If you’re reading this article, chances are you’ve got lower back fat that you’d like to lose.
You’ve also probably followed guides on how to get rid of lower back fat before, only to be frustrated at how slowly your back and love handles firm up.
Well, that stops now.
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about losing lower back fat, including what lower back fat is, what causes it, why it’s so stubborn, how to use diet and exercise to lose lower back fat, and the best lower back fat exercises you can do.
Table of Contents
Lower back fat refers to any fat that’s stored between the top of your butt and the bottom of your rib cage on the back side of your body.
Although it isn’t technically on your back, most people count any fat that’s stored on the sides of your torso at navel height (sometimes known as “love handles” or a “spare tire”) as lower back fat, too.
Many people want to know how to get rid of lower back fat because it can be particularly unsightly, especially if you wear tight-fitting clothing on your bottom half and your lower back fat appears to “pour” over the waistband (an effect known as a “muffin top”).
Some people believe that they have a genetic predisposition to storing fat on their lower back, and this is sometimes true.
Having high levels of testosterone causes fat cells to accumulate around your midsection and prevents fat cells accumulating around your butt and thighs, while having high levels of estrogen has the opposite effect.
This means that people with high levels of testosterone (normally men, though women with conditions that cause an increase in testosterone such as polycystic ovary syndrome can also be affected) or low levels of estrogen (menopausal women) are more likely to store fat around their waist and lower back.
However, (and this is a big “however”) the only way to gain fat in any area of your body is to eat more calories than you burn (known as eating in a calorie surplus).
In other words, it doesn’t matter whether you have high testosterone, low estrogen, or any other hormonal imbalance—fat stores can’t be increased without the provision of excess energy (calories). (Read this article if you want to learn why).
You can’t get fatter unless you feed your body more energy than it burns.
This is the immutable mechanism of fat storage that never changes, regardless of what’s going on with your hormones.
Lower back fat is hard to lose because the fat cells in this area are more reluctant to disgorge their contents than fat cells in other areas.
While some fat cells release their stored energy readily (a process referred to as fat mobilization), others are more stingy, or “stubborn,” such as the ones on your lower back.
To mobilize body fat, your body produces chemicals known as catecholamines.
These molecules travel through your blood and “attach” to receptors on fat cells, and then trigger the release of the fat stored within the cells to be burned for energy. You can think of catecholamines like little letters your body sends to your fat cells with instructions to dump their cargo, ASAP.
Fat cells have two types of receptors for catecholamines: Alpha- and beta-receptors. You can think of alpha-receptors as bitter, cantankerous mailmen who throw your body’s “letters” in the trash, and beta-receptors as the sweet secretaries that rush your missive through to the cell.
In other words, alpha-receptors hinder the fat-mobilizing effects of catecholamines, while beta-receptors enhance them.
And herein lies the problem with stubborn fat: it’s chock-full of alpha-receptors.
Fat that disappears quickly, like the stuff covering your arms and shoulders, has more beta-receptors than alpha-receptors. And stubborn fat, like the stuff covering your lower back, has more alpha-receptors than beta-receptors.
Another problem with these stubborn fat deposits relates to blood flow.
You may have noticed that fat in areas like your butt, hips, and thighs (for women) or stomach, low-back, and butt (for men) is slightly colder to the touch than fat in other areas of your body like the arms or chest. This is simply because there’s less blood flowing through the areas.
Less blood flow = fewer catecholamines reach the stubborn fat cells = even slower fat loss.
So we have a double-whammy of fat loss hindrance here: reduced blood flow so that only a small number of catecholamines make it to your fat cells and lots of alpha-receptors that prevent those catecholamines from increasing fat mobilization.
The good news is that all fat quails in the face of a prolonged calorie deficit. As long as you eat and train correctly, stubborn fat will disappear—it’ll just take longer than fat in other areas.
Research shows that eating 20-to-25% fewer calories than you burn every day will help you lose fat lickety-split without losing muscle or wrestling with excessive hunger, lethargy, and the other hobgoblins of low-calorie dieting.
Want to know how many calories you should eat to lose fat? Check out the Legion Calorie Calculator here.
High-protein dieting beats low-protein in every way, especially when you’re dieting to lose weight.
Specifically, you should eat about 1-to-1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day.
And if you’re very overweight (25%+ body fat in men and 30%+ in women), this can be reduced to around 40% of your total calories per day.
The best supplements to help you lose weight quickly are . . .
- 3-to-6 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight per day. This will raise the number of calories you burn and also increases strength, muscle endurance, and anaerobic performance. If you want a clean, delicious source of caffeine that also contains five other ingredients that will boost your workout performance, try Pulse.
- 0.1-to-0.2 milligrams of yohimbine per kilogram of body weight before fasted training. This increases fat loss when used in conjunction with fasted training, and is particularly helpful with losing “stubborn” fat. If you want a 100% natural source of yohimbine that also contains two other ingredients that will help you lose fat faster, preserve muscle, and maintain training intensity and mental sharpness, try Forge.
- One serving of Phoenix per day. Phoenix is a 100% natural fat burner that speeds up your metabolism, enhances fat burning, and reduces hunger and cravings. You can also get Phoenix with caffeine or without.
(And if you’d like to know exactly what other supplements you should take to reach any and all of your fitness goals, take the Legion Supplement Finder Quiz.)
Most guides on how to get rid of lower back fat recommend you do specific lower back fat exercises.
This is wrongheaded because you can’t “spot reduce” fat.
Research shows that exercising a muscle group increases blood flow and lipolysis (the breakdown of fat cells into usable energy) in the area, but not enough to noticeably reduce surrounding fat stores.
What you can do, though, is reduce your body fat percentage.
That is, you can reduce the total amount of fat you’re carrying around, and this will inevitably cut into the fat that’s clinging to your lower back.
And the best exercises for reducing your body fat percentage (and building muscle) are compound exercises.
If you want to maximize the fat-burning effects of weightlifting . . .
- Train three-to-five times per week.
- Focus on doing compound exercises such as the squat, deadlift, and bench, and overhead press.
- Lift weights that are 75-to-85% of your one-rep max (weights that you can do 6-to-12 reps with before failing).
- Strive to add weight or reps to every exercise in every workout (also known as progressive overload).
When training to lose lower back fat, developing the muscles of your upper back, shoulders, and chest is important for two reasons:
- Although it doesn’t decrease the amount of fat you have on your lower back directly, adding size to your upper back, shoulders, and chest makes your midriff—including the fat on your lower back—appear smaller.
- Most people who want to get rid of lower back fat focus exclusively on doing exercises that train their lower back. The problem with this is, if you only train your lower back and neglect your other upper-body muscle groups, there’s a good chance you’ll develop muscle imbalances.
By doing exercises that develop your upper back, shoulders, and chest in addition to exercises that train your lower back, you’ll ensure you build a proportionate and injury-free upper body.
The best exercises for training your upper back are the . . .
The best exercises for training your chest are the . . .
The best exercises for training your shoulders are the . . .
The best way to include cardio in a weight loss regimen is to do as little as needed to reach your desired rate of weight loss and stay fit, and no more.
For best results . . .
- Do at least two low- to moderate-intensity cardio workouts per week of 20-to-60 minutes each.
- Do one HIIT workout per week if you enjoy it.
- Don’t do more than 2-to-3 hours of cardio per week. You can do more than this, but this increases the chances of it interfering with your weightlifting workouts.
- Do your cardio and weightlifting on separate days if possible, and if you have to do them on the same day, lift weights first and try to separate the two workouts by at least 6 hours.
The deadlift trains every muscle on the back side of your body (including your lower back) and allows you to use some of the heaviest weights in any of your workouts, which means it’s ideal for gaining strength and muscle, and burning a ton of calories.
- Position your feet so they’re a bit less than shoulder-width apart with your toes pointed slightly out. Move a loaded barbell over your midfoot so it’s about an inch from your shins.
- Move down toward the bar by pushing your hips back and grip the bar just outside your shins.
- Take a deep breath of air into your belly, flatten your back by pushing your hips up slightly, and then drive your body upward and slightly back by pushing through your heels until you’re standing up straight.
- Reverse the movement and return to the starting position.
2. Back Squat
The back squat is hands down the most effective leg exercise you can do. It also allows you to use heavy weights, which means it’s highly effective for building muscle and losing fat.
- Position a barbell in a squat rack at about the height of the top of your breast bone.
- Step under the bar, pinch your shoulder blades together, and rest the bar directly above the bony ridges on the bottom of your shoulder blades.
- Lift the bar out of the rack, take one or two steps backward, and place your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart with your toes pointing slightly outward.
- Sit down and remember to keep your back straight and push your knees out in the same direction as your toes throughout each rep.
- Stand up and return to the starting position
3. Front Squat
Research shows that the front squat trains the quads just as effectively as the back squat, even when you use up to 20% less weight. What’s more, research also shows that the front squat places considerably less compressive forces on your knees and lower back, which make it a particularly good alternative to back squats for people who have knee or back issues.
- Position a barbell in a squat rack at about the height of your breast bone (usually an inch or two higher than you would for the barbell squat).
- Grab the bar with a shoulder-width grip and your palms facing away from you.
- Step closer to the bar so that it presses against the top of your breast bone and push your elbows up and out in front of the bar.
- With the bar resting on the front of your shoulders and held in place by your hands, lift it out of the rack, take one or two steps backward, and place your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart with your toes pointing slightly outward.
- Sit down and remember to keep your back straight, elbows up, and push your knees out in the same direction as your toes throughout each rep.
- Stand up and return to the starting position.
The incline barbell bench press is one of the single best exercises for building your pecs, triceps, and deltoids. This is important because it adds size to the upper part of your torso which makes your waist (and lower back fat) appear smaller.
- Lie on a bench that’s angled at 30-to-45 degrees and place your feet flat on the floor.
- Pull your shoulder blades together and down, and without lifting your butt or shoulders off the bench, slightly arch your back.
- Grab the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, take a deep breath, brace your core, and unrack the barbell.
- Bring the barbell to your upper chest, making sure to keep your elbows tucked at about a 45-degree angle relative to your body.
- When the bar touches your chest, explosively press the bar back to the starting position.
As well as improving upper body strength, chest, shoulder, and tricep size, the overhead press develops your whole-body balance and coordination.
- Set a barbell in a rack at the same height as your upper chest. Grip the bar with a shoulder-width grip and your palms facing away from you.
- Unrack the barbell and take a small step backwards with each foot, keeping your wrists stacked over your elbows, and your elbows tucked close to your sides.
- Plant your feet just outside of shoulder-width, brace your core, squeeze your glutes, and push the bar off your chest toward the ceiling.
- Once your arms are straight and your elbows are locked out, reverse the movement to return to the starting position.
6. Barbell Row
Because you can generally lift more weight with the barbell row than you can with other barbell back exercises, it’s a great exercise for adding size to your upper back. This is important because having a thick upper back makes your midriff appear smaller.
- Position your feet under a loaded barbell about shoulder-width apart with your toes pointed slightly outward.
- Bend over and grab the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip and with your palms facing toward you. Straighten your back and raise your hips until your back is roughly parallel to the floor.
- Initiate the movement by driving through your legs, then, using the momentum generated by your lower body, pull the barbell to your upper body, touching it anywhere between your lower chest and belly button.
- Once the bar touches your body, reverse the movement and return to the starting position.
The lat pulldown is an excellent exercise for training your lats, biceps, and traps, especially for beginners who struggle to do chin-ups and pull-ups.
- Adjust the thigh pad of a lat pulldown machine so that it locks your lower body in place.
- Stand up and grab the bar.
- While keeping your grip on the bar and your arms straight, sit down, allowing your body weight to pull the bar down with you. Nudge your thighs under the thigh pads and plant your feet flat on the floor.
- Pull the bar toward your chest. Once the bar is underneath your chin (or touches your chest, if you want to make the exercise harder).
- Reverse the movement and return to the starting position.
(Tip: a helpful cue for this exercise is to imagine pulling your elbows into the floor).
The dumbbell side lateral raise isolates the lateral (side) head of the deltoids, which is important if you want your shoulders to have full, proportionate development.
- Stand up straight with a dumbbell in each hand.
- Keeping your back straight and your core tight, raise the dumbbells out to the side until your upper arm is parallel to the floor. You don’t have to keep your arms perfectly straight—having a small bend in your elbows is normally more comfortable.
- Reverse the movement and return to the starting position.
The dumbbell rear lateral raise is a great exercise for training your rear delts, which are small, stubborn muscles that often need a bit of extra attention if you want them to grow as quickly as your other shoulder muscles.
- Whether standing or seated, bend at the hips so that your upper body is as close to parallel to the ground as possible.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand, and while keeping your back flat, lift the dumbbells out to the side until your upper arm is parallel to the ground.
- You don’t have to keep your arms perfectly straight—having a small bend in your elbows is normally more comfortable.
- Reverse the movement to return to the starting position.
10. Battle Ropes
Battle ropes are no better than any other form of cardio for burning lower back fat. However, research shows they can be effective for building the muscles of your shoulders and upper back, and when these muscles are well developed, they can help to make your waist look slimmer.
Repeat this circuit three times for a total of 20 minutes of exercise.
- Double-Arm Slams: 20 sec at 90% of your max effort then 1 min rest.
- Alternating Single-Arm Waves: 20 sec at 90% of your max effort then 1 min rest.
- Side to Side Waves: 20 sec at 90% of your max effort then 1 min rest.
- Double Outside Circles: 20 sec at 90% of your max effort then 1 min rest.
- In and Out Waves: 20 sec at 90% of your max effort then 1 min rest.
If you want to kick the intensity up a notch, reduce your rest time to 40 seconds between exercises, or if you really want to push the envelope, use a 1:1 work to rest ratio—20 seconds on, then 20 seconds off.
Like most forms of cardio, cycling is a great way to burn extra calories (and thus lower your body fat percentage). However, cycling is a particularly good option for people who lift weights because it’s easier to recover from than other forms of cardio like running, which means it doesn’t interfere with your weightlifting workouts.
- On an exercise bike, do a 1-minute sprint at about 90% of your max effort followed by 1 minute of active recovery.
- Repeat 10 times for a total of 20 minutes of exercise.
Or, if you’d prefer to do a lower-intensity workout, spend 30-to-60 minutes cycling at a moderate pace.
Rucking is a great option for people who want to lower their body fat percentage because it burns a heap of calories, it’s easier on your body than other forms of cardio, and it doesn’t interfere with muscle growth.
Add 30 pounds to a backpack or rucksack, then put it on and spend 30-to-60 minutes walking at 3-to-4 miles per hour.
+ Scientific References
- JE, E.-B., DN, P., K, Z., & KT, E. (2020). The effects of military style ruck marching on lower extremity loading and muscular, physiological and perceived exertion in ROTC cadets. Ergonomics, 63(5), 629–638. https://doi.org/10.1080/00140139.2020.1745900
- Van Dijk, J. (n.d.). Chapter 3-COMMON MILITARY TASK: MARCHING. Retrieved October 4, 2021, from https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.214.8896&rep=rep1&type=pdf
- JM, W., PJ, M., MR, R., SM, W., JP, L., & JC, A. (2012). Concurrent training: a meta-analysis examining interference of aerobic and resistance exercises. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(8), 2293–2307. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0B013E31823A3E2D
- GY, M., & R, L. (2004). Alterations of neuromuscular function after prolonged running, cycling and skiing exercises. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 34(2), 105–116. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200434020-00004
- Austin Salzgeber, John P. Porcari, Charlend Howard, Blaine E. Arney, Attila Kovacs, Cordial Gillette, & Carl Foster. (n.d.). Muscle Activation during Several Battle Rope Exercises - IJREP - International Journal of Research in Exercise Physiology. Retrieved October 4, 2021, from https://ijrep.org/muscle-activation-during-several-battle-rope-exercises/
- JC, G., MD, T., GM, G., & JW, C. (2009). A biomechanical comparison of back and front squats in healthy trained individuals. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23(1), 284–292. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0B013E31818546BB
- HU, Y., D, E., AM, A., & S, A. (2015). Kinematic and EMG activities during front and back squat variations in maximum loads. Journal of Sports Sciences, 33(10), 1058–1066. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2014.984240
- Page, P. (2011). SHOULDER MUSCLE IMBALANCE AND SUBACROMIAL IMPINGEMENT SYNDROME IN OVERHEAD ATHLETES. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 6(1), 51. /pmc/articles/PMC3105366/
- JO, M., NA, R., BC, N., LA, G., JS, V., K, D., JA, B., AL, G., SA, M., SJ, F., K, H., RU, N., & WJ, K. (2001). Low-volume circuit versus high-volume periodized resistance training in women. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 33(4), 635–643. https://doi.org/10.1097/00005768-200104000-00019
- PT, F., & AG, C. N. (2011). The effect of between-set rest intervals on the oxygen uptake during and after resistance exercise sessions performed with large- and small-muscle mass. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(11), 3181–3190. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0B013E318212E415
- IG, F., A, C., S, T., MG, N., AZ, J., II, D., I, P., PM, T., K, T., G, M., & A, M. (2009). Intensity of resistance exercise determines adipokine and resting energy expenditure responses in overweight elderly individuals. Diabetes Care, 32(12), 2161–2167. https://doi.org/10.2337/DC08-1994
- B, S., F, D., & JW, H. (2007). Are blood flow and lipolysis in subcutaneous adipose tissue influenced by contractions in adjacent muscles in humans? American Journal of Physiology. Endocrinology and Metabolism, 292(2). https://doi.org/10.1152/AJPENDO.00215.2006
- SS, V., JD, S., JD, L., & KS, H. (2011). The effect of abdominal exercise on abdominal fat. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(9), 2559–2564. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0B013E3181FB4A46
- M J Millan, A Newman-Tancredi, V Audinot, D Cussac, F Lejeune, J P Nicolas, F Cogé, J P Galizzi, J A Boutin, J M Rivet, A Dekeyne, & A Gobert. (n.d.). Agonist and antagonist actions of yohimbine as compared to fluparoxan at alpha(2)-adrenergic receptors (AR)s, serotonin (5-HT)(1A), 5-HT(1B), 5-HT(1D) and dopamine D(2) and D(3) receptors. Significance for the modulation of frontocortical monoaminergic transmission and depressive states - PubMed. Retrieved October 4, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10611634/
- SM, O. (2006). Yohimbine: the effects on body composition and exercise performance in soccer players. Research in Sports Medicine (Print), 14(4), 289–299. https://doi.org/10.1080/15438620600987106
- TW, B., TJ, H., RJ, S., GO, J., DJ, H., JW, C., & MH, M. (2006). The acute effects of a caffeine-containing supplement on strength, muscular endurance, and anaerobic capabilities. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 20(3), 506–510. https://doi.org/10.1519/18285.1
- TA, A., RL, R., & K, F. (2008). Effect of caffeine ingestion on one-repetition maximum muscular strength. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 102(2), 127–132. https://doi.org/10.1007/S00421-007-0557-X
- A, A., S, T., S, C., P, H., L, B., & J, M. (1990). Caffeine: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of its thermogenic, metabolic, and cardiovascular effects in healthy volunteers. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 51(5), 759–767. https://doi.org/10.1093/AJCN/51.5.759
- HT, H., JJ, H., J, I., H, K., R, P., T, K., K, M., & AA, M. (2015). Body composition and power performance improved after weight reduction in male athletes without hampering hormonal balance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 29(1), 29–36. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000000619
- KN, M., F, K., & KN, F. (2012). Marked resistance of femoral adipose tissue blood flow and lipolysis to adrenaline in vivo. Diabetologia, 55(11), 3029–3037. https://doi.org/10.1007/S00125-012-2676-0
- AD, S. (1993). Structure, function, and regulation of adrenergic receptors. Protein Science : A Publication of the Protein Society, 2(8), 1198–1209. https://doi.org/10.1002/PRO.5560020802
- RJ, L. (1979). Direct binding studies of adrenergic receptors: biochemical, physiologic, and clinical implications. Annals of Internal Medicine, 91(3), 450–458. https://doi.org/10.7326/0003-4819-91-3-450
- P, A. (1999). Catecholamine-induced lipolysis in obesity. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders : Journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 23 Suppl 1, 10–13. https://doi.org/10.1038/SJ.IJO.0800789
- Furnham, A., Tan, T., & McManus, C. (1997). Waist-to-hip ratio and preferences for body shape: A replication and extension. Personality and Individual Differences, 22(4), 539–549. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0191-8869(96)00241-3