It’s not even Halloween, but your triceps already bring to mind images of bat wings, a somewhat comical reference to “loose” triceps that jiggle when you move your arms, especially when you wave at someone. If you have them, you’re not alone. It’s a frustrating problem that many women struggle with, especially after the age of 40. Are you ready to get rid of yours – and is that even possible? First, let’s look at what causes them.
The Problem of Bat Wings
Bat wings, or flabby triceps, are a combination of excess fat deposited over the triceps muscles and inadequate muscle definition. Loss of skin elasticity, due to sun damage and aging, is another factor that contributes to the problem. For some people, it’s an age-related thing. Triceps flabbiness becomes more bothersome with age as lean body mass declines and body fat increases. Almost everyone has a trouble zone or two where fat likes to accumulate. For some men and women, it’s around the waist and tummy, leading to the dreaded muffin top,” while other lucky folks store excess fat in other places, like the back of their arms, hence the bat wing problem.
Can Exercise Conquer Flabby Triceps?
Building up the triceps muscles will give the back of your arms more definition and make the area look tighter, but triceps focus alone won’t always reverse the problem unless it’s very mild. Excess fat covering the triceps muscles is another problem you’ll have to tackle to make the area look tighter. That means burning enough body fat to eliminate the excess fat.
It’s tempting to do triceps exercises until you’re blue in the face, but most triceps exercises are isolation movements that won’t elicit a lot of calorie burn. You can do triceps exercises all day, particularly if you’re using lighter weights, and not make a dent in arm flab. Better to bring in the “big guns,” compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups so you can burn more fat. Tackling flabby triceps also means embracing HIIT training as a means of lowering your body fat percentage. Sometimes when you read articles or watch exercise videos, the instructor tells trainees that triceps extensions are the key to eliminating bat wings. If only it were that simple!
What Triceps Exercises Are Most Effective?
Even though triceps exercises alone won’t solve the bat wing problem, they’re part of the equation. Most people don’t spend enough time targeting their triceps muscles, instead they spend a disproportionate amount of time on their biceps. Big mistake! Emphasizing one more than the other can lead to muscle imbalances. So make sure you’re giving your triceps the attention they deserve, especially if you don’t like the way the back of your arms looks.
When building triceps definition, which exercises should you focus on? Embrace the push-up. The American Council on Exercise compared various types of triceps exercises to see which elicited the greatest activation of the triceps muscles. To document triceps activation, they used EMG, an instrument that measures the electrical activity of muscles when they contract. In total, they compared 8 triceps exercises: kick-backs, triangle push-ups, rope push-downs, dips, overhead triceps extensions, bar push-downs, lying barbell triceps extensions and closed-grip bench press.
Of the triceps exercises they tested, triangle push-ups activated the triceps muscles the most, followed by dips and kick-backs. Why were these exercises most effective? It’s harder to cheat when doing push-ups or dips since you’re using your own body weight and momentum is less of an issue. Plus, dips and push-ups are compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups, which burn more calories.
How do you do triangle push-ups? Place your hands on the mat with your thumbs and index fingers touching to create a sort of triangle. Then raise and lower your body in the standard manner, inhaling as you go down and exhaling as you push up. Don’t forget to use good form.
As the American Council on Exercise points out, the combination of these three exercises is an effective workout for your triceps. You can change the way you stress the muscle by varying the speed of the reps and for even more muscle activation, place a weight in your lap when you do dips. Even though these exercises top the list of most effective triceps builders, do a variety of triceps exercises to keep your muscles guessing, just focus most of your triceps time on the “big three.”
Don’t Focus TOO Much on Your Triceps
Don’t be so obsessed with your bat wings that you don’t methodically work the large muscles in your back and thighs. By focusing on large muscle groups, you create a metabolic fire that optimizes fat burning. Think squats and deadlifts, and make sure you’re using a challenging resistance. Throw in some explosive movements like dumbbell or kettlebell swings. Remember, you’re trying to burn fat off the back of your arms!
Diet Counts Too
The other part of the “bat wing equation” is diet. Are you eating cleanly and avoiding most processed foods? If not, body fat will be slow to come off everywhere, including the back of your arms. As they say, “abs are made in the kitchen” and shapely arms are too. Be as focused on how you eat as you are on how you work out. Getting a better body takes a comprehensive approach.
What about Loose Skin?
If your skin has lost elasticity and the tissue itself is sagging, you may not be able to completely eliminate bat wings without surgical intervention or non-surgical skin tightening to lift the lax tissue. Even if that’s the case, building up your triceps muscle through resistance training will greatly improve how your arms look.
One final tip: If you don’t already have loose skin, try to maintain a relatively stable weight so you don’t place additional “stretch” on the tissues.
The Bottom Line
Get ready for short sleeves and tank tops by targeting your triceps muscles. Focus on exercises like dips, push-ups and kick-backs in conjunction with fat-torching compound exercises and HIIT training. Make sure you’re giving your diet enough thought too. Everything you do and eat counts when it comes to taming bat wings and improving your physique.
American Council on Exercise. “Terrific Triceps”