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The Myth of Batwings – Best Way to Improve Midlife Upper Arms

myth of batwingsArticle by Anne Elliott

If I asked you what was the worst bit of your body, then I bet batwings would be high on the list. They plague middle age and it’s hard to decide when they first appeared. One day you looked gorgeous in a sleeveless T-shirt and the next thing you know, only a loose fitting tent will do and sunlight will never see your upper arms again. So you do what any sensible person would do and read every article you can find that tells you how to get rid of them. But how many articles have you read that say the ‘fast fix’ is to do loads of tricep-dips using either the edge of a chair or using 2 cans of baked beans as weights? I’d love to tell you that this is all it takes but I’m afraid I can’t because it’s just not true. Be sceptical of anyone who says you can spot reduce fat. You can’t and I’m afraid miracle quick fixes don’t exist.

Be more effective with exercise time

With a better understanding of how the body works it is possible to be more effective with the exercise time we commit to ourselves. Here, as with other parts of the body, muscles are covered in fat. It helps to think of these two elements as separate systems that need addressing in different ways.

Firstly, the muscles. If you do ‘resistance’ or weight lifting type of exercise regularly, your muscles will slowly grow getting more toned the more you do. So if you just do the tricep dips, you will have lovely toned triceps but you won’t see them because they are still covered in the fatty layer. It is true that as muscles grow they require more calories to maintain themselves but this is a long term process, not an expedient short cut.

Reduce calorie intake

The batwings you see are little to do with the tricep muscles but are the fatty layer that rests on top. Fat is directly linked to diet ‘calories in, calories out’ as it is one of the storage places for excess calories. Therefore, if we reduce our calorie intake and do some regular aerobic exercise (something that makes you slightly out of breathe) we can attack this fatty layer head on. Fat will be converted and used as part of the body’s energy system. We need to use more than we consume.

Best Way to deal with Bingo Wings 

The best way to deal with batwings, therefore, is to do both types of exercise, perhaps on alternate days. That way you are attacking the problem from the inside out as the muscles grows (resistance) and the outside in, as the fat reduces (aerobic). There is of course the added bonus that other bits of your body are improving at the same time. If such a formal approach doesn’t suit you, an alternate is to take up a regular activity like tennis/badminton, swimming, boxing or netball etc. which are aerobic and use the arms quite extensively, so strengthening them as you play.

So the next time you are flapping those underarms around in the mirror don’t think of them as batwings but think of them as the unused energy they are – potentially as 4 laps or 3 games or 2 rounds….

 Photo credit: Ambro



ANNE ELLIOTT is 52. She has a Personal Training Practice that specialises in working with middle-aged clients and their associated health problems. She lectures in Sports Science at Middlesex University, is an ABAE boxing referee, is registered with REPS at Level 4 and is undertaking a Doctorate in exercise in middle age. Anne appears regularly in the media talking about her specialisation - exercise in middle age.

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  1. Kathryn

    July 27, 2011

    Excellent article. The truth at last! I’ve just discovered this myself. We have a great ‘core trainer’ at our club and he has us all but skipping with tug-o-war ropes plus doing the plank and other stuff. I thought I was fit and now I’m fitter! stronger stomach muscles, neater bum and… got rid of the bat wings. Well done Anne for explaining how exercise really works.

  2. Beth Boomer Highway

    July 27, 2011

    In the cartoon strip, FOR BETTER OR WORSE, the mom is washing windows and her daughter comes in and sees the batwings in full view. She shrieks at her mother and says STOP THAT STOP THAT, meaning the batwings. In the last drawing, yes the mother has stopped THAT, and the daughter is washing the windows. Love it, Beth

  3. Amanda Miller

    August 9, 2011

    At last some true sounding words – I will be sharing this with my mother as she has been fighting hers in the ways that you mentioned for years!

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