How To Lose Upper Body Fat (According To Experts)

how to lose upper body fat

Attempting to lose fat in localized regions of the body successfully can be downright frustrating. When trying to shed upper body fat around the waist, back, chest, and arms, it can be difficult to know which specific exercises to do.

Below, I’ll discuss lifestyle changes to lose upper body fat and list some of the best exercises to target muscle toning in that area. I’ll also show you how to use the Fitbod app for an upper body workout program tailored to your goals to monitor your progress every step of the way.

Key Takeaways

  • When trying to lose upper body fat, you need to be in a calorie deficit and add weight training exercises to increase muscle mass in the upper body.
  • Too much upper body fat is linked to health conditions such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and high cholesterol.
  • With Fitbod, you’ll have a customized workout plan with the best exercises to target upper body fat and build muscle mass. 

7 Ways to Lose Upper Body Fat

ways to lose upper body fat

To lose upper body fat, you first need to adjust your lifestyle to adopt healthy habits and set yourself up for success.

Dr. Bart Kachniarz, Harvard and Johns Hopkins-trained Plastic Surgeon advises:

“While it’s tempting to try and spot-reduce fat from specific areas like the upper body, unfortunately, it’s biologically impossible to target fat loss in one particular region. Fat loss happens overall, and where it comes from depends on your genetics and body composition. However, by focusing on healthy lifestyle changes that promote overall fat loss, you can indirectly influence the appearance of your upper body.

1. Be in a Calorie Deficit

Eating less is a great way to lose fat, and it’s a necessary part. Aim to eat around 300 to 500 calories less per day (or a 5-10% decrease in daily calories). Ideally, the deficit should come from cutting out calories from fat or carbs, as you want to maintain a higher protein intake to lose fat and ensure muscle retention.

Registered Dietitian, Alex Evink, advises the importance of consuming protein in a calorie deficit:

“While you can’t spot reduce fat, striking the right balance of calories and protein can lead to successful long-term weight loss. Eating a higher protein diet while in a calorie deficit helps to preserve lean muscle mass, which correlates with the number of calories we burn at rest. Therefore, it can help maintain our metabolism when we are trying to lose weight.”

She continues:

“Several clinical studies have found that consuming more than the recommended daily allowance of protein can help to reduce body weight and decrease fat mass. It can even help prevent weight regain after weight loss. This translates to about 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.”

2. Increase Calorie Expenditure

When it comes to losing weight, most people constantly think about eating less. While placing yourself in a calorie deficit is key, you also need to increase your calorie expenditure.

You can increase the deficit by exercising more and becoming more active in your daily life. 

Aiming to get 10,000 steps a day, following a Fitbod workout program that builds upon your progress, and eating less are all great ways to collectively increase your deficit and maintain muscle mass.

3. Train the Upper Body Muscles with Weights

Lifting weights is key to retaining as much muscle as you can. Training the upper body muscles with weights will help you build muscle and improve muscle definition and tone as you lose body fat (from your diet and being in a calorie deficit).

Without training with weights, you may find you still lose body fat, however, you won’t have the muscle to give you shape and definition.

With Fitbod’s new body composition feature, you can better understand your body’s ratio of fat, muscle, and bone to enhance your progress even more.

4. Use Light to Moderate Intensity Cardio to Burn More Fat

Cardio can be a helpful way to increase caloric output and place yourself in a greater calorie deficit. It’s not inherently necessary for fat loss and does not burn fat more than other forms of fitness. However, it can be a great way to improve fitness, heart health, and expend energy.

HIIT is a common cardio practice. However, according to a study on maximizing fat oxidation during exercise, training in less intense workout ranges may be better to mobilize fat stores and use fat for energy.

The study indicates most people benefit from training at an intensity of 60-65% of VO2 max, which is the maximum oxygen an individual uses during intense exercise. This is roughly 70-75% of your heart rate max (HR max) if you’re looking to maximize fat usage as a primary source of fuel during exercise. 

Adding in light cardio days, taking long brisk walks or hikes, and placing your heart rate within the 60-80% HR max zone is a great way to burn calories, mobilize fat stores, and improve fitness.

5. Cut Down on Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol consumption, in addition to consuming too many calories, has been shown to promote fat gain. 

Researchers found that in the presence of an already existing diet higher in calories (so a diet where you are not losing weight), adding ethanol (a component of alcohol) decreases fat oxidation (fat usage as an energy source for the body) up to 24 hours post alcohol consumption. 

They concluded that individuals who habitually consume alcohol and are in a calorie surplus will be at a greater risk of having the surplus calories deposited directly into fat stores.

Fitness Expert and YouTuber, Sean Nalewanyj, explains:

“Drinking can throw your fat loss program off course from the behavioral changes it can produce. Maybe you go out drinking and you take the calories into account and it all fits into your intake for the day. But afterward, are you going home and eating a nutritious meal, or are you going out for high-calorie fast food? And how does a hangover affect your motivation the next day? Do you get right back on track, or do you say, ‘…  I already messed up. I’m going to skip the gym and order pizza?’”

He continues:

“Little fluctuations in calorie intake or an occasional missed workout are not a big deal, but if they happen too frequently, you could erase your calorie deficit or even end up in a surplus. This is the real danger with alcohol for both fat loss and muscle growth.”

6. Stop Smoking

Research has found that smoking results in higher adipose tissue being accumulated around the central region of the body (torso and abdomen), despite generally lower body fat levels in smokers vs non-smokers.

Adipose tissue, also known as body fat, is fat stores located throughout the entire body (under the skin and between the internal organs).

If cancer and disease risks aren’t enough to stop you from smoking, science showing smoking can promote localized fat accumulation around the midsection should.

7. Get Enough Sleep

In a long-term 12-month behavior weight loss intervention study, researchers found a positive correlation between increased sleep and weight loss, especially fat loss.

While the exact number of hours of sleep needed can vary, aim to get enough sleep so you feel refreshed in the morning and have energy throughout the day. 

If you find it hard to get up or you’re dragging throughout the day, try getting 30-60 minutes more of sleep a night. Then, reassess until you find the number that works best for you.

8 Best Exercises To Help You Lose Upper Body Fat

Here are some Fitbod exercises to incorporate into your workout routine to build muscle mass and target upper body fat. 

Note: It is important to remember that all of these exercises are great for developing more muscle in the chest, shoulders, back, and arms. The key to upper body fat loss is to lose fat generally (i.e. all over) and then train the upper body using resistance.

1. Barbell Bench Press

The barbell bench press is a great exercise to build upper body muscle, specifically in the chest, triceps, and anterior shoulder. 

The barbell is a great way to perform a bench press, as it allows you to lift heavier loads and can be done with a variety of grips (narrow, medium, wide). 

If you do not have a barbell, you can also perform the dumbbell bench press, dumbbell floor press, machine bench press, or push-up.

2. Dumbbell Bent Over Row

The dumbbell bent over row trains the back muscles, as well as the biceps and forearms. 

Performing the bent-over row with dumbbells allows you to increase the range of motion and vary your grip, as well as offers you the opportunity to compensate for any discrepancies between sides.

All of these tweaks can help you build more muscle and better individualize your training.

If you do not have access to dumbbells, you can also perform barbell bent over rows, machine rows, or an inverted row.

3. Lat Pulldown

The lat pulldown is a back-building exercise that can be done by all levels and can be trained with both heavy and lighter weights to help you build more muscle and definition in your back. 

Unlike the row, the pulldown develops muscle fibers of the back that can help give you a broad, more V-shaped physique.

You can also substitute pull-ups and assisted pull-ups into your program if you do not have access to a lat pulldown.

4. Arnold Dumbbell Press

The Arnold dumbbell press is a shoulder-building exercise that is great for adding muscle and definition to all heads of the shoulder. 

Unlike other shoulder exercises, the Arnold dumbbell press targets all three heads of the deltoid at once, making it a great exercise to boost your shoulder workout results.

If you do not have access to dumbbells, you can also perform barbell shoulder presses, cable shoulder presses, or machine shoulder presses.

5. Push Press

The push press is an explosive upper-body exercise that primarily targets the shoulders.

This complex exercise is great for adding muscle and burning calories, as you can move heavy loads and use a ton of muscle mass in the process. You can perform the push press with a barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell. 

6. Dumbbell Skullcrusher

The dumbbell skullcrusher is a triceps isolation exercise that can help you build muscle on the back of the arm. 

Building triceps muscles will also help tighten up the arms and give you more definition.

If you do not have access to dumbbells, you can also perform skullcrushers with a barbell or EZ bar, or perform cable rope overhead triceps extensions to get many of the same benefits.

Want killer arms? Check out these Fitbod workouts!

7. Barbell Curl

The barbell curl is a biceps exercise that can help you build muscle and definition of the arms. 

While rows and pull-ups train the biceps to a certain degree, adding specific exercises for the biceps, like the barbell curl is ideal for improving muscle tone and definition.

You can also substitute dumbbell bicep curls or hammer curls to get very similar results.

8. Dumbbell Lateral Raise

The dumbbell lateral raise is a shoulder isolation exercise that can be done to add additional training volume and emphasis to the shoulders. 

If you want to increase muscle growth and definition of the shoulders, the lateral raise could be a great way to train them without needing to lift weights overhead (which may be tough for some people based on mobility and previous injuries). 

Other lateral raise exercises like cable lateral raises are also great variations of this movement and can offer you similar benefits.

While regularly doing sets of the exercises above will help you achieve your goals, it’s important to vary up your working routine to keep from hitting plateaus.

Registered Dietitian and Founder of Louisiana Nutrition Associates, Krista Wale, advises:

“To effectively reduce body fat, I recommend a balanced approach that includes both strength training and cardiovascular exercise. Strength training helps build muscle, which can increase your metabolism and improve your body composition. Cardiovascular exercise, such as brisk walking, running, or cycling, helps burn calories and improve heart health.”

What Causes Upper Body Fat?

Excess body fat, including upper body fat, can be caused by poor diet, physical inactivity, and increased alcohol consumption. 

Additionally, genetics can play a role in the location of where you store your fat. 

However, following a consistent workout program with Fitbod, coupled with a healthy diet can promote upper body fat loss and can improve your fitness level and overall health.

Need a workout program? Try Fitbod for Free.

Health Implications of Having Too Much Upper Body Fat

There are many health implications for high levels of total body fat. 

However having higher levels of upper body fat has been linked with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, increased risks for metabolic complications, type 2 diabetes, and sleep apnea. 

Additionally, upper body fat accumulation has also been associated with moderate impairment of lung function.

How Long Does It Take To Lose Upper Body Fat?

how long does it take to lose upper body fat

Losing body fat is a process, regardless of what part of the body you’re targeting.

Research has shown that there is no such thing as “spot reduction” (i.e. losing weight in a specific area of your body). The only way to lose upper body fat is to follow the same guidelines to lose fat in general.

Overall, you can expect to lose 1-2lbs of body weight per week, with a good portion of that weight coming from fluid and fat loss. 

If you weight train and eat in a calorie deficit, you can increase your odds of retaining as much muscle as you can and optimize your fat loss results. 

Over 8-12 weeks, this means you could lose 4-8lbs of body fat (not scale weight), which would make a significant difference for most people toward their weight loss goals. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I lose chest and arm fat?

While there is no such thing as “spot reduction,”  you can lose chest and arm fat by losing fat and weight throughout the entire body. Some people lose weight in areas faster than others based on genetics. However, adding upper body exercises for the chest and arms can help you build muscle to improve muscle shape and definition as you continue to lose weight and body fat.

Does walking burn upper body fat?

Walking is a great low-impact exercise to burn calories, however walking, as with any exercise or movement does not spot reduce body fat from certain areas of the body. When you lose weight and fat, your body will lose it based on your genetics. If you want to lose upper body fat, you need to place yourself in a caloric deficit and also do resistance training to build muscle.

About The Author

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.