Every summer, getting your body toned and in shape is probably on the top of your mind. One of the most difficult areas of the body to address when toning is back fat. With hundreds of different exercises out there that target your abdominals, it seems like more of a challenge to take care of those not-so-lovable areas people refer to as "love handles,” which are fat deposits on the sides of the lower back.
For women, other common back complaints include saggy or extra skin around the part of the back where their bra closes, and wanting to tighten the skin underneath the armpits.
Michelle Kalisz is a fitness professional in New York City who specializes in Pilates, yoga, and dance. She helped us identify four simple exercises to strengthen and tighten your back as well as reduce back fat.
"One thing to note is the location of fat storage is largely genetic/diet controlled," Kalisz says. "Although reduction is definitely possible, dramatically changing one's proportions is very rare. Pilates is an excellent way of reshaping and lengthening the body to its full potential."
The combination of cardio and diet is probably the best thing you can do for back fat, as they both help reduce the amount of fat deposits in the body. Here are four exercises Kalisz recommends to tone this difficult area.
Side leg lift
This side leg lift exercise is designed to stabilize the pelvic-lumbar and oblique muscle regions, as well as lateral flexion, which strengthens torso muscles around the spinal region.
- Lie straight on the floor on your right side, with your leg, hip, and side all against the mat. The right arm can rest behind your head or in front of your body for balance and support.
- Rest your left leg on top of your right one, stacked on top of it.
- As you exhale, lift both legs off the ground together by about 3 or 4 inches. Be sure to initiate the movement from the core of your body.
- As you inhale, lower the legs back toward the mat, keeping your feet slightly above the ground itself as if hovering above it.
- Repeat this movement 6 to 8 times before lowering your feet back to the ground.
- Switch to your left side and repeat.
Kalisz says this exercise is key to strengthening your back extensor muscles and for abdominal control.
- Begin on the mat, lying face down with your stomach on the mat.
- Keep your arms at your side against your torso with your palms pressed against your thighs.
- Keep your legs together with your toes slightly pointed.
- Inhale and lift your upper trunk off of the mat, keeping the tops of your feet pressed against the mat.
- Be sure to use your abdominals and back to extend your trunk forward and into the air.
- As you exhale, lower your torso back down to the mat.
- Repeat 6 to 8 times.
The cat-cow stretch goes by a few different names. No matter what you call it, it's great for posture and should help you deal with back fat. "Think about filling the lungs as you inhale and hollowing the belly as you exhale," suggests Kalisz.
- Begin on all fours, with your wrists in line and with your shoulders and your knees in line with your hips.
- As you inhale, drop your belly and lift your chin and tailbone as high as they can go, looking up toward the ceiling. Your spine should begin to form something resembling a “U” shape.
- As you exhale, suck your belly into your spine, arching the back as you tuck your tailbone.
- Move your chin in toward your chest as you exhale.
- Repeat this movement 4 or 5 times, focusing on your breath.
Kalisz suggests thinking about lengthening your body through your fingers and toes and lifting to your maximum as you do this "swimming" exercise.
- Begin by lying on your stomach with your arms in front of you against the mat.
- Slowly lift your arms and legs off the floor, as if moving into a "Superwoman" or "Superman" position, keeping them together as they hover over the mat.
- Inhale as you lift your right arm and left leg at the same time.
- Inhale again as you lift your left arm and right leg higher until your movements start to resemble "swimming" in the air.
- Do 3 sets of 8 switches from right to left.
For all of these exercises, Kalisz says to start slow and then pick it up as you feel stronger. "As you become more comfortable with the coordination, begin to pick up the pace of the movement," she says. "Keep the breath smooth and steady."
Always talk to your doctor before starting any exercise routine.