It is possible to tackle your love handles – but it takes a little strategy, not to mention patience. While you may not be able to target them directly, toning up other muscles like your abs will help tighten your midsection and bring out definition. Eating sensibly will also keep your energy up and your waist size down.
Cardiovascular activities like belly dancing, kick boxing, martial arts, race walking, mountain biking and rowing not only do a great job of incinerating calories, they also recruit your obliques and rectus abdominals, the muscles that reside underneath that spare tire.
Try this workout specifically designed to tone up your love handles. Done two to three times a week on a consistent basis, it will help sculpt and chisel your middle to tone up the entire area.
There are three categories of exercises in this program: Standing, Seated and Lying. Start by doing one to three sets of each of the beginner exercises (and that's 8 to 15 reps per set, unless otherwise noted) 2 or 3 times a week. Once you can do 3 sets easily and with good form, move on to the intermediate move in that category. And when you can do three sets of an intermediate exercise easily and with good form, move on to the advanced exercise in that category. It's okay to do an exercise at one level in one category and a different level in another.
These exercises will firm and tighten your waistline without adding bulk. They'll also help you stand up straighter and reduce back pain . You'll get best results if you combine this routine with full-body strength training, calorie-burning cardio activity and a sensible diet. You should begin to see a difference in the way your middle works after about 6 weeks of regular training. And you'll feel stronger even sooner than that!
Beginner: Tai Chi Sweep
(A) Stand tall with your feet wide, your abs pulled tightly inward, and bend your knees a few inches. Bend your elbows up and in front of you so that they are at waist height and both of your palms are facing toward the right. Pull your abs tightly inward.
(B) Keeping your abs pulled inward and the rest of your body rigid, twist to the right and sweep your arms as far across your body pushing the energy, or "chi," as you go.
(C) Immediately turn your palms toward the left and, by twisting from the waist, sweep your arms to the left. Continue alternating twists left and right.
Intermediate: Crossover Twist
(A) Stand tall with your feet hip width apart with your elbows bent and your hands behind your ears. Pull your abs in tight.
(B) Lift your right knee as you twist from the waist to bring your left elbow toward it. (Depending on your balance and flexibility you may or may not be able to touch your elbow to your knee.) Hold a moment and repeat with the opposite arm and leg. Continue alternating until you've completed all reps.
Advanced: The Flamingo Flex
(A) Stand tall with your feet hip width apart, your hands behind your head, elbows bent. Bend your right knee and lift it up and out to the side so that both your hip and knee are turned outward.
(B) Slowly bend from the waist and lower your right elbow toward your knee. (Depending on your balance and flexibility you may or may not be able to touch your elbow to your knee.) Hold a moment at the bottom of the movement and then slowly return to the start. Do all reps to the one side and then do an equal number of reps to the left.
(A) Sit up tall on the edge of a sturdy chair with your toes on the floor, heels lifted. Bend your elbows and place your hands behind your head without lacing your fingers together. Pulling your abs inward, lean back a few inches from the hips.
(B) Maintaining strong abs and a slight backwards lean, twist left and right from the waist until you've completed all reps.
Intermediate: One Leg Russian Twist
(A) Sit up tall on the edge of a sturdy chair with your right toe on the floor, heel lifted and your left leg bent and held a few inches up off the floor in front of you. Bend your elbows and place your hands behind your head without lacing your fingers together. Pulling your abs inward, lean back a few inches from the hips.
(B) Maintaining strong abs and a slight backward lean, twist your left elbow toward your right knee and then return to the start. Hold a moment at the bottom of the movement and then slowly return to the start. Do all reps to the one side and then do an equal number of reps to the left.
Advanced: Russian Twist Balance
(A) Sit up tall on the edge of a sturdy chair with your toes pointed and your knees bent. Raise both feet off the floor a few inches. Bend your elbows and place your hands behind your head without lacing your fingers together. Pulling your abs inward, lean back a few inches from the hips.
(B) Maintaining strong abs and a slight backward lean, twist left and right from the waist until you've completed all reps.
Beginner: Side Bridge
(A) Lie on your right side with your bent knees slightly forward of your body and your feet tucked behind you. Bend your right elbow and rest your forearm along the floor so that your right hand is out in front of you and place your left palm in front of your chest for balance and support as needed. Pull your abs in tight.
(B) Keeping your abs pulled strongly inward, lift your torso and hips off the floor and hold for a slow count of 20. As you hold, concentrate on letting your abdominal muscles do all of the work and keeping your neck, shoulders and lower back relaxed.
(C) Slowly lower to the start, rest briefly, and repeat twice before switching to the other side.Intermediate: Slow Bicycles
(A) Lie on your back with your left knee bent toward your chest, your right leg extended and a few inches off the floor. Place your hands behind your head, fingertips touching; curl your head, neck and shoulders up. Rotate from your middle so that your right elbow is pointing toward your left knee.
(B) Hold the starting position for a slow 3 count, then slowly rotate to the other side by bending your right knee and extending your left leg as your left elbow moves toward your right knee. Again, hold slow 3 count. Continue rotating to complete reps.
Advanced: Ab Circles
(A) Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet hip width apart, flat on the floor. Place your hands behind your head but don't lace your fingers together. Round your elbows outward, tuck your chin slightly, and pull your abdominals in toward your spine. To start, lift your head, neck and shoulder blades off the floor and hold.
(B) Make a small clockwise circle with your waist: Bend a small distance to the left, curl a small distance upward, bend a small distance to the right, and then lower a small distance downward. This is one repetition. Do an equal number of reps in a counterclockwise direction.
Below, you'll find a variety of cardio activities that target your waistline while burning calories.
Activity Calorie Burn
Belly Dancing 300
Martial Arts 610
Mountain Biking 520
Race Walking 400
- Many of the exercises call for you to "pull your abs inward" or "keep your abs tight." To do this, imagine you are wearing a girdle, and you are pulling it tight to cinch your middle inward. Now imagine your girdle is two sizes smaller -- that is what "pulling inward" should feel like.
- Always exhale through your mouth when you are exerting an effort and inhale through your nose when you are releasing the effort. Proper breathing will ensure that you use even more abdominal fibers.
- If anything hurts your neck, lower back or any other part of your body -- stop! Review the form to make sure you're doing the move properly. If you think you're doing everything right and you still feel pain, don't do the exercise. You can always revisit it in a couple of weeks once you have increased your middle body strength.
- You may need to do a beginner version of some moves yet be able to handle an advanced version of another move. The exercises are laid out progressively. In other words, the exercises in each category build upon the skills and muscle strength you've mastered in the previous moves.
- Don't overdo it! Two to three sessions a week is more than enough to see results. Stick to the recommended reps for each exercise. One to three sets of each exercise in a routine will be enough to get you results. Start with one set of each and gradually build from there.
Do you need to be intimately familiar with the form and function of your middle body muscles to execute your exercises correctly? Well, no. But having a grasp of the anatomical fundamentals will help you understand which muscles you're working, when you're working them and why you're working them. To this end, a brief (and painless) anatomy lesson:
- You have four abdominal muscles collectively known as "the abs."
- Your largest abdominal muscle is the rectus abdominis or the rectus abdominals. This is a wide, flat sheet of muscle that runs down your middle, from your lower chest to below your belly button. The rectus abdominis's job is to curl your spine forward and to stabilize your spine -- or keep it still -- when you move other parts of your body, such as when you lift a heavy box off the floor.
- There is no such thing as the "upper" and "lower" abs; this is a very important point to understand. Although an exercise may originate in either the upper or lower portion of the rectus, it will still hit the entire muscle.
- Your internal and external obliques run diagonally up and down your sides. Firming these should be your goal when trying to whittle down your love handles. In addition to helping your rectus curl your spine forward and stabilize your spine, your obliques enable you to twist and bend to the side. Because the fibers of your oblique muscles are interwoven and wrap all the way around your middle, they provide a lot of lower back support.
- The transversus abdominis, which resides directly beneath the rectus abdominis, is the deepest of all your abdominal muscles. This muscle isn't responsible for any type of movement per se, but you use it whenever you exhale force-fully, cough or sneeze. You don't need to target this muscle specifically, but you use it whenever you pull your abs inward and exhale strongly as you perform exercises for the other ab muscles.
- Your chief set of lower back muscles is called the erector spinae, and they run the entire length of your spine on either side of your vertebrae. They bend your spine backward and stabilize and support it. They work together with the abdominal muscles so you can comfortably perform the exercises in this program, and everyday movements as well.