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The #1 Best Exercise for Reducing Love Handles, Says Science

How to properly train your midsection for a stronger, tighter core.

There's no shortage of reasons why you'd want to get rid of excess fat around your belly, waist, and hips. Sure, we'd all like to look a little slimmer to the eye—and shave off those unsightly love handles—but science has shown that carrying around more visceral fat actually comes with far bigger risks.

For example, while full-on obesity has been linked to heart problems for decades, this study published in Circulation reports even just a little extra stomach fat can still increase one's overall risk of developing heart disease. What's more, research published in Oncogene discovered a connection between abdominal fat and a cancer-causing protein known to promote tumor growth and turn non-cancerous cells cancerous.

"Our study suggests that body mass index, or BMI, may not be the best indicator [of cells becoming cancerous]," explains study author Jamie Bernard, Ph.D., assistant professor in pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University. "It's abdominal obesity, and even more specifically, levels of a protein called fibroblast growth factor-2."

Oh, and that's not all: One study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found a troubling association between a wider waist and a more pronounced decline in cognition past the age of 60. In other words, the more belly fat you have, the more likely you are to experience memory loss, poor judgment, and slowed thought patterns earlier in life.

The final problem with belly fat and love handles? Well, as anyone who is tried and failed to get rid of visceral fat knows, it's among the hardest for you to get rid of. Research published in Cell Reports concludes that belly fat is actually the most resistant to weight loss. "While most people would think that all fat tissue is the same, in fact, the location makes a big difference," says study author Dr. Mark Larance of the University of Sydney.

Do you want to get rid of your love handles? Well, for starters, there's no getting around eating better (see here for more on that), making sure you move as much as you can every day (including taking lots of walks), and strength-training regularly. As we've recently reported, a new study published in the FACEB Journal discovered that when we perform resistance exercise, it jumpstarts a molecular process "instructing" our fat cells to enter a heightened state of fat burning. So you need to pump some iron.

To further reduce the appearance of love handles, you can incorporate a series of specific core exercises into your routine. Sadly, as it pertains to strength training, it's a myth that you can "spot train" specific areas of your body for fat loss. (If you do a ton of crunches, you'll have stronger and bigger abs, but you won't necessarily lose belly fat.) What you can do, however, is perform some core exercises that A) will help you in your overall weight-loss efforts, and B) will work to tone your muscles in such a way that they don't get bigger and bulkier.

"If you want a flatter, more toned midsection, you need to emphasize exercises that help [what your core actually does] and work your core in its totality from multiple angles," says personal trainer Tim Liu, C.S.C.S. "Think of what your core actually does: It's the sturdy and flexible trunk of your body, the all-important middle machinery that keeps your body stable, helps you turn and swivel and move effectively in the three-dimensional world, and transfers force while supporting the spine."

In short, the best exercise you can do for love handles—and belly fat in general—is a functional exercise that works you core from multiple directions. Liu recommends exercise moves such as landmine rotations, knee hangs, suitcase carries, and the dead bug. (See here for how to do those exercises.) But according to a new article in Medical News Today, there are some other great exercises you can do that focus on the hips and abdomen that can help you, as well. Read on for what they are—and how to do them. And for more great exercise moves to try, make sure you know why Science Says This Abs Exercise Is the Single Best You Can Do.


Side view of a muscular couple doing planking exercises

Planks are simple but very effective. Known for engaging multiple important muscle groups simultaneously, planking is particularly helpful at working and toning deep core and ab muscles.

Start by laying down on your stomach and propping yourself up by your forearms and toes with your face staring at the floor. Feel your core abdominal muscles activate and keep your body as straight as possible. Hold the position for at least 30 seconds.

Mountain climbers

mountain climber

These aren't for the faint of heart, but just a few consecutive minutes (or less) spent performing vigorous mountain climbers is a great way to blast your abdominal and core muscles in a short amount of time. Even better, this exercise works your entire body and it can be performed pretty much anywhere with minimal to no equipment.

Begin in a plank position and bring one knee up to your chest while keeping the other leg straight and extended. Hold that position for a moment before repeating the movement on your other side. Be sure to keep your weight evenly distributed on both feet/hands throughout the exercise, this allows your arms, chest, and shoulders to stabilize your upper body while simultaneously activating your core to help stabilize your lower body.

Bicycle Crunches

Young sporty woman practicing, doing crisscross exercise, bicycle crunches pose, working out, wearing sportswear, black pants and top, indoor full length, white sport studio

Lay down flat on your back, bend your knees, and place your feet firmly on the floor hip-width apart. Activate your abs and lift your knees at a 90 degree angle while raising your upper body. Exhale while rotating your trunk and moving your right elbow and left knee to one another. At the same time straighten your other (right) leg. Breathe in, return to your starting position, breathe out, and repeat the same action on your other side. Per Healthline, be sure to keep your lower back on the floor the entire time and keep your shoulders away from your ears. This will help you avoid straining yourself. Also do your best to rotate your body with your core, not your hips or neck.

Russian Twists

woman doing an abs exercise

Start in a seated position on the floor with your knees bent. Straighten your spine as much as possible at a 45 degree angle from the floor. Clasp your hands up against your chest and use your ab muscles to twist to the right, back to the center, and then on to your left.

Try to exhale with each twist and breathe in with each return to center. If you need more stability, try crossing your legs. Want even more workouts to try? Be sure to read 3 Workouts Proven to Change Your Body Shape, Says Exercise Expert.

John Anderer
John Anderer is a writer who specializes in science, health, and lifestyle topics. Read more about John
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