Blog Fitness Does Waist Size Increase With Muscle: Unpacking The Truth

Does Waist Size Increase With Muscle: Unpacking The Truth

Does waist size increase with muscle? This is a question that someone who has recently started working out may find themselves asking. You may wonder about this after realizing that your ab and core workouts are not giving you the desired results. 

After all, ab workouts should make your waistline smaller, right? If this describes you, you should know that you’re not alone. In fact, this is a common question and occurrence. Let’s take a look at if, how, and why muscle growth may make your waist bigger.

Does Gaining Muscle Increase Waist Size?

Unfortunately, yes it can. But how does this happen? It’s a common misconception that doing multiple abs and core exercises will burn or melt your fat away. However, this is not true. 

While working out in general helps burn calories, targeted workouts such as ab exercises do not do this alone. Instead, they help build and grow already existing muscles.

While you may not see them, you already have ab/core muscles. They’re just not as pronounced as they’re hidden beneath a layer of fat. If you have a lower body fat percentage, the muscles aren’t as big and that’s why you can’t see them.

When you exercise your core, your muscles will start to grow under the already existing layer of fat. The growth of muscles, coupled with the fat in your body, may make your waistline bigger. The only way to get rid of this effect is not to stop working out, but to give attention to and change your eating habits while increasing your daily calorie burn from movement.

What Muscles Make Your Waist Bigger?

The oblique muscles are the biggest culprit when it comes to a bigger waistline due to muscle growth. 

According to The Mayo Clinic, the core is made up of 29 pairs of muscles. These muscles are compacted in a ‘box’ that starts from the diaphragm all the way down to the pelvic floor and girdle of muscles around the hips (4). Of these 29 pairs, fitness is majorly concerned with 5 (or 6 depending on how you count them) major muscles, namely (3):

  • Rectus abdominis – Aka the abs or the six-pack muscles. They start midway down your ribs and stretch down the front of your body to your pelvic bone.
  • Internal and external obliques – These muscles can be counted as one or two. The external obliques start midway down your ribcage and stretch to your hips on each side of your body. They’re nestled right under the external obliques. The obliques work hand in hand and they’re the main muscles you use when twisting or bending to the side.
  • Transversus abdominis – This is the deepest of all the abdominal muscles. Also known as the ‘corset’ muscle, it runs from the rib cage down to the pelvis and wraps around the trunk from front to back.
  • Lumbar multifidus – These muscles run along the spine. They work together with the transversus abdominis and pelvic floor muscles for spine stability. Weak lumbar multifidus is associated with chronic lower-back pain.
  • Erector spinae – They run up the back from the hips. They’re responsible for posture and allowing you to bend backward, side to side, or stand up straight.
See also
What Are The Thruster Muscles That Are Worked, And How Will This Exercise Benefit You?

When it comes to ‘does waist size increase with muscle?’ the obliques are often the main culprit. Because of their location, when they get bigger due to exercise, they may make the waistline appear bulkier instead of narrow as many people want.

BetterMe App helps you achieve your body goals with ease and efficiency by helping to choose proper meal plans and effective workouts. Start using our app and you will see good results in a short time.

Does Your Waist Naturally Get Bigger?

Yes, it can. Some reasons why your waist may be getting bigger include:

  1. Increased visceral fat due to a bad diet, poor sleeping habits, and lack of exercise.
  2. Age – As we age, we lose muscle mass as well as elastin and collagen in our skin. Looser abdominal muscle and saggy skin can make the waistline expand even without weight gain (1).
  3. Increased stress – Research has shown that the higher your stress levels, the more likely you are to gain weight and have a bigger waist (15, 16).

Other factors such as hormonal imbalances, increased alcohol intake, and pregnancy can all lead to your waist getting bigger.

does waist size increase with muscle

What Muscle Makes Your Waist Smaller?

Some sources say that in order to reduce your waist size, it’s best to concentrate on working your ab muscles and your obliques. We say that a smaller waist is more about your body fat percentage rather than the core muscles themselves.

While bigger core muscles can make your jeans fit a little tighter around the waistline, the change is neither big nor drastic. The biggest culprit of a larger waist is fat. So, if you want a smaller waist, you should do exercises that help with calorie burning – which equates to fat burning – and you’ll see changes.

See also
Walking With Weighted Vest: The Ultimate Guide

Research has shown that high-intensity intermittent exercise, high-intensity interval training, or simply high-intensity exercises are the best for losing belly fat (14, 6, 10). Examples include stationary cardio circuits, running/cycling circuits, and strength-based circuit training.

Strength training exercises such as squats, lunge jumps, push-ups, and pull-ups can also work as HIIT if they’re done at a faster pace. You can also do exercises that combine cardio and strength training such as burpees, mountain climbers, jumping jacks, and high knees to meet your goals.

These are much better at making the waist smaller than targeted core workouts.

How Can I Stop My Waist Getting Bigger?

How can I slim my waist? This is an issue that bothers many women who are working out and cannot seem to achieve their desired hourglass figure. It’s also an issue with men who want to have a trimmer waist.

The two main things you can do to keep your waist from getting bigger are:

1. Fix your diet – While an hourglass figure diet is not really a thing – this figure is more due to genetics than diet or exercise – there are some foods you can add to your diet that will help you get a trimmer figure and waistline. 

These include fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and healthy fats. It’s also important to mind your portions. Eating too much can lead to an increase in body weight and visceral fat, two things that contribute to the dreaded muffin top.

2. Avoid certain, but not all core exercises – Exercise in general is great for a trimmer waist. As explained, working out burns calories, which helps give you a leaner physique and a smaller waistline – both cardio and strength training are fantastic for this. However, some targeted core exercises can lead to increased muscle mass and make the waist bigger – specifically those that target the obliques.

Examples of such exercises you should avoid in order to stop and hopefully reverse this waist-thickening process include:

Weighted side bends

This exercise targets the love handles. The workout and the added weight will make the obliques larger, thereby increasing your waistline.

See also
Look Stunning In The New Eye-Catching Tummy Control Wide Leg Pants

Weighted Crunches

While regular crunches can be considered to be an okay option, adding weights to them is not advisable. This is because the extra weight forces your rectus abdominis – aka ‘six-pack’ abs – to work double time. Eventually, your six-pack will stand out more, increasing your waistline and making your waist look larger.

Cable wood chops

This workout is usually done using a kettlebell, dumbbell, medicine ball, or cable machine.

For anyone who wants to grow their obliques or side abs, they are a great addition to any routine. However, if you desire an hourglass figure or even just a smaller waist in general, then it may be best to avoid them. The best core exercises for a slim waist are isometric exercises such as planks, side planks, and hollow body holds. 

Read more: 9 Keto Dumpling Recipe That’ll Leave You With More Taste, Less Waist

How Do You Shrink Your Waist When Building Muscle?

Thankfully, some workouts are known to be more effective than others in slimming the waist. Some fantastic examples of workouts that are great for your core without the undesired effect of making your waist bigger include (17):

Lying leg raises

  • Lie on your back, legs straight and together.
  • Keep your legs straight and lift them all the way up to the ceiling until your butt comes off the floor.
  • Slowly lower your legs back down until they’re just above the floor. Don’t let them touch the floor.
  • Hold this position for a moment and then raise your legs back up and repeat.

Hanging Leg Raises

This alternative is a more advanced version to the lying leg raise. This exercise is also fantastic for increasing grip strength.

  • Grab a bar that’s high above your head – preferably one that’s far enough up that your arms are straight and your feet are off the ground.
  • Engage your abs and hip flexors to lift your feet off the ground by raising your legs outward in front of you.
  • Exhale as you lift your legs and ensure that the legs remain straight. Don’t bend them at the knees.
  • Note that while the aim of this exercise is to raise the legs to a 90-degree angle or higher, don’t overwork yourself. Raise your legs to a position you feel comfortable with.
  • Slowly lower your legs back down to a vertical body position while inhaling.
  • Do this 10 to 15 times (or more) depending on your core strength.
See also
Walking 8 Miles: Calories Burned And How To Maximize The Effect

Lunge Twist

  • With your feet hip-distance apart, lift your arms straight out in front of you and clasp them together.
  • Lunge forward with your right leg and rotate your arms and torso to the right.
  • Step back to the standing position and repeat the move with your left leg. Remember to only twist your torso, not your entire body.
  • Repeat this move 10 to 16 times.

does waist size increase with muscle  

Toe Taps

  • Lie on your back on a yoga or gym mat with your hands on either side of your torso.
  • Lift your legs and bend your knees so they’re right over your hips and your shins are parallel to the floor.
  • Engage your core by contracting your belly to pull your navel to your spine. Slowly lower your right foot and leg to tap the floor.
  • Remember to maintain the 90-degree bend in your knee as you lower. Return your right leg to the start and repeat with your left leg.
  • Alternate for 30 to 60 seconds

Please note that you should consult your doctor before you attempt any of the above exercises. This is even more important when it comes to people with chronic or unstable health conditions, asthma, or any other respiratory ailment, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, or diabetes (5).

If you wish to free yourself from all the extra pounds that have been weighting you down for way too long, start using the BetterMe app and overhaul your entire life!

Does Ab Training Increase Your Waist Size?

Yes, it can. However, other causes are more likely than your core exercises. Some culprits of a bigger waist while exercising are:

Muscle growth under a layer of fat

As previously stated, core exercises don’t miraculously melt or burn fat. When you do core exercises, you build and grow the muscles that are hiding under the fat and this may temporarily make your waist bigger. 

However, if you lose this top layer of fat, your waist will be smaller despite the muscle growth. Remember while it may weigh the same as fat, muscle occupies a much smaller space.

Eating more calories than you burn

Making healthier food choices and watching your portions and calorie intake (19) will go further toward fat loss than working out. It doesn’t matter whether you do a combination of sit-ups, crunches, planks, and other core workouts on a daily basis. If you eat more calories than you burn, your waist will grow despite your intense ab workout routine.

See also
Static Vs Dynamic Stretching: Understanding The Difference

A lot can be fixed regarding calorie intake and extra fat. To curb the stomach bulge, you should:

  1. Eat a healthy diet – Focus on plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Choose lean sources of protein such as fish and low-fat dairy products. Limit saturated fat, which is found in meat and high-fat dairy products such as cheese and butter.
  2. Keep portion sizes in check – Calories don’t only count when you’re eating unhealthy foods such as pizza, burgers, pastries, french fries, and other deep-fried foods. 

Eating an excessive amount of calories from healthy meal options is also detrimental to your waist size. Take note of your usual calorie intake and cut it by at least 500 calories. A caloric deficit is essential for cutting down on body and stomach fat.

3. Replace sugary beverages – Energy drinks, sodas, and pre-packaged fruit juices are not the best for you and your waistline as they’re full of added sugar. Instead of purchasing these, opt for water. You can even infuse it with a bit of fresh fruit to give it some added flavor.

4. Workout – Not just ab and core workouts. Incorporate full-body workouts such as cardio and HIIT training that will make you sweat and burn more calories. You require at least 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. Simple examples include walking, jogging, taking part in a dance or Zumba class, joining a circuit training class, or doing strength training (18).

Read more: Tackling Menopause Belly: Strategies for a Trim Waistline in 2023

does waist size increase with muscle  


  • Does waist size increase when lifting?

Yes, waist size can increase due to weight lifting. Strength training breaks muscle fibers that then grow bigger and stronger after rest and an adequate intake of protein. 

Building your core muscles will make these muscles more pronounced and slightly increase your waist size. However, this isn’t typically very noticeable and can be easily fixed by reducing your body fat percentage. You get to keep the abs and reduce an extra inch off the waistline.

  • How does working the obliques increase waist size?

Due to the location of the obliques (the ‘love handle’ area of the midsection), targeting them during exercise can cause them to grow, thereby making your waist bigger and broader. Please note that this doesn’t mean you should stop exercising your obliques.

These muscles are quite important to your overall core strength, and you’re advised to keep them in tip-top shape. It should be clear that it’s best to choose to avoid weights when working on your love handles (3).

  • Is waist size genetic?

Yes, it is. Two studies from 1998 and 1999 showed that aside from lifestyle and environmental factors, waist size is also highly influenced by your genes (9, 8).

This could explain why despite doing all the core workouts, some people can’t get an hourglass figure and some people tend to hold their weight in their stomach more than others.

  • Do squats increase waist size?

No, they don’t. Squats are largely a lower-body workout that targets your gluteus, quadriceps, hamstrings, adductor, hip flexors, and calves. Doing squats constantly will make these muscles bigger. 

Fun fact: squats also target the core muscles – specifically the rectus abdominis and erector spinae, albeit not directly. This helps increase core strength, which helps with balance.

  • How many pounds to lose an inch?

For the average person to lose an inch from around their waist, they should look to lose approximately 4 lbs (1.8 kgs) from their weight (11).

  • Can micro workouts build muscle?

Yes, they can. Research has shown that mini/micro workouts can build muscle, improve your health, and prevent long-term sickness (13, 7, 12)

The Bottom Line: Does Waist Size Increase With Muscle? 

Yes, it can. Core workouts build bigger muscles, which can increase the size of your waistline. However, this shouldn’t deter you from exercising. It’s a temporary and fixable situation that’ll go away if you eat the right foods and choose the right workouts.

You should also keep in mind that weights are not your enemy. While weighted oblique workouts can have some undesirable effects, they’re still quite important for strengthening and improving balance. Use lighter weights for this area or stick to doing body weight exercises if you’re worried. 


This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!


  1. Ask the doctor: My waist has expanded but I haven’t gained weight. Is this because I’ve stopped wearing a belt? (2015,
  2. Can Oblique Exercises Make the Waist Wider? (2019,
  3. Core Muscle Activity during Physical Fitness Exercises: A Systematic Review (2020,
  4. Core Muscle Strength — Why it’s Important to Maintain (2012,
  5. Do you need to see a doctor before starting your exercise program? (2012,
  6. Effect of Exercise Training on Fat Loss—Energetic Perspectives and the Role of Improved Adipose Tissue Function and Body Fat Distribution (2021,
  7. Effects of long versus short bout exercise on fitness and weight loss in overweight females (2001,
  8. Genetic and behavioral determinants of waist-hip ratio and waist circumference in women twins (1998,
  9. Genetic and environmental influences on waist-to-hip ratio and waist circumference in an older Swedish twin population (1999,
  10. High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss (2011,
  11. Lose an inch off your waist in a week by following these simple steps (2023,
  12. Potential of micro-exercise to prevent long-term sickness absence in the general working population: prospective cohort study with register follow-up (2022,
  13. Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy but Not Strength in Trained Men (2019,
  14. Scientific Challenges on Theory of Fat Burning by Exercise (2021,
  15. Socioeconomic position, stress, and cortisol in relation to waist circumference in African American and white women (2010,
  16. Stress-related changes in body form – Results from the Whitehall II study (2017,
  17. The Ab Exercise Women Shouldn’t Do (2021,
  18.  The Truth About Belly Fat (2011,
  19. Why Is My Waist Getting Bigger With Exercise? (n.d,
  20. Will Abdominal Exercises Make My Stomach Stick Out More? (2019, 
150 million people
have chosen BetterMe

Love that the exercises are programmed…

Love that the exercises are programmed for age and ability. Quite honestly its great to have reminders to drink water, eat and weigh in etc.

An intelligent program

José S.
The exercises were intelligently planned to gradually check the limits of the practitioner. They make me sweat a lot and seem to be great to boost metabolism. I am surprised by their efficiency.

Great app

Being able to exercise in my own time and having a chance to see the results relatively quickly compared to once a week sessions at the gym gave me the drive to keep on following the routine. I love this app