Does running give you abs? While most runners don’t run solely to get abs or tone their body, it can be a nice side benefit of the sport.
While running is primarily a cardio exercise, it does strengthen and tone many muscles in your body, including your abs. Since running takes many forms – sprinting, slow jogging, distance running…(just to name a few), we’ll take a look at which types of running builds abs most effectively.
We’ll also provide advice from running coaches and dietitians to help you optimize your runs for the best ab-building techniques.
Does Running Give You Abs? How Running Impacts Your Abs
It’s important to define the definition of ‘getting abs’ and see how running contributes to it.
What ‘Getting Abs’ Really Means
Technically, everyone already has abs, or transverse abdominals, for the official terminology. What most people mean by ‘getting abs’, is to tone and strengthen those abdominals, and reduce abdominal fat to make them more visible.
When you run, you exercise your abs at the same time. This stabilizes your core, which reduces the impact on your joints.
Exercising your abs means you increase circulation throughout the body. That blood flow in the abdomen helps break down fat cells, which leads to burning excess fat in the area. When you burn that fat, the abs then become more visible, which leads to what most people refer to as ‘getting abs.’
The benefit to strengthening your abs is not just aesthetic: it also reduces the impact on your joints, which prevents injuries, and strengthens other muscles interconnected with the core. Those include your back, hips, and thighs.
How to Build Abs Through Running
Keep in mind that running is not a sure-fire way to build abs. Many people run to lose weight, get healthier, or improve their mental health. While it’s possible to get abs by running, there are certain techniques you’ll have to use to get those results you’re looking for.
The overall keys to keep in mind for building your abs are: be sure you’re burning fat and doing runs that strengthen your abs at a more concentrated level.
Jeff Parke, running coach and owner of Top Fitness Magazine, recommends speed runs for this.
“A speed work example would be completing 10-15 reps of 100m sprints and taking a 30-second walking break between each sprint. Aside from that, you’re going to have to eat better and add in some daily core work if you want well-defined abs.”
Speed runs or sprints automatically engage your core through good form and posture. They help you burn fat quickly, which is essential for visible abs.
Another great way to get abs through running is by doing hill climbs and sprints. These cause you to activate your core even further, helping you to build those muscles quickly.
The best way to run hills is by picking one large hill or several small hills. For the small hills, you’ll run up without stopping, then walk down and run up the next one. For the large hills, you’ll choose an amount of time beforehand, run up the hill for that amount of time, then take a short walking break.
You’ll have to choose the time beforehand so you don’t quit early when it’s hard!
Other Exercises to Build Abs
As Parke mentioned earlier, running alone won’t get you the abs you’re wanting. You’ll have to combine your runs with other exercises to build strength and work specifically on your core.
The L-Sit is a popular gymnastic move that forces the core to stabilize the body as it’s suspended off the ground with the legs out in front. It requires balance, strength, and patience. Learn it, and you’ll gain a stronger core and more upper body muscle.
Benefits of the L-Sit:
- Bolstered full-body strength, as you resist gravity and rotational forces
- More isometric strength and abdominal development, for reasons similar to the plank and hollow hold
- The L-Sit strengthens the core and prepares lifters and gymnastic athletes for more rigorous core strengthening and athletic movements.
Joy Puleo, certified Pilates instructor and Balanced Body Education Director, contributes 2 Pilates workouts that are great for your core and a solid form of cross-training for your running in general.
1. Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat
This exercise challenges your balance, which gets you working your core. Your calves, hamstrings, quads, and glutes are challenged unilaterally, which is helpful for your running, which requires you to drive off of one leg with each stride.
- Related: 20 Running Motivation Quotes
This common exercise is used in Pilates too. It builds strength in the back, core, hamstrings, and glutes. It can be less evident but there is also a stretch that occurs in the hip flexors, quads, and torso, once again building the glute and hamstring strength.
Stronger back and core muscles will improve your posture, keeping you upright as you fatigue which keeps you running and breathing more efficiently.
Related: Best Core Exercises for Runners
What to Eat for Better Abs
The saying, “Abs are made in the kitchen” is no exaggeration. While you can get strong abs through strength workouts and running, they won’t become visible without the right diet.
‘The right diet’ doesn’t mean you need to follow a strict diet, but it does mean you need to know which foods help the process and which ones hinder it.
To give you the best information, Abby Vichill, a registered performance dietitian has contributed her top tips, based on years of working with athletes.
“While the running and training portion is very important, the best way to get abs is to eat in a way that supports fat loss and simultaneously builds muscle. Some tips include:
- Prioritizing protein (male and female runners should be consuming at least 1.6 grams per kg of body weight in protein each day).
- Consume adequate carbohydrates pre and post-workout. By consuming enough carbohydrates, stamina will increase and physical adaptation will be possible. If one is under-consuming calories, especially carbohydrates, the body will begin pulling nutrients from muscle stores for energy, resulting in a loss of lean body weight.
We want to consume clean carbs that contain a lot of fiber and nutrients to feed health at all levels. Examples include potatoes, quinoa, whole grains like rice, oats, and fruit. At least 45-50% of daily calorie intake should be from carbohydrates.
- Time your meal appropriately. Another tip to help support body composition is to have your heavier meals that are more carb-dense, before and after your runs (within 2 hrs before and after). The other meals can be a little lighter on the carbohydrate side and higher in protein.
- Recover properly: Be sure to rebuild muscle stores and replace glycogen by consuming a protein/carb recovery meal within 30 minutes of finishing your run. An example would be a protein-packed smoothie that contains a high-quality protein powder, frozen fruit, and oat milk.
External Vs. Internal Motivation
When asking, Does running give you abs?, one of the most important things to remember is this: ask yourself why you want visible abs. The reason for this is external versus internal motivation.
When your goals are only based on external factors like wanting to look great in a swimsuit or impress people in the gym, you’re much less likely to persevere and achieve your goals.
Working for abs doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it takes consistent effort and dedication, involving lifelong habit shaping. If you have no goals other than the way you look, you’ll find it easier to make excuses and give up.
When your goals are based on internal factors like wanting a strong core to prevent injury and keep you running throughout your long and healthy life, you will be much more likely to stick with them.
When you base goals off values you can really believe in, you have a reference base. When you find the temptation to eat excessive sugary foods or forego a balanced diet, you can refer back to the long-term benefits of feeling stronger, having more energy, and staying healthy for the ones you love. These will keep you motivated even when the going gets tough.
Putting it All Together
You won’t have time to refer back to this article every time you head out for a workout. The best way to build abs through running is to get yourself a training plan that incorporates crosstraining and varied runs to streamline your workouts and help you get the best results.
All our marathon and half marathon training plans include this variety for any level of runner. Feel free to check out our training plan library and download any of our free plans!