For some guys, there's no greater goal than achieving an aesthetic ideal and building a body that wouldn't be out of place on the pedestal of a Grecian statue (or at least on the cover of a cheap romance novel). There are plenty of challenges to accomplishing this goal, and love handles are one of the peskiest hurdles on the path to achieving that type of physique. The stubborn region of fat just above the belt can be obstinate, and it takes more than just a few crunches and leg lifts to get rid of it.
Love handles are composed of subcutaneous fat, which sits just beneath the skin. In one sense, that's good news. That type of fat isn't an immediate problem, outside of your cosmetic concerns and general health. You don’t have as much to be worried about subcutaneous fat as the insidious visceral fat in your belly, which can cause all kinds of health issues. But if you're determined to lose those nagging love handles, you do have options.
There are a few shortcuts you can take to get rid of love handles, but they're extreme, and not something that we'd generally recommend. Liposuction is one of these options. More recently, men have turned to non-invasive treatments, the most popular of which feature either freezing or heating the stubborn fatty areas off the body. These treatments are expensive and might be a bridge too far unless you're really desperate.
Besides, by cutting corners, you'll miss out on the fitness gains you'd make along the way using other methods, which will hopefully become a reason your training in and of itself. If getting rid of love handles without special treatments is your goal, you'll have to work hard—but you'll have to work smart, too.
One method that is not smart and won't work is spot reduction. The theory is that if you focus all of your attention on one specific area in your training (for instance, doing hundreds of crunches for you midsection), you'll be able to burn off the fat in just that area. But that's not how your body works. What you can do is lose fat more generally, then build up muscle where you might not have had it before—but for that to work, you'll have to do that smart, hard work.
Here's a plan to ditch your stubborn love handles from former Men's Health fitness advisor Craig Ballantyne, C.S.C.S.
Find the Right Intervals for Exercise
Studies have shown that interval-based exercise programs, most specifically high intensity interval training (HIIT), are more effective for burning off your love handles than steady state cardio. Instead of running for miles on end without any clear goal, fine tune your work and rest periods to strip away the fat.
After a thorough warmup, alternate between 20 seconds of hard exercise and 40 seconds recovery. Repeat that pattern 6 to 8 times. Afterwards, finish with 5 to 10 minutes of cooldown exercise.
If you have extra time, do 10 minutes of regular cardio pace.
Don’t Overload on Cardio
Even though Ballantyne recommended cardio for a cool down, he's wary of its effectiveness when performed alone. Extended periods of steady state cardio, like jogging, won’t do much to cut down your spare tire. "It's not going to work as well as interval training," Ballantyne said.
This is related to another issue, according to Ballantyne: Many guys don't have enough muscle in the first place. Losing love handles, like bodybuilding, is a game of illusion. Muscle on your chest and back can essentially "hide" excess fat in your love handle area.
"So most guys are “skinny-fat,” and then try to lose love handles with cardio only, and basically become even smaller versions of themselves—but still skinny-fat," Ballantyne said. "It's better to use intervals and weight training to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time—which IS possible—and change your body's overall appearance."
Rethink Your Core Training Routine
"Ab exercises like crunches are generally a waste of time," Ballantyne said. The problem is, you’re only working the muscles around your lower spine with crunches and situps.
Instead, you should build up your core with moves that focus on spinal stability, like planks and hollow body holds. Check out this quick video about the way your core muscles function for an idea of what you should be aiming for:
Want a smarter core workout in general? Check out Epic Abs, the program from MH fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. that inspired this video.
Build Yourself Up While Slimming Down
While you're cutting down your midsection, do yourself a solid and work on some other areas of your body that can take attention away from your ample hips. Build up your pecs, lats, deltoids, and traps to create the illusion of smaller love handles.
"Most guys don't have enough muscle to focus on just losing weight," Ballantyne said, "so every guy must build some muscle in these areas."
How can you build the muscle and lose fat at the same time? You're hoping to "culk," so you should start by training hard, eating properly, and sticking to a consistent program.
Ballantyne also recommended a plan based around two to three total body workouts per week. Use five exercises per workout (one lower body, one upper push, one lower body single leg, one upper pulling, one total body ab exercise). Do that as a circuit three times through, with eight to 12 reps per exercise. Finish with interval training.
Get Out What You Put In
If you want advanced results, you have to do advanced things,” said Ballantyne. “Such as cutting all the processed carbohydrates from your diet. One cheat reward meal per week—that's cheat MEAL, not cheat DAY."
Replace breakfast cereals and grain carbs with fruits, vegetables, and nuts. "Losing your love handles isn't going to happen if you insist on treating yourself to a Frappuccino, Pepsi, and a slice of pizza every day," he said. "It means eating meals of lean protein, fiber-rich vegetables, and snacking on apples and nuts between meals."
"It's diet. It's just too easy for most guys to cheat, Ballantyne said. "They have to realize that they have to have more discipline if they want results."
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