Maintaining a healthy weight doesn't always exempt you from carrying a little extra heft above the hips. While there's no miracle move to zap over-the-jeans jiggle, doing exercises that will attack your love handles from every angle can help you shrink the most stubborn type of fat.
"The biggest mistake people make is focusing on the abdominals, trying to crunch and bicycle their way to a slimmer waistline," says Andrea Metcalf, NASM-CPT, author of Naked Fitness. "Focus on the entire core, including your obliques, lats, and back muscles."
But your quest for a flatter tummy doesn't stop at the gym. "Regional fat storage has a lot to do with diet, lifestyle, and overall body fat level," says Carey Yang, a certified personal trainer and owner of Beyond Fitness Solutions in Denville, NJ. In addition to overall weight loss and eating a diet rich in belly-flattening foods (like these), Yang suggests keeping levels of estrogen, insulin, and cortisol in balance by managing stress and getting a good night's rest. (For more tips on how to keep these hormones in check, read Are Hormones Sabotaging Your Weight Loss?)
The following moves will help strengthen the muscles that surround your waistline, and many of the moves can be done at home without any special equipment. Yang says to perform two or three 45-minute strength-training sessions each week, and dedicate 10 to 15 minutes to abs and core exercises, like the ones that follow. (Search: Benefits of a flat tummy) "Alternate between upper-body and lower-body exercises for a total-body workout," he says. "If you do them right, you work your core and ab muscles in every strength-training move. To increase fat burn, jog or march in place for 1 minute between each exercise, advises Lucy Wyndham-Read, creator of the Lose Your Muffin Top in 28 Days app.
Grab a chair, but don't sit back and relax. The following moves force your abs to stabilize your lower body while your upper body rotates, working your internal and external obliques as well as your lower back. "The deeper the contraction, the more stretch and mobility you have in the twists," says Terri Walsh, creator of the Active Resistance Training Method and owner of A.R.T. Studio in New York City. "This means that the waist pulls in and the lower back smoothes out to eliminate your muffin top."
Chair Rotation: Place a yoga block, thick book, or rolled towel on the seat of an armless chair and sit on the chair facing its back with your arms and elbows above the back of the chair. Use your legs to grip the chair. Press your feet into the floor, pulling your navel toward your spine. Extend your arms out to the sides so they form a T with your torso. With your palms facing upward, bend your elbows slightly. Press the shoulders down to stabilize them while you rotate your ribcage side to side, your right elbow aiming for the left side of the chair and your left elbow aiming for the right side. Don't count reps, just rotate from side to side, elbows touching the chair, for 1 to 2 minutes. For more of a challenge, hold a set of dumbbells or wear 2- or 3-pound wrist weights.
Reverse Bicycle Crunch: Stand in front of an armless chair, slightly closer than 2 feet away, facing the seat. Keeping your legs straight, bend at your waist and place both hands on the sides of the seat. Extend your right arm forward and your left leg back, keeping your raised arm and leg parallel to the floor. Leading with your elbow, pull your right arm under your body while drawing in your left knee to meet under your navel. Try to get your right arm to the outside (left side) of the knee. Perform up to 50 reps, then repeat on the other side. To make the move harder wear 2- or 3-pound wrist weights.
Seated Chair Diagonal Knee Raise with Block: Sit on the edge of a chair and place a yoga block or rolled towel between your knees. Grip the sides of the chair with your elbows pointing back. Tilt your hips forward and lean back slightly while pulling in your navel and closing your ribcage. Pull your knees up toward your chest, aiming your right knee toward your left shoulder. Touch your toes to the ground, then lift again, aiming your left knee toward your right shoulder. Alternate sides for a set of 25 of 50 reps.
Swing-Out Sister: Stand with your feet slightly more than hip-width apart with your hands on your hips and your upper body straight. Pull in your abdominals, keeping both knees slightly bent. Flex your right foot and lift it directly out to the side with your hip, knee, and ankle in alignment and pointing forward. Hold for 1 second, then slowly lower. That's one rep. Switch to the left leg. Alternate sides for 60 to 100 reps. This move targets the outside of the hips as well as the legs, says Wyndham-Read.
Ballerina Lifts: Standing upright with good posture and feet hip-width apart, place your hands on your hips and keep your knees slightly bent. Raise your left foot behind you. Keeping your foot up, perform tiny lifts. Keep your abs tight throughout. Do 50 lifts, then switch sides. Wyndham-Read suggests this move to strengthen the abs, glutes, and hips.
Side Oblique Reach: Lie on your back with your left arm out to your side so that your forearm is resting on the floor. Instead of crunching up and bringing your elbow to meet your lifted knee as you would for a side oblique crunch, go the extra mile by extending both legs and reaching for your toes with your right hand when you curl up, suggests Metcalf. Hold this position and scissor kick the legs for 10 counts. Lower and repeat on other side.
The Sweep: Sit with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor hip-width apart. Place your hands about 12 inches behind you, palms down, fingers pointing toward your back. Lift your hips, bringing your body into reverse plank, or tabletop, position with your knees bent. Lift one leg toward the ceiling forming about a 45-degree angle with your body. Sweep it from side to side. Lower and perform on the other side.
Plank Kick-Through: Start in plank position with your hands placed on the floor, your shoulders over your wrists, and your body in a straight line. Bring your right knee to your left elbow, then kick your right heel straight back so that your foot is elevated off the floor (at this point, the move should look similar to the wide-stance plank with leg lift). Bring your knee back to your elbow, then back to start position. Repeat on the other side.
At the Gym
Hanging Leg Raise and Oblique Twist: Hold a pullup bar or a pair of arm straps. Keep your legs straight, knees slightly bent. Lift your legs toward your chest, immediately twisting to one side. The key is not to use the momentum from your hip flexors, but rather, focus on contracting your lower abs as you raise your legs, says Yang.
Weighted Cable Crunch and Oblique Twist: Attach a rope handle to the high pulley of a cable station, and kneel with your back to the weight stack. Drape the rope over each shoulder, grab an end in each hand, and hold them against your chest. Use your abs (not your arms and hands) to curl and move the weight downward toward the floor, twisting to one side, then the other to work your obliques.
Don't Forget Cardio!
Fat-Burning Walk: You don't need to spend hours on the treadmill or start training for a race. Instead, train your body to use fat to fuel your walk, says Wyndham-Read. The following fat-burning walking technique can help slim down your hips, she says. First, start walking for 2 minutes at a normal pace to ensure that your muscles are warm. Gently increase your walking pace every 30 seconds until you are just about to break into a jog. Ease off by 10% and aim to keep walking at this pace for 20 minutes. Do three 20-minute walks a week.
Cardio Interval: Accelerate fat loss by adding intense 15-minute cardio intervals to the end of each strength-training session or by performing 30-minute cardio interval sessions 2 days a week when you do not strength-train. (Related: Discover the best interval training technique for you) But don't overdo it, warns Yang. "Overtraining will increase the stress hormone cortisol, causing more fat storage than fat burning, and making you more prone to fatigue and injury."