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How to Lose Upper-Body Fat [Proven Strategy]

11 min read
a curvy woman in a black two-piece set is holding her stomach fat, how to lose upper-body fat
Picture of Natasha Caleel

Natasha Caleel

The article is verified by Natasha Caleel
MS in Occupational Therapy, BS in Kinesiology, Certified Corrective Exercise Specialist, CrossFit Level 1 Coach

Figuring out how to lose upper-body fat can be frustrating. Learn effective approaches to target this area ✅

Table of Contents

Are you wondering how to lose upper body fat? With all the information out there on how to target this area, it can be overwhelming to decide what is best.

Fortunately, the process isn’t nearly as complicated as some people believe. All you need to do is focus on a few basics. 

Why You Might Have Upper Body Fat

Several factors influence body fat distribution. Among these, we have [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

Health Risks of Having Excess Upper-Body Weight

Too much body fat, especially in the abdominal region, is linked to various health issues:

  • Cardiovascular disease [6]
  • Type 2 diabetes [7]
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) [8]
  • Metabolic syndrome (several conditions bundled into one: high blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol, etc.) [9]
  • Post-menopausal breast cancer [10]
  • Sleep apnea (impaired breathing patterns during sleep) [11]
  • Stress on the lower back, leading to chronic pain [12]

Men tend to be at a higher risk because they typically carry more abdominal and visceral fat. [13] However, as mentioned above, the risks for post-menopausal women increase due to hormonal shifts.

Can You Spot-Treat Upper-Body Fat?

A common approach is to do certain exercises to target specific areas of the body in an effort to burn fat. For example, someone carrying more belly fat might resort to endless crunches and leg raises to burn the fat and get a six-pack. 

This is known as spot-reducing body fat.

Unfortunately, doing so is impossible. In other words, there are no upper-body exercises for weight loss, only movements that burn calories and could contribute to fat loss if your diet is in check. [14] 

Losing upper-body fat comes down to creating and sustaining a calorie deficit–burning more calories than you consume through foods and beverages. This forces your body to break down fat and lean tissue to get the remaining energy it needs to function.

However, how the body burns fat mostly comes down to genetics. Some people have leaner upper bodies and store more fat in their legs, and others have the opposite distribution patterns.

If someone carries more fat in their upper body than their legs, they may be able to lose more fat from the upper body.

Most people have somewhat even body fat distribution. They carry similar levels of fat in the upper and lower body. So, when they put themselves in a calorie deficit, they lose identical amounts of fat from their legs and upper body.

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Here Is How to Lose Upper-Body Fat

1. Be In a Calorie Deficit

The answer to ‘How to get rid of upper body fat?’ will always be to create and maintain a calorie deficit. [15] Everything else comes secondary to this requirement. 

To do that, use a TDEE calculator to determine your daily calorie expenditure and remove 350-500 calories to create a mild deficit. For example, if your TDEE is 2,500 calories, aim for 2,000-2,150 daily for gradual weight loss.

Additionally, eat a balanced diet by not restricting any of the major food groups or macronutrients (proteins, carbs, or fats). You need many nutrients to function at your best.

2. Get Enough Protein

According to research, we should consume roughly 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. [16] Doing so is necessary for maintaining muscle while losing fat.

Additionally, protein is highly satiating, especially compared to carbs, and eating more protein can help reduce hunger and cravings.

If that target seems too high, aim for a bare minimum of 0.36 grams per pound of body weight (0.8 grams per kilo) to avoid protein deficiency and the associated health risks. [17]

3. Do Cardio

A common tactic recommended to people who want to learn how to lose weight in the upper body is to do long and exhausting cardio sessions. But is the tactic helpful?

Contrary to popular belief, cardio is not essential for fat loss but could help. Activities like walking, running, cycling, and swimming burn calories, making it easier to create and maintain the necessary calorie deficit.

That said, don’t do too much cardio, which can lead to recovery issues and increase the risk of muscle loss.

According to the most recent CDC recommendations, adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderately intense activity in addition to at least two strength training sessions per week. [18] 

Optimal recommendations actually extend this number to 300 minutes per week in addition to strength training. 

4. Lift Weights

While there are no specific upper-body workouts for weight loss, lifting weights can help with fat loss in general. 

When you are on a weight-loss journey and have a calorie-deficit diet, you’ll naturally lose not only fat but also muscle mass. Adding endurance and resistance training to this routine will help preserve muscle mass during weight loss and increase your resting metabolic rate, which signals the body to burn more fat even when you don’t exercise. [19]

Similar to cardio, don’t do too much. As little as three sessions of 45-60 minutes are enough to achieve the desirable outcome. For instance, here is a back and shoulders workout to beef up the upper body and retain lean tissue while in a calorie deficit.

Additionally, the push-up (or knee push-up), floor press, and chest fly are three fantastic exercises to target the chest and firm up the breasts.

5. Eliminate Unhealthy Habits

Unhealthy habits don’t always have a direct impact on your body fat percentage. For example, smoking in and of itself doesn’t lead to weight gain or weight loss.

However, such behaviors often lead to other bad habits, creating a cascade of adverse effects: low energy, loss of motivation, no interest in eating healthy, reduced physical activity, sitting for long periods, etc.

Other unhealthy habits, like drinking alcohol, can lead to weight gain. [20] Alcohol can also lead to overeating episodes, further making it difficult to lose upper body fat. [21]

The best thing you can do is break unhealthy habits one at a time. Doing so will slowly but surely change your mindset toward health and fitness, making you more likely to seek positive behaviors aligning with your weight loss goals.

Simple Exercises For Upper-Body Fat

While the following exercises don’t target upper-body fat, they mostly work the upper-body muscles. In combination with other lifestyle changes (e.g., caloric restriction, a higher protein intake, etc.), this would allow for body recomposition (muscle gain and fat loss) to occur, leading to a more toned body.

The following workout is a full-body routine with an upper-body focus.

1. Floor Dumbbell Press

a man is working out, doing Floor Dumbbell Press_how to lose upper body fat


Target body zones: chest, shoulders, and triceps

Alternative equipment (at home): kettlebell, weight plate, or even a bottle full of water

2. Bent Over Row

a woman is working out, doing Handle Band Bent Over Row_how to lose upper body fat


Target body zones: upper back, biceps, forearms, and midsection

Alternative equipment (at home): dumbbells or kettlebells

3. Bent-Arm Lateral Raises

a man is working out, doing Dumbbell Seated Bent Arm Lateral Raise_how to lose upper body fat


Target body zones: shoulders

Alternative equipment (at home): kettlebell or two bottles full of water

4. One-Arm Deadlift

a woman is working out, doing One Arm Kettlebell Deadlift_how to lose upper body fat


Target body zones: hamstrings, glutes, lower and upper back, biceps, shoulders, and midsection

Alternative equipment (at home): a dumbbell or resistance band

5. Push-ups and Variations

a man is working out, doing Plank Push Up Row_how to lose upper body fat


Target body zones: chest, shoulders, triceps, back, biceps, and midsection

Alternative equipment (at home): push-up handles/stands

6. Shoulder Press

a woman is working out, doing Seated Plate Shoulder Press, how to lose upper body fat


Target body zones: shoulders, triceps, upper chest, and midsection

Alternative equipment (at home): a kettlebell, dumbbells, or jug full of water 

7. Planks and Variations

a woman is working out, doing Plate Forearm Plank_how to lose upper body fat


Target body zones: midsection, glutes, back, chest, shoulders, and arms

Alternative equipment (at home): a flat weight you can support on your back during a plank

8. Russian Twists

a man is working out, doing Plate Russian Twist_how to lose upper body fat


Target body zones: midsection, shoulders, upper back, chest, arms, hip flexors, and quadriceps

Alternative equipment (at home): a kettlebell, dumbbell, or bottle full of water

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The causes of upper body fat can be attributed to genetics, hormonal imbalances, or aging. Other common reasons are unhealthy lifestyle choices, lack of exercise, and reliance on processed foods.

To lose upper body and arm fat, create a calorie deficit, maintain a balanced diet, incorporate cardio exercises, and include upper-body resistance training to preserve muscle mass.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to target specific areas for fat loss. Instead, overall fat reduction is achieved by maintaining a calorie deficit through diet, cardio, and resistance training, contributing to fat loss throughout the body.

To avoid significant muscle gain during fat loss, focus on a moderate training routine, maintaining a calorie deficit, and consuming enough protein to preserve existing muscle while shedding fat. Avoid excessive weightlifting that may contribute to muscle mass gain.

Bottom Line

Learning how to lose upper body weight takes some time, as there are several essential things to keep in mind. Let’s briefly recap the most important ideas from the article:

Disclaimer This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

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