Does Running Give You Abs? 6 Tips To Get That Six-Pack

6 Coach-Approved Tips For Building That Six Pack.

There are many physical and mental health benefits of running, which is why people follow a running routine for all sorts of reasons, ranging from building muscle and reducing the risk of lifestyle diseases to decreasing stress and improving self-esteem.

As a certified personal trainer and running coach for over 15 years, I have also found that weight loss—in particular, losing belly fat and getting six-pack abs—is another common motivator to run and do other forms of cardio cross-training workouts.

So, does running give you abs? Yes and no. Running can give you abs, but running alone may not be enough to build abs and see visible abs.

In this guide, we will answer your question: can you get abs from running and give you our top tips to help you get the abs you’ve always wanted.

A person with six-pack abs.

Does Running Give You Abs?

So, what exactly does it mean when someone asks: “Can running give you abs?”

Generally, this question refers to wondering if running will give you visible abs, or what many people call “six-pack abs.” 

“Having abs” means you have defined sections in the rectus abdominis muscle, which is the abdominal muscle that runs down the center of your abdomen, as well as sculpted or noticeable creases around the obliques (the abdominal muscles on the sides of your torso) tapering down towards your groin.

Running to get abs is a motivating force for some individuals, while other people seek to get chiseled abdominal muscles through sit-ups, crunches, and core exercises.

However, no matter how many miles you run or sit-ups you do, you’re not going to see any definition in your abs unless your body fat percentage is low enough and you do strengthening exercises to build abs muscles.

Essentially, even if you have strong abdominal muscles, if they are covered in a layer of belly fat, you won’t be able to see muscle definition or muscle tone through the subcutaneous fat layer around your midsection.

Therefore, in order to have visible abs, you have to have the right body composition—little total body fat (and abdominal fat specifically) and strong core muscles.

Note that the body fat percentage needed to see six-pack abs or good definition in your abdominal muscles is about 6-13% for men and 14-20% for women.

However, there is plenty of variability due to differences in height, body weight, build/somatotype, and body fat distribution.

A person with six-pack abs.

How Can I Get Six-Pack Abs?

As mentioned, the key to getting abs from running—or any form of exercise—is having a low body fat percentage so that you do not have a significant amount of subcutaneous fat and deep visceral fat1Smith, G. I., Mittendorfer, B., & Klein, S. (2019). Metabolically healthy obesity: facts and fantasies. Journal of Clinical Investigation129(10), 3978–3989. https://doi.org/10.1172/jci129186 or “belly fat“ covering up your abdominal muscles.

Your body fat percentage refers to the makeup of your body, so it is a measure of your body fat (adipose tissue) mass versus lean body mass (muscle, bone, connective tissues, basically everything other than adipose cells).

If you’re following a running training plan where you are doing a lot of different types of running workouts and core exercises and strength training exercises to build abs but you still can’t see your abs, you have a higher body fat percentage and need to lose fat before you will see muscle tone in your abs.

Although running can be a good way to lose weight, there’s an undeniable truth to the popular saying that “Abs are made in the kitchen.” 

Your daily diet will largely impact your fat loss results, as well as other factors that affect your body composition and belly fat or fat distribution.

In order to lose body fat, you need to generate a modest calorie deficit, which means you need to consume fewer calories a day than you are burning on a regular basis.

You will lose one pound of fat for every 3,500-calorie deficit you create.

If you think about this number of calories in the context of losing one pound of fat per week, this would entail generating a caloric deficit of 500 calories per day.

This can be created by eating less, exercising more, or both.

Running, like all forms of physical activity, burns calories, so it factors into the calorie-burning side of the weight loss equation.

Furthermore, the good news is that studies suggest2Beaulieu, K., Hopkins, M., Blundell, J., & Finlayson, G. (2018). Homeostatic and non-homeostatic appetite control along the spectrum of physical activity levels: An updated perspective. Physiology and Behavior192, 23–29. https://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/126090/ that exercise, such as running, may help control appetite, potentially helping you stick with your diet goals.

A person with six-pack abs.

How Do I Get Abs From Running?

You can’t spot reduce fat, which is why just performing lots of ab workouts with ab exercises like crunches, sit-ups, and planks that isolate the rectus abdominis, obliques, and transversus abdominis, won’t help you lose belly fat any faster or more drastically than elsewhere in the body.

Body fat is lost fairly evenly around the body, not at a specific site, and doing sit-ups doesn’t “burn belly fat” just because you’re flexing your stomach.

Similarly, even though running does provide a core workout by engaging the core muscles, the primary benefit of “running to get abs” is that running is a high-intensity exercise and increases your heart rate, so it is a good form of exercise for weight loss.

The type of running workouts that you do, the duration of your runs, and the speed or pace of your running workouts will impact the calories burned running.

Here are some tips for getting abs with running:

A person running.

#1: Run Enough

The key to losing weight through running, cross-training with other types of cardiovascular exercise,3Kolnes, K. J., Petersen, M. H., Lien-Iversen, T., Højlund, K., & Jensen, J. (2021). Effect of Exercise Training on Fat Loss—Energetic Perspectives and the Role of Improved Adipose Tissue Function and Body Fat Distribution. Frontiers in Physiology12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2021.737709 and strength training workouts is consistency.

Running 30 minutes once or twice a week isn’t going to help create a significant caloric deficit for weight loss.

Instead, you want to ensure you’re doing cardio at least 4-5 days per week for a minimum of 30-45 minutes and potentially up to 60 minutes, depending on the intensity.

#2: Try Interval Training

Incorporate intervals of high-intensity running into your running workouts once or twice a week to help stoke your metabolism and support fat loss.4Coker, R. H., Williams, R. H., Kortebein, P. M., Sullivan, D. H., & Evans, W. J. (2009). Influence of Exercise Intensity on Abdominal Fat and Adiponectin in Elderly Adults. Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders7(4), 363–368. https://doi.org/10.1089/met.2008.0060

‌One study5Viana, R. B., Naves, J. P. A., Coswig, V. S., de Lira, C. A. B., Steele, J., Fisher, J. P., & Gentil, P. (2019). Is interval training the magic bullet for fat loss? A systematic review and meta-analysis comparing moderate-intensity continuous training with high-intensity interval training (HIIT). British Journal of Sports Medicine53(10), bjsports-2018-099928. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2018-099928 that compared body composition changes with moderate-intensity exercise at a steady pace with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) found that HIIT burned 28.5% more absolute fat mass overall over the same period of time.

Plus, by stoking your metabolism,6KNAB, A. M., SHANELY, R. A., CORBIN, K. D., JIN, F., SHA, W., & NIEMAN, D. C. (2011). A 45-Minute Vigorous Exercise Bout Increases Metabolic Rate for 14 Hours. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise43(9), 1643–1648. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0b013e3182118891 HIIT training can help you burn fat once your exercise session is over.

A person doing a bicep curl.

#3: Run Hills

Hill sprints are a great way to do higher intensity running while building muscle to burn calories and accelerate weight loss.

#4: Strength Train

Strength training exercises such as squats, lunges, step-ups, deadlifts, pull-ups, bench presses, and split squats with heavy weights should also be included in your weight loss plan.7Westcott, W. L. (2012). Resistance training is medicine: Effects of strength training on health. Current Sports Medicine Reports11(4), 209–216. https://doi.org/10.1249/JSR.0b013e31825dabb8

‌Although your weightlifting workout may not necessarily burn as many calories as a long run, by building lean muscle mass, you will increase your overall metabolic rate (reflected in an increased BMR), and therefore, you will burn more calories throughout the day, even at rest.

Over time, this will help you lose weight faster because it will be easier to maintain a caloric deficit.

Moreover, strength training can increase your testosterone and growth hormone levels,8Schwanbeck, S. R., Cornish, S. M., Barss, T., & Chilibeck, P. D. (2020). Effects of Training With Free Weights Versus Machines on Muscle Mass, Strength, Free Testosterone, and Free Cortisol Levels. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research34(7), 1851–1859. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000003349 which both aid in boosting your metabolism, reducing body fat, and increasing muscle mass.

#5: Do Core Workouts Or Pilates

Core exercises performed properly and consistently in your fitness routine can build the size and strength of your abs muscles.

It’s important to note that the rectus abdominis is only one of the core muscles.9Core Anatomy: Muscles of the Core. (n.d.). Www.acefitness.org. https://www.acefitness.org/fitness-certifications/ace-answers/exam-preparation-blog/3562/core-anatomy-muscles-of-the-core/

‌In order to have an effective core from a functional standpoint, you also need to do ab exercises that strengthen your internal and external obliques, which are the muscles on the sides of your midsection, and transversus abdominis, which is a deep core muscle.

A person doing a plank.

#6: Follow A Healthy Diet

The best diet for losing belly fat isn’t just a low-calorie diet to support weight loss but also one that decreases inflammation controls appetite, regulates blood sugar and insulin levels, and optimizes hormonal balance.

Therefore, while you want to be mindful of how many calories you eat, you should also focus on limiting excess sodium, sugar, processed foods, alcohol, artificial ingredients, hydrogenated oils, and unhealthy fats.

Focus on getting plenty of fiber, water, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, lean proteins, and antioxidants.

Good foods for fat loss are whole, natural, unprocessed foods such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, eggs, lean protein, nuts, seeds, and low-fat dairy products.

Ultimately, even if you have a lot of body fat and never get to a body fat percentage where you can see defined abs, doing effective ab exercises to build strong abs will still give you functional core strength even if your “six-pack abs” are concealed by body fat.

Six-pack abs are awesome, but having functionally strong abs supersedes defined abs.

For one of our core workouts, check out this next guide:

References

  • 1
    Smith, G. I., Mittendorfer, B., & Klein, S. (2019). Metabolically healthy obesity: facts and fantasies. Journal of Clinical Investigation129(10), 3978–3989. https://doi.org/10.1172/jci129186
  • 2
    Beaulieu, K., Hopkins, M., Blundell, J., & Finlayson, G. (2018). Homeostatic and non-homeostatic appetite control along the spectrum of physical activity levels: An updated perspective. Physiology and Behavior192, 23–29. https://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/126090/
  • 3
    Kolnes, K. J., Petersen, M. H., Lien-Iversen, T., Højlund, K., & Jensen, J. (2021). Effect of Exercise Training on Fat Loss—Energetic Perspectives and the Role of Improved Adipose Tissue Function and Body Fat Distribution. Frontiers in Physiology12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2021.737709
  • 4
    Coker, R. H., Williams, R. H., Kortebein, P. M., Sullivan, D. H., & Evans, W. J. (2009). Influence of Exercise Intensity on Abdominal Fat and Adiponectin in Elderly Adults. Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders7(4), 363–368. https://doi.org/10.1089/met.2008.0060
  • 5
    Viana, R. B., Naves, J. P. A., Coswig, V. S., de Lira, C. A. B., Steele, J., Fisher, J. P., & Gentil, P. (2019). Is interval training the magic bullet for fat loss? A systematic review and meta-analysis comparing moderate-intensity continuous training with high-intensity interval training (HIIT). British Journal of Sports Medicine53(10), bjsports-2018-099928. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2018-099928
  • 6
    KNAB, A. M., SHANELY, R. A., CORBIN, K. D., JIN, F., SHA, W., & NIEMAN, D. C. (2011). A 45-Minute Vigorous Exercise Bout Increases Metabolic Rate for 14 Hours. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise43(9), 1643–1648. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0b013e3182118891
  • 7
    Westcott, W. L. (2012). Resistance training is medicine: Effects of strength training on health. Current Sports Medicine Reports11(4), 209–216. https://doi.org/10.1249/JSR.0b013e31825dabb8
  • 8
    Schwanbeck, S. R., Cornish, S. M., Barss, T., & Chilibeck, P. D. (2020). Effects of Training With Free Weights Versus Machines on Muscle Mass, Strength, Free Testosterone, and Free Cortisol Levels. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research34(7), 1851–1859. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000003349
  • 9
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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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