If there was ever a place fat likes to hang out and have an (extended) party, it’s on our love handles.
If you’ve ever tried to lose fat from your waistline, you know how frustrating it can be. Why do you think there are so many exercises that promise to “melt away” your love handles in record time?
The truth is that doing most of those exercise is a waste of time. That’s because spot training – or trying to lose fat from a specific area by doing exercises that target it – doesn’t work, as studies have proven (1).
The good news is, there are some specific things you can do lose those stubborn fat deposits, no gimmicks involved.
First, you have to focus on losing overall body fat. Luckily, this can be done by combining several powerful methods into a single fat-blasting program. Then you can focus on ways to get your core strong and tight.
Ready to get started?
How to Lose Your Love Handles
1. High-Intensity Exercise
While we can’t spot-reduce fat directly from our love handles, we can perform specific types of exercises that both increase our metabolism and burn overall body fat.
This is where high-intensity interval training (HIIT) comes in to play. HIIT training alternates periods of high-intensity exercise with periods of low-intensity exercise, or recovery, for a maximum duration of 30 to 40 minutes.
This type of exercise has been proven to be the most effective at burning overall body fat, with studies showing it’s superior to traditional steady-state cardio.
A study from Canada’s McMaster University investigated two groups of exercisers. One did conventional steady-state aerobics, while the other performed a HIIT routine.
During the actual exercise sessions, the traditional aerobics group burned 48 percent more calories than the HIIT group. Sounds good, right?
But get this: the HIIT group burned 900 percent more fat over the 15 weeks than the first group burned in 20 weeks (2).
This shows that while subjecting yourself to the treadmill for hours every week might burn more calories while you’re exercising, it actually burns less fat over time than HIIT.
Plus, you get to spend less total time working out – a win-win. In fact, studies have shown that HIIT workouts lasting as little as seven minutes result in metabolic improvement (3).
Getting Started with HIIT
One thing to remember before you get started with HIIT is that it requires a lot of intensity during your high-intensity intervals.
In other words, while you’re exercising you shouldn’t be able to form full sentences, and should definitely be out of breath at the end of the interval. When you’re sprinting, this amounts to pushing yourself to about 85 percent of your maximum speed.
One way to get started with sprinting is to gradually shortening the length of your rest intervals. This might look like:
- Dynamic warm up for two minutes.
- Sprint for 15 seconds.
- Recover for 60 to 90 seconds.
- Repeat 10 to 12 times
As you become fitter, you can decrease your recovery time by 10 seconds and increase your “work” interval time.
Aim to work up to a 20- to 30-minute HIIT workout a maximum of 2 to 3 times a week, as it is very intense and taxing on the body.
Nutrition is one of the most important factors to consider if you want to get rid of your love handles.
Why? Because no matter how much you’re working out, if you’re taking in more calories than you’re expending, you’ll have a very hard time losing fat.
Not to mention, if you’re eating the wrong foods (junk and processed foods), you’ll be stimulating fat-storage hormones such as insulin, which will make losing fat next to impossible.
What does a fat-burning diet look like?
For one, you want to minimize (better yet, completely cut) your intake of processed, high-sugar foods and gluten-containing grains. These foods do nothing more than wreak havoc on blood sugar levels and stimulate the release of insulin, causing us to store excess fat.
Instead, focus on consuming only whole, fresh foods. Think lean meats, eggs, healthy fats such as avocados, olive oil, and nuts, fish, vegetables, fruits, and gluten-free starches and grains like quinoa and sweet potatoes.
Also, get creative with healthy foods. Here are just a few ideas to inspire you:
- The Easiest Black Bean Brownies Recipe Ever
- Protein Peanut Butter Cups Made Healthy (Just 5 Ingredients)
- 10 Mason Jar Meals That Make Healthy Eating Easy
- Fiber Starter Breakfast Bowl
3. Compound Exercises
Alongside HIIT, another form of exercise can help burn off those love handles – resistance training involving your large muscles.
This type of exercise involves compound movements that target major muscle groups during each exercise. These exercises engage your lower and upper body at the same time. Classic compound exercises include squat presses, walking lunges, and deadlifts.
Why are these excellent for quickly burning away excess body fat?
Specifically, performing compound body movements increases lean muscle mass, which leads to a significant increase in metabolic rate.
One study had participants do a 30-minute compound exercise workout consisting of four circuits of bench presses, power cleans, and squats. Results showed it elevated participants’ metabolisms for an astounding 48 hours following the workout (4).
This spike in metabolism is caused by what is referred to as “afterburn” or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).
Afterburn is essentially an increase in the number of calories our body burns following exercise. This increase is due to the body attempting to restore our oxygen levels and clear out excess lactic acid (not to mention repair our muscles).
This effect is so powerful that studies have shown that after a high-intensity resistance-training workout, metabolisms stay revved 4.2 percent – with increased fat oxidation – for 16 hours (5).
As you can see, afterburn from a compound exercise workout is our best friend when it comes to burning fat all day long.
Structuring a Compound Exercise Workout
The best compound exercise workouts use movements that challenge the whole body while keeping the intensity high.
This can be done by using a challenging weight for each exercise that allows you to perform a maximum of 6 to 8 reps with very little (or no) rest between sets.
Sample Compound Exercise Workout
Do the following exercises back-to-back, with very little rest between them.
Exercise One: Renegade Row (3 sets of 6 to 8 reps each arm)
Exercise Two: Deadlift (3 sets of 6 to 8 reps)
Exercise Three: Dumbbell Walking Lunges (3 sets of 6 to 8 reps each leg)
Exercise Four: Dumbbell Squat Press (3 sets of 6 to 8 reps)
Feel free to switch up these exercises as needed.
4. Ab Exercises
Now that we’ve started whittling away excess body fat with HIIT, a good diet, and compound exercises, we can work on building that defined core.
I’m not talking about traditional exercises like crunches, which don’t work (6).
Here’s the truth: crunches – and other machine exercise that use the same type of movement – fail to work the entire core. Plus, they have a nasty side effect of putting strain on your spinal disks, a potential recipe for a low back injury.
When you work your core, which consists of your entire midsection including your lower back, you strengthen your transverse abdominis muscle. This muscle wraps like a corset around your midsection, effectively zipping up your abdominals into a tight, toned wall of muscle.
Take a look at this core exercise routine below that will tone your abs like no other:
Repeat this entire circuit 2 to 3 times through, with little to no rest between exercises.
Exercise 1: Plank
- Begin on the floor, with your weight on your elbows directly under your shoulders.
- Extend your legs behind you, pressing into your heels.
- Keep your core tight, pulling in your abs, while making sure your body stays in a straight line from head to heel. If this is too difficult, you can hold the same position, but drop your knees to the floor.
- Hold for 30 seconds, then move on to the next exercise.
Exercise 2: Stability Ball Push-Ups
- Place your hands on either side of a stability ball with your legs extended behind you. Keep your body in a straight line from head to toe.
- Engaging your abs, lower into a push-up.
- Return to your starting position and repeat for 6 to 8 reps, then move to the next exercise.
Exercise 3: Mountain Climbers
- Begin in a pushup position, your body in a straight line from head-to-toe.
- Engaging your abs, pull in your right knee to your chest.
- Repeat with your left knee and continue to alternate.
- Perform 10 to 15 reps with each leg, then move to the next exercise
Exercise 4: Supine Straight Leg Ball Twist
- Begin lying on the floor.
- Place a stability ball between your feet, keeping your abs engaged.
- Twist your feet side-to-side, causing the ball to rotate. Perform 12 to 15 reps, then take a rest before repeating the circuit again for a total of 2 to 3 times through.
Believe it or not, rest plays an important role in dropping fat – especially belly fat.
This is because exercise is inherently a stressful activity. After all, stressing our muscles causes them to adapt and become bigger, while stressing our cardiovascular system with HIIT cardio strengthens our heart.
While these are all wonderful benefits of “stress,” it should be noted that too much stress can cause the body to release excess cortisol.
Cortisol is a hormone that, while necessary for several basic functions like regulating our sleep and wake cycles, becomes a problem in when too much is released.
One of these problems includes increased abdominal fat accumulation, which is the exact thing we’re looking to avoid when we try to get rid of love handles (7).
This is why its important to avoid overtraining in your quest to finally be rid of love handles, as the excess stress can actually cause you to accumulate more fat around your middle.
A good rule of thumb is to have at least one rest day per week to give your body time to recover from the demanding job of powering through HIIT and compound exercise workouts. And do this.
A Multi-Pronged Lifestyle Approach
Working these exercises into your routine, along with maintaining a clean, whole food-based diet will have your love handles shrinking in no time.
Just remember that you can’t spot train, and that one of the reasons many people have trouble with love handles is that they’re typically one of the last fat areas to go. This means you may see weight loss in other areas before it “trickles down,” so to say, to your love handles.
Be patient, and you will see results.
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Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.