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How to get rid of love handles

Spot fat reduction doesn't work, but these exercises can help you tone your sides.

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Increasing muscle definition in your sides will take more than some side crunches, but it's doable.

Javier Sánchez Mingorance/EyeEm/Getty Images

"Love handles" is a common name that refers to the body fat that lies on top of the hips. Despite their simple nature -- it's just subcutaneous fat above the hips -- love handles seem to have garnered a collective hatred. Many people dislike love handles and aim to get rid of them to increase muscle definition on their belly and sides. 

People want them gone, whether their motivator is intrinsic or extrinsic. Most people approach this goal the wrong way, however, because they believe they can directly target the body fat on their sides. Weight loss unfortunately doesn't work that way, but you can still lose love handles with these tips and exercises. 

Read more: The best home exercise equipment to buy in 2021

What love handles really are

Let's start with a little bit of anatomy. What you call love handles is the body fat on top of your obliques, the core muscles that run from your ribs to your hips. Many people struggle to lose the body fat that lies atop their obliques and get frustrated when it bulges over their waistband. 

The easiest solution is to go up a pants size, to be honest. But if you want to get rid of love handles for health reasons, such as reducing your risk of heart disease, or simply to feel more confident in your body, you definitely can -- just not with side crunches, like many people believe. 

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Body fat that bulges over the waistband on pants is commonly called "love handles."

Nicole Lienemann/EyeEm/Getty Images

As a reminder, spot reduction doesn't work 

Look, no matter how many side crunches you do, you won't get rid of love handles without a consistent calorie deficit. Losing body fat is a numbers game -- a simple game of calories in, calories out. Any health professional will argue that the source and quality of your calories does matter, but in the end, a calorie deficit is a calorie deficit. And a surplus is a surplus. 

If you're in a calorie surplus or even at maintenance, you won't lose fat on your sides or anywhere else. A surplus will make you gain more over time, and maintenance calories will keep you exactly where you're at. 

To lose body fat, try sticking to a well-rounded workout plan that includes strength-training exercises as well as cardiovascular exercise. While strict diets aren't necessary for weight loss, losing weight does require some level of attention to your eating pattern. Knowing roughly how many calories you eat and burn each day is essential to changing your body composition

Best exercises for the obliques 

All of the above said, you can strengthen your obliques to create a more chiseled look. Core strengthening exercises lead to muscle growth in your midsection, and a calorie deficit will help you lose subcutaneous body fat (the fat beneath your skin), revealing the hard-earned muscles underneath. 

You'll notice many of these exercises are compound movements rather than core isolation exercises. This is because compound movements (exercises that engage more than one joint or muscle group) engage more muscle fibers and burn more calories than single-joint or isolation exercises. 

Side planks

If you thought regular planks were tough, wait until you try a side plank. This isometric core exercise challenges your entire midsection with a focus on your obliques. Your arms, shoulders and upper back also work to stabilize your body. 

Try this: Do three sets of a 10-second side plank on each side. Each week, increase the time by five seconds until you can get to a minute on each side.

Farmer's carry 

Deceptively simple, the farmer's carry ignites a burn in your arms, back and core. It's great practice for bringing all the groceries inside in one trip.

Try this: Use two kettlebells or dumbbells that are challenging, but not impossible, for you to hold for 30 seconds. Carry the weights for 30 seconds and then rest 30 seconds. Repeat two more times. For an extra oblique challenge, try a single-arm farmer's carry and focus on keeping your torso aligned. 

Dead hang 

The dead hang activates your latissimus dorsi ("lats," aka the muscles you use during pull-ups), which is not an oblique muscle, but is a part of your core and affects the way your midsection looks and functions. 

Try this: Hang from a bar for three sets of 10 seconds. Over time, work your way up to 30-second sets. To engage your abs more, tuck your knees up to your chest or as high as you can. 

Mountain climbers 

A classic core move, mountain climbers activate your obliques along with all of your other core muscles. The key is to perform your reps slowly, rather than in a high-intensity interval training fashion. Slow reps are more conducive to strength while fast reps are more conducive to cardio. 

Try this: Perform three to five sets of 10 to 20 mountain climbers. Practice bringing your knee all the way to your elbow. Rest as needed in between sets.

Seated sit-ups with a press

Up for a serious core challenge? You need to add sit-ups with a press to your routine. Any type of sit-up engages the core, but loading one arm with weight and pressing it above your head during the sit-up presents a unique challenge. This movement forces your obliques to work extra hard at keeping your torso aligned, lest your lower back suffer. 

Try this: Using a kettlebell or dumbbell that's challenging but not too heavy, perform three sets of 10 reps, switching the weight to the other arm after five reps.

Single-arm overhead press

In the same fashion as the single-arm squats above, single-arm overhead presses force your obliques to activate more than usual due to the offset weight. 

Try this: Do three sets of 10 reps, switching arms after five reps. Take care to choose a weight that's challenging, but that you're able to press up without arching your back. 

More workout advice 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.