Pilates for Flabby Triceps

Pilates can help you sculpt arms worth showing off.

Pilates can help you sculpt arms worth showing off.

If the thought of heaving weights in a dungeon-like gym to create tank top-worthy arms sends you straight to the couch, don’t despair. You can tone your flabby triceps in an airy Pilates studio while also working the essential muscles of your abdominals, hips and back. While certain Pilates exercises can help firm up the muscles at the back of your upper arms, the system cannot help you lose the overlying layer of fat unless you also participate in regular cardiovascular exercise and a healthy, low-calorie eating plan.

About Pilates

Joseph Pilates developed the unique set of strengthening and stretching exercises known today as Pilates in the early 20th Century. Most Pilates exercises focus on what he called the “powerhouse,” the muscles you may know as the core, with floor- and machine-based training. Pilates did not neglect the upper body, including the triceps, as he believed that achieving overall body health and fitness was key to happiness.


Pilates pushups are performed with your hands parallel to the sides of your trunk to create greater activation of the triceps. To do a Pilates pushup, start in a standing position at the back of your mat. As you exhale, walk your hands down the front of your legs until your palms reach the mat. Continue to walk the hands forward on the mat until your body is in a plank position. With an exhale, bend your elbows and lower your body toward the floor. Make your elbows form a 90-degree angle and keep your body rigid for a set of three pushups. Walk your hands back up toward your feet and up your legs to return to the stand. Repeat the sequence for one to three sets.

Triceps Extension

You can do the Pilates triceps extension with or without weights. If you choose to use weights, do not exceed 2 pounds in each hand. To do the move, stand with your feet hip-distance apart and bend your knees deeply as you hinge forward from your hips to make your back straight and parallel to the floor. Make fists with your hands or hold a dumbbell in each hand as you pull your elbows tightly against your sides. As you inhale, extend your arms straight behind you. Straighten them fully, keeping the elbows locked against your ribs, and then bend the arm back toward the shoulder. Pretend you are working against resistance to create more muscle-building force. Do three to five total repetitions.

Shaving the Head

You can also use light 2 pound weights for the exercise called shaving the head. To begin, stand with your heels together and toes turned slightly out. Draw your inner thighs together and engage your abdominal muscles. Reach your arms up overhead and form a triangle with your hands, weights tucked under you thumbs if you choose to use them. Exhale and lower your hands behind your head, resisting gravity as if you had a heavy weight in your hands. Return your hands back to the beginning position, repeating for a total of five times.


You can perform Pilates arm exercises every other day, or a minimum of two times per week. You may see improvements in your upper arm function and strength after several weeks of regular training, but you won’t see a reduction in arm flab unless you are making efforts to lose weight all over at the same time. Do moderate-intensity cardio exercise at least five times per week for 50 minutes if you want to lose significant weight, recommends the American College of Sports Medicine. A reduced-calorie diet consisting of lean proteins, whole grains and leafy greens can also help encourage overall weight loss, including at your upper arm trouble zone.

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About the Author

Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.

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