The dreaded muffin top, or fat on the sides of your belly, is created when you have excess belly fat and weak oblique muscles. It's more than just an unsightly body part, it also puts you at risk for serious health concerns; according to MayoClinic.com, belly fat can increase your risk for cancer, stroke, diabetes and heart disease. Talk to your doctor to make sure it's safe for you to exercise and then combine strength and fat-burning exercises to combat this common problem area.
Your obliques are made up of internal and external muscles. The external obliques are located on the top and outside part of your midsection, while the internal obliques lie beneath the external obliques. Together these muscles help you twist and bend sideways. They also work in unison with the transverse muscles that run horizontally along the front of your stomach. Transverse exercises are also beneficial for your obliques.
Any cardio activity that causes you to twist or bend in your midsection meets the criteria for an oblique exercise. This includes running, swimming, cycling, kickboxing, dancing and tennis. Cardio exercise is essential to a well-rounded fitness program as well; the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition recommends at least 150 minutes per week for healthy adults.
Flutter kicks are done with just your body weight. They strengthen your obliques with slow, controlled movements of your legs. Start on your back with your hands at your sides. Keep your entire midsection flexed to power the movements. Lift your legs 6 inches off the floor and alternate lifting one leg slightly higher than the other. This should mimic the kicking motion of swimming. Continue alternating until your muscles fatigue. During muscle fatigue, your muscles should feel tired but never painful. If you experience any pain, swelling or redness, see your doctor.
Weight Trunk Rotations
You can use your choice of weight for this exercise. Try a dumbbell, medicine ball or kettlebell. Sit down with your legs bent while holding the weight with both hands in front of your chest. For an added challenge lift your legs off the floor. Tighten your stomach muscles and slowly rotate from side to side as far as you can. Repeat until you reach muscle fatigue.
Start on your back with your hands behind your head. Lift your legs off the floor and tighten your abdominal muscles. Bend one knee and pull it in toward the opposite elbow. Straighten your leg as you bend your other leg and pull it in toward the opposite elbow. Continue until muscle failure.
Ashley Farley has been a certified personal trainer since 2008. She is also a writer specializing in healthy living, fitness and nutrition topics. Farley has an Associate of Science in mental health services from the Community College of the Air Force and is pursuing her B.A. in English at Wright State University.