How to Run to Get Rid of Love Handles

A running program is more likely to help you lose your love handles than targeted exercises such as side bends and sit ups, because these kinds of exercises don't burn many calories. If you carry weight in your midsection, this weight is known as love handles, caused by subcutaneous fat that resides just beneath the skin. Love handles can be difficult to lose. As you lose weight, the love handles will eventually shrink, by using a combination of running, strength training and a reduced-calorie diet, but it may take considerable effort.

A woman wearing jeans pinches her love handles. (Image: Deyan Georgiev/iStock/Getty Images)

Losing Your Love Handles

You can't target weight loss to specifically lose only your love handles, because as you lose weight, you'll shrink all over, and you'll keep your general shape and your overall bodily proportions. Since a pound of fat is 3,500 calories, a calorie deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories per day helps you lose about 1 to 2 pounds per week. Create this deficit by burning extra calories that you will burn through running and by trimming calories from what you eat. There's no guarantee that your love handles will disappear first, but as you become leaner, your love handles will become smaller.

Determine how many calories it takes for you to maintain your weight; an online calculator will help you with this task because it takes into account your age, gender, size and activity level outside of running. Then, plan on burning an extra 250 to 500 calories per day with exercise, including running, as well as trimming 250 to 500 calories daily by making changes to your diet.

A combination of diet and exercise is necessary to lose love handles. As demonstrated by members of the National Weight Control Registry, which is a group of more than 10,000 people who have lost significant weight and have kept it off, exercise is rarely effective as the sole means of weight loss.

Running Frequency for Weight Loss

Doing moderate-intensity cardio for more than 250 minutes per week helps you lose significant weight, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Running counts as vigorous-intensity exercise, so aiming for 250 minutes weekly should help you drop pounds when combined with conscientious eating.

To achieve 250 minutes per week, aim for about 50 minutes a day, five times a week. If you're new to running, make two to three of the sessions consist solely of a brisk walk. The other sessions should combine walking and running, during which you alternate a few minutes of jogging with a few minutes of walking. This helps your body become accustomed to the intensity of the exercise.

Over time, you can shorten your walking periods until you're running 50 minutes consistently. Depending on your schedule and how your body tolerates the running, you may stick with just two to four sessions of running per week and then cross train, with lower impact activity such as cycling or swimming on the other days to fulfill your activity needs.

Even if you average a rather modest 5.2 mph pace -- covering a mile in 11 minutes and 30 seconds -- you'll burn 558 calories in 50 minutes if you weigh 155 pounds and 666 calories if you weigh 185 pounds. If you run faster or weigh more, you'll burn even more calories. A walk-run combination will burn 371 and 443 calories in 50 minutes, respectively; burn 248 and 296 calories for a brisk walk at 3.5 mph. Use these figures to help you determine your daily calorie deficit.

Running Intensity to Lose Fat

When you first begin a running program, stick to your moderate-intensity walk-runs and a pace that feels doable for all workouts. Over the course of several weeks, begin to increase the intensity during the running portions. A minute or two of near all-out intensity running, alternating with a minute or two of low-intensity jogging or walking stimulates greater fat oxidation, or fat burning, which may help you lose your love handles more easily.

A paper published in a 2011 issue of the Journal of Obesity contends that these intervals are more valuable than steady-paced exercise when it comes to fat loss. You should do only a few of your weekly sessions as intervals, and you can do other sessions at an easier pace. Too much interval training can overly fatigue you and put too much wear and tear on your body.

Strength Training

Although running is a healthy form of exercise, if you do too much of the same activity without cross training, your body adapts to that exercise and your results diminish. In addition to running, strength train at least twice per week to help build more lean muscle mass. More lean muscle means a faster metabolism, which helps you lose weight more quickly, including losing your love handles. Strength training also makes you a stronger runner who will be less prone to injury.

Running doesn't build muscle in the same way that squats, push-ups and lat pull-downs do. You want a weight routine that consists of one to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions, using a weight that feels challenging by the end of the exercise. Use movements such as squats and dead lifts to tone your lower body and core; use planks to strengthen your abs and biceps; and use curls, tricep extensions and shoulder raises for your arms.

A Diet to Lose Love Handles

You can't use exercise to make up for a poor diet. Plus, if you fuel primarily on fast foods and junk-food snacks, your energy levels won't be optimal for your running.

Make your meals consist of moderate servings of fresh vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. For example, at breakfast have one egg and two whites scrambled with spinach and mushrooms, along with a whole-wheat English muffin; for lunch, enjoy corn tortillas wrapped around grilled chicken, with salsa, lettuce and a few slices of avocado; and for dinner, have 3 to 4 ounces of broiled flank steak with brown rice and roast asparagus. Between meals, snack on fresh fruit, a few nuts or whole-grain crackers with a few tablespoons of hummus. You should avoid foods that have a lot of sugar, refined grains and saturated fat, as these encourage fat gain and may make it more difficult to lose your love handles.

If it has been several hours since you last ate and you're about to head out for a run, have a small energy snack, such as a slice of whole-wheat toast with a tablespoon of peanut butter; a banana and some string cheese; or a cup of low-fat yogurt. You only need a post-workout recovery meal if your workout was especially intense, if it lasted longer than an hour or if you won't have another meal for several hours.

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