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Transform that Muffin Top into Solid Muscle Starting Today
Summer is coming! Or maybe you’re just tired of staring at that muffin top in the mirror when you get dressed every morning, and now you’re ready to do something about it.
That’s great! Getting rid of those love handles is a healthy choice that will have the added benefit of helping you look hot in that two-piece or those board shorts, not to mention giving you added functional strength and endurance for everything you do.
'One Trick' to Losing Belly Fat?
Before we get started, it's important to understand two things:
- There are no one trick 'best' exercises to lose love handles.
- That excessive belly fat you're carrying around can be dangerous to your health.
In an interview with Rasa Kazlauskaite, MD, endocrinologist, and Sheila Dugan, MD, physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist, both stated that those 'muffin tops' and 'pot bellies' can lead to heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
The first step to fix it? Change what you eat on a daily basis.
Start by eliminating:
- Excess sugar, including sodas, fruit juice, and even fresh 'juiced' juices, which take away all the fiber and leave the sugar.
- Eliminating or minimizing (once/week) white starchy carbs like white rice, white bread and pasta.
- Vegetables, fruits, and nuts (toffee peanuts don't count!)
- Whole grain breads, quinoa, brown rice, etc.
- Lots of good fats. Avocadoes, coconut oils, fatty fish and so on.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it's an excellent start, and something you can do today.
Workout Equipment for this Plan
If you have a gym membership, you don’t need any equipment for home.
If you plan to work out at home even part of the time, invest in all or some of the following:
- Adjustable or Hex Dumbbells: Adjustable dumbbells are great because they take up little space and hold roughly 100# each. It’s also a cheaper option than buying fixed weight dumbbells. On the other hand, you have to stop and adjust them, so choose the option that fits your budget.
- Barbells: A standard barbell set will be fine, but consider getting an Olympic set. The bar sits higher off the ground and there is more bar between the plates for you to hold onto. (It also holds more weight than a standard set.)
- Kettlebells: Optional but handy to have. Start off with a moderately heavy weight and you will have another fun toy to keep you motivated.
- Resistance Bands: A set of light to heavy weight resistance bands is very useful and relatively inexpensive. Plus, you can travel with them.
Best Workouts to Lose Love Handles
A good whole body workout plan is essential. The workout detailed below has 3 elements:
- Resistance Training
- Cardio Training
- Proper diet and recovery
This is a whole body 4 day/week training routine that emphasizes all the core muscles of your midsection, including your lower back, glutes.
For all exercises, use perfect form. Strength will come. Use a weight that forces you to struggle through the last couple of repetitions without sacrificing form.
Stick to the rest periods. The shorter they are, the harder you work, and the harder your body works after the workout to recover. Also referred to as the 'after-burn' effect, it kicks up your post workout metabolism.
Day 1: Let's Get Started!
|Warm-up:||1st Triplet* (2-3 sets)||2nd Triplet (2-3 sets)|
OH Squats x10-12
Good Mornings x 10-12
OH Walking Lunges x10-12
Pullovers x 8-10
BW Overhead Squats
Deadlift x 10-12
Pushups to failure
DB or BB OH Squats (light/easy)
Rest 90 seconds, then repeat
Rest 90 seconds, then repeat
On last, rest 90 seconds, then:
Overhead Squat Form
Day 1 Exercise Notes
- Bodyweight Overhead Squats:
These are bodyweight squats with your arms straight over your head and in line with your shoulders the entire time.
- Overhead Dumbbell or Barbell squats:
Take 2-3 seconds going down, and 2-3 seconds up. Maintain muscular tension throughout the movement.
Use a manageable weight that allows you to hold your arms straight overhead in line with your shoulders. Contract the abs and glutes hard as you go down and pull the shoulders back to keep them in line.
Start off with the barbell only or light dumbbells. If 2 dumbbells are too hard, hold one with two hands. Experiment holding the weights palms forward or turning your palms to face either side of your head.
- Walking or Stationary Overhead lunges:
2-3 seconds down, 2-3 seconds up.
Hold a barbell or 2 dumbbells overhead (as in overhead squats) step forward into a lunge until the forward leg is parallel to the floor and the opposite knee just grazes the floor.
Step back up and repeat on the other side. Keep core tight throughout. Pull shoulders back and down, keeping your straight arms in line with the shoulders.
Deadlifts are a great strength builder, and will affect your body in unexpected (but good) ways. You don’t have to lift like a powerlifter to benefit from this exercise.
Using dumbbells, spread your legs wide and pull two dumbbells, placed horizontally, from the floor in an arc and towards your body as you stand up.
Using a barbell, stand with your shins lightly touching the bar, shoulder width apart. Grip the bar with palms facing down and pull up and towards your body.
- Good Mornings: Take 2-3 seconds down, 2-3 seconds up.
These can be done with a barbell on the shoulders behind the neck or using dumbbells.
With a barbell, brace your core (especially your glutes and lower back,) keep your neck in line with your spine, grip the bar, bend your knees slightly and bend over to parallel. Maintaining muscular tension, squeeze yourself back up to the start.
This exercise doesn’t require a great deal of weight, but it does require excellent form. In a short time it will help you build rock solid glutes, hamstrings and lower lumbar muscles.
If you are using dumbbells, the easiest way to do this exercise is by holding one dumbbell tight to your chest. Alternatively you could hug a weight plate to your chest.
- Pullovers: 3 seconds down, 3 seconds up.
A great exercise for working the pectoral muscles and serratus anterior, as well as engaging the lats.
Use a weight you can control completely. With a barbell, lie on a bench and start with the weight over the chest.
The arms should be straight going down and up. Inhale going down, exhale going up.
With a dumbbell, take one end in both hands, allowing the arms to bend slightly going down and come back to the straightened position over the chest.
Pushups: Go to failure.
Keep the elbows in, tighten the glutes, tuck your belly in, shoulders back and down. Avoid sagging or hunching. You are a human plank going up and down.
**Be sure to stretch after this workout. I like doing slow Sun Salutations, lunge stretches and the half moon pose to tie myself back together.
What's your Target Heart Rate?
To find your target heart rate, put your first two fingers on the inside of your wrist near your thumb and over your blood vessels.
Find the beat of your pulse and using a watch or timer, count the beats for 10 seconds. Multiply this number by 6 to get your beats per minute.
Use the table below to find out where your target zone should be when exercising.
|Age||Target HR Zone 50-85%||Avg. Max. HR, 100%|
Day 2: Cardio!
Make it fun, or at least interesting. Spend at least 30 minutes getting your heart pumping to the point where it’s hard for you to hold a conversation.
You might want to skip the hill climbs or stairs after yesterday’s legwork, but who knows? If you feel like biking, go for it, you’re stronger than you know. Besides, tomorrow you get to rest, mostly.
So pick a cardio activity: swimming, running, surfing, hiking, kickboxing, whatever.
Do what you enjoy, but remember, this is ‘serious’ fun.
More is not better! If you want to get more from your cardiovascular exercise sessions, increase the intensity.
At high intensity, 20-30 minutes of cardio is more effective at creating physical change than an hour of steady state cardio.
This doesn't mean stop doing something fun when the timer goes off, but continuing to push a cardio session as an attempt to reach your goals faster can backfire.
For More on Cardio Confusion, Read:
Day 3: Rest & Recovery
Active rest is the key for getting through stiffness and sore muscles. Joint rotations, walking, stretching or easy yoga are good choices. Move with ease. Get the blood flowing.
Massage your muscles, use a foam roller if you have one. Take a cold bath, a dip in the hot tub. Take it easy.
*Eat healthy! No rest day for your nutrition. Give your body and brain the best fuel possible.
|Warm up||*Complex 1||Complex 2||Complex 3|
Elbow Plank: 10-30 seconds
Straight Leg Raises x10-20
Hanging Leg Raises x6-12
Pushup Plank: 10-30 seconds
Reverse Crunches x10-20
&/or Hanging Knee Raises x6-12
Jumping Jacks/Light calisthenics
Elbow to Pushup Plank: 10-30 seconds
Rest 30 seconds. Repeat 2-3x
Oblique Twists/Wood Choppers
Side Elbow Plank: 10-30 seconds
x10-12 each side. Rest 90 sec., then:
Rest 30 seconds, repeat. 2x total
Standing Presses x 6-8
Go immediately to complex 2
Arnold Press x8-10
Repeat pressing superset 2-3x
Day 4 Exercise Notes
- Straight Leg Raises from floor:
Hands behind head, head lifted enough to see top of thighs. Raise both legs to perpendicular, engage hip flexors and pull feet towards the head as high as you can.
*Partner option. If you have a workout partner, have them stand behind you and push your legs back and off to either side at the top of the movement.
Resist the push as you lower your legs. You may need to hold onto their ankles to avoid slamming your feet on the floor.
- Reverse Crunches:
Arms straight out over your head on floor or at extended at your sides. Pull knees close to abdomen and towards chest, lift hips at top of movement.
Imagine trying to touch your knees to your chest with full contraction of the abdominals.
- Hanging Straight Leg Raises:
Pull legs straight up as far as possible, then engage the lats and hip flexors to create a pendulum like movement and raise your legs higher. Try to get your toes to the bar.
You can do Hanging Knee Raises if you are unable to do straight leg raises. Again, engage the lats and hip flexors to pull the knees all the way to chest.
If you can’t do Hanging Knee Raises, do them on the vertical knee raise/dip station or balance your forearms on some parallel bars.
If these become too easy, try adding ankle weights.
- Oblique Twists “Wood Choppers”
You have to stabilize the whole body in this exercise, which fully engages the obliques. If you want to feel like you’re hammering your love handles, this exercise will satisfy. Watch the video below for step-by-step instructions.
This exercise can also be done with resistance bands.
- Standing Presses:
Use a barbell or dumbbells, stabilize torso and maintain legs rooted into the ground. From standing, bring the weight to the collarbone and press the weight in a straight line overhead. Keep the wrist over the elbow and the shoulders back.
Go immediately to:
- Arnold Presses:
With two dumbbells, start with the palms facing you and rotate the weight as you press up. Your palm should be facing away from you at the top of the movement. Reverse the movement to come back to the start.
"Statistics suggest that out of 900 months in his life, the average person in the U.S. spends approximately 198 months watching TV, five months complaining about his boss, and five months waiting on hold."
Rasa Kazlauskaite, MD
Day 5: Cardio!
Cardio! Like day 2, make it interesting. This time keep a steady pace interrupted by max effort intervals.
For example, if you are jogging, go easy for 5 minutes, then burst into max. effort for 30-60 seconds. You can reduce the time between max efforts, but keep in mind you have to continue moving for at least 20-30 minutes.
Day 6: Rest
Just like Day 3, do active recovery and eat healthy!
|Warm up||Dynamic Warm up||Complex|
Jumping Burpees x10 (easy)
Weighted bar trunk rotations
Jumping pullups x10
Body Rows x10-12
*Do these exercises back-to-back
Complete both. Rest 30 sec.
Rest 30 seconds & repeat. 2-3x
Day 7 Exercise Notes
- Weighted Bar Rotations:
Stand with a light weighted bar held behind your neck and rotate under control from side-to-side. Squeeze the contraction for 2 seconds as you reach full rotation on a side.
- Jumping Burpees:
From standing, jump back to a pushup position, perform a pushup, shoot your legs back under you and jump up from a squat. Repeat.
'Easy' means go slow but keep moving continuously until you finish.
- Jumping Pullups:
Jump up, using your momentum to pull your chin over the bar. Control the descent over 2-3 seconds.
These are strict pullups, not kipping pullups. Arms should form an L on either side, shoulder blades retracted, core tight. If you can't do a pullup, there are options.
Lat pulldowns are not a substitute because they do not engage the core in the same manner.
- Pullup assistance:
- More jumping pullups. Execute with good form and resist the negative (descending) portion of the move.
- Use a stool/ladder/chair/resistance band. Of these, I think the resistance band is best as it forces you to go through the same range of motion. Hang it from the bar and place one foot in the loop.
- Partial pullups. Pull as far as you can go. Repeat as many times as you can.
- Use a partner to assist you. Resist the negative portion of the movement.
This exercise can be done from a barbell on a power rack, bars on an outdoor gym or playset, or even between two open back dining chairs.
Make sure the place you are hanging from allows you to place your heels flat on the ground and completely straighten your arms.
With a tight core, straight legs and flexed glutes, pull your chest towards the bar and lower under control. You are a human plank pulling up and down. Avoid sagging and hunching.
Start back on Day 1 and congratulate yourself for getting through your first week!
This is one of hundreds of workout routines you could do, but mastering this program will allow you to pick up new exercises and incorporate them with ease.
Here are some substitutes for the exercises above:
- Instead of Overhead Squats or Overhead Lunges: Back Squats, Front Squats, Goblet Squats, Thrusters
- Instead of Deadlifts and Good Mornings: Kettlebell swings, hyperextensions with/without weight, glute/ham raises
- Instead of Pullovers: Barbell/dumbbell bench press, dumbbell flyes
- Instead of Standing Presses/Arnold Presses: Kettlebell bent press (or with dumbbell.) Rear lateral raises, side lateral raises, standing presses behind the neck, thrusters
- Instead of Leg Raises: Butterfly kicks
- Instead of Reverse Crunches: V-Ups or Cable crunches with rope attachment
- Instead of Hanging Leg Raises or Hanging Knee Raises: Sit-ups on glute/ham developer
How Long Should I Continue this Routine?
Don’t stop until you get what you want!
However, continue this particular workout for 5-8 weeks. By then, your body should be adapting to the exercises and you may find certain things becoming too easy or redundant.
Throughout these weeks, you should be increasing your weights, repetitions (within reason,) and intensity (or distance/time, or intensity during time for cardio) at a gradual pace.
This is adaptation enough for the body, but it may not be enough for your mind.
To stay stimulated and motivated:
- Mix the exercises up or swap out other exercises you are familiar with.
- Try working out somewhere new or doing a different cardio activity.
- Find a training partner and motivate each other while staying accountable to yourself and your goals.
Women and Building Muscle
Women don't have the testosterone to build muscle like men, right?
True, but every woman is different, and your genetic makeup has a lot to do with how you will, or won't, build muscle.
According to ACE fitness (acefitness.org,) women can increase their muscle mass, and are born into one of three genetic body types:
- Mesomorph (wider at clavicles, narrower waist, longer/rounder muscle bellies)
- Endomorph (tendency to be thicker, especially through rib cage and joints)
- Ectomorph (thinner build, smaller joints, narrower hips and clavicles)
Instead of fighting genetics, accept your body type and focus on what it can do, not what it looks like compared to others.
So let's summarize this thing:
1. Do Resistance Training! Want the best results in the shortest time? Lift adequate weight. Too light and your wasting your time. This can be your bodyweight if the exercise is hard enough for you. So buy weights &/or join a gym.
2. Do Cardio: Unless you're training for an endurance event, you don't need hours of boring cardiovascular activity. It will work against your goals of losing your love handles and building an athletic body. Shorter cardio sessions with more intensity are the key.
3. Eat Healthy: Drink lots of water. Eliminate the processed sugars and junk foods. Eat whole foods. Most importantly, don't get confused by all the information out there. Think: Lean proteins, lots of vegetables, some fruits, healthy fats. And nothing else.
4. Get Proper Rest & Recovery: Physical changes happen while you rest, so don't skimp on sleep and relaxation once the physcial work is done.
At the same time, keep the body moving and incorporate massage (self-massage, foam roller, masseuse) and other holistic healing techniques to hasten recovery.
5. Stick with it and Don't Become a Statistic! The majority of people, as much as 73% depending on which study you look at, quit their exercise program within weeks of starting it.
You are creating a masterpiece, stay with it until it's finished!
- Strength Training for Women
A strength training program for women designed to develop long, lean muscle mass.
- High-intensity interval training - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Great info on the benefits of high intensity interval training.
Want to do more with your bodyweight?
- The Keys to Bodyweight Muscle Building
There is a common myth that only lifting weights will build muscle. The truth is, by using these essential keys, you can and will build muscle using only your bodyweight.
Chris Montgomery (author) from Irvine, CA on July 09, 2015:
Thanks renee21, keep at it, you can do it!
Tori Leumas on July 05, 2015:
I have just started working on getting rid of my love handles. They aren't that big, but I would love to have a nice, flat stomach. These are awesome tips that I will have to implement into my routine. Great hub!
Chris Montgomery (author) from Irvine, CA on April 22, 2015:
Sure, I'd say 'short' is relative to what you're training for. Also, 20-30 minutes of intense cardio is just a start. Once you get into shape you'll need to up the ante somehow. But HIIT benefits remain regardless. Cheers!
Liam Hallam from Nottingham UK on April 22, 2015:
As an endurance athlete I always struggle with the notion of what pt's class as cardio and for me what many prescribe is just a basic tabata workout that doesn't work well in sports. I see the logic but always worry that short 'cardio' won't prepare the body adequately for when an exerciser is challenged to achieve something outside of a gym environment.