Six packs, love handles, and muffin tops are all terms used to refer to the mid-section or “core.” If you’ve had a hard time transforming your “muffin top” and “love handles” to a firm mid-section find your problem in the list below and follow the solution! Through my 10 years of training people to reach their fitness goals, these are tried and tested, be aware for positive results.


What is your “core?”

Consider your “core” the entire mid-section of your body, this include your sides as well as mid-low back.

Problem # 1 – “I Don’t Feel It in my Abs”

Think of core strength like a pyramid. If the base is weak, the higher layers will be even weaker due to an unsupportive foundation. You may be able to do difficult ab exercises like leg raises or double leg V sit ups but if you don’t have a strong base of core strength, you aren’t really working your abs instead probably using a combination of your low back and momentum.

 Solution: First Improve Core Stability

You may be able to do the more advanced core exercises but in order to work your abs effectively (and avoid a low back injury) it is essential to make sure you have good core stability. Here are exercises you can do to improve your core stability:


           The goal of this exercise is to keep abs tight while holding the hips up, back straight position.


Time yourself to build up holding for 1 minute. If you feel low back tension, take a rest and then repeat.

Level 1: Plank On Knees (less difficult)

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Level 2 Plank On Toes (more difficult)
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Bird Dog

        The goal of this exercise is to minimize the shift in your hips as you reach out opposite arm and leg.


This exercise not only helps with core stability but also improve low back strength.


Level 1 – Bird Dog on all 4’s
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Level 2 – Bird Dog on Stability Ball

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Being able to do these exercises correctly is essential to building a strong core and also avoiding low back injuries.

Problem #2 “I Can Do 200 Sit Ups Though!”

If you are doing sit-ups to get rid of your “muffin top” unfortunately this will not do the job. The “muffin top” is an accumulation of fat around the mid-section.

If you are doing sit-ups to get a stronger core that is fine but my belief is that if you can do 200 of anything chances are it’s really not stimulating your muscles much.


Solution: Mix It Up!

I have nothing against crunches/sit-ups; in fact I think different variations (i.e. on a Stability ball, or balance disc) can be great ab burners. To trim the “muffin top:

  1.  Do compound exercises (i.e. squat and press, lunge and burpees): These exercise involve multiple muscle groups and are challenging so they will get your heart rate up – which is what is needed to trim the muffin top and build a strong core. Jumping rope is also a great fat burning exercise!

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2.  Don’t forget about all the other muscles that are part of your mid-section.

Here are core exercises to include in order engaging other core muscles.

Ball Side Crunches

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Side Plank

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Medicine Ball Woodchops

Problem #3 “But I Use the Ab Machine all the time!”

I sometimes see people doing 40, 60, 100lbs on an ab machine and then I take a closer look and confirm they are mostly using their arms, or momentum, or anything but their abs. Get away from the machines and use your core like it’s meant to be used.

Solution: Do Body Weighted Exercises

All body-weighted exercises engage your core. They are challenging and effective. Practice them regularly and you will see a major improvement in your core strength. Oh and stay away from the machines as much as possible!

Here is a list of exercises that largely engage core muscles:

Pushups (for a less difficult version, try doing pushups on steps)

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Bicycle Crunches
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Hand Plankon medicine ball

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Alternating V Sit ups with light hand weight

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Problem #4 “I Don’t Know How to Use the fancy core equipment”

Solution: Replace Benches with Stability Balls

Start by keeping it simple: Adding stability equipment such as stability balls to your exercises is more challenging and engages more core muscles. For example instead of doing a dumbbell chest fly on a bench, try doing it on a stability ball instead, and if you find it too challenging to balance on the stability ball, start with using a Bosu Ball.

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Problem # 5: “But I eat clean!”

Solution: Ask a professional for advice

Find a great sports nutrition expert or fitness professional to take a look at your diet. Your perception or your coworker’s perception of clean eating could be different. Also, your body is different from anyone else’s so change up your diet and get the right plan for your body. After all, the only way you can expect to see change is by making change!

Building a strong core is more than just about sit-ups. Use these 5 solutions and incorporate atleast 1 technique into each workout day. First establish a strong foundation. Once you have good core stability, the body weight exercises will cause your core muscles to fire and get stronger. In addition, incorporating compound exercises will burn the fat around the mid-section.

Good luck with these and as always feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions!

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Asma Kassam
Asma is a Registered Kinesiologist and Personal Trainer at AK Fitness Inc. She teaches bootcamps, personal training and active rehabilitation. She trains at a studio in Burnaby—Capitol Hill Athletics—as well as a studio in Downtown Vancouver. She is also passionate about nutrition as is a Certified Sports Nutrition Advisor. Visit my webpage at