Most women would like to have a few well-toned curves rather than big, bulky muscles. After all, a small waistline gives the appearance of curves and that’s what many women would like more of. A common myth is that you can whittle your waist away by doing endless twists and side bends. Over the years, a variety of exercise gadgets have been introduced to the market that promise to create a smaller, more chiseled waistline. Unfortunately, such “get results fast” contraptions rarely make a difference. What about the other end of the spectrum? Could certain exercises actually make your waistline larger? Now, that’s a scary thought!
What Determines the Size of Your Waistline?
The size of your waistline relative to your other measurements is partially determined by your genetics. Yet, the size of your waistline can change over time based on your diet, your body fat content, age, sex, and even your metabolic health. If you have a higher body fat percentage, a certain portion of that fat will be stored around your waist, the amount is partially influenced by the DNA you inherited from your parents.
Age is a factor too. When you’re young and have higher levels of estrogen, you store more fat around the thighs and buttocks. This creates more of an hourglass appearance to the physique. After menopause, as estrogen drops, you may notice increased fat storage around the tummy and waist. Insulin sensitivity also declines and this can lead to more fat accumulation around the waist. In fact, a large waistline is a better marker of future health risks than body mass index (BMI), based on a number of studies.
Stress and lack of sleep are other factors that can increase fat storage around your mid-section. So, if you’re carrying a muffin top, you need to look more closely at your lifestyle and diet. A diet high in processed foods and sugar could be the culprit as well.
Exercise and Waist Size
Can exercise fix an expanding waistline? Exercise is a calorie burner and can help you lower your body fat percentage. Depending on where your body prefers to store fat, a drop in body fat percentage can reduce the size of your waistline. High-intensity interval training is a highly effective way to lower body fat. But what about resistance training?
The muscles that influence the size of your waistline are mainly the obliques, the muscles that run down the sides of your midsection. So, is that the secret? Work those obliques as hard as possible to trim your waistline? In reality, hypertrophying the obliques can make your waist look wider. However, you’re unlikely to increase the size of your obliques doing simple oblique twists and crunches. However, if you do weighted oblique crunches, you could get some development that makes your waistline grow. Without using resistance it’s hard to exhaust the obliques to the point that they become large. Don’t forget, some of these exercises are also hard on your spine.
Even worse, some people do weighted side bends, expecting that such a move will trim their waistline. Of course, you already know that you can’t spot reduce fat. You won’t burn away waist fat or a muffin top by doing a high volume of crunches, twists, or bends, and even if you enlarge the underlying muscle, it’s not going to give you a trimmer waistline, quite the opposite.
What about Squats and Deadlifts?
You sometimes hear that women should avoid deadlifts and heavy squats since these exercises can create a bulky waistline. However, these exercises don’t target your obliques the same way that oblique crunches and other oblique-focused exercises do. Unfortunately, no studies have measured how much the obliques and wall of the abdomen hypertrophy in response to squats and deadlifts but, based on the muscles these exercises activate most, it’s unlikely you’ll get significant hypertrophy of the obliques or abdominal wall from squats and deadlifts alone.
In fact, these compound exercises help you burn body fat so you have less fat storage around the tummy and waistline. Plus, they help build a defined lower body to contrast with your waistline and make it look smaller in comparison.
So, You Want To Reduce The Size Of Your Waistline
If you can’t whittle away your waistline with endless twists and crunches, what can you do to get a more tapered waistline? As mentioned, diet is important as is optimizing your body fat percentage. Rather than focusing on reducing the size of your waist with spot exercises, boost the definition of your shoulders to get a V-taper. When you have a V-taper, your waistline appears smaller due to the greater definition in the shoulders. So, work the front, mid, and lateral delts and your upper back to increase their size and strength.
How about training your midsection? Rather than focusing so much on crunches, add more planks to your routine to build a strong, firm core. A strong core will help you perform other weight training exercises more effectively and with better form. A core of steel will also reduce your risk of injury.
What about a gradually expanding waist size due to age? If you’re watching your waistline expand as you enter the menopausal years, make sure you’re getting enough sleep and managing stress as best as possible. Remember, your body preferentially stores fat around your mid-section as estrogen falls. Also, studies show that cortisol, the stress hormone, rises late in menopause. A higher cortisol level typically means more fat storage around the middle. Managing stress and working on getting enough quality sleep can help you tame the increase in cortisol. Make sure you have a way to reduce stress. Two that are proven cortisol reducers are meditations and yoga.
The Bottom Line
Doing oblique-targeted exercises won’t whittle your waist, and if you use resistance, it may actually hypertrophy the muscles and increase your waist measurement. Keeping your waist as slender as possible requires a multifaceted approach – diet, a balanced exercise plan, stress management, and adequate sleep. They all matter!
The Glute Guy. “Squats And Deadlifts Won’t Make Your Waist Blocky”
Menopause. 2009 Jul–Aug; 16(4): 708–718. doi: 10.1097/gme.0b013e318198d6b2.
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