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How To Lose Your Love Handles

I received a great question this morning from an email coaching client that addresses a common misconception I find a lot of people have about abdominal training.

Here is the question…

“If I do standing dumbbell oblique crunches every day and follow a strict diet how long before my love handles disappear?”

Answer: The reality is this strategy is a recipe for certain frustration and disappointment. Not only will standing dumbbell oblique crunches do nothing to help you lose your love handles, you’re also more likely to destabilize your lumbar spine and thicken your waistline (by developing the external oblique muscles) instead of slimming this area.

Let’s first address the misconception of spot reduction with abdominal training. Love handles are nothing more than deposits of body fat stored around your external oblique muscles. If you want to slim down the appearance of your waistline you must burn these fat deposits for fuel.

All abdominal exercises are extremely inefficient at burning body fat because the movements require very little energy expenditure.

Contrary to popular belief, you won’t burn fat stored around your stomach with any amount of crunches, sit-up’s, or other abdominal exercises.

To fully understand why you simply have to look at how your body uses fat for fuel. The first important thing to get your head around is that body fat must be broken down into smaller units and be transported to muscle cells where the mitochondria can use it for energy production.

Body fat MUST be broken down through a hormonal response and be used for energy in order to be removed. It doesn’t get “zapped,” “melted,” or anything else like misleading claims for some quick-fix products would have you believe.

If you want to effectively and efficiently reduce the appearance of love handles you should be working the larger muscle groups (legs, back, chest, shoulders) with resistance training. Believe it or not an exercise like a squat is significantly more effective at reducing stomach fat than abdominal exercises.

How can that be?

Because squats are working the much larger leg muscles which require significantly more energy for muscle contraction and movement. When conditions are right you’ll actually be sending body fat stored in the love handle areas to your leg muscles to be burned for energy. Sounds weird but that’s how it happens.

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Resistance training on the larger muscle groups is the KEY to losing stomach fat, not doing abdominal exercises…

While it doesn’t matter how you apply the resistance (bodyweight training, free weights, machines, kettlebells, etc), there is a type of resistance training that trumps all others for fat loss. Burst training (a.k.a. metabolic resistance training) is the real dynamo of workouts for fat loss because of the impact it has on the hormonal responses of the body.

Remember I said that body fat must be broken down into smaller units through a hormonal process. This is a critical point to understand. Hormones like adrenaline and nor-adrenaline act as catalysts in the fat burning process.

While traditional weight training and cardio burns calories it doesn’t produce a significant hormonal response from the adrenals.

The trick is doing short bursts of all-out effort followed by brief recovery periods to stimulate a central nervous system response with a metabolic overload. You’ve got to work the larger muscle groups and do so with exercises that really get you out of breath.

In short, you’ve got push yourself hard for brief periods of time, recovery, and repeat.

Abdominal exercises should be incorporated into your fitness regiment but their role is to help strengthen and stabilize your core, not to shrink your waistline.

Here’s an example of a burst training resistance workout:

Kettlebell Swings
Kettlebell Goblet Squats
Push-Up’s
Kettlebell Diagonal Chops
Kettlebell Thrusters (squat to press overhead)
Inverted Rows

Complete 10-20 repetitions of each exercise moving straight through with minimal rest between each exercise. Push yourself to work hard and give your full effort with each exercise.

Rest 1-2 minutes between each round.

Complete (3) rounds

There are endless variations of exercises and work-rest ratios to use with burst training. The biggest difference between this and traditional health club workouts is we’re not resting 2-3 minutes between each set or sticking with one exercise for multiple sets before moving on.

Read more on burst training.

Now on to the second part of the original question about doing standing dumbbell oblique crunches.

To be completely honest with you I NEVER do this exercise and would consider it to be a movement reserved exclusively for individuals competing in bodybuilding contests.

For most individuals the goal will be to get a flat stomach while also developing a strong and stable core. The burst training for resistance workouts, interval training for cardio, and a clean diet will take care of getting you the flat stomach.

The core strengthening and stabilizing will be handled by doing functional movements like plank variations, wood chops, rotations, etc.

Sure you can throw in some traditional abdominal exercises into your workout but you don’t need to spend a ton of time with them. If you’re squatting, pressing overhead, and doing functional based resistance training the core strengthening and stabilizing will take care of itself.

The reason I say that standing dumbbell oblique crunches would be reserved for individuals competing in bodybuilding is because it would normally be counterproductive to do this exercise.

Developing the external oblique muscles will actually give your waistline a thicker appearance while also possibly contributing to muscle imbalances that destabilize your lumbar spine.

The same thing can be said for heavy bar waist turns and the like.

I’m not a big fan of any of these movements. Isolation is seldom a good thing for core training. You want to be doing movements that involve integration of several muscles, just like would happen with a normal human movement.

When you reach down to pick something up off the floor, rotate when swinging a golf club, etc, you’re using several muscles working together with integration NOT isolation.

Stick with the basic “old school” movements as they always work the best. I’ve yet to meet someone who does a lot of squats with proper form and technique (and without always wearing a weight belt) who didn’t also have a strong core.

So there you have it. If you want to lose the love handles clean up your diet, do burst training for your resistance workouts, and interval training for your cardio workouts. That recipe is sure NOT to disappoint you with the end results.

Shane Doll is a certified personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts, a Mt. Pleasant based personal fitness training studio that specializes in Charleston weight loss programs for body transformation. Receive a FREE, no-obligations trial and Lean-Code Profile today.

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Category: Fat Loss.