HOW TO GET RID OF BACK FAT
Love handles are notoriously persistent areas of body fat, especially in men.
Why does fat in this region seem so resistant to leaving?
For many men, it’s the first place where fat accumulates and the last place to shed it.
Even when reaching leaner body compositions, some men still struggle with the stubborn body fat around their waist and lower back.
Today, I’m going to teach you how to get rid of back fat – once and for all.
Let’s dive into this complete body fat guide with a step-by-step plan to help you eliminate those love handles for good.
Let’s start with the most important factor in getting rid of back fat: your nutrition.
When it comes to the love handles, the main thing to focus on is burning fat through diet – what you eat and what you put in your body.
Exercise has a place – and we’ll get to that soon enough – but if you were only going to attack the problem with exercises like the Hyper Extension, is that going to help you in the long term?
I’m going to tell you that no, it’s not. You can’t outwork a bad diet. You can do as many crunches as you want to try to get rid of that fat, but it isn’t coming off unless you’ve mastered the nutrition game.
Does this automatically mean you need to go into an extreme calorie deficit? Should you obsessively monitor your daily calorie intake?
No, but you do need to make smarter choices when it comes to your nutrition.
People who have a big problem with love handles typically choose the wrong foods. But here’s the thing… This even goes for the clean eater or the guy who eats clean most of the time.
Because back fat tends to be the most stubborn, holding on to the very last pound. Sometimes, even 80/20 won’t cut it, and you might just have to be better in your approach, if losing back fat means that much to you.
Here are some healthy habits that you can consider incorporating into your daily routine.
USE A 90/10 APPROACH
Now, with that said, this is actually a lot simpler than you might think. It might not be easy, but it’s definitely worthwhile.
I’d recommend using a 90/10 approach to nutrition.
If you’re new to dieting and eating healthier, this is a good place to start. It doesn’t involve calorie counting and it helps you pay attention to the quality of the foods you’re eating. That means for every nine healthy and well-balanced meals that you eat, you can indulge with your tenth meal.
Obviously, don’t go crazy and eat an entire cake or anything with excess sugar.
Be mindful of the portion size, of course, but enjoy a food that might not be considered one of those nine perfectly healthy meals. The goal here is to indulge at a lesser frequency without the need for excessive calorie restrictions.
FOCUS ON LEAN PROTEIN
Of all the macronutrients in a healthy diet, lean protein plays a critical role in your nutrition when your goal is to get rid of back fat. Lean protein provides the body with essential amino acids, the building blocks for muscle tissue.
When you combine great nutrition with resistance training exercises, consuming an ample amount of protein ensures that the muscles can repair and grow efficiently. This growth in muscle mass will lead to an increased resting metabolic rate, which means that the body burns more calories, even when at rest.
Also, foods rich in protein tend to be more satiating. This means you’re less likely to feel hungry after eating lean protein-rich meals.
From a metabolic perspective, protein stands out due to its high thermic effect of food (TEF). In other words, your body expends more energy (i.e. burns more calories) breaking down protein than it does fats or carbohydrates.
This helps in creating a calorie deficit, which is important for overall fat reduction.
Naturally, I want you to focus on proper nutrition with whole food choices, but I’m also in favor of giving yourself a helping hand with supplements. In particular, a whey protein supplement is a healthy way to help you get more protein in your diet.
We know that alcohol contains empty calories. And these empty calories start to add up quickly. Still, this will probably be an area that’s a lot easier for you to fix than you might think.
One option: You can just simply cut down the number of times per week that you drink. Or focus on reducing the number of drinks you have when you drink.
Again, it’s all about reducing the frequency that you indulge in things that are going to contribute to your back fat.
TO CARB OR NOT TO CARB?
When it comes to the actual foods we eat, I am going to suggest that you don’t attempt to lose back fat by becoming carb-phobic.
In other words, don’t try to avoid carbs altogether.
First, this is just going to set you up for long-term failure because you can’t deprive yourself forever of these delicious nutrients. But you’re going to find that it also interferes with the fat loss process in another way.
The initial restriction of carbohydrates might cause you to lose some excess body fat and water weight. But over time, you’re going to increase your cortisol levels. And your circulating cortisol levels have a big influence on body composition, particularly stubborn body fat like love handles.
By adding in some whole grain carbohydrates to your diet, you can decrease your cortisol levels and maintain your sanity at the same time.
While carbohydrates do tend to be foods that you crave, you can certainly approach them more responsibly. I always recommend that you have a 2-to-1 ratio from the fibrous carbohydrates to the starchy carbohydrates.
If you’re not sure what those are, check out a complete list of these two carb categories.
I’m not asking you to take rice, pasta, baked potatoes, or sweet potatoes off your plate entirely. I just want you to have fewer of them during each meal. The easiest way to do that is to first fill your plate with more of the green stuff.
Focus on leafy green vegetables like spinach, broccoli, and asparagus. Put twice as much of that on your plate as you would the starchy carbohydrate.
You’ll still get to enjoy your carbs, but it won’t have the same caloric impact.
TYPE OF TRAINING
Nutrition aside, there’s another side of this equation and that’s what you’re doing with your body.
What are you doing in terms of the output? Is there a lack of exercise in your daily routine?
There are three different things I like to focus on when it comes to your workouts:
- Type of training
- Exercise selection
- Cardiovascular exercise (Aerobic exercise)
First, you need to match the type of training you’re doing to the fitness goal you have.
If your main goal is to lose body fat but you’re doing a Bro Split workout or a Push Pull Legs split, I might argue that you’re following the wrong training approach right now.
So, what’s one of the better types of workouts for fat loss?
PERIPHERAL HEART ACTION TRAINING (PHAT)
There is something you can do that would give you more bang for your buck and it’s called Peripheral Heart Action Training or PHAT. It’s a training style that Bruce Lee and Vince Gironda used.
PHAT involves a combination of exercises done in sequence but rotating around your body. And this isn’t just any combination of exercises; you’ll focus on compound movements.
For example, you might start with a push-focused upper body exercise such as a Dumbbell Bench Press. Afterward, do a lower body exercise like Step-Up, Calf Raises with Dumbbells.
From here, you would go back to an upper body exercise, but this time it’s a pull-focused exercise. Let’s go with the Barbell Bent-Over Row.
Again, once you finish with that, you move back to the lower body and perform an effective exercise like the Romanian Deadlift or Dumbbell Split Squat. And you keep going in sequence with no rest in between until you’ve worked the entire body.
This type of training allows you to use a weight that will also challenge your muscles, allowing you to simultaneously avoid muscle loss and build muscle mass via the metabolic stress route.
And a little bit of muscle goes a long way here. It’s a good thing because the more lean muscle tissue you have, the more calories you burn while at rest.
As for the number of rounds that you perform, I’d recommend starting with one or two and gradually building up. Six or seven rounds is usually the upper limit for a workout like this.
Guys, some training approaches are better than others when fat burning is your focus.
And when you’re looking to lose those love handles, PHAT might be the best type of workout for you.
EXERCISE SELECTION: COMPOUND EXERCISES
It’s not just the type of training you do, but also the exercises that you select.
Forget about spot reduction exercises. We want to focus on the exercises that are going to blast body fat while building and strengthening lean muscle tissue.
Here are my recommendations for which type of exercises you should be doing to ensure you target that back fat.
For guys, the body stores fat around the lower back so you would think the best thing to do would be to perform dozens of Hyper Extensions, right?
Wrong! Zoom out and look at this from an entire body approach – not just the back fat.
When it comes to the overall training program that you’re doing, I recommend focusing on compound exercises that allow you to build muscle. Just like with the PHAT program I talked about above.
Sure, a workout that focuses on high-intensity interval training might involve exercises that burn a few more calories during the workout, but we’re thinking long-term here.
A workout centered around compound exercises will help you build lean muscle. In turn, having more lean muscle will burn more calories overall, not just in the short period of time you’re doing resistance exercise.
Here are some of the best resistance training exercises that target multiple muscle groups, help to build muscle, and burn plenty of calories. Some of these are going to be common exercises for calorie burning, but there’s a reason that the classics are still around: they work!
- Barbell Squats
- Barbell Deadlifts
- Bench Press
- Bent-Over Barbell Row
- Clean and Press
- Overhead Press
In particular, I would love for you to incorporate Barbell Deadlifts into your workout.
There is real value in strengthening your lower back and one of the best ways to do this is by deadlifting. More importantly, you’ll target your lower back – the spot where the back fat is.
While you can’t necessarily “spot reduce,” your low back can become extremely active by doing the deadlift and increasing your strength.
What’s more, the fact that this is a heavy compound movement means that you’re metabolically calling on more muscles to participate in this exercise.
HOW TO DO A DEADLIFT:
- To execute a deadlift, start by warming up with stretches for your adductors and activating your hamstrings and pelvis, followed by practicing some hip hinge movements.
- Begin in an upright stance with your feet about hip-width apart. Grip the barbell with an overhand hold if you’re a beginner. You can use a hook grip if you’re more advanced. Ensure your hands are spaced roughly an inch outside of your feet.
- Before lifting, elevate your chest, pull your shoulders back, flatten your shoulder blades, lower your hips, and keep your core engaged with keeping a straight back.
- Initiate the lift by pressing through your legs and pulling the bar closely upward alongside your shins until you reach knee height.
- At this point, use the strength of your hips, aided by your lower back extensors and traps, to drive the movement, propelling your hips forward and bringing the barbell to hip height until you’re fully upright.
- Reverse the hip hinge until the bar is aligned with your knees, then bend your knees to bring the bar down to the ground.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: The Barbell Deadlift is an excellent exercise to do when your goal is to burn more body fat, especially back fat. It targets the lower back muscles while helping you build more lean muscle tissue, ensuring you burn calories during and after the workout.
EXERCISE SELECTION: ISOLATION EXERCISES
While the bulk of your workout should focus on compound movements, there are still two specific areas that I think should be given some extra attention.
You want to make sure you’re showing love to your obliques and your lateral deltoids. And here’s why:
Some might misguide you by telling you that training the obliques is just going to thicken up your waistline.
The only thing that is thickening your waistline is the layer of body fat that’s laying over the top right now!
Once you get those body fat levels down and reveal the muscles underneath, the obliques look amazing.
They actually do the best job of all the muscles in creating that thinning and tapering effect to the waistline.
So, you have to train them.
But in order to train them properly, you need to learn how to rotate your torso in space.
An exercise like the Russian Twist wouldn’t be a good option for the obliques because you’re just tapping your hands left or right.
You’re not really rotating your torso.
You need to row your arms and elbows back side to side to make sure you’re turning your shoulders in space in order to train that muscle more effectively.
I’d also like to see you get up on your feet for these rotational exercises.
Finally, make sure that you’re moving slowly and focusing on the rotation and contraction of the muscle. If you do that, you’re going to get better activation of the obliques.
How much of this oblique work are we talking about?
Ideally, if you can do a little bit every day, it will go a long way. That being said, even just one or two oblique exercises is enough to get the job done.
You’ll be ahead of the game if you can figure out other ways to incorporate it into the other training you’re already doing.
For example, you can perform a carrying exercise like the Suitcase Lunge to target both the lower body and obliques.
With that said, if you can dedicate time just to your obliques, here are some exercises that I’d recommend using:
STANDING RESISTANCE BAND TWISTS
HOW TO DO RESISTANCE BAND TWISTS:
- Begin by securing a resistance band at chest level on a stable object, such as a cable machine or post.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding the free end of the resistance band with both hands, elbows slightly bent. Your hands should be positioned in front of your chest, with tension in the band.
- Rotate your torso to one side, pulling the band across your body, ensuring you’re engaging your core and keeping your hips stable. As you rotate, keep your spine straight and maintain this position with control.
- Return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: This exercise strengthens the oblique muscles, enhancing core stability and rotational strength.
STANDING RESISTANCE BAND WOODCHOPPER
HOW TO DO THE STANDING RESISTANCE BAND WOODCHOPPER:
- Begin by anchoring one end of a resistance band to the high point of cable machine, door, or stable surface.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, positioned a couple of feet away from the anchor point, ensuring there’s tension in the band when it’s grasped. Hold the free end of the resistance band with both hands, positioned diagonally above and across your body near your opposite shoulder.
- In a controlled motion, pull the band diagonally downward and across your body, extending your arms and rotating your torso, simulating a “woodchopping” motion going from high to low.
- Your feet should remain grounded, and the rotation should primarily originate from your torso, engaging your oblique muscles.
- Return to the starting position in a controlled manner.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: This exercise effectively targets the obliques through rotational and diagonal movements, promoting core stabilization and mimicking functional real-world actions. What’s more, the variable resistance of the band intensifies engagement throughout the exercise.
SEATED OBLIQUE TWISTS
HOW TO DO SEATED OBLIQUE TWISTS:
- Begin by sitting tall on a bench, exercise ball, or the ground, with your legs extended in front of you and feet flat on the floor.
- Position a weighted bar securely across your shoulders, holding it at both ends.
- Engage your core and maintain a straight back. Rotate your torso to one side, aiming to bring the end of the bar completely across your body.
- Ensure the movement stems primarily from the waist up and not from the hips. Engage your obliques deeply during this rotation.
- Slowly return to the center and repeat on the opposite side.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: Aiming to move one end of the bar completely across your body ensures you achieve a full rotation, and the obliques are engaged.
HOW TO DO BICYCLE CRUNCHES:
- Start by lying flat on your back, with your hands placed gently behind your head. Engage your core and lift both feet off the ground, bending your knees to a 90-degree angle.
- In a fluid motion, rotate your torso and bring one elbow across your body, aiming to make direct contact with the opposite knee. As you do so, extend the other leg straight out, hovering just above the floor.
- Ensure that the elbow touches the opposite knee – or goes slightly beyond it – to maximize oblique engagement and twist.
- Alternate sides in a continuous ‘pedaling’ motion, maintaining a steady rhythm.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: Just like with Seated Oblique Twists, the idea is to focus on getting the elbow completely across your body and you can use your knee as a target to ensure this happens. This will help you fully engage the obliques and take you through the full range of motion.
TWISTING HANGING LEG RAISES
HOW TO DO TWISTING HANGING LEG RAISES:
- Start by grasping a pull-up or hanging bar with both hands, arms fully extended and feet off the ground.
- Engage your core, especially the obliques. Raise your legs together to hip height, and as you do so, twist your hips and legs to one side, aiming to deeply engage the obliques.
- It’s essential to ensure the rotation stems from the waist, rather than just swinging the legs.
- Slowly lower your legs back to the starting position and repeat, alternating the twist to each side.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: This twisting motion during the leg raise intensifies the engagement of the obliques, offering a challenging and effective workout for the side core muscles.
So, you’ve picked your compound exercises and you’re targeting the muscles that will have the biggest impact on helping you look trimmer and leaner.
There’s one more thing you can do.
You can create an illusion of a change in your physique, making your waist look slimmer, by building wider shoulders.
The best way to make it look like you have wider shoulders is to work on your lateral deltoids.
You don’t carry much fat in the delts. And just by creating more muscle growth and size there, you can also achieve more definition.
One more exercise that I’d like for you to throw into your roster is Lateral Raises with dumbbells. Here’s how to do it:
HOW TO DO LATERAL RAISES:
- Start by leaning forward slightly. When lifting the dumbbell to the side, ensure your thumb is elevated above your pinky.
- Maintain a slight bend in the elbows. Extend your arm fully in a deliberate, controlled motion.
- Once at the peak, pause for a moment, then elevate the weight slightly further by an inch or so before descending to the starting position.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: This exercise, centered on hypertrophy, amplifies the range of motion for the middle delt, making it ideal for achieving broader shoulders.
While cardiovascular exercise isn’t how you should start a workout, it can certainly play an important part of your routine.
With that said, a lot of you have probably heard about how fasted cardio exercise burns calories and how important it is for dropping body fat. And the truth of the matter is, it may not be all it’s cracked up to be, depending on how much body fat you have to lose.
While some may swear by it, others have actually pointed to research that shows that there isn’t a huge difference when it comes to losing overall body fat. Although you might be burning more fat during the session while fasted, you burn less fat afterwards.
If you’re going to do it in a fed state, you’ll burn more carbohydrates, but you’ll also have more of a fat-burning effect afterward. Now, when it comes to that stubborn body fat, those last few pounds that you can’t get off, this is where fasted cardio might play a bigger benefit.
I would say that you should explore the option to see if fasted cardio makes you plateau or speeds up your progress.
As far as what you can do for cardio, I believe the only “right” cardio is the one that you know you’ll do consistently. For example, if you love yoga, then I’d rather see you in your yoga pose being active than sitting at home doing nothing.
If you know cardio isn’t your favorite part of the workout, consider a personal trainer, one that can guide you through an intense aerobic exercise routine once or twice per week.
It’s all about the physical activity lifestyle. I want to see you doing the exercises that you know you’ll do, the ones that you enjoy doing. Once you build those healthy lifestyle habits that you do each and every week, then you can explore other more advanced routines and options. Build the habit first.
The easiest thing to do when you’re not seeing the results you want is to quit.
But when it comes to these stubborn areas of body fat that hang around too long, you’ve got to be willing to persevere.
Armed with the right foods, workout, and cardio, you’ll reach your goal. You just have to be consistent and push forward through those frustrating times.
If you’re looking for a workout program to help you build muscle and reduce body fat, check out our ATHLEAN-X programs to see which one is the best fit for your fitness level and goals.
- For love handles, diet plays a more pivotal role than exercise. It’s essential to master nutrition instead of solely depending on exercises like the Hyper Extension.
- Adopt a 90/10 approach where for every nine healthy meals, the tenth can be an indulgence (with mindful portion sizes).
- Alcohol offers empty calories. Reducing drinking frequency or the number of drinks per occasion can help combat back fat.
- Avoiding carbs isn’t advised. Instead, a balanced intake of unprocessed, whole grain carbohydrates can be beneficial. A 2-to-1 ratio of fibrous to starchy carbohydrates is recommended.
- Matching the type of training to one’s fitness goal is essential. Peripheral Heart Action Training (PHAT) is a highly effective workout regime for fat loss.
- Compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups are recommended over spot reduction. These include Barbell Squats, Deadlifts, Bench Press, and Pull-Ups, among others.
- Training obliques can create a tapered waistline effect. Proper rotational exercises, like Standing Resistance Band Twists, can help activate the obliques better.
- Building the lateral deltoids can give an illusion of a narrower waist by emphasizing wider shoulders.
- While cardiovascular exercise is important, the benefits of fasted cardio vary depending on the individual’s body fat levels. For stubborn body fat, considering fasted cardio might be beneficial.
HOW TO GET RID OF BACK FAT FAQS
To eliminate back fat, focus on a combination of diet and consistent exercise.
Prioritize nutrient-dense foods and avoid excessive calorie intake, especially from processed foods and alcohol.
For your workout routines, focus on compound exercises, targeting the obliques, and developing wider lateral deltoids.
Lower back fat can be addressed through a combination of diet, strength training, and cardiovascular exercises.
When it comes to nutrition, follow a 90/10 approach where nine meals are healthy, and your tenth meal is a responsible and appropriately portioned cheat meal.
Engage in full-body workouts, emphasizing compound exercises like Deadlifts to strengthen and tone the lower back.
To get rid of back fat rolls, it all starts with your nutrition. Ensure you maintain a diet rich in whole foods using the 90/10 approach.
Avoid excessive calorie intake and consume whole, unprocessed foods while limiting your alcohol intake.
You should also focus your workout program on compound exercises. Peripheral Heart Action Training or PHAT is one of the best fat-burning, muscle-building workouts you can do.
To get rid of upper back fat, begin by improving your nutrition. For every 10 meals you eat, nine of the meals should be healthy, balanced, and in line with your fitness goals.
Regular exercise should focus on compound exercises like Deadlifts, Back Squats, and Bench Presses.
You can also incorporate some exercises for the upper posterior muscles such as Dumbbell Shrugs, Face Pulls, and Leaning Back Lat Pulldowns.
Effective exercises for reducing back fat include compound movements such as Barbell Deadlifts, Bent-Over Rows, and Pull-Ups.
Peripheral Heart Action Training (PHAT) focuses on a sequence of compound exercises rotating around the body and this can also be extremely beneficial.
Try to utilize fasted cardio workouts, especially if you’re close to your goal of losing the last few pounds of back fat.
Back fat can be caused by various factors including genetics, which determines fat distribution, hormonal and imbalances.
A sedentary lifestyle combined with poor dietary habits and other lifestyle choices can lead to excess calorie intake and fat storage.
Aging can also play a role as metabolism slows down, leading to fat accumulation.
Back fat can be stubborn, especially since it's often one of the last areas where fat is lost.
Factors like genetics can determine how and where fat is stored, making some areas, like the back, more resistant to fat loss.
However, with consistent effort in diet and exercise, it's entirely possible to get rid of back fat.
While achieving significant reduction in back fat in just two weeks is challenging, you can make progress with strict dietary changes and consistent exercise.
Intense workouts combined with a clean, calorie-restricted diet can lead to some visible changes.
However, it's essential to set realistic expectations and understand that sustainable fat loss is a longer-term process.
Achieving noticeable back fat reduction in just 7 days requires an aggressive approach to diet and exercise.
A strict diet that's low in calories, combined with high-intensity workouts focusing on the back, can yield some changes.
However, it's important to note that rapid weight loss might not be sustainable. Long-term progress via healthy weight loss should always be the primary focus.
Jeff Cavaliere M.S.P.T, CSCS
Jeff Cavaliere is a Physical Therapist, Strength Coach and creator of the ATHLEAN-X Training Programs and ATHLEAN-Rx Supplements. He has a Masters in Physical Therapy (MSPT) and has worked as Head Physical Therapist for the New York Mets, as well as training many elite professional athletes in Major League Baseball, NFL, MMA and professional wrestling. His programs produce “next level” achievements in muscle size, strength and performance for professional athletes and anyone looking to build a muscular athletic physique.