A Runner’s Guide to Well-Defined Abs

By: Alan Martin
| July 24, 2020

A Runner’s Guide to Well-Defined Abs

Running has so many health benefits! During a run, you get a powerful cardio workout, an intense leg workout, and some pretty great endorphin release also known as the “runner’s high.” Can running also give you abs? First, what do we mean by abs? The rectus abdominis is the long muscle that runs vertically down your abdomen. This muscle, when toned, gives you that “six-pack look.” When you hear someone talking about getting abs, it generally means toning the abdominal muscles to get that specific aesthetic. So, can running do that?

Can Running Give You Abs?

Running Stimulates Your Core

Running engages your core. Your core muscles include all of the muscles in your lower back and your abdomen, including your abs. Running utilizes all of your core muscles at the same time. These muscles work to generate force, support your spine, help you keep your balance, and maintain your form while you run. Running will help you build and strengthen your abdominal muscles. However, running by itself isn’t going to help you carve out enough definition to achieve that sleek, defined six-pack. Then, what can you do to get abs?

Core Conditioning

Can Running Give You Abs?Core Conditioning is focused on strengthening and targeting the muscles in your core. The most commonly targeted muscles in your core are the:

  • Rectus abdominis – Remember this is the six-pack muscle!
  • Transverse abdominis – This is a deep muscle charged with protecting your spine.
  • Obliques – There are two types of obliques, external and internal. The external obliques are on the front and side of your abdomen. The internal obliques are under your external obliques and run in the opposite way.

Okay, but you really want defined abs. How is core conditioning going to help you? Exercises that focus on strengthening your core can help you define your abs and can help you run faster! Core specific exercises are the best way to get strong abdominal muscles. A strong core will also help protect you from back injuries. Here are a few exercises you can do to help build your core AND define your abs.


Put your forearms on the floor and get into a basic push up position. Then, hold it! Work on holding that plank position until you can hold it for one minute. When you get to where you can hold a plank position for one minute comfortably, you can modify it. Make planks harder by holding up one arm or one leg. You can even switch it up, and hold up one arm and one leg at the same time.

The Dead Bug

This core exercise looks a lot like it sounds! Lie on your back. Put your arms straight out towards the ceiling. Lift your legs up towards the ceiling with your knees bent. Drop your left arm backwards while extending the right leg. Then, switch! This is a fun way to create a deep foundational strength.

High Boat Low Boat

To get into high boat, sit up straight with your legs bent and put your feet flat on the floor. Lift your legs up (while keeping them together) until you have about a forty-five-degree angle. Balance on your tailbone. and reach your arms out straight in front of you. Now, hold this position for a few beats, and then lower your body into the low boat position. Straighten your legs out and lower your torso. Your body should be relatively parallel to the floor while you remain balanced on your tailbone.  This is the low boat position. Alternate between high boat and low boat.


Lay on the floor with your arms stretched out behind your head and placed by your ears. Squeeze your abdominal muscles and bring your body up to fold in half. The goal is to keep your arms and legs as straight as possible while bringing your arms and legs up to meet. Don’t worry if your legs bend a little bit. Lower your body into the starting position and repeat. The jackknife works all of your core muscles at the same time, and it can be a little tough! Don’t worry if it takes you a few workout sessions to build up the number of jackknifes that you can achieve at one time.

Standing Wood Chop

Stand up straight with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Grab a weight that you can hold and use for at least a dozen repetitions on each side. Hold the weight with both hands and raise it over your shoulder. Squat and bring the weight down across your body like you are chopping wood. Repeat and then switch sides.

Bicycle Crunches

Bicycle crunches are a good way to target your abs and your obliques. Lie on the floor and press your lower back to the ground. Pull your belly button into your back to stabilize your core. Put both of your hands behind your head. Raise your knees up and lift both of your feet off of the floor. Bring your right knee up to touch your left elbow while simultaneously straightening out your left leg. Bicycle pedal your left knee up to meet your right elbow while straightening out your right leg. Alternate arms and legs until you have done 15-20 repetitions. Try to fit two or three sets of these repetitions into your workout.

Rolling Like A Ball

End your core work out with a fun exercise. Sit up on a mat with your knees bent. Hug your legs and clasp both hands together over your shins. Pull your core in and roll back onto your shoulders. Keep your chin away from your chest. Don’t let your head or neck touch the ground. Use your abdominal muscles to roll yourself back up and repeat!

Targeting Your Abs While You Run

Even though running by itself won’t help you get chiseled abs, there are some things that you can do to get the most targeted ab work out of your runs.  When you are running, focus on holding your belly button into your spine, (but don’t hold your breath!) This will keep your core tight. When you are running to help build your abs, focus on having the best form, to maximize core engagement. Swing your arms back and forth. Throw in some punches while you run. You can also mix up your runs to get the most benefit out of your routine. Try interchanging long run workouts with sprint intervals or uphill/downhill workouts. Long runs can help you burn more fat. Less fat means your abs will be more visible. Sprint intervals and uphill/downhill runs can help you build definition.

Sprint Intervals

What are sprint intervals? Sprint intervals are short periods of running as fast as you can for a small amount of time, interchanged with longer periods of low intensity walking. Here’s an example of a sprint interval run:

  • Walk for at least five minutes at a slow, even pace to warm up your muscles.
  • Then, set a timer for one minute and run or walk as fast and as hard as you can for that whole minute.
  • Walk for two minutes at a slow pace to recover.
  • Repeat with a run and walk pattern.
  • Walk for five minutes to cool down and end your workout.
  • At the end of a thirty-minute workout, you will have warmed up for five minutes, run for a total of four one-minute sprints, interchanged runs with three two-minute walks, and cooled down for five minutes.

This is a quick workout that can even help you run faster!

Uphill/downhill runs

Uphill/downhill runs are very similar to interval runs, with one major difference, you are running up and down a hill! Start with a simple run/ walk interval:

  • Go for a longer warm-up at first. Give yourself ten minutes of walking at an easy pace on a flat surface.
  • Jog as hard as you can up the hill for thirty seconds up to a minute.
  • Walk back down the hill at a slow pace to recover.
  • Repeat jogging up the hill and walking down the hill for about ten minutes.
  • Cool down with a ten-minute walk on a flat surface.

Avoid Injury

Making sudden, drastic changes to your running and exercise routine can cause you to damage or strain your muscles and joints. Try not to do too much, too soon. Give your body time to adjust and to recover by increasing your goals or changing your routine slowly. Add warm-up and cool-down time to each of your workouts. Remember, if you experience pain or injury, stop or slow down to a walk.

Ab Benefits

Strong abdominal muscles are not just nice to look at.  They help your body by increasing stability in your hips and your knees when you are running. This means that you will put less strain on your body, and less strain means a lower chance of injury! Stronger abs also give you the ability to run faster and for longer periods of time.

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