Let's Say Good Bye to Your Love Handles. They’re called cutesy names such as muffin tops and love handles, but let’s face it, no one loves the roll of flab that pops over the waistband of your jeans and ruins the sleek line of fitness clothes, clingy sweaters, and tailored shirts.
“Love handles are one of the most common reasons people exercise and hire a personal trainer,” observes certified trainer Jason Keigher CSCS, CPT, who works with clients in New York City. It’s often after an ab workout consisting of thousands of crunches that frustration finally leads people to get help from a fitness pro.
“Most people think that doing crunches will get rid of love handles, but they are misinformed,” Keigher says. When done properly, crunches do tone muscles, but the problem is, love handles don’t contain an ounce of muscle. They're fat, and to burn fat you need a healthy diet and a rigorous cardiovascular program, he explains.
Getting Rid of Love Handles: Your Strategy
Nasser recommends an overall plan for 30 to 45 minutes of cardio three to four times a week, strength training (including the exercises below) two to three times a week, and a day of rest every week so your body can rebuild muscle. She emphasizes that using a variety of cardio approaches will be the most effective — don’t just stick to only the elliptical or just a few spinning classes. Getting stuck in a cardio routine can lead to a plateau. Instead, you want to keep challenging different muscle groups. She's also a fan of high-intensity interval training programs to burn fat, instead of working at the same steady pace throughout your workout. On the treadmill, for instance, alternate two minutes at your usual pace with 1 minute at a faster speed.
Your initial goals will be weight loss and trimming down the fat. Once you’ve done that — or at least made significant headway — you can start to tone the muscles underneath your love handles. As you burn fat and increase your metabolism through building muscle, that extra padding will eventually go away.
Before you get started, Keigher has a caution for women who may have a diastasis, a midline split in the abdominal muscles around the bellybutton, usually a post-pregnancy problem. First, check with a doctor and a trainer for ways to correct the diastasis and then get their go-ahead to do this type of ab workout.
Ab Workout: Kiss Love Handles Goodbye
Make these five exercises part of your plan to tone waist and hips:
1. Bicycle Crunches: “This exercise will work your internal and external obliques as well as the rectus abdominis [the largest ab muscle],” Keigher says.
- Lie on your back, knees bent.
- Place hands behind your head without interlacing your fingers. Lift your head slightly.
- Twist so that your left elbow goes toward your right knee while you extend your left leg.
- Pull your leg back in and extend the other leg, twisting so that your right elbow goes toward your left knee.
- Build up to 3 sets of 25 reps each.
2. Standing Trunk Twists
- Stand with your feet about hip-width apart.
- Keep hips and legs facing forward as you twist to the right, extending your left arm out (like a punch) to the right.
- Twist in the opposite direction (left), extending your right arm out in a punch to the left.
- Aim for 100 repetitions.
3. Lying Leg Twist
- Lie on your back with your arms stretched out to the sides, hands flat on your mat.
- Lift legs and bend knees so that your calves are parallel to the floor and your thighs form a 90-degree angle with your torso.
- Lower both legs together to one side so that your outer right thigh touches the ground on the right side, maintaining the 90-degree angle.
- Return them to center and then lower to the other side so that your outer left thigh touches the ground.
- Build up to 3 sets of 25 reps each.
4. Side Planks: “This exercise strengthens your core, in the front and the back,” Nasser explains.
- Lie down on your right side, leaning on your elbow.
- Extend your legs out straight, with your feet stacked. The edge of your right foot should be on the floor.
- Use your core to hold your body up in a straight line (you can modify it by putting your right knee down on the floor if you need support). Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, or longer if you can.
- Lower yourself fully to the floor and switch sides.
- For added challenge, lift the top leg and hold it up so that it is not touching the bottom leg.
- Holding each side for about 30 seconds, do four or five reps, and increase as you get stronger.
5. Seated Russian Twists
- Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat.
- Hold your arms out in front of you, hands pressed together.
- Lean back about 45 degrees. With a slow, controlled movement, twist to your left side. Return to center, and twist to your right. That’s one rep.
- One full rep should take about 20 seconds. Take a breath and repeat. Start with four to five reps, adding more reps as you get stronger.
- For an added challenge, lift your feet off the floor as you do this exercise.
You shouldn’t have to wait too long for results, Nasser says. If you eat a healthy, low-fat diet, burn more calories than you take in, and enjoy a good mix of cardio and ab workout time, you’ll watch your love handles start to melt away within a few weeks.