Fat hanging around your mid or lower back and sides (not-so-lovingly called love handles) can be tough to lose. The good news is your efforts aren't futile; you can sculpt your back with the right nutrition and workout plan. Here's everything you need to know about banishing your back fat for good.
Why does fat accumulate here?
For once, you can't blame genetics. Back fat is an indicator of a poor diet, a flawed workout regimen, and/or a lack of muscle mass. "People focus on what they see in the mirror," says Ngo Okafor personal trainer in NYC. "Most guys have lagging hamstrings, glutes, and back because they just focus on the front of the body—the arms, chest, abs, and quads," Okafor says, "which is all good and well; but if you don’t build much muscle in your back, whatever fat that’s there tends to sag."
How do you build a workout to combat back fat?
Not sure if it's better to do full-body moves that are high-intensity and metabolic as opposed to body part-specific ones? Combine them. "I always believe in doing a cardio-body part split," Okafor says. If you're doing chest and back, for example, do a pressing movement and a pulling motion, followed by cardio; more specifically, you could do bench press, bentover lateral raise, then get on a bike and do a 2-3 minute interval. "Circuit training with strength movements guarantee you’ll build the muscle you need while keeping your heart rate up and burning more calories so you’re getting lean and getting big," Okafor says.
To really overhaul your physique and get rid of stubborn back fat, you need to work out a minimum of 3-4 days a week. "A higher rep range works best," Okafor says. "Do 4-5 sets of 12-15 reps with heavy enough weight so you’re fighting at rep 10-15." Volume is key here. It causes hypertrophy in your muscles and gives your back time to adapt to the training and new growth. Not sure how much weight to start out with? You'll have to use some trial and error. Someone who’s never lifted anything heavy in his life is considered a beginner, but so is a guy who's worked in construction for decades but has never lifted in the traditional context of a gym. The starting points will be drastically different. So, with that in mind, start with the bar and then add 5 pound-plates on each side and go up in increments of 5.
Diet and portion control
No surprises here. Lean meats (fish, chicken, and lean steak and pork) and vegetables (especially dark leafy greens like spinach and kale) are the keys to your weight loss transformation. Use your vegetables for energy and carbs, Okafor says; choose ones that are nutrient dense. "Nutrition is 80 percent of your fitness," he explains. "You can’t out-train a bad diet." But you also need to be realistic. You need to be able to sustain your diet. The goal is to be fit for life, not just fit for your young years. We’re not robots. We're not telling you to eat chicken and vegetables for every meal. Get creative, Okafor says. Try these 10 low-carb chicken dishes. And if you have a hard time with overeating (and don't want to weigh your food), use your hand for easy measuring and portion control. "About a fist, depending on how big you are, is a good measure for carbs," Okafor says. "Use the entire circumference of your hand for veggies and measure your palm for protein." That’s an easy way to eyeball it.
The Back Fat Annihilation workout
If you have an accumulation of back fat because of a bad diet or the "mirror muscle condition," you need to dedicate extra time on training your back muscles in order to beef them up. Attack your back twice a week for 6-8 weeks using high volume (high rep) circuit training. Okafor suggests doing workout #1 on Monday or Tuesday and workout #2 on Thursday or Friday. This gives your muscles enough to time to recover before you blast 'em again. Rest between sets as needed, but don't go any longer than 60 seconds. Take 2-3 minutes rest between rounds.
Directions: Complete 3 rounds of this entire circuit.
1. Straight-Arm Pull Downs - 20 reps
2. Chest Supported Row (on an incline bench) - 15 reps
3. TRX Pullups - 15 reps
4. Single-Leg-Crossover V-Ups - 20 reps on each side
5. Stationary Bike - 3 minutes total - 1 minute of speed at 50% resistance and 1 minute of a hill at 80% resistance and then back down to 50% resistance for another minute of speed.
Directions: Do 3 rounds of this entire circuit on the second day
1. Pullups - 10-12 reps ("It's ok to use the assisted pullup machine or a band if you're not able to do 10-12 pullups without support or any pull-ups at all," Okafor says.)
2. Cable Pulldowns - 15 reps
3. Seated Cable Row - 15 reps
4. Renegade Rows - 15 reps
5. Situps - 20 reps
6. Hill Run or Walk on a treadmill for 3 minutes
*If you run: Do the entire run at 4.5 speed and 6.0 incline for the first minute, 8.0 for the second minute, and 10.0 for the third minute.
*If you walk: Do the entire walk at 3.5 speed and 10.0 incline for the first minute, 12.5 for the second minute, and 15.0 for the third minute.