. What’s going on?
My Blackmores spoke to exercise scientist, Martha Lourey-Bird. She says there are several factors involved. One is that the triceps don’t get worked as much as other muscles in day-to-day life, so they are not naturally as toned as muscles in the legs or back. Another factor is losing a lot of weight quickly without exercising.
A key factor, however, is your genes, how you store body fat and build muscle. “If the older women in your family have tuck shop arms, there’s a good chance you will also develop them,” she says. “Also your natural body type is relevant. Mesomorphs tend to be more muscular, while endomorphs are softer and store more fat, so may be more at risk of this arm problem.”
The gender difference
Differences between the sexes also have a role to play. “Just look at how a normal man’s shoulder differs from a woman’s,” says Lourey-Bird. “It’s twice the size, and a good example of just how much muscle mass a man has naturally compared to a woman.”
Elite performance coach, Lee Parore, agrees. “The main difference between men and women where saggy triceps are concerned is hormones,” he says. “Men tend to have a higher level of the hormone testosterone, which lends itself more towards a higher muscle-to-fat body ratio.”
Exercise for the triceps
So how can you improve saggy arms? According to Parore, specific exercises help to tone this area. “The best thing is resistance exercise, along with sound nutrition, which stimulates the growth of lean muscle tissue in both men and women,” he says. “As for workouts, other good exercise types which help to tone arms include swimming, gymnastics, boxing, tennis, skipping and yoga.”
The food factor
When it comes to nutrition, your diet can also be a factor, although Julie Gilbert, an Accredited Practising Dietitian, says you can’t go on a diet to target weight loss from your arms.
“Another important point is that if you want to lose weight, aim for no more than 1kg of loss a week as this puts you at a higher risk of being left with saggy skin,” she says.
“Losing more than this means breaking down lean tissue and muscle, not just fat, and this is especially important if you are older, as the skin becomes naturally less elastic with age, and more likely to be ‘stretched’.”
To promote good muscle tone, Gilbert recommends eating plenty of lean protein such as lean meat, fish and lentils, and quality low-GI carbohydrates such as wholegrain bread, rice, grains and high fibre cereals. “It’s important not to cut out any food groups,” she says. “You need to eat all foods, including lean protein, good carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables.”
Options for cosmetic surgery
As a last resort there’s surgery. Brachioplasty, as it is called, permanently removes loose skin anywhere from the armpit to the elbow. According to Sydney plastic surgeon, Dr Mark Kohout, however, the most common patient who undergoes this procedure is someone who has lost a significant amount of weight. “This patient could be any age, but all are typified by loose skin in the upper arm, usually the posterior or triceps area,” he says.
Although the procedure can successfully remove loose skin, there are a few issues to consider. Numbness on the inside of the arm and stretched scars are 2, but there is also the scarring itself, which depends on the extent of the incision but can reach as far as the elbow.
3 killer exercises for toned arms
Exercise and diet can go a long way to improving the firmness of this visible area, no matter what body type you are or how old you are. Watch our video guide to 3 of the best exercises for improving the tone of your triceps and upper arms – and rock that strappy top this summer.
Tricep push up
Check out the exercise library for more exercises.