Can Running Give You Abs? Tips For Strengthening Your Core


We all know that running builds muscle and strength in the legs. Runners have great quads, hamstrings, and calves. But can running give you abs?

Truth be told, running can actually be a good exercise for toning your core… if you do it right! If you want those abs to pop out, you can tweak your running routine to include a couple of tips and tricks for strengthening those washboards.

While we do strongly recommend doing some dedicated ab exercises if you want to build them up, running in itself can help them grow and stand out.

Here are our top tips for strengthening your core while running.

Can Running Give You Abs?

First, if you want to build strength and grow those muscles, you should be doing some kind of ab exercises.

But if you want to use running to help develop your ab muscles, then you should focus on improving your form.

It can be easy to run with sloppy form, which means your abs won’t be engaging as you go. Put your attention on your core as you run, and make sure that you’re engaging those muscles.

Running is also an excellent cardiovascular exercise. It can contribute to shedding body fat, as long as your diet is in check. The fitter you get from running, the more calories you’ll burn during the day, getting rid of that layer of fat over the abs.

So with that in mind, running can definitely be a helpful contributor to you developing strong and visible abs!

What Are the Four Types of Abdominal Muscles?

Interestingly, the abdominals are actually made up of four different muscles in the midsection. They are:

  • Rectus Abdominis: This is the 6-pack muscle in the middle of the abdomen.
  • Internal Obliques: These are found on the inside of your sides.
  • External Obliques: These are the outer side muscles.
  • Transverse Abdominis: This is the deepest and hardest to work. It wraps around the abdomen like a corset.

Part of having great-looking, visible, and strong abs is to make sure you hit all 4 of these muscles when training.

This will ensure that you develop a well-rounded and supportive core that also looks amazing.

How Can You Make the Abs More Visible?

It’s important to note that there are two sides to having visible and strong abs: exercise and diet.

So while running can help you to develop your abs and lean you out so they become visible, the truth is that your diet will be the deciding factor on whether or not your abs can be seen.

They say abs are built in the kitchen! We all have abs, but not everyone’s are visible. If you want your abs to be visible, you need to lower your body fat to the point where there’s actually very little fat on your abdominals and the muscles can be seen.

Also, don’t forget that your “abs” include the interconnected muscles in the lower back and even the thighs and glutes. Don’t neglect those!

We highly recommend implementing a well-rounded cross-training program that focuses on building muscle in every muscle group.

How Often Should You Run?

You should be doing a good cardio session at least 3 times a week, for 20 minutes or more at a time. In truth, you’ll get more fat-burning out of your cardio (your running) if you structure it like a HIIT workout.

This means, instead of doing a long, steady-state run at one pace, try some interval training. If you can get your heart rate up nice and high in short, sharp bursts of exercise, with quick breaks in between, you’ll burn more calories.

That’s not to say that you can’t incorporate your usual long runs at a steady pace, though. If you’re training for a race or just like your longer sessions, you can absolutely keep those in there.

But if you want those abs to pop, it would be a great idea to add 3 to 5 of these quick HIIT sessions per week into your routine.

What Different Kinds of Runs Should You Do to Strengthen Your Abs?

Steady-state, long runs have their place. If you’re training for a specific distance race, you definitely can’t afford to neglect them!

So they should form part of your running training. But you should also be including sprint intervals and hill repeats.

Sprint intervals are short bursts of time in which you sprint flat-out. You can start with 10 seconds if you’re new to it, and work your way up to 45 seconds or a full minute as time goes.

Between each interval, you should have a break to allow your heart rate to come back down. So, for example, you might do 10 seconds sprint, 30 seconds rest, for 20 minutes in total.

Hill repeats are excellent for adding intensity to your workout. Running up an incline increases the heart rate and burns more calories.

Try to find a short hill (that takes less than 30 seconds to run up). Start at the bottom and sprint your way up at full intensity. You can jog back down afterwards, using this as your rest time. Then turn around and head up again, for 8 to 10 reps.

If you don’t have a hill nearby, a treadmill will serve the same purpose, provided it has an incline function!

Also, downloading an interval timer app can be super handy for keeping track of your intervals in these kinds of training sessions.

The Role of Strength Training and Diet

As we’ve already mentioned, strength training and diet are two extremely important parts of getting strong and visible abs.

While running and other forms of cardio can be immensely helpful to lower your body fat percentage, too much cardio can actually cause muscle loss. This means that although you may have no fat on your abs, there may not be much muscle to show!

However, mixing your running with strength training is the magic bullet for gaining visible, strong abdominal muscles.

Here’s how to optimize your fitness (and get those abs) by including strength training and fine-tuning your diet.

Strength Training

Strength training involves activating and “overloading” the muscles so that they gain strength and grow in size. That means you need to actively target the specific muscles you want to build.

Weight training, calisthenics, CrossFit, and anything else that involves lifting weight counts as strength training.

Now, you can focus your strength training on only your abs. But you’ll be missing out on many benefits, including having a well-proportioned body!

You should be hitting each of the major muscle groups at least once a week (chest, back, shoulders, arms, and legs). This will benefit your running more than you realize, as you build stronger legs, a more rigid core, and store more energy in those muscles.

And, of course, abs. Although many compound exercises do involve the abs, if you want them to pop out and be seen, you’ll need to target them specifically.

The great thing about ab workouts is that you can do them any time, anywhere! Include some ab exercises in your running warm-up and cool-down. Add a few when you wake up and some before you go to bed.

In the gym, you want to incorporate weighted ab exercises to really get those muscles working. Here are some excellent exercises that target the abs. Work up to doing them with weight added!

Diet & Nutrition

Eating a healthy diet is essential for those abs to show! Considering both your exercising and your eating should be geared towards getting stronger and making them visible, you’ll need to be sure you’re eating enough protein to build those muscles.

Of course, you can’t neglect the carbs and fats, though. Your diet and nutrition plan should be well-balanced. Carbs are important for energy, and fats help keep you fuller for longer.

In order to lose that layer of fat that’s keeping your abs invisible, you’ll need to be in a calorie deficit. That means eating 20 to 30% fewer calories than your body is burning every day.

For example, if your body burns 1500 calories on a daily basis (including exercise), you should be eating around 1200 calories. That way, your body has no choice but to use some of its stored fat for energy.

Avoid processed foods, drink plenty of water (carbonated water is ideal to help you feel slightly fuller), and load your plate with high-volume, low-calorie fruits and veggies.

In Summary

Can running give you abs? Not on its own.

But if you tweak your training to include HIIT-style running sessions, add in some strength training with ab-specific exercises, and pay close attention to your diet and calorie intake, running can definitely help you bring those abs to the surface.

As for your actual running, it’s a simple case of focusing on your form and actively engaging the core as you’re moving. You can definitely use your running routine as a way of pushing you closer to getting the abs you’ve always wanted!

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Shanna is a writer who runs... And cycles, jumps rope, and lifts weights. She lives in beautiful South Africa and enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience with other avid athletes.