In the journey to a leaner and healthier physique, gaining an athletic set of abs is often considered the holy grail of obtaining peak body composition.
Running is one of the most popular forms of cardiovascular exercise. It burns calories, builds muscle, improves bone density, strengthens the heart and lungs, increases endurance, and reduces stress levels.
Running also helps improve overall health by increasing lung capacity and reducing blood pressure.
But is it an effective modality of training to help carve the midsection and create a sexy set of abs? Let’s find out.
Does Running Give You Abs?
The short answer is that it can help to achieve a lower body fat percentage, but shouldn’t be the only thing you do to obtain a set of abs.
The secret to getting six-pack abs, although it’s not really a secret, is to ensure that your body fat percentage is low enough that they can be seen.
Everybody has abdominal muscles on their body. If you didn’t your body would be a large ball of muscle and bones lying on the ground. The abs help support this structure and keep it in place.
However, if you have too much body fat, your abdominal muscles are not going to be visible. So the goal is to lower your body fat percentage enough so that your abs can become visible.
For guys, this is visually somewhere between 8 – 15% body fat, and for women, it’s usually around 14 – 20% body fat.
Women have a higher body percentage because this helps with the childbearing process, and you won’t need to hit a man’s level of leanness.
Therefore to lower body fat percentage, you need to ensure that your body is in a calorie deficit, which will allow body fat stored to be burned for energy.
The conventional way of eating in a calorie deficit and expending more energy than you burn is still the gold standard for achieving this, and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.
Factors such as stress management, getting good quality sleep, and not slamming 10 glasses of wine per day are going to also help, but the main focus should be on how many calories you are consuming and how much energy you are expending.
Is Running The Most Efficient Way To Burn Calories?
Your daily energy expenditure is broken down into four sections, which we’ll quickly discuss now.
BMR is the main source of your energy expenditure and this is the number of calories you burn from everyday bodily functions and is something that you cannot control, such as your blood pumping blood and your digestive system breaking down food.
The best way to describe this is if you were to lie in bed all day, this is the number of calories your body burns, which is roughly 60-70% of your total daily energy expenditure.
So the first step to losing body fat is to breathe every day.
The next largest percentage of energy expenditure is Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, or NEAT. This is all of the activities that you do that are not considered planned exercise.
This represents around 15% of your total daily energy expenditure.
For example, walking the dog in the morning and the evening is going to be a part of your daily routine and would not count as exercise.
Taking the stairs instead of the elevator, nervously withing your leg, or even having sex would all be considered in this category.
Did you know that certain foods can help with energy expenditure? A diet rich in protein can help to burn around 10% of your total calories which is known as the thermic effect of food.
Finally, we have exercise activity thermogenesis, or EAT, which fills up the remaining energy expenditure at around 5-10% calories burned.
This is the exercise that you plan. Going for a run, hitting weights in the gym, 20 lengths at the swimming pool; this would all be categorized as EAT.
So you can see that exercise doesn’t make up the majority of our daily energy expenditure, which is where so many people go wrong with trying to obtain abs.
They put all of their focus on training hard in the gym or out running on the road when in fact, just increasing your daily activity is more effective than planned exercise.
How To Get Abs
Now that we know running isn’t the be-all of getting abs; where should we be putting our attention?
Here are a few areas to focus your attention so that you are not wasting your time, (or energy for that matter!)
We’ve already discussed how energy expenditure works, and how BMR, NEAT, EAT and the thermic effect of food are important to helping you burn fat stores.
But all of this is useless if you eat too much food.
Underpinning everything is the number of calories you consume per day, and if it exceeds the number of calories you burn, you will never lower your body fat enough to see your abs.
Therefore eating in a controlled calorie deficit is your number one priority.
You should also look to consume a high protein diet when on a calorie deficit.
This will help prevent you from losing your muscle stores in the process of fat oxidation, which essentially means you tell your body that you want to burn fat stores instead of muscle for energy.
Foods like lean poultry, the occasional red meat, legumes, nuts, seeds, and even some dairy can help you achieve a high protein diet.
Also focus on hitting a good amount of fiber as this will help you stay full. You can get these from a combination of phytonutrients foods such as fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
Eating in a calorie deficit is important, but you also want to train your abdominal muscles so that they can grow. But how do you train your abdominal muscles?
You train them the same as any muscle group; with enough reps, sets, and even resistance should you need it.
A good place to start is to perform a crunching motion, a leg raise, and a twist to help hit the abdominal muscles from every angle. For example:
- 3 sets of 15-20 reps of Ab Crunches
- 3 sets of 15-20 reps of Lying Leg Raises
- 3 sets of 15-20 reps of Russian Twists
Although cardio is not the most efficient way to train for abs, it can still help you to burn some extra calories and help with your energy balance.
Running a few times per week for 15-60 minutes is low intensity and low-stress activity that can help to add a few thousand extra steps per day to your tally that is healthy for the entire body.
Just be wary of doing too much cardio; as this can negatively impact how much energy you have for other activities.
As studies show that excessive cardio can drive down your motivation to move throughout the rest of the day.
In other words; if you do too much EAT, you run the risk of dropping your NEAT.
So there you have it! We hope that you found this article useful and that it helps you to understand how to approach your path to visible abs.
Focus on the many areas and try to remove the reductionist mindset of more running = more body fat burning. It’s going to make your journey a lot simpler!