How to get arms like Michelle Obama without resorting to plastic surgery

Last week, one of my clients mentioned to me a story that she’d seen on a popular evening entertainment show. A story about women flocking by the thousands to their plastic surgeon’s offices because they wanted arms like Michelle Obama.

arms like Michelle Obama

I don’t have photo rights to any pics of Michelle Obama’s arms, so you’ll have to look at mine instead

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, last year more than 15 000 people (98% of them women) elected to undergo ‘brachioplasty’ to remove excess skin and fat from the back of their upper arms. Compare that to the year 2000, when only about 300 surgeries were performed nation wide. That’s an increase of nearly 4 400% in just over 10 years!

While I’m not surprised to learn that women want to improve the look and tone of their triceps, I AM surprised to see that so many have chosen a surgical route to reach their goals. Surgery is expensive (nearly $4 000 for this procedure), leaves visible scars and can result in unexpected complications and infection during the recovery period.

Want arms like Michelle Obama without going under the knife?

  • eat clean and pay attention to portion sizes. Fat accumulates all over the body, including the back of the upper arms, when we consume sugar, alcohol, fatty and processed foods. Educate yourself about portion sizes and eat within your caloric requirements.
  • move more. The more your move, the more calories you burn. Daily calorie deficit leads to fat loss. Movement doesn’t need to be fast to be effective; start by adding a 15 minute walk to your day.
  • strengthen your largest muscles. Whole body strength training builds metabolically active muscle; muscle that will continue to consume calories long after your workout. Don’t limit your weight lifting to upper body exercise; your legs and butt are large, powerful muscles and will contribute more to your daily energy budget than the smaller muscles of your arms.
  • follow an upper body strength training plan. Michelle Obama clearly works out. I’m guessing that she spends 30 minutes a day, perhaps 3 days a week, training her upper body. No doubt she works in the 6 to 12 repetition range (the ‘hypertrophy’ range) and lifts weights heavy enough to fatigue her muscles by the end of each set.

If a client came to me wanting arms like Michelle Obama, here’s a program I would suggest they start with, 3 days per week, every other day.  

arms like Michelle Obama

 Have a favourite arm exercise that I’ve missed? Feel free to share and link up below in the comments!



  1. I love “skull crushers” for my triceps – seem to be able to access them better from that position than from kickbacks. I always wanted sculpted arms – following your bullet points above has gotten me great definition and I am STRONG to boot!
    Sarah @ Semi-Sweet recently posted…Lebanese Seven Spices SeasoningMy Profile

    • Me too! Love the feeling (and alertness generated) when you feel like you may not be able to do another…
      Happy Monday Sarah!

  2. ahhh
    it’s the triad for me.
    eat more and clean and MOOOOOOOVE and then hit the iron.
    Miz recently posted…Are big bloggers cliquey?My Profile

  3. Tamara, I always love your workouts!!! Thank you for sharing so many of them!!
    Kim recently posted…Silver LiningsMy Profile

  4. Love shoulder/arm exercises!! I get to see results waaay faster than with the problem butt and thigh areas! 😉
    Kathy recently posted…Who is to blame here?My Profile

    • Kathy, I’m with you all the way. Much harder to see results on the hips/butt/thighs. Guess what the book I’m writing is about??? 😉

  5. Oh I am so doing this. Due to my crazy long injury I can only do upper body right now. This will be my go to list. I think I do the “skull crusher” one that the first post is referring to. I like to do bi cep curls on the bench using my inner knee for support. It helps me with my form.

    By the way, you have smoking arms!

    • Yes, ‘concentration curls’ are great for isolating both muscles of the biceps. I like to mix them in with standing work; all about recruiting those core and butt muscles whenever possible! Happy Birthday Stephanie!

  6. I always get annoyed when people hold up Michelle Obama as the ‘ideal’ when it comes to women’s arms… my personal pet peeve.

    But I agree with your methods to get some! And yours are awesome. Mine are coming along quite nicely with lots of hard work and clean eats, too.

    • Elle, I feel the same way, but a client of mine pointed out that the arms that fitness peeps might think are ideal are way different from (and impossible to attain for) the ‘average’ north american woman. Obama’s arms are attainable by many, without having to spend hours in the gym each week…

      Thanks so much! I put on muscle in my arms and shoulders much more easily than on my legs…

  7. Great tips! I’ll get to work! 🙂

  8. I’ve been really enjoying toning up my arms/shoulders lately. One of my favorite moves is to do a front raise, and then pull the arms back so they’re at the top of a lateral raise, and then lower slowly. Sorry I don’t know the technical name for it!
    Michelle @ Eat Move Balance recently posted…Blend 2013!!!My Profile

    • That sounds like a great combo Michelle (and yes, I can picture it totally!).
      Try this one; alternate a front raise and an upright row. Your shoulders will totally burn out within 8 to 10 reps!

  9. My cousin and I were just discussing the bingo arms so I have forwarded your blog to her. Oddly enough, right before that we were discussing her fat kitty. Apparently he is getting stuck in the cat door! Time for a diet. I also have a suggestion for a blog as we were both wondering about the correct answer. It has recently come to our attention that it is not true that you can work your abs everyday. Is this correct? And what is the reasoning behind being able to work your abs everyday, why are they different than other muscles?

    • I haven’t heard the term ‘bingo arms’ Melody, what does it mean?
      (I have heard floppy arms called ‘bat wings’ before…)

      As far as working abs every day, I believe that abs should be worked just like every other muscle group; to fatigue, every 2nd or third day. That being said, they are more amenable to endurance training (higher reps) than most other muscle groups.

  10. Well, you know I am in for the hard work of this – clean eating, move, weights. At 55, you see my pics so it can be done! 🙂 It is hard work DEPENDING on your golas but it can be done. 🙂

    I also saw this story & it is just like losing weight – people want the easy way out & there is no magic pill!

    Greta post!
    Jody – Fit at 55 recently posted…Gratitude Monday & Blogging Friends; GraduationMy Profile

  11. Yeah!! I can do this while “resting” due to my hamstring tendon tear. Thanks, love “cut” arms!!

    • Well you know, I aim to please! 😉
      How’s that hamstring healing Lorrie?

      • Thanks for asking!! It doesn’t hurt so much, so there are days I really want to run/walk, but I will not! I go back in 4 weeks and see if there is any improvement. If not, surgery may be required.

        • Let me know how it goes, okay? And I’ll try and remember to keep posting upper body workouts 😉

  12. I also love skull crushers. However, following up on your point about whole-body large muscle moves, I just love push-ups. Anytime, any style. Love, love, love. And my 70 and 80 year olds want Michelle arms too, so we are working all the moves above!
    AlexandraFunFit recently posted…Exercise, Food, Weight Loss & Menopause (and Water for People): Notes From the IDEA Personal Trainer Institute:My Profile

  13. I think it was the Doctors show that had a segment on that surgery this week. I actually took a picture of the woman’s before and after photos of her arms and sent it to a friend because I thought it was kind of a funny thing to focus on. #firstworldproblems, am I right?
    Gaye recently posted…Me and My Fancy-Schmancy New Trek Lexa SLXMy Profile

    • Totally first world problems. Between that and ‘thigh gap’ I think I shall scream!

  14. Pinned it. Love it. Doing it.
    Tiffany recently posted…Honey, where’s the salt?My Profile

  15. As you know, I’m a 70 yo widow who wants to wear sleeveless tops and find another companion to share life with. I’ve been doing arm routines with 8 lb weights just like these and have notice able definition. Triceps dont jiggle either! Floor exercises, Zumba and daily walks and squats keep me in shape PLUS clean eating. Never thought I’d get rid of stomach roll but they’re moving out. All this to say…yes, ladies, Tamara is absolutely right! Thanks for affirming for me, amiga!


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