It doesn’t matter whether you’re an A-cup or a D-cup, or a size XS or XL—women of every shape and size experience bra bulge. Sometimes, it might just be a matter of getting a bra that actually fits. But for many, this area between the armpits and chest just tends to be under toned and therefore, a bit flabby.
“The armpit is kind of an intersection of many different muscles, so in order to tone it up, you have to work all of those muscles,” explains trainer Adam James Gallo, owner of The Loft Collective NYC in Brooklyn, New York. This includes the pectoralis muscles (chest), latissimus dorsi (back), triceps and biceps (upper arm), and deltoid (shoulders).
Since you can’t spot lose fat, you need to commit to eating clean and mix in both cardio and strength training to truly see results. “A neat little metabolic hack I like to use is to incorporate cardio throughout your workout,” Gallo says, “instead of separating your cardio and resistance training.” This increases your heart rate and metabolic burn both during the workout and in the days following—called the “afterburn.”
To get you started, Gallo built a great workout circuit staggering cardio and resistance exercises that target all of the muscles intersecting at the armpit. For each, he recommends performing as many reps as you are able to within a certain time while still maintaining correct form. “What you ask your muscles to do is how they form,” he says, so focusing on the accuracy and quality of your movements is what will give you the toned results you’re after.
1. Incline Chest Fly/Press
For this exercise, lie back on a bench at an incline, with feet flat on the ground. The angle allows you to hit higher up on the chest, closer to your shoulders. This move especially works the anterior head of your shoulders and the pectoralis muscles, both important for firming up this area, Gallo says.
1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand (5-7 pounds each) and place arms straight out in front of you, elbows locked and hands in a hammer grip position (palms facing each other).
2. Slowly open arms out to your sides, keeping them straight, palms facing up. Extend until you feel a gentle stretch across the chest, shoulders and biceps, arms perpendicular to your body. This is the fly.
3. Pull arms back up to starting position.
4. Bring arms back down to the sides of the body, but this time bend at the elbows to create a 90-degree angle. Then press the arms back up to start position, squeezing the weights together as if you’re crushing something between them. This is the press.
Continue alternating between fly/press movements for one minute, focusing on clean, purposeful movements. Be careful not to let your wrists bend back—you’ll lose isolation and won’t hit the muscles correctly.
2. Mountain Climbers
Chances are you’ve done a few of these before, but you probably didn’t realize how much of a full-body workout they really are. “The rock in the body as you’re doing this movement manages to hit the whole girdle of the shoulders, meaning the chest and the top, front and back of the shoulders, as well as the shoulder blades,” Gallo says. Plus, you get a short, intense cardio workout.
1. Start in plank position, hands directly underneath your shoulders, elbows locked, abs tight and engaged, glutes squeezed, knees and feet together.
2. Raise one knee up, bent in towards your chest with the ball of the foot planted on the ground.
3. Jump and switch the position of the legs while you’re still in the air. Focus on keeping the body straight and in that tight plank position throughout.
Repeat this movement in rapid succession while still maintaining form, for 30 seconds to one minute. Gallo notes: If your wrists start to hurt, try putting hands into fists, or put your fingers out to the side.
3. Straight Tricep Kickbacks
To nail this move, you first have to learn how to execute the starting position: a hinge. “This sets your body up to get the right extension,” says Gallo.
1. Stand with feed shoulder width apart, arms relaxed at your sides and holding a 2-5-pound weight in each. Weights should be held far enough away so that they don’t hit your thighs. If they do, narrow your stance. Bend forward at the hips, keeping a completely straight spine, until you are about halfway to 90 degrees. (Congrats! You’re in a hinge.)
2. Next, extend both arms as far back behind you as you can, with arms straight and elbows locked. Hold for a beat, then return arms to base position.
Repeat this movement for one minute.
4. Jump Rope
An easy and effective cardio workout, Gallo tells us that jumping rope can burn an average of 11-20 calories per minute. By adding wrist weights or using a weighted rope, you can up the burn a bit—plus, the arm movement works the back and shoulders at the same time.
1. Stand with feet and knees together, elbows relaxed at sides, holding the handles in each hand and rope placed behind you at your heels. Chin should be tucked and relaxed. Train your gaze at the ground roughly 4 feet in front of you.
2. Begin jumping rope while still maintaining your form (starting position of knees and feet touching, chin tucked). Squeeze shoulder blades as well to add some extra back work.
Jump for 1-3 minutes, going as fast as you can without getting sloppy.
5. Hammer Grip Row
Lying on a bench gives you the best angle to really engage the back muscles when performing a row.
1. Lay flat down on your stomach on a bench, arms straight out down towards the floor, knees bent, feet flat on the ground. Hold 8-10-pound weights in your hands.
2. Perform a row by pulling the weights up to your ribs, forearms remaining perpendicular to the ground, squeezing your shoulder blades as hard as you can and actively opening the chest at the top of the movement. Return to base position.
Repeat this movement, slowly and controlled, for one minute. (Note: If you’d rather do it without a bench, you can also perform the row movement when standing in a hinge position.)
6. Compass Jumping Jacks
Another short burst of cardio, this variation on a jumping jack will get your heart rate up and isolate the shoulder area. If you want to up the difficulty, wear 1-2-pound wrist weights.
1. Stand with feet together, arms in front of your face, closed fists, tops of your hands facing forward, forearms together and elbows pointed toward the ground.
2. Jump feet out, and instead of swinging arms up to meet above your head like a traditional jumping jack, punch arms out in front of you, rotating your arms as you punch so that you end with the palm-side of your hands facing out.
3. Jump back to starting position, rotating arms and fists again so that palms are facing each other and fists are touching.
Continue for 1-2 minutes.
This jumping jack challenges a larger variety of shoulder muscles than traditional ones, Gallo notes. “When your hands are in the first position, you’re engaging the back [of the shoulders], and when they’re in the front position you’re engaging the front [of the shoulders].”
7. Hanging Arm Curl
This exercise is awesome for isolating the biceps, “but it is absolutely paramount the person performing this exercise retains a good arm position, or isolation is lost,” says Gallo. Be careful not to use too much weight, as this will throw off your form.
1. Rest one foot, knee and hand all on the same side of a flat bench, and stand with the other foot flat on the ground. The arm that isn’t resting on the bench should be hanging towards the ground, holding a 2-5-pound weight. Make sure your spine is flat and parallel to the ground, chin tucked in, with your eyes trained on the weight.
2. Perform a standard bicep curl, bending the arm at the elbow and bringing the weight up towards your face. (Note: “Because your elbow isn’t placed on any surface, and is acting as the fulcrum, it is absolutely vital you avoid swinging the elbow,” says Gallo.) Pause for a second at the top of the movement, and then bring your arm back to starting position.
Do for 30-60 seconds on each arm.