Over the years, one of the most asked questions I’ve gotten is, “How do I get rid of my love handles?” It seems to be a problem that most everyone — male and female — struggles with. I’ve never met anyone who actually “loves” their love handles.
In case you aren’t quite sure what I’m talking about, love handles is the most common nickname for the area above your hipbone where oftentimes excess fat is stored. Although sometimes referred to as a “spare tire” or a “muffin top,” no matter what you call it, no one wants it.
So how to get rid of love handles, exactly? Well, it’s more than just fat-burning workouts, though that’s a good start. You need to also look at losing fat via diet changes and choosing the right core-centric exercises to reduce your middle.
The Real Reason for Love Handles
Besides the obvious fact that love handles not being very attractive, they can underlie a more serious issue: obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese. (1) With those increased rates of obesity, we are also more at risk for serious illnesses such as heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
For years, the standard measure of whether or not you were obese was finding what your Body Mass Index, or BMI, is. In case you were wondering, BMI is really just a clinical term for saying how much of your body is made up of fat and how much is lean muscle mass. Your BMI is determined by an equation of multiplying your height and weight to figure out your percentage of body fat. (2)
Unfortunately, this method does not take into consideration that muscle is more dense than fat. What I mean by that is, you can have a very low percentage of body fat, but still weigh a lot because of muscle. Therefore, when you use your weight and height to find out your BMI, you just might find that you get classified as being “overweight.” Conversely, having a BMI in the acceptable range does not always necessarily mean that we aren’t carrying a little too much fat, which as I’m sure you know by now, is responsible for our collective muffin top.
Step 1: Fight Love Handles With Food
Since having a high percentage of body fat is responsible for love handles, it stands to reason that one of the best ways to get rid of them is to take a look at your diet. No matter how much you work those abdominal muscles, there is no such thing as spot reduction and until you lean out through a well-balanced program of proper nutrition and exercise, those love handles aren’t going anywhere.
One of the first things you should eliminate is addictive sugar. At first, with the exception of giving up that morning doughnut, cutting out sugar may sound relatively easy. But the reality is that sugar is in virtually all processed foods and drinks. (3)
The easiest way to avoid sugar? Avoid manufactured foods and choose vegetables, fruits, nuts and lean protein like fish and chicken. Another trick to help you lose weight is to make sure you are eating smaller meals throughout the day (aka, mindful eating). Oftentimes when we want to shed a few pounds, our natural tendency is to NOT eat. The problem with that is what usually happens, at the end of the day we are starving, and we go on a nearly unstoppable binge of eating everything in sight. Simply by cleaning up your diet, you’ll be surprised just how much better you feel and look.
Step 2: Add in Some Exercise
Once you get your diet under control, it’s time to address your exercise routine. Maybe you don’t currently have one, that’s alright. You are a clean slate, and we can get you set on the right path with the best way to workout in order to burn unwanted fat while at the same time building strength. And after all, that is exactly what you are trying to do. You want to change your BMI so that you have more muscle and less fat. Decreasing our percentage of body fat is what gets rid of love handles!
If you think that spending endless hours mindlessly logging miles on the treadmill is what I mean by exercise, I’ve got good news for you. Doing only cardio workouts can sometimes actually do you more harm than good. In addition, research indicates that regular aerobic exercise on body fat is negligible. (4)
However, don’t let that discourage you. There are more efficient methods of working out that will help you reach your goals quicker. Your best option is burst training. Also known as interval training, burst training combines short, high intensity bursts of exercise with slow, recovery phases. This is then repeated during an exercise session. The big difference is, you will be training at a higher intensity, usually around 85–100 percent of your maximum heart rate compared to the typical 50–70 percent with moderate, endurance activities.
Similar exercise methods to burst training include high-intensity interval training (HIIT workouts) and the Tabata workout. Another advantage of burst training is it can be done virtually everywhere, no fancy gym membership required. You can literally do it at home, in a park or in your hotel room if you’re traveling.
Here’s an example of a short burst workout:
- Pick a few basic moves, that you will do for 4 rounds. Let’s say squats, jumping jacks, push-ups and running in place.
- Perform each of these moves for 45 seconds with 15 seconds off before beginning the next move.
- Try to work as hard as you can during those 45 seconds. Maybe try challenging yourself to see how many reps you can get in each of the working phases, that tends to keep you focused and working harder.
- Take a minute off between each round.
- Once you’ve completed all 4 rounds, you just successfully did a 20 minute burst training session … congratulations!
Step 3: Do 5 Simple Moves to Shape Your Waistline
I know I mentioned earlier that there is no such thing as spot reduction. Meaning we can’t just simply do crunches to melt away. I know we wished it worked that way, and there are certainly a lot of gimmicks on the market that promise us just that, but the reality is it’s a combination of proper nutrition and exercise.
That being said though, there are certainly exercises out there that when done in conjunction with those things can help us build better muscle definition and give us that slim, muffin-top free waist we covet. The following are my top 5 exercises for how to get rid of love handles.
1. Bird Dog Crunches
Sounds crazy, I know. But start this move on all fours. From there, simply extend your right arm out in front of you and your left leg out behind you. This part alone may challenge your balance! Once you feel stable enough to begin the next portion, work on bringing your leg and arm back in and trying to meet your elbow and knee together underneath you. Pause there for just a quick second before extending again and repeat for 10–15 reps. Obviously after that make sure you do the other side as well. Don’t be surprised either if you have one side that is more challenging than the other!
2. Side Plank with Leg Raise
This is another amazing move that really targets your obliques. On a soft surface, lie down on your side, it doesn’t matter which side you start with because I’m sure you’ve figured it out by now, you’ll be doing it on the other side as well. Once on your side, stack your feet, knees, hips and shoulders so that that you are in as straight of a line as possible. Next, prop yourself up on your elbow, maintaining a tight rigid posture as you do so.
Now, extend your opposite arm straight up toward the ceiling. You are now in side plank, which may be challenging enough for now. If and when you wish to try a more advanced version, lift your top leg and hold. Your goal on these should be to hold the pose for 10–15 seconds for a total of 3 or 4 sets. Allow for about 30 seconds of rest between each one.
3. Spiderman Crunch
This one is essentially a variation of a push-up. Starting in a push-up position, as you begin to lower yourself down, lift your right leg and bring your right knee to your right elbow. As you come up, bring your right leg back to the starting position and repeat the process on the left side. Try alternating sides for 10 reps and aim for about 3–4 sets.
4. Single-Leg Toe Touches
Start this one by lying on your back with your legs fully extended and your arms overhead. From there, lift your left leg straight into the air with your knee slightly bent and try to maintain this position throughout the move. While contracting your abdominal muscles, take your right arm and reach up to touch your left foot for a total of 10 reps. Switch sides for another 10 reps and try to complete a total of 3–4 sets per side.
5. Cross-Body Mountain Climber
Again, for this one you’re going to want to get into a push-up or plank position. Then just begin by raising your right knee toward your left elbow, lower, and then raise your left knee toward your right elbow. Begin slowly to practice and then try to move as quickly as you can. This is also a great move you can add to your burst training arsenal as well.
Although diet and exercise are good for us and will help us to lead longer and healthier lives, it’s always a good idea to get clearance from your physician before beginning a new workout program. And if you are not sure how to do some of the moves, or want a little more guidance there are plenty of resources available to help you reach your goals safely and effectively.
Love handles don’t have to be something we learn to love and live with. We CAN break up with them, and we should! Carrying around excess weight is ultimately unhealthy and puts a lot of unnecessary stress on our hearts and our joints. Even though there is not exactly one trick to making them disappear, through a combination of better eating habits and incorporating more movement (and some very tough, effective exercises) into your day, you can definitely get rid of them.