Does Running Give You Abs?
A lot of people assume that if you run enough, you will shred pounds of fat and end up with a 6 pack.
While there is some merit in this thought process, the reality is that if you want to truly uncover your abs, you will need to add a few more elements to your training. You will also need to pay a bit more attention to what you eat, and commit to the process for at least 4 months.
Why running alone isn’t enough?
It all boils down to body fat percentage. Even though running is an excellent way to create the calorific deficit needed to lose weight, it won’t drop your body fat percentage to the levels that you need to reveal 6 pack abs.
For your abs to really show, you need to get your body fat percentage below 12%, whether you’re a man or a woman. Basically, the lower your body fat percentage, the more visible your abs will be.
So how do you drop your body fat percentage?
1) Create a calorific deficit – Fortunately running can be extremely useful for this part of the equation. If you run at a good pace for 30 minutes or more you can smash hundreds of calories during a training session. This should make it far easier for you to achieve a calorific deficit over the course of a day.
If you repeat this process several times a week, and stay consistent for months at a time, the total number of calories you burn will stack up to a gargantuan number that has a tangible effect on your waistline.
2) Build Muscle with Resistance Training – This is where most runners come up horribly short. They cover hundreds of miles over the course of a month, but fail to incorporate consistent resistance training sessions into their schedule.
This is how you end up being a skinny fat person. You’ve dropped a ton of weight, but you haven’t added any muscularity to your frame. You end up with an ‘ok’ figure. It’s much better than an ‘average figure’, but it could be so much better if you add weight training into the mix.
3) Eat like an absolute champion (for certain periods of the year) – Here’s another thing that people don’t tell you about having 6 pack abs. It isn’t sustainable or fun to have cover model abs every single day of the year, mainly because of the dietary guidelines you need to follow to stay in the 6 pack body fat zone.
Knowing this is essential, because it means you don’t have to commit to a calorie restricted diet for the rest of your life. Instead, you need to choose 2 or 3 periods during the year, and commit to extremely healthy eating for those set periods.
This is key, because it removes the psychological burden of thinking that you’ll never be able to have another cheesecake. Instead, you can just hone in on the target when it really matters, and then be a bit more casual about everything during your ‘non 6 pack periods’.
Why is weight training so important for burning fat?
Think of it this way. Every muscle in your body has the potential to become a fat burning machine. This isn’t just a powerful metaphor. Studies have revealed that weight training has 2 major fat burning benefits.
A) The Afterburn Effect – After a weight-training workout, your metabolism can be boosted for up to 38 hours post-workout. In this regard, weight training smashes cardio out of the ball park. Where cardio can help you burn an extra 40-80 calories (after the workout), weight training will supercharge your metabolism for a day and half after the session. Perhaps more importantly, you don’t even need to do anything. Your body will just burn more calories whether you are exercising, chilling, or sleeping.
B) It transforms your body into a 24/7 calorie burning machine – Shannon Clark from bodybuilding.com summarizes this idea quite nicely: “What weight training will enable you to do is build up a larger degree of lean muscle mass, which then basically serves as a calorie-burning powerhouse in the body.The more muscle you have on your body, the higher your basal metabolic rate will be and the better the calorie-burning results you will obtain 24/7.”
Is this actually true? I wrote an article about how many calories you burn when running a single mile. The biggest surprise for me when researching that article was that heavy men will burn more calories than light women if they run a mile at the same speed. Why is this? Because men have more lean muscle mass than women. This means they burn more calories during exercise and when they are at rest.
In other words, if all other things are equal, a person with more lean muscle mass will burn more calories then the same person with less lean muscle mass. This is one of the few areas of exercise science where the studies could not be more clear.
The more lean muscle mass you have, the more calories you will burn, at all times during the day. It really is as simple as that.
But what about ab exercises?
This might be hard to believe, but ab exercises are actually the least important component of this particular journey.
Unlike resistance training which targets the big muscles in your body, isolated ab exercises will not dramatically affect how many calories you burn over the course of a day when resting or exercising.
Unlike frequent cardio sessions, isolated ab exercises will not help you achieve the calorific deficit you need to drop excess weight.
And unlike healthy eating, isolated ab exercises won’t help you drop your body fat percentage and bank all the effort that you are putting into your training.
What ab exercises will do is make your 6 pack more pronounced when you reach the body fat level needed for your abs to show.
In other words, ab exercises will enhance the look and feel of your 6 pack, but they actually play a minor role in the 6 pack creation process.
So why do runners resist weight training if it’s so good for burning fat and getting ripped?
There are a couple of reasons that runners skip wight training.
A) Weight training can disrupt your running schedule – This is especially true if you still need to learn how to do compound exercises like squats, deadlifts and bench press. Even if you are an experienced lifter, it can be really tough to hit your weekly mileage targets, while factoring in consistent weight training sessions into your schedule. This reason alone is enough to prevent runners from engaging in strength training.
B) It can introduce the possibility of injury – A bad dead lift can be destructive. The same is true of a heavy squat with poor form. For many runners, the possibility of injury is enough to eliminate the thought of resistance training altogether.
C) It won’t improve your running in the short term (although the long term benefits are amazing) – To overcome this particular issue, it pays to take a long term view of the situation. While weight training won’t improve your running in first 2-3 months, it will make your body so much stronger in the long term. This can dramatically improve your longevity as a runner, and make you much more resistant to injury.
D) They don’t have a gym contract – For a lot of runners, it isn’t necessary to have a gym contract. They can get plenty of exercise without the monthly debit order, and elect to skip the gym contract altogether. Naturally, this can make it quite a challenge to do weight training consistently.
To be clear, I’m all for running and I genuinely believe that it is the best form of cardiovascular exercise. However, if your goal is to have ridiculously good looking abs, it can be extremely helpful to recognize that running won’t take you the full distance.
Ultimately, you have to add in resistance training and healthy eating if you are serious about attaining that 6 pack. If you do so, running can be the secret weapon that ties everything together on your weight loss journey.
Next Steps From Here
Don’t be the guy who skips over information that doesn’t align with what you want to believe.
You can maintain your mileage, but you need to figure out how to introduce quality resistance training into your schedule if you are finally ready to unleash those abs.
And don’t forget about the eating. As the great Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, “good abs are made in the kitchen”. He just forgot to add that weight training and effective cardio are also integral parts of the recipe.