We can always count on running to deliver a mental-health lift — nothing beats that "runner's high" endorphin rush. The heart-pumping cardio workout is also great for your heart and lung health, and based on soreness after long or fast runs, it's safe to say your legs and glutes are getting a pretty good workout, too.
But if there's one thing we've always wondered about running, it's how this exercise can affect the abs. If you're using proper form, your core is definitely working — as it is when you do just about anything, from walking to sitting up straight to lifting a bag of groceries. But we wanted to know just how much of a core workout running really is, and whether we can consider it part of an ab-building workout plan. So, POPSUGAR spoke to two experts for the scoop about whether running is all that effective at strengthening your core.
Does Running Build Abs?
"I do think that your core gets certain benefits from running," says Steven Mayer, MD, sports medicine specialist at the Northwestern Medicine Running Clinic. He explained that you "run from your core," using it to balance and stabilize yourself. The more you use and engage your core muscles in this way, Dr. Mayer says, the stronger they'll get.
Ashley Kelly, an Olympic runner and NASM-certified personal trainer, agrees that you use your core muscles during certain running motions, as well as when you're absorbing impact and maintaining form during longer runs. But while your abs are definitely in use and engaged during running, as far as actively building them and making them stronger, Kelly says, running is not the most effective choice. In fact, according to her, the relationship is actually inverse: "You need to first have a strong core to run strong, not the other way around."
Both Kelly and Dr. Mayer say that even though your abs and core are important for running, they likely won't get significantly stronger just through running alone. "Running contributes to core fitness to at least a mild extent," Dr. Mayer tells POPSUGAR. "But if you really want to strengthen your core, you have to focus on core exercises." Core engagement is more like a side effect of running, rather than the focus. To really build strong core muscles and abs, Kelly says, "It is vital to perform exercises that target those muscles specifically."
How to Work Your Abs While Running
Still, there are a few strategies you can use to get the most core engagement out of your run. First, try focusing on your breathing, Kelly suggests, inhaling deep into your diaphragm as opposed to taking short breaths from your chest. When you get fatigued, she adds, try to brace and tighten your core like you're preparing for a punch in the stomach. That keeps your core engaged even when you start feeling tired.
Even if running won't directly lead to a ripped core, the relationship between running and core strength is still an important one. "A strong and stable core helps improve running mechanics and stability in your knees, ankle, and hips, which minimizes injuries," Kelly tells POPSUGAR. So if building abs is your goal, know that core-specific exercises are still the way to go — and these moves might just help you be a better runner, too. Start with this three-minute ab workout for runners and see how much of a difference a strong core can make.