We endearingly refer to them as love handles. Or maybe you prefer to call it your muffin top. Either way, excess fat sitting on the sides of the torso is tough to lose.
“You have to cross-train your core like you cross-train the rest of your body,” says celebrity trainer Kira Stokes. Of all the waist-whittling exercises out there, ones that target your oblique muscles will zero in on this area. A general rule to keep in mind: Any move where you’re reaching to the side works your obliques.
But incorporating ones that also hit your upper and lower abs will more effectively sculpt and slim your entire middle section. “Your core works as one complete unit,” Stokes reminds us.
Here, she shares her favorite exercises for getting rid of the extra padding around your middle.
1. Oblique Press and Reach
Kneel on your left knee with your right foot out in front of you, foot flat on the floor (leg will form a 90 degree angle). Keep the abdominal muscles tight, back straight, tailbone tucked. Hold a weight in your right hand, arm extended out to the right and bent at a 90 degree angle with your fist in the air.
Then, reach up, extending your arm straight into the air while bending your body down to the left side and touching your left fingertips to the ground. Next, use your oblique muscle pull your torso back to starting position. Do 3 sets of 12-15 on each side.
2. Side Plank Crunch
Start on your right elbow, your right foot slightly in front of your left. Keep your core tightened throughouts. Pull the right knee in towards chest and crunch your left elbow toward it. Then bring back out to side plank position. Do 3 sets of 10-12 reps.
3. Plank Up-Downs
Get into plank position, with arms out straight directly beneath your shoulders, squeezing your butt and pulling your abs tight into your spine. Then, starting with one arm, lower down onto your forearm, then follow with the next arm. Move back up, one arm at a time, to the fully extended plank. Make sure to avoid rocking your hips, Stokes warns, and keep the core tight the entire time.
“It also works your upper body as well,” Stokes notes, since your upper body is moving and helping to support your entire plank position. Do 8 on each side, or shoot for 30-45 seconds.
4. Around the World Obliques
Stand with your legs wider than shoulder-width apart, toes turned out just a little bit, tailbone tucked. With a very light weight in your hands (5 pounds at most—or you can even hold a pillow—just to keep anchored so you don’t feel the move in your lower back) extend arms up straight above your head as far as you can. “It should really feel like a stretch,” says Stokes. Then, bend from the hips and reach your body as far as you can to the right, hips and shoulders square forward. At the last second when you can’t reach any more, rotate toward the floor. Twist your body back to face front, exhale and pull back up to center.
Make sure to keep your knees soft, don’t lock them. Do 8-10 slow and controlled reps in each direction, alternating sides.
5. Pass the Ball
These are basically bicycle crunches turned up a notch. Lie flat on the ground, abs pulled in tight to your spine and back flat on the floor. Pick your chest up, pulling the right knee into your chest and holding a ball in your left hand. Pass the ball underneath your right knee into your right hand and crunch up. “It’s almost like a figure-8,” says Stokes. Like dribbling a basketball, minus that bounce on the floor.
Rotate your legs after each pass, and make sure you’re crunching up every time. Keep your shoulder blades lifted off the ground throughout. Do for 30-45 seconds.
6. Knee Drop
Lie flat on the ground, abs pulled in tight to your spine, back flat on the floor. Lift legs off the floor and into a tabletop position. Squeeze the ball between legs, engaging the inner thigh muscles and lower abs the entire time. Drop your knees over to the right—slowly—keeping abs pulled in tight and lower back flat. Exhale and pull to center, then inhale as you drop them down the other way.
“You want to keep them tucked in, knees aligned over your hips,” says Stokes. You’ll also get an awesome lower back stretch. Holding the ball tight will ensure you keep your legs together throughout the movement. Do 3 sets of 8-10 reps each side.
7. Crouching Tiger Push-Up
One of Stokes’ signature moves, the only other place you’ll see this is in one of her classes. Start in a push-up position (hands wider than shoulder-width). Do a pushup. Then, bend knees off floor, and press back into your hips so your knees are directly beneath your ribs. Your arms should be straight pressing through the shoulders—you’ll feel it in your quads and shoulders.
Then lift the hips up into a downward dog position. From there, round out your back and slowly roll your spine forward in a wave motion, starting with lower spine and ending with upper spine rolling the rest of the body flat until you are back in your starting plank position.
“Pressing back forces you to engage the low abdomen; the rolling wave is active abdominal work, and it’s also stretching your back.” Do 3 sets of 10-12 slow and controlled reps.