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10 Best Exercises You Can Do at the Gym To Melt Love Handles

Strengthen your abs and burn calories with these gym exercises.
FACT CHECKED BY Alexa Mellardo

The best exercises to melt love handles at the gym all have one thing in common: They engage your core and are creative in their approach. Sure, a good dose of ab routines will help get you started and is an effective way to target your obliques, aka the muscles infamously covered by your love handles, but that's not the best approach.

What is an excellent strategy is combining your ab workouts with a heavy dose of strength and muscle-building workouts. Exercises such as suitcase deadlifts, renegade rows, Zercher squats, and z press all provide a new twist on traditional weight room movements to bolster full-body strength and capitalize on engaging your core to rid your sides of those pesky love handles.

I've gathered 10 of my go-to exercises for those looking to define their midsection. Each movement demands significant core engagement for movement and stability. These demands strengthen your abs and enhance your body's ability to burn calories, making them essential for maximizing your physique.

Keep reading for the best exercises to melt love handles at the gym. And when you're finished, be sure to check out Here's How Long You Need To Walk Every Day for Weight Loss.

Suitcase Deadlifts

This list of the best gym exercises to melt love handles kicks off with suitcase deadlifts. The suitcase deadlift targets multiple muscle groups, building lower-body strength while enhancing core stability. It engages leg muscles like the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps to lift the kettlebell while activating core muscles such as the obliques and transverse abdominis to maintain balance and posture.

Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and a kettlebell beside one foot. Maintain a neutral spine as you grip the kettlebell handle with one hand, and bend at the hips and knees to lift it off the ground. Drive through your heels to stand up straight, keeping the kettlebell close to your body. Pause briefly at the top, then lower the kettlebell with control. Repeat for the desired reps on each side, focusing on core engagement and proper form. Complete three sets of eight to 15 reps per side with 60 seconds of rest between sets.

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Renegade Rows

dumbbell renegade row

Renegade rows are exceptional for sculpting a six-pack due to their emphasis on core stabilization and anti-rotation training. The core muscles, including the rectus abdominis and obliques, are activated to maintain stability by performing rows in a plank position. This compound movement targets the back, shoulders, and arms and significantly engages the core, enhancing abdominal strength and a more defined midsection.

Start in a plank position with your hands under your shoulders, gripping dumbbells. Lift one hand, pulling your elbow to the ceiling in a strong rowing motion while balancing on the other arm. Alternate sides, maintaining stability and squeezing your core. Make sure to use non-rounded dumbbells for a stable surface. Complete three sets of 12 to 15 reps per side with 60 seconds of rest between sets.

Sandbag Zercher Squats

The sandbag is versatile for sculpting your midsection while enhancing lower-body strength and power. The Zercher hold—especially with sandbags—intensely engages the core, demanding exceptional strength and stability. This potent combination effectively targets love handles while providing a challenging leg workout.

Start by standing shoulder-width apart with your feet grasping the sandbag with an underhand grip, positioning it in the crook of your elbows. Lift the sandbag to chest level, brace your core, and squat down, keeping your back straight and knees tracking over your toes. Lower until thighs are parallel to the ground, then push through heels to return to the starting position. Maintain control throughout and repeat for desired repetitions. Perform three sets of 10 to 15 reps with 90 seconds of rest between sets.

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Z Press

The seated Z press isn't just about building solid shoulders—it's a powerful exercise for sculpting your midsection and developing those obliques, aka your love handles. In this exercise, performed in a seated straddle stance, your core muscles kick into high gear to stabilize your torso while you press the dumbbells overhead. This demands strong engagement from your upper back and abs, leading to a more stable and upright posture. If the two-dumbbell version feels too intense, you can opt for a single-arm Z press to reap significant benefits while adjusting to different strength levels.

Sit on the floor with your legs extended in a "V" shape, and hold dumbbells at shoulder height with your palms facing inward. Engage your core, press the dumbbells overhead without locking out elbows, and maintain a neutral spine without leaning back. Lower the dumbbells under control to the starting position. Complete three sets of eight to 15 reps with 90 seconds of rest between sets.

Three-Point Pushups

This variation of the traditional pushup involves alternating between balancing on one foot with each repetition. This unique approach introduces a heightened level of instability, activating your core and upper body muscles more. You can vary the exercise based on your goals and fitness level by doing normal, close-grip, elevated, or even deficit pushups.

Start in a traditional pushup position, and lift one foot off the ground, balancing on the toes of the other foot. Bend your elbows, and lower your chest toward the ground, then push back up to the starting position. Alternate lifting feet with each repetition, focusing on core engagement and maintaining stability throughout. Perform three sets of eight to 15 reps in total with 60 to 90 seconds of rest between sets.

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Med Ball Side-to-Side Slams

Next up on this roundup of the best gym exercises to melt love handles, get ready for medicine ball side-to-side slams. Side-to-side slams are a fantastic choice for honing your midsection while explicitly targeting your obliques and, more importantly, your transverse abdominis—those crucial muscles that cross your torso. This variation adds extra movement to each repetition, ramping up the intensity and demanding more effort for execution.

To execute med ball side-to-side slams, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a non-bouncing medicine ball at chest level. Engage your core, shift your weight to one side, and rotate your torso as you extend the ball overhead. Slam the ball down to the outside of that side foot, bending slightly at the knees. Next, ​​switch directions, rotating your torso to the opposite side and slamming the ball down to the outside of the other foot. Repeat for the desired sets and reps or duration of time.

For power, perform three to five sets of five slams per side. For endurance, perform three to five sets of eight to 12 reps or intervals of 30 to 45 seconds per side. Rest for 60 seconds between sets.

Slow-lowering Side Plank with Hip Dips

side plank hip dip

Prepare to intensify your core routine with a more challenging twist: the side plank with hip dips. This variation zeroes in on the lateral side of your core, effectively toning and fortifying your obliques—the secret weapon against stubborn love handles. Unlike exercises that mainly target the front of your abs, this one shifts the focus to the sides. Amp up the difficulty by incorporating tempos and pauses, pushing your limits, and optimizing your gains.

To execute the slow-lowering side plank with hip dips, begin in a side plank position with your elbow under your shoulder, and stack your feet. Lower your hip in a controlled dip for five seconds, then push it back up, squeezing your obliques. Focus on maintaining a straight line throughout each rep. Perform two to three sets of 10 to 15 reps per side, ensuring a controlled five-second descent.

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Tall-kneeling Wood Chops

Few exercises match the intensity of the tall-kneeling wood chop when sculpting your midsection and tackling those love handles head-on. This dynamic movement targets your core with a powerful rotational pattern, engaging various abdominal and back muscles to enhance stability. Whether you're wielding dumbbells, kettlebells, cable machines, or med balls, the versatility of this exercise ensures a challenging workout. By adopting a tall-kneeling position, you eliminate leg involvement and zero in on sculpting your midsection.

Start in a tall-kneeling position with both knees on the ground and a tall torso, holding a dumbbell at one hip. If the dumbbell starts on your right hip, step your left foot forward, and vice versa. Next, execute a diagonal chopping motion, lifting the dumbbell from hip to opposite shoulder while rotating your torso and squeezing the abs. Maintain a slight bend in your arms as you repeat the chopping motion for the prescribed reps. Repeat the chop on the other side. Focus on engaging the core, exhale during the lift, and inhale during the return. Keep a slight squat position, and maintain proper form to avoid injury. Complete three sets of 15 to 20 reps per side with 60 seconds of rest between sets.

Bicycle Crunches

woman doing bicycle crunches

Bicycle crunches offer an intense and dynamic ab workout, effectively sculpting your midsection. You maximize results by engaging your abs and squeezing them as you alternate from side to side while targeting obliques and rectus abdominis. Additionally, the vigorous nature of bicycle crunches burns calories and incinerates fat, contributing to a more defined and toned core.

Lie on your back with your hands behind your head, legs lifted off the ground, and your knees bent. Bring your right elbow and left knee together while straightening your right leg, then alternate by bringing your left elbow and right knee together while straightening your left leg. Perform three rounds of 30 to 45 seconds with 60 seconds of rest between sets.

Pallof Presses

This list of the best gym exercises to melt love handles wraps up with the cable Palloff press. This exercise is highly effective for sculpting the midsection, boosting core strength, and melting away love handles due to their unique ability to engage the entire core musculature. By resisting the rotational force of the cable, the core muscles, including the obliques and transverse abdominis, are forced to work hard to maintain stability and resist movement. This constant tension on the core muscles helps sculpt and define the midsection while improving overall core strength.

Stand next to a cable machine, and take hold of the handles with both hands. Activate the muscles in your core. Press the handles in front of your body. Hold this position for a moment before slowly releasing. Complete three sets of 10 to 15 presses per side with 60 seconds of rest between sets.

Jarrod Nobbe
Jarrod Nobbe is a USAW National Coach, Sports Performance Coach, Personal Trainer, and writer, and has been involved in health and fitness for the past 12 years. Read more about Jarrod
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