By Dr. Mercola
Love handles, like most types of abdominal fat, can be quite challenging to get rid of, and for many may hold even after you’ve lost weight elsewhere in your body. But, contrary to popular belief, targeting your abs with crunches or even targeted exercises for your obliques (the muscles under your love handles) will not specifically reduce fat in your problem areas.
The key to doing this is a more comprehensive approach that involves both dietary changes and high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which I’ll describe shortly.
However, that being said once you’ve burned off excess fat you can gain some significant benefits using more targeted exercise approaches, like this 10-minute love handle workout.1
Give Your Love Handles a Workout in Just 10 Minutes
The following routine, reported by Health,2 should be repeated three times, with each exercise following immediately after the other. Try to incorporate it into your fitness routine three times a week for more toned obliques and a much stronger core. In the video below, fitness trainer Lisa Huck demonstrates variations for each technique.
40 Woodchoppers (20 on each side)
“Using one hand weight, stand with your feet hip-width apart with your weight on your left leg. Start by holding the weight in both hands up by your left shoulder.
Next, twist to make a chopping motion down towards your right hip. Allow your feet and knees to pivot with the twist. Raise the weight back up to your left shoulder and repeat for 20 reps. Next, work your right side.”
50 Russian Twists
“Sit on your butt with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Your torso should be leaning back at a 45 angle to the floor. Hold a dumbbell with both hands. Lift your feet from the ground, crossing them at the ankles and balancing on your butt. From this position, twist your torso to the right and touch your dumbbell to the ground next to your body.
Next, twist back over to the left touching the weight to the left side of your body. Repeat back and forth, all while balancing with your legs and torso raised off of the ground.”
30 Side Plank Hip Lifts (15 on each side)
“Get into side plank position with your elbow on the ground and your legs and hips resting on the ground. Engaging your abs and keeping your body in a straight line, raise the lower half of your body up off the ground into a straight plank position. Lower again and repeat. Do 15 on your right side, and then 15 on your left side.”
30 Bicycle Crunches
“Lie on your back with your knees bent and your hands behind your head. Do not clasp your hands together. Engage your abs, lifting your shoulders and upper back off of the ground.
At the same time, move your right elbow toward your left knee so that they meet in the middle of your body. Next, switch your position by bringing your left elbow to your right knee. Continue as quickly as possible while still keeping your torso raised up off the ground.”
The Real Secret to Get Rid of Love Handles? Ditch Sugar
When 24 adults did seven abdominal exercises, five days a week for six weeks, they did not lose any belly fat, or fat anywhere on their bodies, for that matter.3 This is because about 80 percent of your ability to reduce excess body fat is determined by what you eat, with the other 20 percent related to fat-burning exercise and other healthy lifestyle habits.
If your diet is based on sugar/fructose and processed junk food, your chances of getting rid of your love handles in favor of flat, ripped abs are quite slim -- even if you work out religiously. You simply will not see defined abs unless you reduce your overall body fat, and a poor diet will cause your body to hold on to excess fat, despite all your exercise efforts. Two of the most important dietary factors are:
- Reducing or eliminating sugar from your diet. This includes ALL forms of sugar and fructose, whether refined or "all-natural" such as agave or honey, as well as all grains (including organic ones), as they quickly break down to sugar in your body
- Increasing healthful fats in your diet, such as coconut oil and animal-based omega-3s
One of the most pernicious dietary influences on your weight loss goals is fructose, which hides in so many processed foods and beverages, it can be near impossible to avoid unless you alter your shopping and cooking habits. By avoiding processed foods in general, and focusing instead on whole, preferably locally grown organic foods, cooked at home, you can circumvent one of the greatest dietary obstacles there is today.
The good news is once you make the change, the cravings for the foods you have removed will fade away. This is especially true with intermittent fasting, which is one of the most profoundly effective ways to lose body fat. For more details, I suggest you review my optimized Nutrition Plan, which is a comprehensive and step-by-step guide to help you make health-promoting, fat-busting food and lifestyle choices.
Do HIIT Two or Three Times a Week for Optimal Fat Burning
If getting rid of love handles is your goal, set aside 20 minutes two or three times a week to do high-intensity interval training (you needn’t do them more than that, as you can easily overdo it). This short intense training protocol is one of the best fat-burning exercises there is, as it improves muscle energy utilization and expenditure due to its positive effects on increasing muscle mass and improving muscle fiber quality. Muscle tissue burns three to five times more energy than fat tissues, so as you gain muscle, your metabolic rate increases, which allows you to burn more calories, even when you're sleeping.
Further, several studies have confirmed that exercising in shorter bursts with rest periods in between burns more fat than exercising continuously for an entire session. Another important benefit of HIIT is its ability to naturally increase your body's production of human growth hormone (HGH), also known as "the fitness hormone." HGH is a synergistic, foundational biochemical underpinning that promotes muscle and effectively burns excessive fat. You can get the details on how to properly perform HIIT exercises in the video below.
Try These Modified Push-Ups to Work Your Abs
Push-ups don't just give you a stronger upper body. They also strengthen and tone your abdominals. Some even regard them as a perfect exercise for abs—as long as you're doing them correctly. I recommend watching Darin Steen's demonstration of the proper form below, but I've also included a summary of key points on how to use push-ups to specifically target your abs.
If you want to target your abs, in particular, while doing a push-up, try:
- While in plank position, pull in your bellybutton. Your bellybutton is attached to your transverse abdominis, that inner sheath that holds your gut inside and gives your spine and vertebrae a nice, weight belt-tightening type of support. So by pulling it in, you begin to contract that deep inner transverse abdominis muscle.
- Next, do a Kegel squeeze. More women than men might be familiar with this term. A Kegel squeeze is performed by drawing your lower pelvic muscles up and holding them up high and tight. For men who aren't familiar with that term, it's similar to trying to stop urinating in the middle of the flow. This squeeze will allow you to feel and focus on your abdominal muscles.
- Try a push-up dumbbell row. Start at a dumbbell weight suitable to your current level of strength and fitness and progress into higher weights as you go along. Place the dumbbells at a 45-degree angle; pull in your bellybutton; draw up your lower pelvic muscles (Kegel squeeze), and breathe in as you lower your upper body to the floor.
Breathe out on the way up, and once your arms are in the fully extended position, perform a row — pulling the right dumbbell up toward your chest. On the next push-up, pull up with your left. This advanced technique will work your abs from side to side, and target those deep core muscles as well.